For quite a while there seemed to be a very good chance that Peter Pettigrew might turn out to be one of the most dangerous characters in canon.
No such luck. Which is rather a pity, really. There would have been a lot more potential *bang* to that scenario than the one we got.
(Which, by the way, can you explain to me the reason why Peter’s silver hand murdered him for not going ahead and killing Harry when the one overriding order for all the DEs over the entire year is that they were not to kill Harry? That Tom was supposed to kill the boy himself? No. I can’t either.)
All the more so because most Potter fans were just so very willing to overlook or dismiss the possibility, because Pettigrew was so thoroughly unlikable.
Even Snape — long before the revelations of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — miserable, vicious git that he could be, was a vastly more attractive character than Peter Pettigrew. There was always something perversely glamorous about Snape, and his way with words was an endless entertainment.
There was nothing even remotely glamorous about Pettigrew.
From where I was standing, what was even more suspicious is the way that, on virtually every occasion that Pettigrew’s name came up, Rowling took care to immediately deflect any attention that had been drawn to him. The reader was positively invited to see him as a weak, stupid, cringing, utterly contemptible waste of space. A character who was simply not worth considering. Given his actual accomplishments, I was inclined to view this general impression with profound skepticism. It looked very much to me as if to underestimate Peter Pettigrew would usually be a dangerous mistake.
And, after all, upon whose authority were we to base our most typical reading? Sirius Black’s, who spent 12 years in Azkaban after Peter tricked him, and framed him as the spy in the Order? Lord Voldemort, who was such a fair and unbiased judge of character? I suspected for some time that most, if not all of the emphasis on “Peter Pettigrew, mental midget and magical mediocrity” that we had been consistently fed was yet another pack of moonshine and misdirection.
Well. I was wrong, wasn’t I?
Although downstream of DHs, it has now become all but impossible to try to sort out just what he was after and what was in it for him?
Because he doesn’t really come across as the sort to have been into anything for the sake of a cause, does he?
There is a lot that we will never know about Peter Pettigrew which might throw the dismissive evaluation as a “weak wizard” off by a fair degree. And just what can we say about those things that we supposedly do “know” about him when examined more closely?
We know that at 15–16, Peter needed all the help he could get to manage the Animagus transformation.
But, you will also notice, that manage it he did. Without formal training (Lupin, it seems, never even made the attempt). Does this sound like a weak wizard to you? Never mind that there were other young wizards in the picture who were magically “stronger”. (Ignore the dog and the stag behind the curtain...) Ask yourself; does becoming an Animagus by the age of 15–16 without professional guidance sound magically weak to you?
It really doesn’t to me. I think that if, by the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan had suddenly demonstrated that they could transform into a heron and a hedgehog I would be inclined to scale my estimation of their magical abilities up considerably. And never mind that Peter “only” transformed into a rat. The form an Animagus takes is a fragment of his personality, not a reflection of his power. The spell is just as difficult whatever the animal the wizard transforms into. In the Real World a rat has a reputation for being a good deal more resourceful an animal than a stag. And, for its size, is considerably brighter, too.
Let alone the fact that they make good enough company for people to keep them as pets!
We also watched Madame Rosemerta dismisses Peter as “that fat little boy who was always tagging along”.
What does she know of the actual relationship between those kids? Little fat boys might very well seem to be easily dismissible by outside observers. They can look harmless and ineffectual. But are they really? I mean really? Dudley Dursley was once a fat little boy. And legitimately stupid with it as well. Would you have said that Dudley was harmless?
For that matter, have you ever actually known a little fat boy? Was he any less capable of giving you grief (or otherwise) than a little thin boy? Dismissing someone because they are fat is even stupider than dismissing them for being Muggle-born.
Minerva, who was in a rather better position to have known the four of them, having had them in her classroom for 5–7 years, tells us that he was never quite in Black & Potter’s league. Okay. That’s fair enough.
But if there is no other consensus available, everyone seems to agree that Black & Potter were “exceptionally bright” and “exceptionally talented”. It sounds like Remus Lupin was not considered as having been altogether “in their league” either. And Remus usually comes across to the reader as an intelligent (or is that only a “sadder, but wiser”?) man, and a competent wizard.
If Peter had been a couple of years older or younger and was not always being directly compared to Black & Potter, people might have made a different evaluation of his abilities (although his constitutional laziness suggests otherwise). But that such a notorious weasel-word as “quite” is sitting there in the middle of Minerva’s statement as a qualifier at all, is interesting in itself.
Minerva also tells us that Pettigrew was always hopeless at dueling. Yes, poor physical reaction time when confronted by the unexpected will do that. At that point Hermione Granger still sometimes tended to freeze when confronted by a danger she had not anticipated, too. No one has called Hermione a “weak witch” yet.
In fact, in that regard Peter seems to have had another quality that Hermione shares; when he found himself in a tight spot, he first glibly tried to talk his way out of it. I suspect that he had a history of usually succeeding, too. That he survived so long in positions of some degree of personal risk would tend to support this suspicion. And the squeaky voice and the dithery, wittering manner he adopts when backed into a corner usually tended to deflect his being called to full account for his actions, too, leading others to underestimate him.
Which, like I say, was usually a mistake.
Looking over canon, the only thing that seemed to be inarguable over the course of the first 6 books was that whenever the subject of Peter Pettigrew came up, Rowling started flinging about red herrings like a fishmonger.
The first fishy viewpoint she handed us was the; “he sounds like Neville” herring which was Harry’s ill-informed interpretation of the tale of poor, overmatched little Peter, standing up to his bad-ass former friend Sirius, and getting himself very messily killed for it.
This was a very clever insertion on Rowling’s part, made early enough in the story arc that even by OotP many readers still hadn’t twigged to it that they’d been led up the garden path. Every indication we have suggests that apart from having been another “little fat boy” Peter has next to nothing in common with Neville Longbottom. But the reader gobbles the suggestion up and keeps looking suspiciously at Neville, rather than directing their suspicion at the invitation they have just been given to compare the two. The younger reader also tends to overlook the fact that this particular comparison was all in Harry’s head, and it only lasted until Harry actually met Pettigrew. Once he did so, he knew better.
The next catch of red herrings were brought to market while we eavesdropped on McGonagall, Flitwick, Hagrid and Fudge nattering on about the perfidious Sirius Black in the Three Broomsticks, with Madam Rosemerta chiming in. (And Fudge trying his very best to impress her.) There are several oddities about this conversation which may or may not have been intended to be actual clues. Although probably clues to several different subjects, some of which were later abandoned.
In the first place, one gets the distinct impression that Minerva may, for some reason of her own, have actively disliked Pettigrew. “I was often rather sharp with him.” She confesses, after informing us that he wasn’t in Black & Potter’s league. Sharp with him about what? For tagging along after his own friends? Excuse me? We seem to be missing a large piece of context here. Is this likely to be significant? Will there be a test?
(For the record: Minerva’’s sharpness was most likely to have been on account of Peter slacking off in her class.)
What is more to the point, Minerva still says nothing particularly good about Pettigrew, for all her confession that she feels badly about the way she snapped at him — now that he’s become an heroic martyr.
Is there anything more going on here than a residual exasperation of a somewhat rigid teacher toward a student who was too lazy to even try to master his classwork? Or is this something left over from things she was picking up unconsciously from his behavior back in the days of the original Order of the Phoenix of which presumably both she and Peter (And Hagrid) were all members. It was, after all, during that period that Peter was spying for the enemy.
Or were they all members?
It is just possible that McGonagall is a bit of a late-comer where the Order of the Phoenix is concerned. She is certainly Albus’s right hand so far as dealing with the school administrivia goes, and was so for a long while, but we don’t know for certain that she even was a member of the Order of the Phoenix during the first time around, let alone in Albus’s confidence as regards the war effort. Moody didn’t point her out in the photo of the original Order. Nor was Albus especially communicative with her on matters to do with the (just concluded) war when he found her sitting on the Dursleys’ garden wall.
Albus knows how to compartmentalize. He was a master Legilimens, after all. The Order and the war effort may simply not have been the box that he originally put McGonagall in. After all, she was locked up in the school for 10 months of the year. How much help would she have been with Order business, there? Indeed, apart from Hagrid we do not know that any of the school’s faculty or staff were involved in the Order whatsoever. Or not in the first war.
She knew about the Order, of course. There was nothing secret about the Order in the first war. But she certainly wasn't at liberty to actually do anything in aid it. It was out all over the map. She was at Hogwarts.
I think it is quite possible that Minerva may have only climbed out of her box when she finally ditched school and went to wait for Albus at Privet Drive. And he was both surprised and amused to find her there.
And, by that time, it was all over but the debriefing.
Since Albus is nearly always happy to Explain It All, after the fact, Minerva may have only been brought up to speed regarding the Order, and the spy, and the Potters’ Secret Keeper at that point. Being Minerva, she remembers everything she was told at the time, and saw no harm in repeating it 12 years later.
Since that point Albus has welcomed her into the Order, as he has also done with the Weasleys. As he also has Tonks, on Moody’s recommendation. Kingsley Shacklebolt was welcomed in as well. Kingsley may be another of Moody’s comparatively recent recruits, or he may have come in with Arthur Weasley. None of these were a part of the Order the first time. either. But Albus hasn’t let Minerva all that far in. And if she is a late-comer, she hadn’t really been “tested” under fire in that particular context yet. Which might go some way toward the apparent lack of information that she had on what Albus was up to over the final year of his life.
And then in the Shrieking Shack we get the biggest and reddest herring that Rowling handed us of all. She forced us to sit back and get all of our primary reading on Peter Pettigrew’s character handed to us from Sirius Black. (Hardly any of whose information has ever held up to serious examination.)
You will notice that at no point in this passage does Remus volunteer his impressions of Peter, and no one seems to think to ask Remus’s impressions on anything, as long as Sirius is around to give us his.
The main thing that this particular device invites us to overlook is the glaring fact that Peter Pettigrew tricked Sirius Black. Tricked him (and everyone else, all the way up to Dumbledore) thoroughly. And got away with it for a dozen years.
And Rowling was still waving that particular herring under our noses and throwing us completely off the scent.
Make no mistake; Once we were filled in on the basics of the situation in PoA, we could always be confident in our belief that Sirius Black was on the side of the Light. But he was probably a loose cannon from the beginning, and he was not nearly as clever as he thought he was. It is obvious that anyone who knew the right buttons to push could program him however they chose. And Peter Pettigrew knew those buttons intimately.
And I still want to know just who Black was chewing the fat with when he came up with the bright idea of being the heroic Secret Keeper decoy while “harmless” little Peter did the real job. And just who led that particular conversation?
Unfortunately, there was a built-in miscalculation. Sirius Black was so sure that he would obviously be targeted by the people that were hunting the Potters that he forgot that the issue wasn’t all about him. As usual, he underestimated the enemy, and it did not occur to him that pressure would first have been brought to bear on those who were already perceived to be weak. Before the emergency situation had arisen.
Apparently long before.
It has now been made abundantly clear that Pettigrew only betrayed the Potters because he was truly convinced that Voldemort was going to win. Like the rats of proverb, he felt that his ship was sinking and abandoned it for anything that still looked like a viable option.
But that isn’t really the kind of thing that you can convince somebody of overnight. Not unless their confidence in their own side is already shaky.
And we just don’t know that, do we?
And Peter also is stated as to have been passing information to the enemy for up to a year before he betrayed the Potters. Given what we now know of Albus’s reluctance to actually confront his enemies or do anything about combating them, it begins to sound as if the Order may not have even been in operation for a year. Certainly not if Albus never even founded it until after Trelawney threw a Prophecy in his face.
So the whole show must have been entirely left in the Ministry’s hands up to that point, mustn’t it?
And they were practically, if unwittingly, functioning as Lord Voldemort’s publicity department!
Peter may have been got at before he even joined the Order.
A contributing factor that no one seems to be giving any thought to regarding that period, and one that I think is probably the crux of the matter, is that the Marauders were no longer in school.
The social dynamics and advantages of who you run around with in school do not necessarily follow you all the days of your life. Even in the “old-boy’s club” of wizarding Britain.
Basking in the reflected glory of being a close friend of this generation’s Quidditch hero doesn’t go very far towards getting you a decent job. It certainly didn’t for Remus. And I wouldn’t count on it having amounted for much in Peter’s favor either.
We have already been told more than once that James didn’t ever really need to work for a living. Sirius also had come into enough family money at the age of 17 to be marginally self-supporting, and I am no longer convinced that either of them had matured to the point of making any final decisions over what they wanted to do with themselves in the long-term. For a couple of 18/19-year-olds they were doing just fine as they were.
But we don’t know anything about Remus or Peter’s circumstances. Remus’s family may still have been alive then, and he could live at home. The same may be true for Peter. His mother was certainly still alive in ’81 at any rate. But what is most likely is that as young wizards out of school with no known family money to depend on, both Remus and Peter were in the process of trying to find and hold down jobs that would pay well enough to support them.
Which means that the old Hogwarts dynamic of the “pair, plus one, plus one” was already in the process of dissolving. Only Sirius Black, with his little independent income could really afford to do the young layabouts together number with the ex-Quidditch hero on a continuing basis. At which they might be joined, intermittently, by poor Remus, who couldn’t keep any job much beyond a month, and whose medical condition may have still reeled them all back together every 28 days.
Or at least it may have done so until Remus took up monitoring the other werewolves for Albus, and began to lose touch. By the time James married Lily, probably within a year out of school, Remus may have already been off trying to infiltrate the werewolves’ camp.
Peter, on the other hand, had probably managed to score some entry-level, skivvy position, riding a desk somewhere in the Ministry, which does seem to be the largest single employer of qualified wizards, and he hadn’t the leisure time to be able to keep in touch apart from weekends or their presumed monthly get-togethers. And you don’t get the impression from our trip into the Pensieve that either Sirius or James would have put themselves to a lot of effort to keep in touch with Peter, off their own bat.
Peter, however would not have been willing to turn the shredding friendship loose yet. James Potter was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and even being shunted aside in Sirius’s favor by the end of their first welcome feast wouldn’t have deflected him. He clung like flypaper.
And Peter was generally known to have been a school friend of James’s. He had probably boasted of it.
And we know that the Ministry was riddled with Voldemort’s moles.
I really do think the whole business may have started much earlier than Sirius later worked it out.
Sirius and James had already foiled and escaped DE attentions three times by the time Trelawney spouted her Prophecy, after all.
And maybe for quite a while Peter felt he was informing on Sirius. Not James.
At the end of CoS, Lucius Malfoy informs Harry that his parents had been “meddlesome fools, too”.
My own “meta” view is that Rowling had not yet worked out the details of this particular “thread of evidence”. The details were not in the outline that she was working from. I think if she were to do a revised edition of CoS that statement might now read “Your father was a meddlesome fool, too.”
The very fact that Voldemort claims to have been willing to actually give Lily Potter the choice of saving herself while he murdered her husband and son — and Rowling has made it clear in her interviews since the release of HBP that Lily did have that choice — then it seems unlikely that she had been involved in whatever had painted the target on James’s back.
But, given Sirius’s attitude to the rest of his family, it is very easy to postulate that he and James had quite deliberately meddled in something that one or other of them — probably cousin Bellatrix — was involved in.
Bellatrix has some dangerous friends.
And a vindictive streak a yard wide.
And then, if my reading of the situation is correct, James and Sirius probably found themselves the targets of a Death Eater attack in retaliation. And escaped.
And, rather than knuckle under and keep their heads down, they treated the situation much in the same way as they had their ongoing guerilla war with Snape. Only this time the whole wizarding world was looking on. Well nobody would ever accuse Black & Potter of being averse to an audience. James may have even started screaming defiance in the pages of the Daily Prophet and generally setting himself up as the blood-traitor faction’s poster child. Complete with a Muggle-born bride and the Noble House of Black’s notorious renegade son at his side. It should probably be noted that by the time he died, everyone in the wizarding world seemed to know who the Potters were.
And even Voldemort himself agreed that James Potter had to go.
Much of the above obviously is “educated” speculation. And from this point, just about everything we’ve got is pure speculation, and unlikely to ever be otherwise. But, so far, it all complies with what we’ve been able to pick up from canon.
Still, for all that it was James as well as Sirius who had “gotten him into this mess” (by his reasoning), James had still once been Peter’s friend, and the people he was now dealing with weren’t.
I really don’t think that Peter started off passing information that ended up endangering James and the rest of his circle with any degree of eagerness. In fact, the founding of Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix may have served as a welcome distraction in that it enabled Peter to pass information on plenty of other desirable targets, instead. I firmly believe that the core of the Order was made up of people who had all escaped Voldemort at last three times. In Peter’s own mind he was probably still being a loyal friend to James Potter. For quite a while, too.
But not all of Voldemort’s agents are stupid. And “What have they done for you lately?” is an insidious argument. Particularly if coupled with the suggestion that with very little more effort, Peter would be in the position of being able to claim the Dark Lord’s gratitude. Which would translate into safety. A hint of apparent admiration for the cleverness and risks that Peter was taking would have gone some way in prompting Peter to reevaluate just who his real friends were.
And a lot depends upon just how effective the Order’s efforts actually were. I’ve yet to see anything in canon to convince me that they produced any kind of an effect which would have offset the public perception that Voldemort was winning.
So far as psychological warfare goes, in fact, Voldemort had already won.
By then Voldemort’s rise was well into it’s most extravagantly violent phase, and it was widely known throughout the wizarding world that if the Dark Lord wanted you dead, then you were going to die. And Peter now had to consider where he’d be if/when the Potters died.
Could he manage to conceal the fact that he had been stringing the Dark Lord along for the past couple of years by deflecting him to other targets? Once the Potters were dead, would Voldemort simply pick the rest of the Order off one at a time, including Peter — considering him of no further use? The Dark Lord would not extend any sort of clemency to him unless he actively joined him would he?
Which brings up an issue which seems to have escaped us all.
Sirius Black sat rotting in Azkaban for nearly a dozen years.
He didn’t need to. He escaped with almost absurd ease once he made up his mind to do it.
So why did he stay?
Albus Dumbledore states in PoA that Sirius Black had not really acted like an innocent man.
Well, that’s easy. He wasn’t one. Not in his own reckoning. Not really.
Yes he blamed himself for the Potters’ deaths. That would certainly have contributed to it. Guilty, guilty, guilty. And the Dementors would certainly have distorted that perception to their advantage. But it doesn’t really answer the question. No one as fundamentally self-righteous as Sirius Black is going to volunteer to sit in Azkaban for a dozen years over an honest mistake, even a big one. Particularly since Sirius was still able to console himself that he had not betrayed them.
Sirius Black thought Pettigrew was dead. He thought he HAD killed him!
That’s why he stood there laughing like a madman and didn’t resist arrest. That’s why he sat in Azkaban for a dozen years. Do you honestly think that he would have stayed there for five minutes after he discovered that the Dementors couldn’t recognize him when he was a dog if he thought that Pettigrew was alive, and running around loose? He honestly thought that he had killed Pettigrew!
No wonder he was furious over the whole business when he found how he had been tricked. No wonder he was ranting about being determined to finally commit the murder that he had spent 12 years in Azkaban for.
So let’s take another look at that murder. And the events that led up to it.
This segment is also over in the essay on Sirius Black, but it bears repeating here:
Godric’s Hollow: Voldemort has killed James and followed Lily upstairs to kill Harry. Peter who may have followed his master to the Potters’ hideout was probably lying in wait for Sirius to show up. Sirius was to die that night in any case. He was supposed to run into an ambush at Godric’s Hollow.
Then it all went boom, and Peter was stuck. I honestly don’t know whether the explosion was part of the spell going wrong or not. It may not have been. Or not have been as much of an explosion as everyone later saw. But it did blow out part of a wall and that would have been enough to have tipped Peter off that an unexpected turn had taken place.
Peter ran upstairs, found a dead Lily, a live Harry, and no Dark Lord in sight. Just his wand lying there. He panics.
Peter has nothing against Harry. And even if he knows why why Tom wanted Harry dead (which I doubt), Tom is gone so it doesn’t matter any more.
And, realizing that if Tom is not there to protect him, he is now going to be hunted by both sides Peter makes a run for it. Now that we know that the house is still standing, he may not even have grabbed Voldemort’s wand at the time, but went back for it later.
Once he gets to safety, and calms down a bit he realizes he’s botched things in his panic. He should have stayed put, killed Sirius when he showed up, “discovered” the bodies in the morning, and let Sirius be the one blamed for everything.
Although that would still leave at least one DE who knows about him still at large. But in any case, he didn’t do it. No it won’t work. He has to disappear.
So he thinks it over and moves the ambush scenario to Sirius’s doorstep. He gets his props together (no one seems to question where the heap of bloody robes at the scene of the crime came from. Animagi transform with all their clothing, and Peter was still fully dressed when Sirius and Lupin forced him to resume his own shape in the Shrieking Shack, yet there was a heap of bloodstained robes at the murder site), he cuts off his own finger, stakes out the area and takes his Animagus form. When Sirius finally returns home the next day exhausted from his search for Peter, Peter takes his own shape drops his props, yells: “How could you!” and detonates whatever he detonated, changes back and scampers into safety. He hoped that Sirius would be killed in the explosion, but he erred on the side of timidity and wasn’t quite close enough.
Sirius tells us that his handle on sanity was knowing “that he was innocent”, that he had NOT betrayed James and Lily. He doesn’t say anything about not killing Peter. He thought he had killed Peter (and those dozen Muggles). He felt that killing Peter was justice done — and put the Muggles out of his mind, but still felt that he also deserved to be in Azkaban for it.
Which means that he didn’t just stand there like a lump while Peter blew up the street. He threw something at Peter, at the same time Peter set off his own explosion. He thought that it was his explosion.
Between the two of them, it’s no wonder the street blew up! Peter may even have known what Sirius was most likely to throw. They’d known each other for years. They’d fought side by side. They’d been fellow Order members. He knew Sirius’s taste in aggressive magic. He may have taken protective precautions, and at least he tried to be sure that his own curse was going to be something Sirius would have thought that he was responsible for.
And he managed it, too.
By the time we all caught up to him in the Shack, Sirius had had a year to figure it all out. What he tells us in the Shack comes with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. He really hadn’t realized that Peter was alive until he saw his picture, with the Weasleys, in the Prophet. And then he knew that he had been tricked and was convinced that Peter was responsible for everything.
Another thing that would be readily apparent to the reader if he were not encouraged at every turn to overlook it, is that at some point along the way Pettigrew learned to be an extremely shrewd reader of a situation. And of character as well, even if he was not a rocket scientist.
And, regardless of whatever show of twittery witlessness Peter might decide to put on for the benefit of witnesses, his brain, such as it was, seems to be the kind that doesn’t necessarily have an off switch. Once he actually decided to use it, that is. We are talking about a boy who hung around with a werewolf for months and was too lazy to even bother take a good look at him.
Sirius never figured it out. Or rather he never figured out what it meant.
He enjoyed rubbing Peter’s nose in the fact that it was he who was James’s second. He never dreamed that Peter would try to pay him back.
Gryffindor House does not recognize the well-developed “back-seat driver” role that flourishes in Slytherin. Gryffindor is all about the glory, the admiration, the acclaim of the crowd. Pulling the strings from behind the scenes isn’t in its vocabulary. Gryffindor recognizes only “Leaders”, whom everyone admires, “Lieutenants” who are admired by their Leaders, and “Lone Agents”, who, in the main, admire themselves. And as they work their way up through the school, if they expect to succeed, the youngsters in Gryffindor House re-sort themselves into their proper places in this rather narrow spectrum.
Or not. Some kids will just not stop trying to take a role to which they are unsuited. Percy Weasley is a failed Leader. It is not that he could not lead, so much as that his potential followers will not let him. A true Leader requires more flexibility and charisma than Percy Weasley, despite his many virtues, and 12 OWLs, will ever have.
Peter Pettigrew is a failed Lieutenant. He was all set to be James Potter’s very best friend, and follow him to the ends of the earth. And if Sirius Black had not shown up in their year, I think that James might still be alive today, Peter might still be holding down a desk somewhere in the Ministry, and nobody would have heard of Harry Potter, or his siblings. Without Sirius defining “the enemy” as his cousin Bellatrix and anyone connected with her circle, James and Peter would have gotten up to some highly dangerous, recklessly, interesting mischief, but they would probably not have messed with matters that would have gotten themselves targeted by Death Eaters in retaliation and James would not have “defied” Voldemort the requisite three times.
But before the Start of Term Feast was over Sirius Black had effortlessly claimed Peter’s place. And Peter never got it back.
Peter, even at eleven, knew he was not a Leader. And, at eleven, Peter was not prepared to go into “Lone Agent” mode. He only really did it in the end in response to outside pressure.
Pettigrew is a lot more resourceful than anyone is admitting. His brain showed up late to the party, but when he had to he sometimes made up for lost time. Scabbers slept a lot. Peter seems to have woken up with a vengeance.
So he was hopeless at dueling. Well, so what? Life is not a duel. In a duel you don’t know what is going to be thrown at you from moment to moment, and you don’t know your opponent’s plans. In real life you can work your way around this.
You don’t like surprises? Okay. Then you take steps not to let yourself get taken by surprise, don’t you?
You learn to stay in the background. You learn to size up anyone you think you are likely to have to deal with, and to do it quickly. And if you can get close to the pack leader, you pay attention. You make a point of learning how to play him. You learn what impresses him. You learn his weaknesses. You figure out who he listens to and what approach is best to take. And you mirror what he wants to see. That’s what Lieutenants do. You don’t have to be Sirius Black in order to do that. Much as it might help.
And you never, that is, never, volunteer unnecessary information.
Dead heroes are of no use to anyone, least of all themselves.
Being a simple “yes man” is for amateurs. Most leaders would rather feel a little resistance, once and a while.
And some of them take a certain satisfaction in watching their dependents squirm. It reassures them that they are still able to exert all the control it takes to keep everything in line. So squirm, already, and do it abjectly, put on a good show, what does pride matter?
If Voldemort’s wrath can be deflected by a cringing suppliant, then maybe Sirius Black’s can too. Cringe Peter will. He’s not proud. Or, not with the kind of pride that creates dead heroes. He’ll do whatever it takes to buy himself a little more time. And he won’t wrack himself with guilt or shame for having done it afterwards, either. Guilt and shame are for suckers. Not survivors. And left to himself, Peter Pettigrew is a survivor.
Case in point: a cornered Rat reads a situation:
Sirius and Remus aren’t in a receptive mood this evening, so distract them and confuse their aim by throwing yourself on the mercy of the kids.
Well, forget Weasley. Once he gets an idea into his head he’s immovable. Why did I even bother? Oh good. Little missy has decided to play the Voice of Reason. Good girl! Keep it up. Sincerely appreciate reasonable people...
It buys time.
Okay. This is it. Here’s the plan. Go for broke and toss the Potter kid right into the “leadership” position. Black is used to deferring to a Potter — and by ghod does this kid ever look like him! — Black may just be feeling guilty enough to buy it, and Lupin never did like the idea of getting blood on his hands. Or teeth.
“Only Potter has the right to decide.”
Gotcha! You’re dead easy, Padfoot. Twelve years in Azkaban can’t make you lose your style, can it? And the kid has been being fed the story of his father the Hero ever since he entered the wizarding world. I should know, I’ve heard him repeating it.
All right, Kid, now show us all that you can be a Hero, for Daddy...
Screw dignity. It only needs to work.
But what was a young Peter Pettigrew like?
Well for one thing he wasn’t quite as hard and calculating as the examples above. He was a lot more likely to trust his chosen leaders back then. But, while he may have grown a little in skills and a lot more in selfishness, Wormtail is still unquestionably human. And he shows no signs of any kind of dementia, or misperception of reality. But he was every bit as much at risk of losing his sense of proportion as any of other Dark wizard. And he didn’t realize the danger of accepting “rewards” from Tom Riddle.
I rather think that little Peter Pettigrew might actually have been a rather attractive character, once upon a time.
Not physically attractive, perhaps. He was always a plain little thing. Short and pudgy and watery-eyed (allergies?) and he probably started losing his hair by the time he reached his 20s. And he never had anything like the overwhelming charm or charisma of either Black or Potter. But he was also certainly no more of a jerk than either of them, and I think he was probably a lively youngster with a sly grin, a quick and occasionally witty tongue and an infectious laugh. He was also a master at convincing you that he thought you were absolutely wonderful. The sort of boy that Black & Potter would have happily kept on board as a friend, an admiring audience, and sometime accomplice.
And a useful accomplice, too. Willing to try to talk his way out of almost anything, and frequently succeeding. He also did an outstanding job of running interference, creating distractions and sowing confusion. And Peter was always up for a lark. Remus was always harder to coax out of his shell. There was never any confusion back in school over why Peter was in Gryffindor.
Moving right along; somebody on the lists always eventually brings up the perennial question of why Pettigrew chose to hide out with the Weasleys.
I think that hiding out with the Weasleys is one of the first and best indications we were handed to suspect that Sirius’s estimation of Pettigrew was inadequate. Peter showed extraordinary shrewdness when he chose the Burrow for his bolt-hole.
Pettigrew found himself suddenly on the run from both sides once when it turned out that he had led Voldemort into a trap. The Death Eaters do not tolerate mistakes which “inconvenience” them. If he’d had a snowball’s chance of convincing the DEs that he was still valuable enough not to be summarily killed, Sirius would have been dead from that encounter the following day and Peter would have been acting the part of a live hero avenging his friends. But he believed, perhaps rightly, there was no chance of convincing some of Voldemort’s other followers of that, and if he intended to go on living there was no alternative for him but to “die”, and to do it as conspicuously as possible. Peter was probably alarmed when he saw that Sirius did not die in the explosion.
It was a calculated risk leaving Sirius alive to pick up whatever information might make the rounds in Azkaban, but who would Sirius tell, and who would believe him if he did? And it wasn’t like Sirius was ever getting out...
Ironically, given the lack of enthusiasm displayed by just about all of Voldemort’s followers regarding any attempt to get their Dark Lord back, Pettigrew might have been overestimating his danger in that quarter. But, really, you could hardly blame him for not daring to chance it. After all Bellatrix was still on the loose. And somebody in the organization knew his nickname.
Peter already knew of the Weasleys. He had been a member of the Order from the beginning, and had been spying for Voldemort within the ranks of Dumbledore’s supporters for at least the previous year. The Weasleys were not involved with the Order themselves, but the late Order members Gideon and Fabian Prewett were Molly’s brothers, after all.
For that matter; back in VoldWar I the Ministry and the Order of the Phoenix were allies. Even though Arthur and Molly were not members of the Order themselves, she and her husband were completely in sympathy. And Arthur was already a Ministry employee. He may have been a trusted source of Ministry information, or a go-between. Peter may even have been in a position to have known him personally.
For that matter, given that the Ministry of Magic appears to be the largest single employer of trained wizards in Britain, we cannot overlook the possibility that Pettigrew was also employed there. While wearing his “Order hat”, Peter may even have dealt with Arthur directly. It is reasonable to suppose that he knew the family, and knew where the Burrow was.
He also probably knew that the Weasleys had a growing horde of little boys who might welcome a pet. Not even Bill was old enough for Hogwarts yet in 1981, and the twins were too young for their dispositions and proclivities to be known to Peter. He knew he could be safely concealed with the Weasleys for years. And profitably, as well. At least as regards information.
Arthur works for the Ministry. By the time Harry first went up to Hogwarts Arthur was actually heading a division of the DMLE, and would have been in an excellent position to hear any interdepartmental gossip regarding Dumbledore, Voldemort OR the remaining Death Eaters. And you just KNOW that a younger Arthur had discussed everything with his “Mollywobbles” after the kids were in bed. Molly would have insisted on it.
In fact it probably put a considerable spoke in Peter’s wheel when first Percy and then Ron hauled him off to Hogwarts and away from this prime information source. But Hogwarts also offered distinct possibilities for a self-employed spy. I suspect Scabbers slept so much during the daytime because he spent hours snooping about during the evening and into the night.
And at the end of Year 2, from overhearing Harry’s inevitable debriefing with Ron and Hermione, he finally learned that VaporMort was believed to be lurking about in an Albanian forest, and made a note of it.
He probably learned this from listening to Harry telling his friends about it either in Gryffindor tower, or on the London-bound Hogwarts Express. Dumbledore had given Harry that information in his debriefing at the end of the adventure of the Chamber of Secrets.
Peter certainly would have known about the adventure of the Riddle Diary and the death of the Basilisk. After several weeks petrified, Ron and Harry needed to bring Hermione up to speed, and they would hardly have cared if Scabbers was present and listening.
Of course Peter had no idea of what it meant.
Not then anyway.
Peter — who doesn’t like surprises — never lost track of the possibility of someday needing to make a break for it and throw himself on Voldemort’s mercy. But he was in no hurry to do it.
Let’s take another look at the record, shall we? Peter Pettigrew faked his own death in Gryffindor tower and was — months later — discovered in Hagrid’s hut.
Oh, say 99% of the readers, that’s easy. He was afraid of Crookshanks.
You're damn right it’s easy. In fact it’s too bloody easy by half.
Peter is an Animagus, he doesn't need to worry about a cat. The students will protect him when they are around and when they aren’t he can protect himself. Crookshanks is a nuisance, but he isn't a compelling danger.
And if Peter is faking his death in order to make an escape, why hasn’t he done it? Here it is, 4 months later and he is still sitting it out on school property.
He wasn’t hiding from Crookshanks. He was hiding from the Marauder’s Map.
Harry wasn’t given the map until mid-December.
He connected with Ron and Hermione in Hogsmeade the first time he used it and Ron did his whinging over Fred and George giving it to Harry then. Not later in the dorm.
The eavesdropping scene at the 3 Broomsticks gave the trio plenty of other items to discuss. This was rapidly followed by the Buckbeak crisis, the Firebolt brouhaha and the 3-way quarrel between the trio — all before Christmas break was over. Before we turn around it’s Quidditch season, and then Harry is occupied with Patronus lessons which don’t go particularly well for some time. We don’t know how long it was before the Map was mentioned in Peter's hearing (It never happened in the reader’s hearing). But Peter staged his disappearance by some time in February. Before the 2nd time Harry snuck out with the Map and both Snape and Lupin caught him with it, and Lupin confiscated it.
The inside of Hagrid’s hut is off the map. Lupin later claims that it was only after the trio left Hagrid’s with Scabbers/Peter in their custody that Peter showed up on the Map. Peter would have known that the hut was a safe area where he would have been undetected. That’s why he was there. I think he intended to wait it out in the hut until the school year ended, stow away in Ron’s luggage and be “discovered” on the way home. (And to hide at the Burrow before Ron could bring him back the following year) Unfortunately, Hermione rooted him out of his hidey-hole and the jig was up.
Indeed, once he discovered that the old Marauders’ Map was back in play, (around February) he faked his death as Scabbers and shifted his operations to the discomfort of having to dodge Fang and Buckbeak in Hagrid’s hut, rather than leave Hogwarts and strike out on his own.
It was certainly Peter who nabbed Voldemort’s wand at Godric’s Hollow (JKR has admitted as much on her website). Voldemort was in no condition to take it with him. Which provides us with convincing circumstantial evidence that Peter, at least, WAS indeed at Godric’s Hollow, even though we have no convincing evidence of just exactly when. And dead useful that wand of Voldemort’s, since his own wand may have had to be left at the scene of his “murder”. Although that conclusion is far from certain. All they say they found was bloody robes and a finger, not a wand.
While we are on the subject of wands: I think little Peter Pettigrew has a “thing” for lifting other people’s wands. He may have had quite the collection by the end of GoF — although he also may have been forced to donate that collection to the DEs that Voldemort sprung from Azkaban.
He had certainly taken charge of Voldemort’s after Godric’s Hollow.
For that matter, while we’re on the subject of Godric’s Hollow, he may just have helped himself to James and Lily’s wands as well. They no longer needed them.
One of his last observed acts in PoA was to make a snatch for Lupin’s and he’d have kept it if Harry hadn’t gotten it off him.
We still have Bertha Jorkins’s wand unaccounted for, too, and Barty Crouch Sr made his escape on Wormtail’s watch, and seems to have made his way to Hogwarts without one. Peter probably still has his. And, once the shouting was over in the graveyard, I suspect that he also helped himself to Cedric’s.
If the Weasleys had any stored in the attic, I doubt they are still there by now. (And if there were any old wands lying around at Spinners’ End I’d suggest that Snape double-check whether they were still there after Pettigrew was recalled.)
Don’t ever leave an unattended wand out around Pettigrew. You’ll never see it again. Or maybe only in Peter’s hand, aimed at you.
I suspect that Peter really got off on using Voldemort’s wand.
Not that he used it much. Didn’t need to as a rat. There was certainly no record of extra spells in the wand’s log. But I’m sure he enjoyed having it.
I think that if Remus and Sirius had had the presence of mind to search Peter when they forced him back into human form in the shrieking shack, they might have found that wand, too, although he could have already have stashed it at Hagrid’s hut for safekeeping. Or left it safe in the Weasley’s attic. It is a 13-inch wand, and Peter is not a tall man.
Although none of this really makes much sense against Olivander’s statement that he had to make a new wand for Pettigrew soon after he was taken into custody by the DEs. Nor against his other statements that most wizards can use most wands without too much trouble. If they have to. I think Rowling simply lost track of the whole issue when she finally had to provide Ron with a new wand.
(She certainly lost track of her earlier statement that Olivander had disappeared with no signs of violence and that his shop was empty. What happened to all his stock? Wasn’t there a wand in all of the hundreds there that Peter could have used?)
But Peter was too comfortable living the simple life of a pet rat to take the kind of risks that any such desperate measure on the order of a trip to Albania required unless forced to it. Which he ultimately was.
And for once, Voldemort actually delivered even more than his follower could have ever dreamed. For nearly a year Pettigrew had his Master utterly dependent upon himself. He should have gotten off his duff and made his way to Albania years earlier. But Pettigrew couldn’t be arsed as long as he was drifting along in reasonable comfort. And if he hadn’t waited, the payoff wouldn’t have been nearly so high.
Which brings us to Act Two of this particular play.
Voldemort and Wormtail.
Our first double portrait of this unholy pair is in the first chapter of Goblet of Fire. And as this particular shoal of red herrings do their little fan dance, our first impression is one of whimpering, submissive little Wormtail being ground under the heel of yet another playground bully.
But is it really? On a closer look, I’m not so sure. Do a reality check. It is Voldemort who is utterly dependent on Wormtail, not the other way around. If anything, this is a picture of a bad-tempered, rich invalid and his nurse. And Voldemort makes a very bad “patient”. He’s fretful and querulous and simply miserable. And he takes this out on Peter by lashing out with petty spite and insults and accusations. He waves his preference for Barty Crouch Jr (whom neither of them has seen in over a decade) under Wormtail’s nose to taunt him. In return, Peter dutifully feeds him every signal to assure him that he is just the servant here, it is Voldemort who is in charge.
It’s much safer to be dismissed as a cringing minion and not too bright than to let the tyrant who is physically in your power start viewing you as a threat, you know. That would constitute a positive invitation to get yourself removed as soon as he no longer needs you. Play it humble. Verbal abuse isn’t going to raise any blisters.
So in light of DHs, we now have conclusive evidence that when Peter sold out he stayed sold. And my speculations above as to his resourcefulness seem to have been trumped by Rowling’s determination to sign her whole cast of dozens up for a group rate on frontal lobotomies. For in DHs Peter was finally rendered into another of Rowling’s disposable plot devices.
Because, until she finally got rid of him, just by the act of keeping him around she had managed to suggest that he was still significant. And as it turned out, *surprise!* he wasn’t. Not in the least. Not once he helped Tom out of the cauldron.
If Peter had really been anything like as resourceful as she had already demonstrated him to be, and if he was as aware that BabyMort was as dependent upon his cooperation as BabyMort clearly was, rather than just being an unconsidered puppet with his author pulling his strings when the plot demanded it, then he could have easily have done an end run around Black and Lupin, by getting Voldemort’s wand away from him (which he was certainly capable of) and turning himself in to either Albus OR the Ministry.
Handing a disarmed BabyMort over to them would have translated into instant amnesty and probably a full pardon for anything he had ever done in the course of VoldWar I. For he had certainly led a blameless life after it, and one could hardly have faulted him for not allowing Black and Lupin to give him to the Dementors. The worst of Tom’s followers were inside. Either the Ministry or Albus would have been honor bound to protect him from Black (who was out of the country by then). Lupin would have toed whatever line Albus told him to, and he preferred not getting his hands dirty anyway. And they would be stuck having to deal with Tom. But that would not have been Peter’s responsibility.
And if he wanted to, Peter could have ratted out Barty Jr for good measure. Which by that time his father may have viewed as almost a relief.
But of course then we wouldn’t have had the nonsense of Harry having to compete in the TriWizard tournament, He, and we would have just had to watch it. And there would be no further developments to the story until whoever had custody of BabyMort managed to drop the ball and he found another patsy.
The only point at which Peter seems to have fumbled the ball in this scene was when his inherent laziness got the better of him and he tried to cover two bases at once. He was out of practice. His suggestion of being let off his leash to find a substitute for Harry Potter was probably absolutely sincere. But the last thing on his mind was to make an escape. He just wants out of the position of glorified nursemaid for a spell. That’s just too bloody much like work, y’know?
Nor was Peter quite the feckless fool that Voldemort spitefully calls him. Before he went anywhere near the point of confronting Voldemort in his forest lair, Pettigrew had exercised the uncommon foresight to supply himself with a witness/hostage.
That this hostage was the ever-so-useful Bertha Jorkins was pure chance — but that Peter didn’t go to meet Voldemort unaccompanied probably was not. Peter really wasn’t that stupid. Or that forgetful. Or uninformed. He knew what became of Professor Quirrell.
With this in mind, let’s take another look at the following exchange;
“I found you,” said Wormtail, and there was definitely a sulky edge to his voice now. “I was the one who found you. I brought you Bertha Jorkins.”
“That is true,” said the second man, sounding amused. “A stroke of brilliance I would not have thought possible from you, Wormtail — though, if truth be told, you were not aware of how useful she would be when you caught her, were you?”
“I — I though she would be useful, My Lord —”
“Liar,” said the second voice again, the cruel amusement more pronounced than ever.
Reads just a little differently, this time round, doesn’t it?
We see no more of this pair until Harry’s vision in chapter twenty-nine. And at that time we get only a glimpse of Wormtail being punished for the very serious error of allowing Crouch Sr to escape. And in that glimpse he takes his lumps as stolidly as anyone undergoing the Cruciatus Curse can. It is very likely that at that point Voldemort was not yet able to channel the full strength necessary for a really powerful Cruciatus, (Barty Crouch Sr managed to throw off his Imperius in a just a manner of months, if you recall) but Wormtail was not likely to give him any reason to suspect that.
But, once Crouch Jr was out of the running for the post of “most faithful servant”, Wormtail found himself briefly going head-to-head against Lucius Malfoy. And Malfoy was neither demented nor an amateur. One wonders just exactly what were the circumstances under which Tom knew to pry the information about the loss of the Diary out of Malfoy.
It is a pity that we never got the opportunity to to watch whether such a fine example of an ingrained, traditional Slytherin Politician was able to outmaneuver a dyed-in-the-wool Gryffindor subversive. But while Peter seems never to have been particularly highly valued by his Master once that Master had returned to the material plane, he also seems to have never fallen so far as Malfoy did.
Peter remained fully in play, and butting heads with Bellatrix, and was at least temporarily planted on Severus Snape in Snape’s own home. (Or, rather, sent in advance to spy on Narcissia Malfoy if she figured out the Dark Lord’s double-cross hidden in Draco’s mission and went running to Snape.)
Underneath it all, Peter is still a thoroughgoing Gryffindor, for all his underhandedness. Pettigrew’s mode of operation shows none of the strengths or particular skills of Slytherin House. He forges no “peer” alliances and he does no deals. He opens no negotiations and he makes neither threats nor innuendos. He shares no information and takes no one into any level of his confidence. And he doesn’t really get out there and jockey for position either.
And the former Tom Riddle was probably at a standstill trying to figure out what to do with him.
He didn’t want to just dispense with him. He’s too short-handed as it was. And besides, the Rat had proved that he could be useful. (And he already knew enough to be dangerous if unsupervised. He was there when Tom created the Snake Horcrux, after all. Probably even assisted — even though I seriously doubt that Tom filled him in on just what he was doing.) But Tom didn’t understand him in the least.
When a Gryff isn’t trying to lead the troops and hasn’t entrenched himself in a role of trusted Lieutenant, he is very likely to be off on his own in full-bore “Lone Agent” mode, even if only in his daydreams. And Pettigrew was acting absolutely independently. Unconnected to anyone in the organization but Tom himself. More so than Bellatrix even. But with none the personal devotion.
The alliances of Slytherin House are much shallower and far more flexible than the deep tribal associations of Hufflepuff, but the Slyths nevertheless depend heavily on their “connections”. It is a rare Slytherin indeed who chooses to act outside of his “network”.
[Post-HBP note: the above statement was originally written years before we ever met Horace Slughorn.]
The Hat sorts children, not really by their personalities, but by their goals and values. Peter is an example of what can happen when those goals and values shift.
Gryffindor is all about the admiration, and who gives it.
Slytherin is all about winning. Whatever it takes. Whatever the cost. And the hell with whether anyone admires you for having done it. It is not unknown or even uncommon for a Slytherin to win only at a cost that was higher than he can afford to pay. Tom Riddle is proof enough of that.
When Peter Pettigrew was Sorted he was a Lieutenant in search of a Leader who would admire him for his own qualities.
And Peter’s chosen Leader almost immediately chose another Lieutenant that he admired much more than he did Peter Pettigrew.
And Peter spent 7 years trying to bypass his rival and recapture the attention of his chosen Leader.
For Peter Pettigrew it became all about the winning.
But he was already Sorted by then.
Oh yes, Pettigrew could certainly have survived being sorted into Slytherin House. He might even have thrived there. He would at least have learned those Slytherin networking skills that he lacks. Although I doubt he would have ever rated admittance to the Slug Club.
But it would have been no better a fit for Peter than Gryffindor was. In fact it would have probably been a better fit for Harry (who could also stand to learn something about networking) than for Peter. And we all know what an awkward fit it would have been for Harry, don’t we?
Although, on reflection, it might have been amusing to watch Peter cozying up to Severus Snape (all those lovely destructive hexes, y’know? That’s just so kewl!), jockeying hopefully for Malfoy’s attention, or developing a crush on and trying to impress Narcissa Black.
But I think that it might clear some of our lingering confusion about Peter Pettigrew to consider that it wasn’t simple physical timidity that kept Peter a step behind Black & Potter. It was that fatal laziness. Plus a somewhat more prudent grasp of his own limits. Any of their exploits that they let him in on, he was in up to his neck, and as recklessly as either of them.
Up until our trip into the Pensieve most readers also overlooked the fact that Pettigrew also had a seriously underestimated taste for violent mayhem. Blowing the gas line in the middle of a Muggle street was his own contribution to that particular drama. Nobody suggested that to him from outside.
No. Either as boy or man, I would say that everybody’s “harmless” little Peter Pettigrew was a closet thrill seeker.
If he had fit the basic demographic, and had not had a personal history of trailing along after a couple of demonstrated blood-traitors he might have positively enjoyed being a Death Eater.
If Tom Riddle had not been so insistent upon his blood-superiority rhetoric, he might have signed him up years earlier.