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Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection: Potterverse Subjects - The Pettigrew Puzzle
Potterverse Subjects

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Well, for a long time, I, as well a lot of Rowling’s other older fans, was convinced that Pettigrew would somehow turn out to be highly significant.

We all had a fine old time laughing up our sleeves at the kids whose fanfics completely omitted him from their whole story because “they didn’t like him”, secure in the certainty that Rowling would bring him back at the grand climax to do something that would be majorly important to the final outcome. Even if he did it completely unwittingly or unwillingly.

Well, it turns out that the kids were right. Pettigrew, in the end, was completely disposable. Even Rowling doesn’t seem to have known quite what to do with him after GoF.

Or how to get rid of him, either. Ultimately she hustled him offstage with neither a bang nor a whimper, indeed with no more than a split-second of hesitation and not even the breath for a squeak.

Talk about an anti-climax...

I had invested a great deal of time watching Peter Pettigrew over the course of several years, so I will have to admit to having been somewhat miffed by his ignominious exit. Not really much more than that, though. By the time Peter Pettigrew made that final exit the whole series had become such a train wreck that I couldn’t really get particularly het up solely on his account.

Still, several years of Pettigrew-watching had resulted in the generation of a couple of theories which ended up being unequivocally hosed. Most of my observations on his character still remained fairly sound. But the theories were hosed entirely. So they have taken up residence here in the 7th Son elephants’ graveyard of dead theories.

• • • •

Theory #1; although in the wake of HBP this one was already looking like a rather unlikely possibility, it was still arguable that by the time we caught up to him, Peter may have gained a slight artificial advantage.

There had earlier been sufficient canon evidence to strongly suggest, if not to absolutely confirm that, having led the Dark Lord to the slaughter, Wormtail was also at the house in Godric’s Hollow the night of Voldemort’s defeat.

In CoS Dumbledore directly told us that Harry absorbed “some of Voldemort’s power” when the curse rebounded and destroyed the Dark Lord. Was this simply due to the dynamics of the Changeling hypothesis? Did Harry have some of Voldemort’s power because Harry inadvertently become Voldemort’s 6th Horcrux? Was this because Harry was the original focus of the rebounding curse?

Or was it merely because he was the nearest living person in range?

Was he the only living person in range?

Not if Peter was also there.

Could Peter have also been carrying some newly acquired magical power that he did not have when he was back in school when he confronted Sirius the next day? Is it significant that Voldemort planned his return to the physical plane around the creation a simulacrum by the use of the flesh of this particular servant, as well as the blood of Harry Potter? (“When shall we three meet again?”) Because he clearly did plan it that way. Voldemort tells us as much in the first chapter of Goblet of Fire. Voldemort doesn’t always overlook major details in a complex puzzle, you know.

• • • •

For that matter, we also had the nagging problem of the ruined house to juggle. I have no clear idea of what Rowling means by the ruined house. While we have been shown in canon that the AK curse is destructive to inanimate objects, it is a bit of a stretch to suppose that a single rebounding AK (which actually found a living target) would generate enough force to destroy a house.

And, for that matter, I doubted very much that the curse that Voldemort tried to kill Harry with was an AK, too.

Was the destruction of the house an indication that the curse Voldemort threw at Harry Potter was not an AK, but some specific Horcrux-creating curse instead? The Priori Incantatum on his wand at the end of GoF gave us no clue of what curse he used to try to kill Harry. In fact, unless Lily’s echo served as the log entry for that curse, the Priori Incantatum skipped right over it.

So was the damage to the house because a — to us— unfamiliar, and improperly grounded curse went violently wrong?

Or might the damage to the house at Godric’s Hollow have been Pettigrew’s own contribution to the ongoing confusion about just what happened there? Perhaps the entrapping and framing of Sirius Black was not the first time that Pettigrew had explored the possibilities inherent in the Muggle gas mains.

For that matter, if the “secret” he was keeping was the Potters’ location, rather than the Potters themselves, would destroying the house have broken the secret without anyone ever knowing who the Secret’s keeper had been?

Because we’ve now seen in canon that just sharing the secret does not break it. And if it was the Potters themselves that were hidden, the secret ought to have still held, since Harry was still alive. And if killing Lily and James would have broken the secret, then there would be no need to damage the house to conceal the identity of the Keeper.

So. Do the bindings between Harry and Voldemort actually go three ways to include Peter Pettigrew, who arguably may carry some power from Voldemort, owes a wizard’s debt to Harry, and whose very flesh was used to facilitate Voldemort’s return?

Questions, questions.

None of which Rowling ultimately chose to answer.

• • • •

Additional Theories; I very much doubted that Pettigrew turned his coat on his own initiative. For one thing, Pettigrew is too lazy. For another, we don’t really hear that he had a lot of other friends, do we? I really do think that outside pressure was probably brought to bear. Originally.

If this is the case, Peter’s big mistake was to look the other way when he first started drifting into a position where he was being pressured to go in a direction he had not ever considered taking, and letting whatever control he had over the situation be taken out of his own hands.

After all, it would have been uncomfortable to look the situation in its face. And Peter Pettigrew very much prefers his comfort, if he can get it. Rowling has Albus Dumbledore making a fine-sounding statement that it is important to resist the temptation to do what is easy instead of what is right, but we have seldom seen Harry being offered any easy choices. (Although Albus certainly was offered the choice of sitting on his arse and doing nothing for years, and seems rarely to have failed to exercise that choice, too.) If Rowling had any real intention of following through on this statement and showing an illustration of this kind of choosing (and it wouldn’t be the first time she didn’t follow through on something that she’d pointed out to us and flagged as important) this must be something that we were going to have to witness by example. Somebody else’s example. Someone other than Harry.

And while we have shining examples of this kind of failure in both Albus and Horace Slughorn, Pettigrew does appear to at least be another viable possibility for an example of failing to rise to meet this particular challenge. If he’d been more alert he might have spotted the danger signs. If he had been more committed to the Order, he would have refused to cooperate. In either case, what he’d have done about the threat it we’ll never know. But what he did do, I think, was to start weaving himself stories about how, yes, he was on top of the situation and that none of the information he was passing was doing any real harm. Certainly no harm to James.

And I doubt that the information he started out passing was even particularly dangerous, either. But it just didn’t stop there.

I didn’t think Peter made any snap decisions about changing his alliances. He was passing information to a DE, or DE-sympathizer for an extended period of time before he made that final decision to throw in his lot with the DEs. And over that period he was not yet either a Death Eater himself, nor even a true supporter. He was an informant. Over the year (at least) that he is now known to have been spying, he was almost certainly reporting by way of an intermediary. I think he had not yet taken the Mark.

And his intermediary is almost certainly one of the DEs who ended up in Azkaban. It was in Azkaban that Sirius Black heard his fellow prisoners muttering about “Wormtail”.

This reading is also, by-and-large, the official Ministry interpretation for the activities that they have assigned to Sirius Black, as summarized by Fudge in the Three Broomsticks. The Ministry was wrong in their assignment, but there is no reason to believe that they were necessarily wrong in interpreting the backtrail of leaked information.

• • • •

Much of the above obviously is “educated” speculation. But, from this point, just about everything I’ve got is pure speculation. So far, it all complies with what we’ve been able to pick up from canon.

Indeed, the very consistency with which Rowling deflected any attention directed at Pettigrew made me suspect that the truth could be something quite other than Sirius Black’s oh-so-certain interpretation of deliberate treachery. I began to wonder whether Pettigrew may have managed to trap himself in a daydream. And, we know the regularity with which wizards are capable of convincing themselves of six impossible things before breakfast.

After all, it isn’t like Rowling hasn’t managed to up-end just about every other piece of information she has ever given us through “the Sirius filter”.

And, then, we do also have to at least consider Pettigrew’s own statement on the matter when we cornered him in PoA. Could he have legitimately been trying to explain himself? When he claimed that he never meant it to happen, could he have possibly been telling the truth? Or at least an imperfect version of the truth?

Well, just barely.

Particularly if you can entertain the possibility that from Peter’s end of the equation the target wasn’t ever James, but Sirius.

You see, at that point I also rather thought that it was Peter, if anyone, who struck up the original friendship with James Potter on the Hogwarts Express so beloved by fanon. I thought that Sirius Black had probably been stuck in a compartment with his female cousins, who had been told to watch him, and keep him out of trouble.

I thought that it wasn’t until after they had all been sorted into Gryffindor that James and Sirius hit it off like long-lost brothers (They were actually cousins), and Peter suddenly found himself left out in the cold.

Peter spent the following 7 years trying to get closer to James, to edge Sirius out of the way, and take his place. And Sirius kept rubbing Peter’s nose in the fact that he came in a distant third.

• • • •

But, I did think that pressure was brought to bear. Possibly even before the Trelawney Prophesy was made, or the Order of the Phoenix founded. Although that was far from certain.

It was probably quite soon after James Potter first showed up on the DE’s radar, anyway. James supposedly had at least three narrow escapes before the Prophecy was made. And just because Sirius calculated that Pettigrew had been spying for a year before Voldemort’s fall, does not mean that it might not have actually been longer. Peter was not a DE yet. The DEs whose Azkaban mutterings Sirius based his calculations on may not have known about “Wormtail” any earlier than the very end of the Dark Lord’s rise. Peter wasn’t a part of the “Brotherhood”. He wasn’t even an associate, he was an informant. Whoever he was informing would not have been bandying his code name about in meetings. He was a resource that needed to be kept under wraps.

Still, for all that it was James as well as Sirius who had “gotten him into this mess” (by Peter’s 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. For quite a few years I firmly believed that the core of the Order was made up of people who had all escaped Voldemort’s attentions, or those of the DEs. In Peter’s own mind he was probably still being a loyal friend to James Potter. For quite a while, too.

And Peter thought that he was getting away with it, and, of course, he assumed that his luck would hold.

He also didn’t volunteer the information that the Order had anything to do with a couple of children (note: hardly surprising. Peter never volunteers information of any kind) . And Voldemort’s agent, Peter’s “handler”, not knowing about the Prophecy, never knew to ask about that. And so matters rested.

Until finally the Dark Lord made up his mind to attack the Potters. And to do it personally.

• • • •

By that time 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 two 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 Peter unless Peter actively supported him would he?

Maybe the safest course to take was to make sure that Voldemort never found the Potters?

Only; James didn’t accept Dumbledore’s offer to be his Secret Keeper when the subject first came up. And now that they’ve investigated that spell, James wants Sirius to be his Secret Keeper.

That’s just too risky a situation. Besides, Peter has been pushing Sirius’s buttons and encouraging him to suspect everybody but himself for years. Successfully.

It’s not that Sirius is stupid, it’s not that Sirius isn’t a powerful wizard — for his age — and he’s certainly loyal to James. But if he bollixes up this job where will Peter be?

And there is nothing that Peter could say that would convince Sirius to turn the job over to Dumbledore. Not now, Not knowing how they had all hoodwinked the old man when they were still in school.

Besides, Dumbledore doesn’t really like any of them, except maybe Lily. Peter can tell that much. The Potters don’t matter nearly as much to Albus as the Longbottoms.

But if Peter played Sirius right — and it was laughably easy to play Sirius Black, you just couldn’t get rid of him — he might be able to convince Sirius to turn the job over to Peter.

Wait a minute.

Maybe one could get rid of him.

After all, no one would suspect Peter of being the Potters’ Secret Keeper. He would be able to play dumb on that issue and make himself useful to the Dark Lord in various other matters, and have himself covered both ways.

• • • •

I still really do rather think that Peter may have intended to go on keeping the Potter’s secret location in reserve as he worked his way up through the DE ranks. He didn’t originally turn his coat on his own initiative, but once he started to actually consider the possibilities, he gradually began to see vast opportunities for someone of his particular talents.

Face it, even as a member of the Order, Peter knew he would never in a million years have been able to make himself indispensable to Dumbledore. And in Voldemort he may have believed he had found himself a leader who could offer him just about everything he had ever wanted. In spades. And no lack of little weaknesses for him to exploit, either.

But Sirius Black would have to be gotten out of the way once the substitution was accomplished. You can play him easily enough, but you can never count on him not to suddenly put two and two together later. And that would be bad. Just... no, better not to even think of it. Peter is a master at not thinking of what he doesn’t want to think of.

And it was Sirius who had always discounted and jeered at Peter, too. Even when they were all boys back in school. Especially when they were all boys back in school.

No. Sirius had to die. Even if James and Lily didn’t. Or, at any rate, not yet. Once Sirius was dead, and everyone believed that he had been the Secret Keeper, then no one would expect to be able to find the Potters.

• • • •

We all keep overlooking the fact that Sirius had arranged to check on Peter the night that the Potters were killed. And Peter knew this. He may have expected to be back at his hideout before Sirius turned up.

It is also very possible that Peter being a no-show for this arranged visit was intended to lead Sirius into an ambush.

Given that anyone might have predicted that Sirius’s first action upon finding Peter gone would have been first to check on the Potters’ safety, I am inclined to think that this may have been what Peter intended.

But still, the fact that Peter was not at his hideout when Sirius showed up may be the first indication that something had gone badly awry.

Peter would have wanted to see to it that Sirius was eliminated fairly quickly. But he probably did expect to have at least some time to make arrangements. And I suspect that what he intended to arrange was a presumed Death Eater attack, possibly on his own hideout, in which Sirius Black would be killed. And to do this, he had to get an official hand in with the Death Eaters. He had to actually join them.

Consequently, I believe that Peter had fully intended to be snug and safe in his hideout by the time Sirius showed up to check on him.

It was at this point that Peter’s house of cards collapsed around his ears.

• • • •

About a week after the Potters went into hiding, which happened to be Halloween night, self-anointed “Secret Agent Pettigrew” set up his big bluff. Made his big mistake. He agreed to take the Dark Mark. And he intended to finger Sirius Black as the Potters’ Secret Keeper.

We’d been told by Karkaroff that no one but Voldemort knew the names of all his followers (a statement which has been called somewhat into question by the fact that the group of raiders who were smuggled into Hogwarts at the end of HBP didn’t even bother to wear their masks). And Pettigrew was known by Voldemort to be an informer inside Dumbledore’s Order whose identity required protection. If there was any kind of an assembly, Peter was introduced to it, if at all, simply as “Wormtail”. But it is far more likely that the meeting was between Voldemort, Peter, and Peter’s intermediary alone. Voldemort welcomed Peter, and marked him. And Peter met the Dark Lord’s eyes.

And Voldemort is a Legilimens.

And Peter was trapped.

It seems clear from everything he ever said in PoA or GoF that Sirius Black had never heard of Legilimency — not until someone had explained it to him by the opening of OotP. Legilimency and Occlumency are described as an obscure branch of magic. They are not on the Hogwarts curriculum. I tend to suspect that as far back as 1981 none of the Marauders (apart from, possibly, Lupin) were aware of it. Peter had no idea of what he was walking into.

He had only been keeping that particular Secret for about a week, it was at the forefront of his mind. But he had also only just come forward to join the DEs. He went into his usual emergency tap-dance to the tune of not having wanted to entrust this information to anyone but the Dark Lord himself, and he may have convinced himself of it well enough for Voldemort to sit back and claim to accept the story.

And then Voldemort made his announcement to anyone who was in attendance (possibly only Peter’s handler) that Wormtail had brought him a wonderful present, and that he was off to visit the Potters. Insisting that Peter accompany him so he could see the fruits of his “loyalty” to himself. And dismissed the others.

Snape, who was not present at that meeting (he had a cover at Hogwarts to maintain) alerted Dumbledore when his Dark Mark disappeared; which is what alerted all of Voldemort’s followers to the fall of the Dark Lord.

To the remaining DEs it would have sounded as if “Wormtail” had shown up out of the blue and immediately led their Master into a trap.

And it would have been a few weeks before anyone knowing of the existence of Wormtail showed up in Azkaban to start fulminating against him.

At this point that narrows it down to Rookwood. But there may have been other DEs unmasked after the Dark Lord’s fall as well. Three of the Azkaban escapees in OotP are still unnamed. And for that matter we now know that Yaxley was also employed at the Ministry. But if Yaxley was the contact, there is no link to Azkaban, since Yaxley seems to have managed to have escaped suspicion in the wake of VoldWar I.

And, with the effect of the Dementors hanging over him, Sirius wasn’t likely to have taken much of an interest until the name “Wormtail” was actually brought up.

• • • •

But, in any case, as of HBP I was convinced we hadn’t seen the last of Peter Pettigrew. Not by a long shot. I couldn’t believe that Rowling was keeping him in the background the way she was without a reason.

And, we still didn’t know just where in the equation regarding the problem of Lord Voldemort and his multiple Horcruxes Peter Pettigrew actually fit.

Well. Silly me.