Ani's Note: This was an essay written for a community on Livejournal. I reproduce it here with premission.
Peter Pettigrew in Four Parts by Pauraque
I realize that this is insanely long. Forgive me, I can't help it -- I'm a Ravenclaw. I would like very much to hear dissenting opinions, other possible motivations, etc., so I'd been hoping for a more public place to post this than my own LJ. This comm seemed to fit the bill.
Thanks to cedarlibrarian, idlerat, maidenjedi, muridae_x, neotoma, somniesperus, telepwen, theatresm, theclox, and everyone else who's ever talked rat with me.
Someone once remarked, in discussing X-Files fanfic, that Alex Krycek is a ruthless double agent and assassin, not a weepy little pansy -- but that a character who is both a ruthless assassin *and* a weepy little pansy would be very interesting!
Peter Pettigrew appears to be this character. In the course of the books, he betrays one friend, frames another, kidnaps and mutilates a teenaged boy, resurrects an evil wizard, and personally commits no fewer than thirteen murders. And while he does these things, he is terrified, hysterical, sobbing, fawning, groveling for mercy -- hardly the cold-blooded sociopath you might expect. Who is this person?
Sirius tells us that Peter was and is stupid and talentless. McGonagall agrees that he was not as talented as his friends.
However, the fact that Peter is capable of the Animagus transformation at the age of fifteen bespeaks some innate skill. In GoF, Peter is able to successfully cast Avada Kedavra, and to resurrect Voldemort. He apparently does these things with Voldemort's wand (judging from the fact that Cedric Diggory's shade later emerges from it), but he still must be quite skillful to pull them off, particularly under heavy duress. It's reasonable to assume that his magical skills improved under Voldemort's tutelage, or that of another Death Eater. (It may even be possible that he was admitted to the Order only *after* this "outside study".) Peter may have struggled in school, but he is clearly not talentless.
How about the other charge? Is Peter stupid? The only character who seems not to think so is Lupin. He describes Peter's plan to frame Sirius as "brilliant" -- and perhaps it was, especially if it was thought up in the heat of the moment. Voldemort also gives Peter some credit in GoF, explaining how he had the presence of mind to realize he could use Bertha Jorkins to his advantage, and tricked her into coming with him. All in all, it's hard to say -- we don't hear Peter say much in the books, and when we do, he's almost always in a terrifying situation. I'd say he's a person whose emotions frequently overwhelm his reason.
Nonetheless, Peter's relationships with other characters are all unequal. Whether he's the lame leg of the Marauders or Voldemort's fawning slave, we always see him in a subordinate role. Not only did he choose to live as a child's pet for twelve years, but he seems to have completely forgotten that this is something to be ashamed of when he first transforms back, and pleads with Ron to help him:
'Kind boy ... kind master [...] I was your rat ... I was a good pet...' [PoA 274 UK pb]
If we *don't* assume that he's inherently weak, we must guess that he gets some kind of satisfaction, pleasure, or comfort out of behaving submissively. He's evidently internalized this role, and relies on it to get him out of trouble. He may even have *tried* to seem useless, afraid that if he challenged the people around him, he would lose their protection. And protection is something he evidently values greatly, whether the protector is James Potter, or Voldemort himself.
I'll come back to this.
Peter's central action in the books is undoubtedly his betrayal of James and Lily Potter, which leads to both of their deaths. But the reasons for this betrayal are very vaguely explained. Here I've listed as many possible motivations as I could think of, and explored each in turn. Many of these are not mutually exclusive; the truth could be a combination of several.
1. Peter hated James. That's all there was to it.
This idea is surprisingly persistent in the fandom, but there is little direct evidence to support it. In the books, Peter always treats James with reverence, and always speaks of him as someone to be admired. If this behavior masks hatred, why aren't we shown even the slightest hint of it?
2. Voldemort forced Peter to join him and betray James.
When Peter admits to the betrayal, this is the excuse he offers.
'The Dark Lord ... you have no idea ... he has weapons you can't imagine [...] He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named forced me--' [PoA 274 UK pb]
'He would have killed me, Sirius!' [PoA 275 UK pb]
It is certainly true that Voldemort forces people to do things, and will kill them if they refuse. It's possible that a Death Eater who knew Peter (such as Snape, Lucius Malfoy, or Regulus Black) suggested to Voldemort that Peter was a weak link in the Order, so Voldemort sought him out to torture him for information, and he broke down.
However, there is some doubt as to whether even the grimmest of tortures could have broken Peter's will once he was made Secret-Keeper. My understanding is that a Secret-Keeper *can't* divulge the secret unless he truly wants to, of his own free will.
But more importantly than that, if Peter had truly not wanted any harm to come to his friends, *he would have refused* when James asked him to be Secret-Keeper in the first place. We know Peter was already a Death Eater by that point -- Peter himself doesn't even bother to deny it once he's admitted to the betrayal. Voldemort would have no way to know that James had made the request, so there would have been no danger to Peter in saying no.
3. Peter is amoral and self-serving -- he joined Voldemort and did as he asked simply because he thought he was choosing the winning side.
This is the explanation that Sirius offers, and that JKR has suggested in interviews. Peter even implies it himself:
'He -- he was taking over everywhere! [...] Wh-- what was there to be gained by refusing him?' [PoA 274 UK pb]
'You returned to [Voldemort], not out of loyalty, but out of fear of your old friends.' [GoF 563 UK pb]
But Peter's actions do not entirely bear this out. When Peter went into hiding after Voldemort's fall, he had three options: a) Run away and never come back, b) Look for an opportune moment to return to Dumbledore, or c) Wait until Voldemort is powerful again, and find a way to regain his trust.
The safest option is undoubtedly a), but the prospect of living on the run indefinitely may have been too much for Peter. But assuming that Peter is indeed amoral, what's wrong with b)? Did Peter really think Voldemort was coming back? Why? Did he really think Voldemort was more likely to forgive him than Dumbledore was, especially after he saw that Dumbledore had evidently forgiven Snape? Did throwing himself on Dumbledore's mercy really seem like a bad idea compared to waiting for the cruelest wizard who ever lived to somehow return, and then throwing himself on *his* mercy?
This doesn't make sense. I don't think Peter's fawning is all for show -- on some level, Voldemort truly does command Peter's loyalty in a way that Dumbledore never did.
And consider this:
Goyle reached towards the Chocolate Frogs next to Ron -- Ron leapt forward, but before he'd so much as touched Goyle, Goyle let out a horrible yell.
Scabbers the rat was hanging off his finger, sharp little teeth sunk deep into Goyle's knuckle -- Crabbe and Malfoy backed away as Goyle swung Scabbers round and round, howling, and when Scabbers finally flew off and hit the window, all three of them disappeared at once.
[PS 82 UK pb]
This is perhaps the noblest thing we've ever seen Peter do. He himself is not in danger, and in fact, neither is Ron. Peter puts himself in harm's way, attacking something much bigger than himself, simply to defend Ron against a bully. Perhaps it's significant that the first time we meet Peter in the books, he's demonstrating loyalty and self-sacrifice.
This one is a toss-up: I don't believe Peter can be considered entirely self-serving, but it's fully possible that he was at the time of the betrayal, or serves his own interests only some of the time.
4. Peter is a racist, and turned against James after he married Lily, a Muggle-born.
This is possible. We don't know Peter's heritage, and his friends at school appear to be all purebloods (though we don't know for sure about Lupin). If Peter is prejudiced against non-purebloods, it would make his statement that there was "nothing to be gained" by fighting Voldemort more comprehensible.
If Peter did genuinely agree with Voldemort's politics, his behavior starts to seem more Gryffindor than Slytherin: He had the courage of his convictions, and went against the tide to do what he thought was right. Like any Gryffindor, he stuck to his principles.
Though this theory can't be disproven, there's not much canon to back it up either. In the Pensieve scene in OotP, we're not shown Peter's reaction to Lily's arrival, or to Snape's calling her a "filthy little Mudblood". Peter never uses racist language himself.
5. Peter hated Sirius, and planned to frame him for the betrayal.
There is some circumstantial evidence for this. Sirius certainly treats Peter disrespectfully in the Pensieve scene:
'Put that away, will you,' said Sirius finally, as James made a fine catch and Wormtail let out a cheer, 'before Wormtail wets himself with excitement.' [OotP 568 UK]
And it seems pretty clear that Peter is the odd man out in their group of friends, something of a hanger-on. Sirius, meanwhile, is the leader -- popular, handsome -- everyone defers to him. I can see how Peter might have become jealous and resentful. Sirius is certainly capable of engendering intense hatred -- just look at Snape.
However, I doubt that Peter would have intentionally sacrificed James just to frame Sirius. Peter may have been happy to see Sirius take the fall, and the frame-up was clearly deliberate, but hatred of Sirius is unlikely to have been the *central* motivation for the betrayal.
6. Peter was fixated on James, but couldn't relate to him as an equal, so he turned against him out of frustration and jealousy.
James was still playing with the Snitch, letting it zoom further and further away, almost escaping but always grabbed at the last second. Wormtail was watching him with his mouth open. Every time James made a particularly difficult catch, Wormtail gasped and applauded. After five minutes of this, Harry wondered why James didn't tell Wormtail to get a grip on himself, but James seemed to be enjoying the attention.
[OotP 568 UK]
It's hardly possible to read this passage without concluding that Peter has a huge crush on James. Perhaps this does not contradict the betrayal, but rather can be considered the root cause of it.
Peter adores James, but it's hero-worship. McGonagall tells us so in PoA, and we see it firsthand in OotP. James does not treat Peter as an equal; Peter is not a part of the friendly banter between James, Sirius, and Lupin. When he attempts to contribute to the conversation, James dismisses him with "How thick are you, Wormtail?" (OotP 567 UK). James seems to accept Peter only as an admiring fan, and an eager audience for his exploits.
This relationship must have worked for Peter on some level, or he wouldn't have continued to feed into it. It's reasonable to assume that if anyone else had tried to bully him, James would have come to the rescue. (Sirius certainly implies this.) That's probably how Peter came to have such a crush on James in the first place.
But as Peter got older, he would have outgrown this role, and found himself increasingly wanting to relate to his friends on equal terms. This wish was evidently never fulfilled -- Sirius explains that he wanted Peter as Secret-Keeper not because he was a trustworthy ally, but because *no one would ever think James would rely on Peter*.
Peter never got over his role as James's admirer. He's still idolizing James when we meet him in PoA -- he believes James would have forgiven him and spared his life. I think this is indicative of a long-term hangup on James that was never resolved. As a young man, Peter would have still been longing for a close relationship, while James went on to pursue his own career and have a family. This would have been agonizing for Peter, and he probably grew very jealous of Lily, perhaps even blaming her for his own unhappiness. The situation would only have become worse and worse, especially if James continued to encourage Peter's adulation -- in a way, leading him on.
It's most likely that Peter was so confused and upset by these feelings (particularly if we speculate that his attraction to James had romantic/sexual elements as well) that he buried them rather than examining and working through them. I can see this eventually manifesting itself as intense resentment towards both Lily and James -- perhaps anger at James for choosing Lily over him. This is reminiscent of Shakespeare's "Othello", where (in some interpretations), it's Iago's obsession with Othello that fuels his hatred, and his jealousy of Desdemona that spurs him to drag her virtuous name through the mud. (I wouldn't be surprised if Peter had suggested that Lily was the spy.)
And listen to Peter begging Harry to spare his life in PoA:
'Harry... you look just like your father... just like him [...] James wouldn't have wanted me killed... James would have understood, Harry... he would have shown me mercy....' [PoA 274 UK pb]
Consciously, Peter doesn't hate James at all -- on the contrary, *he still loves him*. This does not recommend a logical explanation for the betrayal.
This theory is admittedly difficult to prove, and may not be the simplest solution. However, it does explain some things that the theories proposed in canon do not, such as why Peter would betray someone he obviously loved and continues to love, and why he would have agreed to be Secret-Keeper in the first place.
Snape's Mirror Image
Many writers have postulated that Peter and Snape worked together as Death Eaters, or even that it was Snape who recruited Peter in the first place. The idea is appealing, but I don't think it's possible.
If Snape knew that Peter was a DE, it means that he a) knew Sirius was not guilty of the crimes he was convicted of, and b) knew who the leak in the Order was, and didn't tell Dumbledore.
At first glance, a) seems reasonable -- surely Snape wouldn't have cared that Sirius had been falsely accused. But if he had known Sirius was innocent, he would not have pretended otherwise in the Shrieking Shack in PoA.
Point b) is impossible unless Snape is a triple agent.
Whatever their relationship, Snape and Peter mirror each other in many ways. They're the same age. They were both figures of fun at school. Sirius was contemptuous of both of them (and they may both have hated him -- see #5 above). They joined Voldemort's party at about the same time (age 20 or so). They are both traitors -- Peter to James, Snape to Voldemort. They were both Death Eaters and Order members, and they were both spies. If you consider that Snape was probably *expected* to become a Death Eater just as much as Peter was expected to join the Order, then you'll notice that they have each "switched sides" exactly once (in opposite directions), and neither shows much sign of doing so again.
Some readers also see in Snape "a broad streak of servility" (as somniesperus put it here) -- a disinclination to follow his own path, and a need to serve a strong leader (Voldemort or Dumbledore). Such traits are quite evident in Peter (though I believe that in him it stems from a different source).
Perhaps most notably, Snape and Peter share an unhealthy fixation on James Potter. Snape is said to have been jealous of James, and many fans have speculated that this jealousy was fueled by an unrequited love for Lily Evans. If true, it can be another mirroring: Peter was in love with James and jealous of Lily -- Snape was in love with Lily and jealous of James.
Like Snape (and like another emotionally warped character, Sirius Black), Peter may even confuse Harry with James, as when he insists that Harry spare his life because it's what James would have done.
The last thing Snape and Peter share is a debt to Harry Potter. James saved Snape's life, and after James died, the life debt was inherited by Harry (at least in Snape's opinion). Harry saved Peter's life in PoA, and Dumbledore tells us that this incurred a life debt as well. Snape may or may not feel that he's repaid his debt, but Peter certainly has not.
So, what can we say about Peter's future? We may reasonably try to predict it based on Snape's actions. Snape has risked his life to save Harry -- Peter may do so too. At first it may seem that Peter cannot return to Dumbledore; it would upset the parallel between the characters. But on the other hand, if it happened, it could show us that Dumbledore exercises a pull over wizardkind which exceeds that of Voldemort.
I've worked extensively with rats. They're intelligent, social animals, and when raised in good conditions, they are loyal, affectionate, and take good care of their young.
And the one thing that's sure to make a rat turn bad is to give him no one to play with.
Peter is a person of intense, even overwhelming emotions. He doesn't just get scared -- he's overcome with terror and breaks down crying. He doesn't just like James -- he worships him. And he doesn't just try to save himself -- he'll do *anything* to save himself. These extremes are reminiscent of animal instincts: fight or flight; the permanently imprinted pair-bond; self-preservation at any cost, without qualification or consideration.
But Peter is not an animal. He has the psychological complexity of a human being, and lives in the world of other civilized, political, calculating human beings. Perhaps, to paraphrase Sirius, he makes a better rat than a human -- yet he had the opportunity to live out his life as a rat, and he didn't take it. He needs the full range of human interactions to be healthy and sane -- as do we all.
Peter's need for equal relationships is a normal one. It's the fact that he's been denied these relationships all his life that twists the need into driving desperation. Why can't he make these connections? His emotional needs are evidently overwhelming to him -- perhaps others found them overwhelming too, and pushed him away out of their own stifled discomfort. If Peter ever did engage someone in an equal relationship, he'd stand a high risk of smothering them -- not intentionally, but out of sheer desperate over-eagnerness.
Perhaps on some level he knows this, and it fuels the constant fear that is the bedrock of his personality, and prevents him from reaching out. He fears he'll drive people away. He fears losing what little he has. He fears being alone.
And the irony is that, emotionally, he is already alone -- a rat in an empty cage.
 This suggests that he himself considers the betrayal of James to be the worst of his crimes.
 Some believe he is, but that's an essay for another day.
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