Fandom: Harry Potter
Spoilers: All books, especially PoA.
Notes: This essay is belated - apologies. All page numbers refer to the Australian softback edition, though quotes are actually from Willow Severn's character guides. I've only warned for NC17 links. Thanks to ani_bester and pauraque for providing lots of material for me to work with, and theladyfeylene for sparking my interest in Peter in the first place. Special thanks to randaroo for doing a last-minute lookover.
He was a very short man, hardly taller than Harry and Hermione. His thin, colourless hair was unkempt and there was a large bald patch on top. He had the shrunken appearance of a plump man who has lost a lot of weight in a short time. His skin looked grubby, almost like Scabbers's fur, and something of the rat lingered around his pointed nose and his very small, watery eyes. He looked around at them all, his breathing fast and shallow. Harry saw his eyes dart to the door and back again.[PoA pp269]
Wormtail, Scabbers or The Rat - whatever you want to call him, Peter Pettigrew in fandom and canon, seems to generate dislike, if not outright loathing. His nervous lies, unattractive appearance and the terrible betrayal of his best friend that was the catalyst for the events of Harry’s life cause the reader to despise him.
Yet Peter is a convoluted and complex character. McGonagall says he was never quite in the league of James and Sirius, talent-wise -- that he was "always hopeless at duelling." [PoA pp154] Yet he managed to blow a hole so big "it had cracked the sewer below" and kill thirteen Muggles -- while cutting off his finger, and with his wand behind his back! Yet he can make the difficult Animagus transformation at fifteen, with only the help of his friends!
It is these irregularities in his character -- the mixture of cowardice and bravery, good and evil, cunning and clumsiness -- that have led myself, and others, to sympathise with and speculate about Peter Pettigrew. He has been a rat for half the series so far, yet he displays more of the true elements of humanity than most other characters.
…a small, mousy-haired boy with a pointed nose. Wormtail looked anxious; he was chewing his fingernails, staring down at his paper, scuffing the ground with his toes. Every now and then he glanced hopefully at his neighbour's paper.[OotP pp556]
What we see of young Peter shows us a nervous young man, with little self-esteem to speak of, clinging to the only friends he currently has - James, Sirius, and Remus. Sirius bullies and teases him throughout Chapter 28, Snape's Worst Memory, and while Peter seems to completely idolise James, James only cares about what Sirius and Lily think. Certainly there are no signs, in what little we see, and what we hear others saying, that theirs was an equal relationship, or that Peter had any other friends.
Fandom chooses to interpret this submission in different ways. Many fanfics turn Peter into a stupid, mean, or clumsy boy who is barely friends with the other three. Some ignore him all together. However there are those who want to portray Pettigrew as more than a cowering 2D villain - Gehayi's "Pro Bono Publico" shows how he suppresses his sadness about his treatment at the hands of his friends.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart.[PS pp88]
Peter's house is never actually mentioned in canon, however from his close association with Remus, Sirius and James -- all of whom were Gryffindors -- we assume he was also in the house of red and gold. In Triskelion's "The Rat", Peter seems to revert to Gryffindor almost by default. Considering what we see of the Sorting Hat in the books, it's quite likely he merely requested the house, to be with his friends or to please his parents. However Elkins has written an essay which shows that Peter does have the necessary Gryffindor qualities.
We only know the bare facts of Peter's life and family, compared to what we know about Moony, Padfoot and Prongs. He had a mother to whom his remains and Order of Merlin were sent. He may not have been pureblooded, but that would raise more questions about his reasons for joining Voldemort. He went to Hogwarts, but we don't know what he did when he left school. He joined Voldemort, whether through extortion or otherwise is unknown, and betrayed the Potters. We don't even know whether he got the Dark Mark or not! Then, he framed Sirius Black and went to live as a rat for thirteen years, owned first by Percy, and then by Ron.
In PoA, he once again attempts to fake his own death to avoid Sirius, but is captured. He appeals to Harry's mercy, and escapes, cleverly using his knowledge of Lupin's transformations to make sure his captors can't follow. He searches for Voldemort, caring for his disfigured, weak form. In GoF, he performs a ceremony to revive Voldemort, which involves his right hand (the one missing a finger, so it is assumed he is left-handed) but also Harry's blood, which could give Voldemort weakness, and undermine his power. Voldemort, for his help, gives him a silver hand to replace the one he sacrificed.
JKR leaves a lot undescribed: from the trivial (we don't see Peter's reactions to James and Lily emerging from Harry's wand) to the important (where was he during the Department of Mysteries battle?) However from what she does give us, fans can work out many things, and assume others. pauraque used evidence to deduct that he was left-handed, while other fanfiction authors fill in details to fit the text --
"Sirius, Sirius, what could I have done? The Dark Lord... you have no idea... he has weapons you can't imagine.... I was scared, Sirius, I was never brave like you and Remus and James. I never meant it to happen.... He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named forced me --"
"DON'T LIE!" bellowed Black. "YOU'D BEEN PASSING INFORMATION TO HIM FOR A YEAR BEFORE LILY AND JAMES DIED! YOU WERE HIS SPY!"
"He -- he was taking over everywhere!" gasped Pettigrew. "Wh -- what was there to be gained by refusing him?"
"What was there to be gained by fighting the most evil wizard who has ever existed?" said Black, with a terrible fury in his face. "Only innocent lives, Peter!"
"You don't understand!" whined Pettigrew. "He would have killed me, Sirius!"[PoA pp274]
What we don't know is the reason behind his betrayal. There are many different options as to why -- pauraque explores them far better than I in his essay, Peter Pettigrew in Four Parts. Fandom - both those who love Peter and those merely intrigued by him - have explored numerous reasons behind the Halloween debacle.
penknife's "Reasons" shows how the Death Eaters approached each of the friends. Gilleonen's "The Last Supper" compares Peter's betrayal to that of Judas to Jesus. Suaine's "Follow Me" shows how prophecy forced Peter's hand. flessdress's "Generous" shows that he was merely keeping his options open.
However many people think that Peter joined to save a loved one -- such as Weaver's "Fidelius Week", in which his girlfriend, Anne, is tortured by Death Eaters. In other fics, it is his bitterness at James and Lily's marriage (whether you believe he loved James or Lily depends on your 'ship) that causes him to turn traitor. Sometimes he is pushed to do it out of desperation and hate for his friends, as in nimori's "One of the Boys" [NC17] Sometimes he is drawn to the dark side - by Voldemort, by other Death Eaters, like Evan Rosier in isiscolo's "The First Piece of Silver" and the sequel "Before the Cock Crow". Or, Snape.
Peter/Severus being my (unusual and infrequent) OTP, I can think of many fics that explore Peter's betrayal and characterisation in a revealing way. theladyfeylene's "Crownless", the story which changed the way I viewed Peter all the way back in 2002. RaspberryPele's "Red Watercolour Stain", which dwells on Peter's insecurity about his sorting. amy_winston's "Masks" [NC17] which does focus primarily on Snape, but also the contradiction of Peter's convictions and actions. _hannelore's "The Sorting Wall" [NC17] is also an interesting look at Peter's relationships (as well as having a unique setting.)
Peter didn't have that many enemies during his school years, except perhaps Snape, who seems to switch sides at about the same time he does. Peter has James, Sirius, and Remus, so obviously he would make enemies in the Slytherins and Lord Voldemort, but it is not so. Strangely enough, he doesn't seem to have any real friends, either, despite the close bond of MWPP.
It isn't until the time of the books that Peter gains real enemies - first in the form of Crookshanks, Hermione's part-Kneazle cat, and then in Sirius, and eventually Remus, Harry, Ron and Hermione. With Sirius's death, his enemies appear to be predominately Remus and Harry (and Ron, though his main objection to Peter was that "you slept in my bed" during all those years of his being a rat.)
Peter is not as paired as many other characters in the fandom, yet fanfiction has given him a long list of partners, male and female - James, Sirius, Remus, Snape, Lily, Petunia, Ron, Percy, Harry, not to mention the other Weasleys and the small portion of original characters (usually plump Hufflepuff girls who giggle too much.)
Peter/Ron often causes people to recoil in disgust, but during his time as Scabbers at the Weasley home, there is much that can be explored. Eodrakken has a Master List Of Peter/Weasley fics, but I'd especially recommend switchknife's "Pure", pauraque's "Force of Habit" and penelope_z's "The Whip, The Whip", all Peter/Ron.
Peter has a following in fandom - shrines and fanlistings, not to mention ratswhiskers and the site "Don't Forget The W" by ani_bester (a huge help when compiling links for this essay.) Yes, it is only a hundred or so people compared to the thousands who love Harry, Ron, Hermione, and even Draco and Snape. So why do people like him?
His snivelling cowardice elicits disgust all throughout canon, especially from Harry, Ron and Sirius in the Shrieking Shack scene, PoA. But this is why I, personally, love Peter to bits. J. K. Rowling has given us a weak-willed character who is not the parody that Fudge is, a morally ambiguous character that does not have Snape's cold detachment, and a villain who is crucial to the series: without his betrayal, there would be no books.
He provides questions that need answering and character to explore. I want to know why he did things, want to reason out his motivation and why he seems to say one thing and do another. I want to hate him, and sympathise with him, and love him. I want to talk about him - argue with other people about him.
However it is not only for metaphysical reasons that I love Peter. I love characters with moral ambiguity, like Snape and Peter. I feel that Peter, though, represents the darker side of humanity, and that is why so many people dislike him.
He is the epitome of every socially-awkward teenager who clamoured for affection from his friends, who would do anything for affection.
Like Sirius, he's never really grown up past his twenty year old self - yes, he changed physically, but restricted in the body and mind of a rat. His life became defined as Ron's pet -- though is his fawning loyalty to Ron really that different to the relationship between he and James? He swings between the emotional extremes of adolescence, feeling everything doubly strongly. His body seems that of a man far older than thirty-five, but his lack of self-esteem still seems to hark back to his teenage years.
The point is, Peter is realistic. He chews his nails and scuffs his feet and you don't think he's ever been the one to "get the girl". He's overweight, though not necessarily unattractive, and he doesn't have the natural intelligence of the other three. He stutters over his words, but has a smooth tongue, quickly giving one lie after another in the Shrieking Shack scene. He seems to love and hate passionately, ruled by his emotions much as Snape is. The main reason I like Peter is because I identify with him -- important when reading any character, but perhaps worrying when reading such a contradictory nature.
He seems slightly silly, and always fawning, no matter what time period we're watching him. He has lost al his dignity, all his self-pride. In any other role he could be the comic relief, slipping on a banana peel... but instead, he represents the slip for good to evil, perhaps parallelling what the future holds for other characters, including his former owners, Percy and Ron Weasley.
People call him the 'ineffectual villain' but when you tally up his achievements he scores highly. At the same time, whose side is he really on? Obviously, he betrayed his friends, and then later sought out Voldemort, but both of those could have been acts of desperation. At the same time, in GoF we see Peter undermining Voldemort just a little, daring to challenge his use of Harry, giving the potion his hand sans a finger. This could be due to his life-debt to Harry that he incurs in PoA, because he is a spy for the light, or merely because Voldemort treats him as badly as everyone else has ever done, bossing him around like a slave and using Cruciatus when displeased.
Goyle reached toward 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[PS pp82]
People hate him for being disloyal, and yet he does show his loyalty in the books to Ron, when he bites Goyle's finger, as Scabbers, in PS. However at the same time, in PoA, Scabbers does not hesitate to do anything to save himself from Sirius, whose "hollowed eyes were still fixed on Scabbers, who was clamped tightly under Ron's bitten, scratched, and bleeding hands."[PoA pp256] This seems to lend evidence to the idea that Peter was a good friend to James, Sirius and Remus -- until his life was put at risk.
"Both Voldemort and Peter are petrified of death, to the point that it guides all their actions. Voldemort has waged a brutal, violent campaign in search of immortality. Peter was willing to betray his closest friends in order to stay alive, and be debased and treated with contempt by Voldemort even now in order to retain his protection." wrote greensword. I think this rings very true; and yet, this still seems realistic. Sirius may say that Peter should have died, "as we would have done for you", yet how many here can truly say they would put their lives in danger for the sake of their friends? Especially friends who treat Peter as another sycophant, not someone to truly share things with. From what we can see in OotP, I don't truly believe that Sirius would have died for Peter -- I think he's just angry that thirteen years of his life went to waste because he underestimated Wormtail. Certainly his actions in the Shrieking Shack scene, however justified, are not one of a sane man. However Peter does go to extremes to save his life, debasing himself to Harry - a calculated move, obviously he knew about the full moon enough in advance to change. He seems pleased with Harry sparing his life, though it will only eventuate in the Dementor's Kiss, because he knows it will give him one more chance to escape. Unfortunately, it has other repercussions.
"Pettigrew owes his life to you. You have sent Voldemort a deputy who is in your debt.... When one wizard saves another wizard's life, it creates a certain bond between them... and I'm much mistaken if Voldemort wants his servant in the debt of Harry Potter."
"I don't want a connection with Pettigrew!" said Harry. "He betrayed my parents!"
"This is magic at its deepest, its most impenetrable, Harry. But trust me... the time may come when you will be very glad you saved Pettigrew's life."[PoA pp311]
So what's next for Peter? Will he, like Snape, repent his mistakes and fall on Dumbledore's goodwill? Unfortunately, that seems unlikely, as he would immediately be sent to the Dementors.
In fact, Peter's death seems eminent in the next two books. Now that Sirius is dead, and his guilt doesn't need to be disproved, Pettigrew doesn't need to be kept alive.
Some people speculate that he will die by Lupin's hand, and others say that his silver hand will kill Remus - either way, it would be appropriate that the last two Marauders come to blows once more, as in Sullen Siren's "In Rats' Alley".
However, with the life-debt he owes Harry, it is also possible he will redeem himself in death. JKR's books focus a lot on redemption and other Christian themes, so sacrificing himself to save Harry would not only fit the story so far, but also reverse the damage done when he betrayed the Potters all those years ago.
Of course, he could merely be sentenced to Azkaban, or given the Dementor's kiss, but his noticeable absence in OotP and the strong connections he still holds to Harry, Ron, and Remus make me think that Peter still has a role to play in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and Book Seven.
If you'd like to see a visual representation of Peter, Ani Bester is a magnificent fanartist, and her art can be found, along with lots of other artist's visions of Wormtail, at the fanart section of her Peter Pettigrew site. He is, of course, played in the PoA movie by Timothy Spall, a magnificent actor.
In conclusion, there are many reasons to dislike Peter Pettigrew, but at the same time those weaknesses are the reasons to like him, too. HPfGU has tackled some of the obvious plot holes regarding Scabbers and Wormtail in Mike Gray's Peter essay, but there are still questions that need to be answered, and therein lies the appeal of the snivelling little contradiction.
Feedback is appreciated.