Wormtail: More than Meets the Eye?
by Stuart McCaighy
Peter Wormtail Pettigrew. All of us JKR fans are familiar with this character. Wormtail is a character written for us not to like, and with good reason. He is the ultimate coward whose actions have led Harry to nearly all of his sufferings.
So far in the series, we have been presented with a rather one-sided view of this wizard and his abilities. Let’s look at the way other characters have described him so far in the series.
A stupid boy – foolish boy – he was always hopeless at dueling…” – Professor McGonagall (PoA 154)
…a weak talentless thing .” – Sirius Black (PoA 271)
…a poor wizard …” – Lord Voldemort (GoF 509)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to defend Wormtail or to say that he’s a nicer wizard than he is. I believe that there are certain elements within the series that tell a different story of Wormtail’s abilities.
Firstly, let’s examine the fact that Wormtail is an Animagus. Hermione informs us in Chapter 18 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that there have only been seven registered Animagi in the last century. In the same chapter, Lupin tells us that the Ministry of Magic keeps tabs on people attempting the transformations. Both of these facts indicate just how very difficult it is to become an Animagus. JKR repeatedly tells us in the books just how clever and talented both Sirius and James were in school and that Wormtail, according to Lupin, “needed all the help he could get” to become an Animagus. But, the fact still remains that Wormtail was able to do it. Sure, with a lot of help, he managed to do it, but I feel that if someone completely lacks talent or ability, then all the help in the world won’t make a difference. I believe Wormtail must have had at least a shred of talent or he wouldn’t have been able to perform the transformations at all.
Secondly, we need to consider Wormtail’s previous role as a spy. Wormtail acted as a spy for Voldemort for over a year before the betrayal of James and Lily. We know this from both Fudge and Sirius in Prisoner of Azkaban, and we also know from Moody’s photograph in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that Wormtail was an original member of the Order. This, I feel, is significant. This tells us that, for over a year, Wormtail successfully managed to leak out secrets when surrounded by some extremely intelligent and powerful wizards. Not only did Wormtail escape detection from his best friends, who were meant to know him best, but he also managed to act out his role as a spy right under the nose of Alastor Moody (one of the Ministry’s best ever Aurors, remember) and the Legilimency skills of Dumbledore himself. This must have taken nerve and cunning. Was this really the work of “a weak and talentless thing”?
Thirdly, let’s also look at the showdown between Wormtail and Sirius just after the death of Harry’s parents. Sirius tracks down Wormtail and then corners him. Here Sirius is poised, ready to strike. Yet it is Wormtail who comes out on top. Doesn’t this seem wrong when Wormtail is meant to be hopeless at dueling? I accept that it wasn’t technically a duel, but Wormtail still acts faster than Sirius and gets away from him. Isn’t Sirius meant to be a smarter, more powerful wizard? Sirius admits himself in Prisoner of Azkaban, “Little Peter got the better of me.”
The Killing Curse Wormtail uses here is also worth examining. In Chapter 14 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fake Moody tells the class, “Avada Kedavra‘s a curse that needs a powerful bit of magic behind it .” This insinuates that Wormtail has at least some power as he managed to perform the curse successfully. However, he not only managed to perform the spell but he produced a curse so very powerful that it causes: ”A crater in the middle of the street, so deep it had cracked the sewer below. Bodies everywhere. Muggles screaming.” This is how Fudge recalls the scene he witnessed in Prisoner of Azkaban.
If Wormtail is such a poor wizard, then how would he have been able to escape from a wizard like Sirius and cause such a scene of devastation with a single curse? Many of the characters speak with horror and awe at Sirius’s alleged crime during Prisoner of Azkaban, but it was actually Wormtail who carried it out.
Less significant but still worthy of note is that Wormtail and Barty Crouch, Jr., manage to overcome Moody at the beginning of Goblet of Fire. Taking on one of the Ministry’s former best Aurors can hardly be described as a walk in the park, and the attack is vital to Voldemort’s plan. Wormtail and Barty pull it off successfully.
We must also consider the fact that Wormtail is instrumental in ensuring Voldemort’s return to his body. Of course, Wormtail is following Voldemort’s strict instructions, but even so, Wormtail is the one chosen by Voldemort to perform the old piece of Dark Magic to return him to his body, and the spell is successful. This can hardly be described as simple magic and yet Wormtail pulls it off even with a mutilated arm.
This raises another question: Why does Voldemort rely on the ”weak and talentless” Wormtail for his care during Goblet of Fire and to return him to his body when Wormtail is meant to be such a poor wizard? Surely tasks as important as these to Voldemort would have been entrusted to a much more capable wizard? Voldemort could’ve easily contacted another Death Eater like he did with Barty Crouch, Jr. Why not a more powerful and loyal Death Eater like Lucius Malfoy? Despite all this Voldemort uses Wormtail.
Another interesting fact is that Wormtail uses Voldemort’s wand to kill Cedric Diggory at the end of Goblet of Fire. Does this imply extra power or talent on Wormtail’s part? We all know that “you never get such good results with another wizard’s wand” as Neville shows us in Order of the Phoenix, sometimes no results at all. However, Wormtail performs another Killing Curse with no problem, dispatching a young wizard nearing adulthood.
I think there is more than meets the eye about Peter Pettigrew. It seems to me that the evidence suggests that Wormtail is a more talented wizard than we have been led to believe. I may be wrong of course but I think the evidence is still compelling.
Wormtail reminds me somewhat of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Like Wormtail, Gollum is a treacherous, cowardly character that serves only his own interests. Both are cunning, dangerous and not to be trusted. Who knows, maybe Wormtail will be as important overall to the septology as Gollum in LotR? There are already hints of this. Remember Dumbledore tells Harry at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, “When one wizard saves another wizard’s life, it creates a certain bond between them… trust me, the time may come when you will be very glad that you saved Pettigrew’s life.”
The bond between them may hold serious implications for Books 6 and 7. I can’t wait to find out.