So there are people […] for whom redemption is not possible.1
Since I first read and subsequently reread and rereread all the Harry Potter books I have been thinking about the recurring themes, such as a mother’s love or a hero’s journey. The thing my mind gets wrapped around most often, though, is the idea of redemption. Redemption, as we well know, can be listed with the recurring themes of the series. There are several characters – ranging from idiotic to Machiavellian – who need redemption from their actions. Draco Malfoy is clearly on the Machiavellian end of the continuum. But what about Severus Snape or Percy Weasley?
There is another character on the candidate list for redemption: Peter Pettigrew. Out of all the characters I can think of that may possibly be redeemed there is none that I hate more than Pettigrew. Oh wait, I misspoke. Out of all the characters there is none I hate more than Peter Pettigrew a.k.a. Wormtail a.k.a. Scabbers – whichever name you prefer, it doesn’t matter to me, I hate him all the same. The thought of him always produces a very Snape-like sneer on my face and a stomach ache reminiscent of Ron puking up slugs. My hostility runs so deep for him that I really don’t want him to be redeemed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. However, regardless of my personal animosity, I don’t think Pettigrew is actually redeemable. To be redeemable a character needs to possess certain qualities that can bring them back from their current path. These qualities may be latent but have the potential to be brought out. By looking at a few characters and seeing what traits they have that can help them on the road to redemption, we will be able to see that Pettigrew does not possess these traits and is therefore not redeemable.
The Prodigal Son
Percy Weasley has become an outcast in the eyes of his family entirely through his own actions. When J.K. Rowling was asked if Percy was acting on his “own accord” she said, “I’m afraid so.” 2 Percy hasn’t done anything particularly evil, but his career ambitions have definitely altered his view of his parents and consequently resulted in him consistently being insensitive and other times completely dumb. He has squarely placed himself in a different camp than the rest of his family. Percy openly renounced his family and their actions. He is sitting with the opponents in the cause the rest of the Weasleys are fighting for in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
We first learn of Percy’s behavior shortly after Harry arrives at Grimmauld Place in Order of the Phoenix. After Percy was promoted to Junior Assistant to the Minister,3 his father tried to warn him that the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, was up to something. One of the Weasley twins described Percy’s reaction to his father’s comments this way:
He went completely berserk. He said — well, he said loads of terrible stuff. He said he’s been having to struggle against Dad’s lousy reputation ever since he joined the Ministry and that Dad’s got no ambition and that’s why we’ve always been — you know — not had a lot of money, I mean —4
Other examples of Percy’s bad behavior include his contempt for his parents because of their association with Dumbledore,5 his failure to acknowledge his father and Harry when he ran into them at the Ministry,6 the excitement he displayed at Hogwarts when it appeared Dumbledore was about to be sacked,7 and breaking his mother’s heart by sending back his Christmas jumper.8
Percy’s actions continue to be reprehensible in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. We find out early on that even though he was mistaken about Dumbledore and his parents, he is still on the outs with his family. It’s clear on Christmas day when Percy brings the new minister, Rufus Scrimgeour, to his parents’ house that he isn’t there because he wants to spend the holiday with his family, but to help with some plan Scrimgeour has devised to get Harry alone.
The worst thing about Percy is that he is convinced that he knows better than his parents. One has to wonder whether Percy cares that he is hurting his mother and father and that the rest of his family thinks he is a dope. Percy has always been the type of person to prioritize his ambitions over the needs of others. However, despite all this it is clear that in his heart Percy feels he is doing the right thing and still attempts to do right by his family. His letter to Ron in Order of the Phoenix is an example of this. In the letter Percy cautions Ron about going the “Fred and George” route, sings the praises of Dolores Umbridge,9 tells Ron not to be associated with Harry any more – all in the name of protecting Ron’s opportunities for a future career.10 Though the tone of the letter is initially pompous and rude, especially with respect to Ron’s friendship with Harry,11 I believe it is actually Percy’s way of showing affection. Percy sees himself as successful and only wants the same for his brother.
Will Percy come back around in the seventh book? I think so. Though his siblings are clearly upset with him – parsnips anyone?–I think they still love him. The Weasleys are a close-knit family. At the very least Molly still loves him: she still sends him a sweater at Christmas and when he shows up at Christmas she is practically beside herself with joy.12 Before the story ends I believe Percy will figure out that his family is something to be proud of and he will have to endeavor to insert himself back into the fold. I certainly hope it doesn’t come down to a life or death situation, but I am sure Percy will return to his family’s good graces at some point before the end of the story. Percy, despite his stupidity, still has a conscience; he may not be a part of the Order but he is obviously involved in the Ministry’s fight against Voldemort. A great deal of love also resides with Percy. His siblings may call him an “idiot” and his father’s mouth tightens when he sees him but they all still love him. Percy’s conscience and ability to love make him a good candidate for redemption.
The Good Son
It’s easy to argue for someone like Percy who hasn’t done any thing truly “evil.” So lets move on to someone a bit more difficult, Draco Malfoy. Draco’s nasty attitude has been a part of the story since the beginning. His actions have ranged from snobbery and having a disgustingly huge ego, to outright violence when he smashed Harry’s nose in Half-Blood Prince.13 Rowling said about him: “Draco, who, whatever he looks like, is not a nice man.” 14 He didn’t join the Death Eaters and suddenly become terrible, it was always there. But after officially joining Voldemort’s followers he created a lot more damage on his way to the Lightning-Struck Tower. Let me quickly list Draco’s very bad decision-making of late: he became a Death Eater, accepted the task to kill Dumbledore, Imperiused Madam Rosmerta, almost killed Katie Bell, almost killed Ron, and let a whole slew of Death Eaters into the castle. That’s quite a list considering the use of the Imperius Curse is enough to “earn a life sentence in Azkaban.” 15
However, I believe Draco can come back from this. At the end of Half-Blood Prince Draco had all but completed the task Voldemort had set for him; he got the Death Eaters into the castle and he had Dumbledore alone and without a wand. All Draco had to do is speak those two very evil words and it would have been done, he would have accomplished his goal. But he didn’t do it. In fact he started to lower his wand. J.K. Rowling said about his having Dumbledore cornered: “Harry believes Draco would not have murdered the person in question.” 16 It turned out Draco was just a boy who got in too deep and ended up very scared. He is afraid for his family and what might happen to them if he doesn’t do it. “ ‘I haven’t got any options!’ said Malfoy, and he was suddenly white as Dumbledore ‘I’ve got to do it! He’ll kill me! He’ll kill my whole family!’ ” 17 I believe it is evident that Draco has a conscience, he can see beyond his own “glory” and recognize it’s not just his own head at stake. Draco loves his family and I believe that love kept him from killing Dumbledore and will eventually help him down the path to redemption.
The Honorable Mr. Snape
There is no one who conjures up the idea of redemption as much as Severus Snape. I don’t consider myself an expert in all things Snape so I suspect that many of you could talk circles around me regarding Snape’s redemption. There certainly isn’t enough room in this work to discuss every aspect of Snape’s possible redemption. Snape’s actions throughout the first six books can be interpreted in many ways. The simplest explanation is that he was telling the truth to Bellatrix during their conversation at Spinner’s End and Snape is actually a Death Eater. I, however, don’t believe Dumbledore was wrong about Snape, because it seems hard to imagine Dumbledore was completely wrong about him.18 So as far as this essay and its author are concerned Snape is trustworthy. However, the fact that he is trustworthy does not mean he is perfect. He needs some redemption too. He certainly has something in common with the other two characters I have discussed thus far. Like Draco and Percy, Snape has known love. Lucky for me I don’t have to infer this. When Rowling was asked if Snape has been loved by anyone she answered, “yes, he has.” 19
Beyond that Snape has this very deep sense of wanting to do the right thing. At the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone we learn about the wizard’s debt that existed between James and Snape. Dumbledore explains that James and Snape “did rather detest each other.” 20 This mutual hatred did not keep James from saving Snape’s life the day Snape was tricked into going to the Shrieking Shack to find a dangerous werewolf. A wizard’s debt is far more complicated than it seems; there are a lot of unanswered questions about how exactly it works. We do not have any evidence to suggest the debt didn’t die with James. Even though James was dead, Snape believed that he still “owed” James. In Sorcerer’s Stone Dumbledore has this to say about their debt:
Funny, the way people’s minds work, isn’t it? Professor Snape couldn’t bear being in your father’s debt.... I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even. Then he could go back to hating your father’s memory in peace....21
This speaks volumes about Snape’s personality. It implies that it was some sort of debt that Snape took seriously enough to want to make good on, even though James was dead. Snape was very serious about making sure he and James were even. If we take Dumbledore’s word – I for one always do – then Snape didn’t protect Harry because he was the orphaned boy who was in a lot of danger, he did it because his conscience called him to. I believe Snape wasn’t obligated to pay the debt he owed James because James was now gone. I think Snape took something like this very seriously. In other words, Snape’s sense of honor trumped his vitriolic feelings for James and Harry.
Snape’s sense of honor is seen again several years later, when he tries to prevent Harry from performing unforgivable curses when Harry chases him out of Hogwarts. He also tries to continually teach Harry in his own way. “No unforgivable curses” 22 and “keep your mouth shut and your mind closed, Potter!” 23 Snape even stops the other Death Eater from torturing Harry. Yes, of course there is the “Potter belongs to the Dark Lord,” 24 but if Snape doesn’t have a conscience then what’s the problem with having fun with the Cruciatus Curse? I believe Snape is an honorable man who is following a difficult path, which in the end will lead to his redemption in the eyes of Harry and hopefully the wizarding world.
If Percy, Draco, and Snape are all redeemable let’s see if Peter Pettigrew has the qualities in common with them that can bring him back. Let’s start with Pettigrew at his school age. McGonagall said about him that he “hero-worshiped Black and Potter.” 25 Now, like many character quotes they can be construed as not being completely true so let’s go further. Pettigrew shows that he is a bit of a sycophant by pandering to James in Order of the Phoenix:
James was still playing with the Snitch, letting it zoom farther and farther 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.26
This display by Pettigrew is so pathetic Harry wonders himself why his father doesn’t tell Pettigrew to “get a grip on himself.” 27
At least one year before the Potters died Pettigrew began to pass Voldemort information.28 After Pettigrew was made Secret Keeper by the Potters29 he sold them out: the ultimate act of betrayal. However, Pettigrew was not done yet ruining people’s lives. Sirius, wanting to right the wrong himself, tracked Pettigrew down because he alone knew the truth and wanted to make sure Peter was not let off the hook. However it did not turn out that way. Pettigrew didn’t even have the nerve to duel Sirius with a straight back. Sirius said about their meeting after James and Lily died: “Then, before I could curse him, he blew apart the street with the wand behind his back.” 30
Let’s fast forward to confrontation between Sirius, Lupin, and Pettigrew in Prisoner of Azkaban: we find out why Pettigrew had been in hiding for twelve years. Apparently there were many Death Eaters out there not too happy with him. Wherever they were they still thought the “double-crosser double-crossed them,” 31 and Peter feared their repercussions.
Perhaps the best quote we have on Pettigrew’s personality was given by Sirius Black:
Because you never did anything for anyone unless you could see what was in it for you. Voldemort’s been in hiding for fifteen years, they say he’s half dead. You weren’t about to commit murder under Albus Dumbledore’s nose, for a wreck of a wizard who’d lost all of his power, were you? You’d want to be quite sure he was the biggest bully on the playground before you went back to him, wouldn’t you? Why else did you find a wizard family to take you in? Keeping an ear out for news, weren’t you, Peter? Just in case your old protector regained strength, and it was safe to rejoin him....32
Taken with all of the evidence from above, we can conclude that Peter is a sycophant who likes to be in the shadow of the biggest bully. This was even completely reinforced by Rowling when she said “But then you have Wormtail, who out of cowardice will stand in the shadow of the strongest person.” 33
Let’s jump ahead to the beginning of Goblet of Fire. We quickly learn that Trelawney’s prediction is almost completely fulfilled. The Servant of Lord Voldemort, Pettigrew, has rejoined his master.34 Recall that Pettigrew escaped at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, but not before he incurred a wizard’s debt to Harry.35 Sirius and Lupin were fully prepared to serve justice to Pettigrew. “ ‘You should have realized,’ said Lupin quietly, ‘if Voldemort didn’t kill you, we would. Good-bye, Peter.’ ” 36 Pettigrew has already sniveled for his life to no avail, Sirius and Lupin faced him their wands raised, Pettigrews fate was sealed - until Harry broke it wide open by stepping in front of him, blocking him from Lupin and Sirius and yelling “You can’t kill him.” 37 Sirius even gives Harry the chance to change his mind, reminding him of all that Pettigrew has cost him. Harry’s mind is set though and he saves Pettigrew. Unlike Snape, there is no doubt Pettigrew truly owes Harry.
In the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we see a bit of Peter’s old pathetic self turn up. He and Voldemort are discussing plans, which include the use of Harry. Pettigrew, who owes Harry his life, pitifully tries to talk Voldemort out of using Harry for the ensuing “rebirthing” spell, during which Pettigrew tells Voldemort “the boy is nothing to me,” 38 which is far from true.39 As usual, Pettigrew shows no character strength and ends up rolling over to what Voldemort wants. Near the end of Goblet of Fire, Harry is tied up in the graveyard, there to witness and unknowingly participate in Voldemort’s return. When it comes time for Pettigrew to collect Harry’s blood he doesn’t hesitate.40 Granted, his hand is shaking when he does it, but mine would be too if I had just used it to cut off my other hand. Pettigrew does not let the fact that he owes Harry stop him from drawing his blood. There were so many points along this road that Pettigrew could have stopped Voldemort from returning. Pettigrew chose the easier path, forsaking courage and honor, something he has done and will probably continue to do until his death.
I am sure that Peter Pettigrew will indeed pay his wizard debt to Harry. Dumbledore will once again be proven right “But trust me ... the time may come when you will be very glad you saved Pettigrew’s life.” 41 But when Pettigrew pays his debt I cannot imagine it will be by his own choosing. I doubt he has ever made an honorable choice and I don’t expect him to before he dies (my fingers are crossed) in Deathly Hallows. Pettigrew’s hand will be forced and that is how he will pay back Harry.
Peter Pettigrew has spent a lifetime doing nothing but saving his own skin and pandering to what he views as the winning side. The prevailing emotion with Pettigrew is cowardice and hero worship. One might argue that he and the other Marauders had some form of love for one another, but look how he treated them! Stabbed them squarely in the back. Peter is so servile and vacillating he didn’t even blink when he killed Cedric.There was no hesitation, no discussion, just cold-blooded murder on Voldemort’s orders. Pettigrew has no love and no honor.
Pettigrew is not like Percy, he has actually done very evil things. He has murdered, betrayed and continues to do so. Pettigrew is not like Draco, he has no love in his heart. Pettigrew is not like Snape, he has no honor. Pettigrew does not display the characteristics of someone who can be redeemed. He never has and never will possess the qualities that can bring a person back.
Peter Pettigrew will not be redeemed.
1. Rowling, “Evening With Harry, Carrie and Garp.”
2. Ibid., “World Book Day Chat.”
3. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 71.
4. Ibid., 72.
6. Ibid., 153.
7. Ibid., 619.
8. Ibid., 502.
9. a.k.a. Sadistic troglodyte.
10. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 296–98.
11. Ibid., 297.
12. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 341.
13. Ibid., 154.
14. Anelli & Spartz “TLC/MN interview, Part Two.”
15. Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 217.
16. Ibid., “Evening With Harry, Carrie and Garp.”
17. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 591.
18. For further evidence please read HawthorneAndPhoenix, “Dumbledore’s man.”
19. Anelli & Spartz “TLC/MN interview, Part Three.”
20. Rowling, Sorcerer’s Stone, 300.
22. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 603.
25. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 207.
26. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 644–45.
27. Ibid., 645.
28. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 374.
29. Ibid., 365.
30. Ibid., 363.
31. Ibid., 368.
33. Jensen, “ ‘Fire’ Storm.”
34. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 324.
35. Ibid., 427.
36. Ibid., 375.
38. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 8–9.
39. See above paragraph.
40. Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 642.
41. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 427.
Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part Two,” The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005. http://www.leakynews.com/features/interviews/jkr2.
———. “The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part Three,” The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005. http://www.leakynews.com/features/interviews/jkr3.
HawthorneAndPhoenix. “Dumbledore’s man.” Scribbulus Issue 1, The Leaky Cauldron. Member of the Floo Network. /features/essays/issue1/DumbledoresMan.
Jensen, Jeff. “ ‘Fire’ Storm.” Entertainment Weekly, 7 September 2000. http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2000/0900-ew-jensen.htm.
Rowling, J.K.”An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp: Readings and questions #1,” 1 August 2006. Transcript, Accio Quote. http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2006/0801-radiocityreading1.html.
———. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998.
———. “JK Rowling’s World Book Day Chat,” 4 March 2004. Transcript, Accio Quote. http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2004/0304-wbd.htm.