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01 January 2006 @ 03:12 pm
Pondering Peter Pettigrew: Ancestry  

I guess I get to post the first essay of the new year, then. :^)

Whether Peter Pettigrew is a pure-blood, a half-blood, or a Muggle-born has never been explicitly stated either in the books or in any of JKR's interviews. However, I think it is possible to take what information we do have about Peter and make a strong case for one of the three possibilities over the other two.

I. A Muggle-born Death Eater?

The following quote has caused more than a little speculation in the HP fandom:

Snape's ancestry is hinted at. He was a Death Eater, so clearly he is no Muggle born, because Muggle borns are not allowed to be Death Eaters, except in rare circumstances.
(J. K. Rowling, Edinburgh Book Festival, August 2004)

Since HBP has been released, some people who either misremembered or had only heard of this quote second-hand believe that Snape is the Death Eater with Muggle heritage that joined the Death Eaters due to rare circumstances. However, the quote clearly specifies that Snape is not one of those exceptions. Also, Snape is a half-blood (since he has a witch for a mother and a Muggle father) not a Muggle-born. There are likely to be a number of half-bloods among the Death Eaters. Pure-bloods only make up 25% of the Wizarding population and not all of those agree with Voldemort's cause, making it likely that they will in some cases overlook an insufficient pedigree as long as the candidate is willing to espouse the cause with sufficient fervor.

What I find interesting about the quote is that JKR allows for the possibility of Muggle-born Death Eaters at all. After all, a Muggle-born joining the Death Eaters makes about as much sense as an English protestant joining the IRA. So there is likely to be a reason she didn't simply deny the possibility. I've come up with two scenarios on how it might come into play. The first is that Harry will be betrayed by a Muggle-born classmate who's secretly working with the Death Eaters. I don't find this scenario to be that likely because there just doesn't seem to be much of a set up for it in what's been published so far and we've only got one book left. The other, more likely, scenario is that there's an existing Death Eater who is a Muggle-born who joined the Death Eaters due to unusual circumstances.

With only one book left, we should know who the prominent Death Eaters in the story are by now. It would have to be one of the major players, because who cares if J. Random Death Eater is or isn't Muggle-born? And there is one Death Eater who stands out from the rest. Someone who was recruited for a very specific, very important task. Someone no one's ever accused of actually believing in pure-blood supremacy. I am, of course, speaking of Peter Pettigrew.

Theorizing that he's Muggle-born from an interview quote is all well and good, but the real question, as always, is if what we see in canon fits with the theory. And while there's no smoking gun, so to speak, there are several things that I've noticed in canon relating to Peter that are consistent with or could be explained by Peter being Muggle-born, and very little that might conflict with the notion.

II. Evidence for Peter being Muggle-born

A. Why Peter Wasn't Suspected As The Spy

"But you, Peter -- I'll never understand why I didn't see you were the spy from the start. You always liked big friends who'd look after you, didn't you? It used to be us... me and Remus... and James...." - Sirius Black
(PoA, US pb, pg. 369)

So why didn't he see it? If Peter was seen as being so weak and needing looking after by the others, why does it seem like none of them even considered the possibility that Peter might have been pressured into passing information to the Death Eaters? Instead, not just Sirius but James and Lily felt confident enough in Peter's loyalty that they agreed to make him the Potters' Secret Keeper. Some people think James and Sirius didn't consider the possibility because they took Peter's loyalty for granted, but then how do you explain why Lily went along with it? Also, by all accounts it was a very paranoid time, and being targeted by Voldemort would have made the Potters even more paranoid than most, particularly after they learned that one of their close friends was a spy.

If Peter's Muggle-born, however, all they would have had to do is overestimate Voldemort's prejudice and dismiss the possibility of him using a Muggle-born as a long-term agent. That would rule out Peter as a possibility, James was obviously not the spy, which leaves Sirius and Remus suspecting each other due to process of elimination. Once the seeds of suspicion had been planted, any suspicious behavior on Sirius' or Remus' part would have been taken as evidence of the other's possible betrayal. All Peter would have to do to continue to escape suspicion is to make sure he didn't draw attention to himself in a way that would make the others reconsider their initial automatic ruling out of him as a possible spy.

And if the suspicion between Remus and Sirius started out from not having any other candidate for who the spy could be, their easy forgiveness of each other after the truth comes out in PoA makes a lot of sense. After all, it's hard to blame some one for coming to the wrong conclusion using the same line reasoning you used to come to an equally incorrect conclusion.

B. The Framing of Sirius Black

Peter's framing of Sirius Black for his murder and the betrayal of the Potters' was obviously a deliberate act. He had a head start on Sirius, there was no reason for him to be wandering around on a Muggle street (in human form no less) instead of already having secreted himself in some safe little hidey hole unless he wanted Sirius to find him. And for Peter to have come up with the plan and thought it had enough chance of success to be worth implementing, he would have needed to know two things. The first thing is where Sirius would be likely to look for him. The second thing he would need to know is enough about how Muggle streets are constructed to figure how to blast a hole in one that would let him escape through the sewers. (I mean, do you think Peter would put himself in wand's reach of an angry Sirius Black without a quick escape plan already in mind, just waiting to be implemented? I certainly don't think so.)

Now, if Peter's Muggle-born then it follows that Sirius might expect Peter to try to hide in a Muggle area since Peter would be more familiar with Muggles than the pure-blooded Sirius and have an easier time blending in. It would also explain how Peter would know enough about Muggle streets to pull off the creation of his escape route. (And pull it off in such a way that he convincingly appeared to die, as well.) We've all seen in the series how poorly educated those who are raised in the Wizarding world are about Muggle things, after all.

C. No Faith in the Cause

No one ever suggests that Peter truly believes in the Death Eaters' agenda. We never see Peter do or say anything to indicate he hates or looks down on Muggles and Muggle-borns. All of Peter's claims of loyalty or faithfulness in GoF are based on giving assistance to Voldemort himself, not to the Death Eaters' cause. Voldemort, who we know is an accomplished Legilimens, states that the only reason Peter returned to him and assisted with his resurrection at all is because he was afraid of Sirius and Remus managing to hunt him down. Sirius doesn't bring it up as a possible reason for Peter's betrayal of the Potters, not even in a mocking fashion before proceeding to his true accusations of what Peter's motives were. Of course, Peter could be in Voldemort's service purely out of fear without being Muggle-born, but it's certain interesting that he doesn't try to toady up to Voldemort by falsely claiming faith in his cause, and that no one sees genuine belief in the Death Eaters' cause to be worth suggesting as a motivation for Peter.

D. Peter's Treatment by the Death Eaters

"We... we are alone, aren't we?" Narcissa asked quietly.

"Yes, of course. Well, Wormtail's here, but we're not counting vermin, are we?"
(HBP, US hc, pg. 23)

Peter is obviously kept on a short leash after Voldemort's resurrection, because we don't see him in either of the battles with Death Eaters shown afterwards, even once the Ministry acknowledges Voldemort's return and Sirius dies, negating any need for Peter to remain in hiding. The one time we do see him, he is stuck acting as a servant to Severus Snape, who calls him vermin and treats him with utter contempt. Bellatrix and Narcissa, who are present at the time, don't even deign to acknowledge Peter's presence. He isn't treated as an equal by the other Death Eaters, or even a normal subordinate. No, he gets treated as you might expect a house-elf to be treated. And despite his protest to Snape that he could speak to Voldemort if he wanted to, Peter obviously doesn't have enough pull to get himself out of this situation into a better of to make the other Death Eaters give him any respect.

And this is the case even though it was Peter who sought out Voldemort and helped him regain his body, albeit for his own selfish reasons. Peter being seen as a weak wizard and being a known traitor to his previous friends just doesn't seem to be enough of an explanation for this situation to me. But it is the kind of treatment I would expect to see of a Muggle-born who'd made himself useful enough to end up being allowed to serve Voldemort and his Death Eaters. They wouldn't see a 'Mudblood' as being any more their equal and worthy of respect than a house-elf, after all, even if he has agreed to serve his betters.

III. Elements That Might Contradict Peter being Muggle-born

A. The Order of Merlin

"...Pettigrew received the Order of Merlin, First Class, which I think was some comfort to his poor mother." - Cornelius Fudge
(PoA, US pb, pg. 208)

This is the one and only piece of information we've gotten on Peter's family in the books. Some people think that this passage indicates that Peter's mother, at least, had to be a witch. But we know that the parents of Muggle-born students are allowed to know of the Wizarding world, so why wouldn't they have given his mother the Order of Merlin medal and let her know how her son died if she was a Muggle? And we only have Fudge's opinion on whether it was of any comfort to Peter's mother, with no indication that he was actually there when she got it to see her reaction. So while this statement doesn't support Peter being Muggle-born, it's not truly inconsistent with it, either.

B. Why Hasn't Anyone Said So?

So, one might ask, if Peter's a Muggle-born, why hasn't anyone said so in the books? Well, characters' ancestry is rarely brought up unless if there's some type of point in doing so. After all, we've never been explicitly told the ancestry of the Patils or Lavender Brown, AFAIK, or Cho Chang or many other characters. We only know that Remus Lupin is a half-blood because JKR stated it in an interview, and we didn't find out Snape was a half-blood until HBP. So Peter is hardly unusual in not having his ancestry specified. And I can't really think of any reason for JKR to want Harry (and we readers) to know that Peter's Muggle-born so far. It's definitely possible that we'll end the series with Peter's ancestry still being unstated, but having been an influence on his actions none the less.


Any single point of evidence I gave above has other possible explanations, of course. But Peter being Muggle-born pulls many of the questions and oddities surrounding his betrayal of the Potters and his current place with the Death Eaters into a coherent picture, instead of requiring them each to be explained individually. It also provides a good explanation for JKR's reference to Muggle-borns being Death Eaters under rare circumstance.

A hug is like a strangle you haven't finished yet.: GoF Petershaggydogstail on January 1st, 2006 09:04 pm (UTC)
Bravo! I've thought for a long time that Peter was almost certainly the rare Muggle-born Death Eater, and you've summed up the reasons for this quite nicely, as well as adding some extra ones I'd never thought of. LV would need a truly exceptional reason for allowing a Muggle-born to become a DE, I think, and Peter's access to the Potters would be one of the few things that could qualify.

Slightly at a tangent, I don't think Peter's true role is to act as Snape's servant at all--I think LV sent him to spy on Snape (hence the listening at doors). However, the general way he is spoken to by LV and Snape, and the fact that LV wouldn't expect Snape to suspect him of having anything more important to do would be in line with Peter being Muggle-born, so that doesn't contradict your theory at all. (I just like the symmetary of Snape making the same mistake as his arch enemies, by underestimating little Peter.)
Contrailcontrail on January 1st, 2006 11:00 pm (UTC)
Tangents are fun. Peter being used as a spy by Voldemort on Snape is one possibility for why Peter was trying to eavesdrop on Snape so much. I get the feeling that there's never been any love lost betwen Peter and Snape, so Peter certainly love getting Snape in trouble with their Master. Voldemort might even be using their mutual hatred of each other to have them keep tabs on each other. (And you do have a point about the symmetry being interesting.)

On the other hand, Peter might be hoping to get a hold of enough useful information to keep himself out of Azkaban if Voldemort loses, among other possibilities. I'm pretty sure we'll get a payoff of some type in Book 7 related to Peter's eavesdropping, though, even if I'm not sure exactly what form it will take.

- Contrail
*: HP - Stop Voldemort.malfeasanceses on January 1st, 2006 09:04 pm (UTC)
...Wow. That makes a lot of sense. Great essay!
Pharnabazuspharnabazus on January 1st, 2006 09:08 pm (UTC)
This is very persuasive, and interesting.
For all your sophisticated Cock-Tailing needs: RS-under tree_by Martamidnitemaraud_r on January 1st, 2006 09:19 pm (UTC)
Great essay! It makes a lot of sense. Even though I haven't really explored Peter - his situation and motivations - in fanfic myself, I've often wondered what would cause Peter to turn traitor and why he was never suspected - haven't we all? - and I'm very curious to see if she'll reveal that. I thought she might in HBP, because while a fairly minor issue, it does seem to be a question that deserves an answer of some sort.

I always despise fics that portray him as a "death eater in training" during their Hogwarts years, and I despise it even more when people pretend he didn't exist at all because they hate him. One of the reasons the death of James and Lily is so tragic is because Peter was trusted, and therefore a close member of the group - else there would have been no logical reason not to use Dumbledore as secret keeper in the first place. And the idea of Peter being a complete moron is annoying. He may have had a bit of a case of 'idol worship' for James, but that doesn't preclude him being clever or intelligent. "Smart" and "insecure" (or shy, or not feeling as fearless of confident as my friends, or having low self-worth because my personality is less outgoing, or my looks are not as handsome or spectacular as my friends, et. al.) are not mutually exclusive. Peter may well have been a decent student, but compared to James and Sirius - how could anyone compete with that?

Anyway, I'm rambling. I really liked your essay.
Contrail: Petercontrail on January 2nd, 2006 12:25 am (UTC)
Well, Peter's life-debt to Harry still needs resolving, and we might get more information on Peter as part of that, or along with whatever additional information we get on the night Harry's parents died. On the other hand, JKR may think she's given us enough information on Peter's motives and the betrayal already. It's hard to tell what she will or won't think is important enough to tell us by the time all is said and done. I do think we have enough information to make a decent guess at what his motives were, though, and I'll be going into that in a later essay.

I agree with you about those fics, and that Peter really having been friends with the rest of them is what gives his later betrayal so much impact. And with everything else you said in that paragraph. :^)

I'm glad you enjoyed the essay.

- Contrail
divinereverie on January 1st, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC)
What I've always suspected. Although, I really like the idea of Peter being a half-blood and a constrast for Harry/Snape/Voldemort, I generally tend to set the senario like Dean. He might know his father was a wizard, but his mother raised him by herself, and she was a Muggle, so essentially he'd be Muggleborn in all other respects but blood. :)
Contrailcontrail on January 2nd, 2006 12:36 am (UTC)
I can understand why the idea of Peter being directly contrastable to those three would be appealing. And if Im wrong about Peter being Muggle-born, I do think he's a lot more likely to be a half-blood than a pure-blood.

- Contrail
a_t_raina_t_rain on January 1st, 2006 10:04 pm (UTC)
I think you're probably dead on (though I hope not, since my Enormously Complicated Backstory for Peter requires him to have at least one wizard parent).

Another interesting bit of evidence (which probably belongs under heading C of your essay) is that Voldemort actually tells Peter that the Tom Riddle buried in Little Hangleton is his father, while he has apparently been at some pains to keep this information from Bellatrix and, presumably, the other pureblooded Death Eaters as well.
Contrail: Petercontrail on January 1st, 2006 11:41 pm (UTC)
Well, I guess you should hope that Jo will never actually tell us so, then, so your Enormously Complicated Backstory won't be officially contradicted. ;^) Although if it doesn't matter to your backstory if the wizard parent actually lives to see Peter grow up, you could always pretend that he only thinks he's Muggle-born.

And good catch on Voldemort not caring if Peter finds out that he's a half-blood. So yes, all signs point to no as far as Peter having blood prejudice goes.

- Contrail
cmwinterscmwinters on January 1st, 2006 11:18 pm (UTC)
I think I saw on Madam Scoop's the other day that NO Muggleborns were allowed to join the Death Eaters.
a_t_raina_t_rain on January 1st, 2006 11:27 pm (UTC)
Well, that's my big problem with Madam Scoop's -- they tend to summarize or paraphrase quotes rather than giving them directly. The quotation given in the essay is accurate; any version that leaves off the "except in rare circumstances" tag is not.
(no subject) - contrail on January 1st, 2006 11:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - cmwinters on January 2nd, 2006 05:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
Rotae: Peterrotae on January 1st, 2006 11:29 pm (UTC)
Wow... I have to admit, the thought had NEVER crossed my mind! I may have to go and revise Peter in my fan fiction... lol. Wonderful essay.

The world is your lobstermaple_clef on January 1st, 2006 11:30 pm (UTC)
Very well thought-out argument - it makes a great deal of sense. Peter is a fascinating character - and he's so often overlooked that it's almost suspicious!

but we're not counting vermin, are we

I'd not thought of the other possible meanings (besides rat-like) that sort of insult might hold; you're absolutely right that the other Death Eaters seem to hold Peter beneath contempt, when in theory his usefulness to Voldemort should afford him more status.

I think you've convinced me. Thanks for an interesting and thoughtful essay - great start to the new year!
snorkackcatchersnorkackcatcher on January 1st, 2006 11:55 pm (UTC)
OK, you've made a very good case -- I was sceptical when I took a look at this, but having seen what you have to say you could very well be on the money here. Nice one!
Contrailcontrail on January 2nd, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)
It's good to hear that I made a convincing case from someone who was doubtful coming in. Thank you for reading. :^)

Dancing Through Lifedizzle09 on January 2nd, 2006 01:01 am (UTC)
Good job.

You always liked big friends who'd look after you, didn't you?

I'd like to add that perhaps Peter liked being looked after in school because he wasn't familiar with the wizarding world. Imagine the culture shock of entering this world. It would help to have pureblood friends to show you around, acclimate you, make it so you didn't have to ask the stupid questions. Maybe that's a reason why Peter, in his first year, befriended pure/half-bloods.
Contrail: Petercontrail on January 2nd, 2006 01:30 am (UTC)
That's a good point. Also, given the atmosphere of the times, he may well have needed the others' help to keep from being hexed and otherwise harassed just for being a Muggle-born. That scenario had crossed my mind relating to that quote when I was composing the essay.

- Contrail
(Deleted comment)
Contrail: Petercontrail on January 2nd, 2006 01:42 am (UTC)
I included that section more to preempt anyone from trying to argue that he isn't Muggle-born using that quote than because I thought it be much indication against his being Muggle-born, to be honest. And I think the argument would be more like, "Peter's mum was given 'some comfort' by his getting the Order of Merlin, so she had to know the significance of it, so she must have been a witch!". Which as you've pointed out is a pretty tenuous line of reasoning at best. And I agree that all the statement really tells us is that his mother was alive at the time of his presumed death to get the award given to her on his behalf.

I'm glad you enjoyed the essay otherwise. :^)

(no subject) - mrs_muggle on January 2nd, 2006 10:20 am (UTC) (Expand)
Ticca: Harry Potter: Draperydaniellafromage on January 2nd, 2006 01:40 am (UTC)
I admit that I'd always leant towards Peter having wizard ancestry due to the Fudge quote you cited, but your essay has me convinced otherwise. Also, it was very clear and entertaining to read - good job. :)
Stern Mistress of Tenderness: Eyebrowssigune on January 2nd, 2006 11:15 am (UTC)
That's funny - I'd just been pondering the same question myself, as I have been wondering who that famous exception, the Muggle-born Death Eater, might be. I'm not sure whether this little point can at all count as evidence, but I'd say that a Muggle-born would just thematically be a nice addition to the Marauders, who already consist of two pure-bloods (James and Sirius) and one half-blood (Remus, as per JKR interview).

I love the evidence you bring to the matter; I hadn't considered the thing this far myself. Thanks for an interesting essay!
Seriophiomancer on January 2nd, 2006 03:21 pm (UTC)
Well, characters' ancestry is rarely brought up unless if there's some type of point in doing so...So Peter is hardly unusual in not having his ancestry specified.

It's surprising how little we know about such a key character. We don't even know what house he was in. Everyone assumes he was a Gryffindor, and Rowling has made vague statements alluding that he was, but we're never told for sure either way. I think your theory of him being muggleborn is an interesting one. I'd never really considered that before. It would certainly explain some of his awe and adoration for Sirius and Peter, who both grew up in a world that he'd only known about for a matter of years whereas they had experienced it their entire lives.