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Fudge's account of these events in chapter 10 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is quite clear (emphasis mine)

“Pettigrew died a hero’s death. Eyewitnesses — Muggles, of course, we wiped their memories later — told us how Pettigrew cornered Black. They say he was sobbing, ‘Lily and James, Sirius! How could you?’ And then he went for his wand. Well, of course, Black was quicker. Blew Pettigrew to smithereens. ...”

But later on, in chapter 19 Black claims:

“When I cornered him, he yelled for the whole street to hear that I’d betrayed Lily and James. Then, before I could curse him, he blew apart the street with the wand behind his back, killed everyone within twenty feet of himself — and sped down into the sewer with the other rats. ...”

Isn't this a contradiction? As far as I can tell, with his wand behind his back, he's managed to make an explosion, cut a finger off, and transform in to a rat. That's already impressive, but he's also managed to do this with the (admittedly muggle) eye-witnesses thinking not only that nothing strange has been done by Pettigrew, but that he was reaching for his wand. How did Pettigrew pull this off?

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    The story was a major cover-up, how do you know the "witnesses" were real?
    – Möoz
    Jun 16, 2020 at 0:22
  • @Möoz I can't imagine a reason why, at a time that Voldemort was in a state of open warfare with the Ministry of Magic and the Potters were a famous couple that were offered the protection of Dumbledore himself, the Ministry would engage in a "cover-up" to protect Pettigrew. I'm guessing there was just the evidence of a blown-up street and a finger and a laughing Sirius Black, and they made connections based on the evidence.
    – Yehuda
    Jun 16, 2020 at 14:29

3 Answers 3

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Something similar is seen in crimes and traumatic events fairly commonly without any magic being involved. Memory is 'malleable' - people can form genuinely held memories that are not objectively true. This can be prompted by others - one confident witness can influence others recollections, or poorly trained questioning can do it. It can also be self-generated. It's how different witnesses to the same event can give different but honest accounts.

Once anyone has suggested that Pettigrew was reaching for a wand, it is entirely plausible that other witnesses would 'remember' this event, even if objectively they did not see it happen.

https://www.psychologicalscience.org/teaching/myth-eyewitness-testimony-is-the-best-kind-of-evidence.html

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Here's a likely explanation.

Pettigrew has two hands. One hand is holding his wand behind his back, another is in his front ; so he puts his non-wand hand behind his back and cuts off a finger - pulls off an explosion - and escapes.

Now, moving his non wand hand behind his back may have looked like he was reaching for his wand ( jean pocket ? ) .

So the eye witnesses reported what they saw. They specifically did not say that he was reaching for the wand , but rather seemingly reached for something with his hand - The Wizards would have interpreted this as he was reaching for his wand. ( when in truth he cut off his finger )

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  • Cutting bits off of your hand takes time. You'd have to be pretty impressive to do that so fast that the people watching you only thought that you were reaching for something.
    – J. Mini
    Jun 16, 2020 at 10:08
  • @J.Mini You know, just magic.
    – Roberto
    Jun 16, 2020 at 10:38
  • Yeah - Magic. I suppose a severing charm ( Diffindo ? ) would easily cut the finger Jun 16, 2020 at 12:10
  • Hmm - I already answered this question - am I not eligible for bounty ? Jun 20, 2020 at 11:00
  • TheMadHatter, you are eligible, but the text states that @J.Mini wanted an answer ‘from a reputable source’, that is, from J. K. Rowling in one form or another, not speculation (useful as that may be). Jun 20, 2020 at 12:59
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To start with, the Ministry never bothered to properly do investigations, and we've seen that in multiple instances in the books. Sirius, the Gaunts, the Riddles, Frank Bryce...

The supposed eyewitnesses obviously were tricked (maybe confounded?) at some point by Pettigrew, and the Ministry never bothered to clarify the facts. They arrived, did some questions, and quickly jumped at the conclusion that Sirius was a traitor, because Dumbledore thought he was the Secret Keeper and the Ministry granted that information to be true.

The eyewitnesses said that Sirius was the one who blew up the street, and killed everyone, but... You know, they were Muggles. They don't exactly know how magic works. If the Ministry just bothered to pick up Sirius's wand and perform a Prior Incanto spell, they would've known that Sirius never did that, and the entire story was a fake.


Continuing with the Muggle eyewitnesses report, they might have been confounded or tricked by Pettigrew, or they might just have reported what they thought to have seen. Pettigrew at some point had to reach for his hand to cut off his finger, and the Ministry would've sloppily interpreted that as "he was reaching for his wand" because no one else saw he was holding his wand in his back.

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  • "Dumbledore (and everyone else) thought he was the Secret Keeper" - source? I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing that you keep secret. In particular, we know that Hagrid didn't know.
    – J. Mini
    Jun 16, 2020 at 10:06
  • "The supposed eyewitnesses obviously were tricked (maybe confounded?)" - That's my question, how were they tricked? I know of no evidence that points to him casting spells on them to trick them.
    – J. Mini
    Jun 16, 2020 at 10:09
  • @J.Mini Dumbedore offered himself to be the Secret Keeper, but James refused, thinking Sirius would be a better pick, but Sirius told James to pick Pettigrew instead because no one would think Pettigrew was the Secret Keeper. (wizardingworld.com/features/…). So yeah, Dumbledore knew.
    – Roberto
    Jun 16, 2020 at 10:40
  • @J.Mini You don't need to cast a spell to trick someone. You can lead them to believe something that isn't true (for instance, that you're reaching for your wand, or something else, when you're already holding it hidden).
    – Roberto
    Jun 16, 2020 at 10:44

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