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JK Rowling says the following about Peter Pettigrew: He's weak, fundamentally weak. Pettigrew is a very weak character. He's not someone I like at all. He's a weak person and he likes to gravitate to people who are stronger. JK Rowling at Carnegie Hall 10.20.07

Peter already had three friends who were stronger than he: Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and James Potter. Canon seems to demonstrate that Peter was a part of that group -- the Marauders -- but that he was the one who was somewhat of a hanger-on. It's already inexplicable to me that Peter was a Gryffindor to begin with. What could be the reason be for Peter going full circle from Gryffindor schoolboy to Death Eater? He already had friends who were popular, talented, and basically good-hearted (their bullying of Snape aside)? What did Voldemort have to offer Peter that he couldn't gain through friendship?

  • <idle conjecture>Perhaps he switched after he heard the prophecy?</idle conjecture> – AncientSwordRage Jan 21 '12 at 12:01
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    @Pureferret -- When did he hear the prophecy? I can't recall an instance in canon where he overhears it. . . Snape was the one who overheard it in the Hogshead. . . Correct me if I'm forgetting something obvious, though. :) – Slytherincess Jan 21 '12 at 13:40
  • I don't know, that's why it's conjecture. I don't know how far the prophecy went really... – AncientSwordRage Jan 21 '12 at 13:47
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    Just conjecture, but what if he had a dark side that he had been hiding. The DEs like to engage in a variety of sick acts and he might have found that appealing. – pleurocoelus Jan 15 '14 at 0:21
  • Not getting killed by Voldemort was probably a strong incentive. – Misha R Dec 27 '16 at 6:07
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Like most of the people on this page, I consider that joining the DEs or the OotP is more or less the same from the safety point of view...

But what's more important than safety in human society (according to Maslow's hierarchy - yeah, let's do pyschology)?

Love, esteem, feeling like you're part of the team.

Yes, Peter was part of the Marauders, but they did not really appreciate him, he felt despised by them (and by the rest of the world for that matter); I would say he was disappointed by the OotP side. On the other hand, the DEs were a totally new group, with different codes, different people, and - apparently - the same level of safety... a good opportunity for him to start anew, and to join a more "rewarding" group.

In addition, there are several advantages with being the bad guy:

  • People fear you.
  • They have to show you respect, or face the consequences, which is not the case if you're a good guy.

As Caligula (who was kind of a bad guy according to history books) used to say (according to the same books): "let them hate me as long as they fear me."

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    +1 for Maslow, though I am not sure I fully agree with the whole answer :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 21 '12 at 22:09
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    Hmmm Yes, Peter was part of the Marauders, but they did not really appreciate him, he felt despised by them. I must disagree with that. Doesn't Sirius say something like "I would have died for you" to Pettigrew in PoA ? Also, safety is more important than recognition according to Maslow's hierarchy. So both your premises seem wrong to me – Kalissar Jul 10 '13 at 13:57
  • the DEs were a totally new group, didn't the OotP form as after Voldemort took power, and by extension the formation of the DE squad? – Jungkook Apr 16 '18 at 12:36
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    There's a problem with your first bullet point. People fear you. Exactly who would be fearing Peter? They didn't know he had turned a spy did they? So what would they be afraid of? And the same goes for the second point: they didn't know. (Incidentally just because someone is 'good' doesn't mean someone won't have to face the consequences if they don't respect you. That's just naïve.) – Pryftan Aug 17 '18 at 0:32
13

As per the quote in your question, "he likes to gravitate to people who are stronger." Who was stronger than Voldemort? Given his personality type, he would have been a prime example to switch sides once it became apparent that Voldemort was going to be the winning side. After all everything indicated Voldemort was going to be victorious until he attacked the Potters.

  • Hmm. Here's my niggle with that: Dumbledore was a more powerful wizard than Voldemort and he had his own special group that Peter could have chosen -- the Order of the Phoenix. Yet Peter still chose the dark side. . . I find it rather baffling. But, yeah, I think Dumbledore offered more power than Voldemort. :) – Slytherincess Jan 21 '12 at 13:44
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    @Slytherincess - you don't join the strongerst group just because. You do it to minimize risk. What's more risky to be OotP or DE? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 21 '12 at 15:03
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    @Slytherincess, I think that, to most people, the Death Eaters would seem like the less-risky group to be in. After all, which group is more likely to be on the receiving end of the Cruciatus curse, or Avada Kedavra? Granted, Voldemort is merciless even to his followers -- but outsiders wouldn't know that. To an outsider (and a coward, like Peter), DE would likely seem the less-scary place to be. – Joe White Jan 21 '12 at 16:19
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    @Slytherincess - Whaaaaaa? How many DE got killed BEFORE Voldemort died? Even including those Voldie offed himself, I'm 100% sure that they were a LO)T safer – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 21 '12 at 17:00
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    My thinking was similar to what DVK was posting - Dumbledore may be more powerful than Voldemort individually, but Voldemort, hundreds or thousands of Death Eaters plus his armies of creatures were a lot more powerful than Dumbledore, the Order plus the Aurors. Pettigrew changed sides pretty much when people were starting to think all hope was lost and Voldemort would win, and you can see that Pettigrew would want to be on the winning (strongest) side. – dlanod Jan 21 '12 at 21:48
6

He wanted protection and thought the Dark Lord was winning.

Sirius basically says that Pettigrew wanted to be allied with whoever he thought was most powerful, which seems like how he consistently behaved.

“When did I ever sneak around people who were stronger and more powerful than myself? 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 …”
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 19 (The Servant of Lord Voldemort)

Pettigrew gravitated to whoever he thought was the most powerful and able to protect him. As a Gryffindor at Hogwarts, the Marauders were likely the best group for him to go to for protection - they were in his house and seemed to be highly regarded among the student body. There was a group of young Death Eaters in the making, but they didn’t seem to offer much protection or status - Snape was one and he was bullied mercilessly by the Marauders. Joining them wouldn’t help Pettigrew much, especially as a Gryffindor who’d have to share a common room and dormitory with the Marauders where he’d be “unprotected” from them. In addition, the Marauders were probably the best at bullying during his time at Hogwarts. Being one of the Marauders would mean he wasn’t on the receiving end of any of their bullying.

Pettigrew had at first joined the Order of the Phoenix - he was in the picture of the original Order members. He hadn’t gone straight to the Dark Lord after the Marauders. He’d originally followed in the footsteps of the other Marauders, joining the same group as them.

“Harry’s heart turned over. His mother and father were beaming up at him, sitting on either side of a small, watery-eyed man whom Harry recognised at once as Wormtail, the one who had betrayed his parents’ whereabouts to Voldemort and so helped to bring about their deaths.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 9 (The Woes of Mrs Weasley)

However, Pettigrew wanted protection and safety most of all, and being a member of the Order was very dangerous. Many of the people in that picture died fighting the Dark Lord - among the 22 members, there were six confirmed deaths and one who vanished (not even counting the Longbottoms or the Potters, who died after Pettigrew defected -counting them would make 10 confirmed deaths).

“That’s Edgar Bones … brother of Amelia Bones, they got him and his family, too, he was a great wizard … Sturgis Podmore, blimey, he looks young … Caradoc Dearborn, vanished six months after this, we never found his body … Hagrid, of course, looks exactly the same as ever … Elphias Doge, you’ve met him, I’d forgotten he used to wear that stupid hat … Gideon Prewett, it took five Death Eaters to kill him and his brother Fabian, they fought like heroes … budge along, budge along …”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 9 (The Woes of Mrs Weasley)

When Pettigrew decided to join the Dark Lord, it seemed like the Dark Lord’s rise and takeover of the wizarding world was inevitable. He basically says so himself (though he’s begging for his life at the time). It seems pretty clear that the majority of the wizarding world thought that the Dark Lord’s rise was inevitable.

“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?”
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 19 (The Servant of Lord Voldemort)

No one expected his fall at the Potters’ house - when Pettigrew joined him he was at the height of power. After that fall, Pettigrew made no move to find or rejoin him until being forced out of hiding as a rat when he was revealed to be alive and a traitor. He wasn’t loyal to the Dark Lord, the Marauders, or anybody in particular - he went with whoever he thought could best protect him.

In addition, when the Dark Lord was at the height of his power, he was a very deadly enemy - those who opposed him were killed. Pettigrew, as a Gryffindor and known friend of the Potters, would have found himself in danger simply because of that. Becoming a spy and giving information about the Potters made the Dark Lord see him as an ally and lessened the danger he was in.

J.K. Rowling also mentioned this, though somewhat obliquely, when addressing why Snape wanted to join the Death Eaters.

Nithya: Lily detested mulciber,averyif snape really loved her,why didnt he sacrifice their company for her sake

J.K. Rowling: Well, that is Snape's tragedy. Given his time over again he would not have become a Death Eater, but like many insecure, vulnerable people (like Wormtail) he craved membership of something big and powerful, something impressive.
Bloomsbury Live Chat, (July 30, 2007)

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    This really should be the accepted answer. It's more elaborate, more relevant and also valid. – Pryftan Aug 17 '18 at 0:42
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    @Pryftan Thanks a lot! :) I’m glad you like it! :) Personally, I’m fairly sure Pettigrew joining the Death Eaters was simply his way of assuring his own safety. – Bellatrix Aug 17 '18 at 1:19
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    @Pryftan As an aside, I doubt he’d have taken the risk of joining the Dark Lord if he hadn’t joined the Order first. Pettigrew liked power and protection because he valued his own safety over all. It’d seem much safer to defect from the Order and convince the Dark Lord he’s an ally. However, he didn’t seem to prefer the Dark Lord or the Death Eaters but for that. He has no real loyalty to anyone - he doesn’t seek the Dark Lord until it’s impossible for him to continue hiding as a rat. (I might add in a quote showing that.) He seems to be quite willing to spend his life as a cared-for pet rat. – Bellatrix Aug 17 '18 at 1:26
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    @Miss Bella Yes - but I'm not sure I understand your meaning with the first part; why would he not join the Dark Lord if he hadn't joined the Order first? After all he knew the Dark Lord would have no problem with slaughtering him as he had no problem killing anyone. Or are you saying that if he hadn't joined the Order he wouldn't have been at risk because he wouldn't have been - by default - opposing the Dark Lord? If that's what you're saying I would agree - at least I would think that's the case. True on loyalty; a coward always seeking safety no matter who he betrays/etc. – Pryftan Aug 17 '18 at 20:37
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    @Pryftan That’s exactly what I’m saying - Pettigrew wouldn’t have been so much at risk if he hadn’t joined the Order because he wouldn’t have been considered as opposing the Dark Lord - as all Order members would be. Without his joining the Order, the Dark Lord wouldn’t automatically have a compelling reason to want to slaughter him. If he hadn’t joined the Order first, he likely may have considered it safer to simply keep his head down and not join either side. Serving the Dark Lord carries the danger of displeasing him, a risk Pettigrew wouldn’t take on lightly. He’s a coward over all. – Bellatrix Aug 17 '18 at 20:52
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Before the Potters got killed, Voldemort took over almost the entirety of England. Peter might have been afraid for his future, he wouldn't want to get killed. So he might have turned to Voldemort's side and become a Death Eater.

Given his personality, he was merely trying to play safe.

3

This theory is based on an assumption that Wormatail joined the Death Eaters after Voldemort learned of the prophecy.

If I was Voldemort and I had decided to kill the Potters, but couldn't find them or get to them, I would put all my efforts into people who could lead me to them.

It would have been well known that James Potter's best friends were the Marauders, and of those three the weakest and most susceptible to coercion would be Wormtail.

My theory (no canon evidence) is that Voldemort put pressure, whether positive or negative on Wormtail, which he just couldn't withstand.

I don't believe the character was inherently evil, he was just caught between a rock and a hard place and was forced into "What's best for me" mode.

Sirius and Lupin both had the confidence and the natural inclination to allow themselves to die for their friends. How many of us could truly say that when it came down to the crunch we would not choose ourselves over our friends?

  • To add to the conjecture, I imaginictionary the chain of coercion went: Voldemort ->DE in the Black family -> Sirius (rejected but overheard by) -> PP. In fact this may be the same cause for the secret keeper to have been swapped to PP. – AncientSwordRage Feb 27 '14 at 16:16
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Why did Peter Pettigrew choose Lord Voldemort and not Dumbledore?

Peter didn't chose Tom Riddle, Lord Voldemort chose Wormtail.

A choice assumes he felt he actually had a choice. It could have been that Tom Riddle choose Peter. He would have appealed to his vanity and popularity at a time when most of his friends were going off and having lives. James, Remus and Sirius were great wizards, going off doing great things and here he was, no where near their caliber. He would have left Hogwarts to do far less glamorous tasks than the rest of the Marauders. Imagine his envy?

Peter would have been quite susceptible to Tom Riddle's charm and promises. An affect of many charismatic and manipulative leaders, is not realizing how deep you are until it feels too late to turn back.

Lord Voldemort's pitch was superiority over muggles and half-bloods, an inferior feeling Peter would have been entranced by such a pitch. Once Peter tasted that power, the power Lord Voldemort offered, it's doubtful he'd settle for his old friends.

My conjecture: A thoughtful Lord Voldemort sat wondering who, among those who would stand with Dumbldore, could he pick-off and win over, who would act as a spy, who would they trust? Who was weak enough to control and manipulate?

In Peter Pettigrew he would have found a ready and willing participant, someone looking to feel more important than they were.

  • So... in other words the White Rose didn't get selected by the Nazis? And von Stauffenberg simply wasn't selected by the Nazis? Sorry but no matter what when a person joins a group they are the ones who decide it even if it's out of fear. Doesn't mean they can't be pitied but they still made the decision. Peter DID have a choice and Sirius also points this out; if Peter didn't have a choice then why did all the others who did have a choice? – Pryftan Aug 17 '18 at 0:42

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