The Big Picture
- The best twist in the Harry Potter series is the revelation that Peter Pettigrew, not Sirius Black, betrayed the Potters and framed Sirius for his crimes.
- The twist adds a deeper layer to the betrayal and shows the persuasive power of Voldemort in turning someone’s best friend against them.
- The reveal about Peter changes the entire story on a fundamental level, making it a darker and more heartbreaking tale.
The magical world of Harry Potter is filled with twists and turns. From the very beginning of the franchise, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) are thrust into a world where little is as it seems. Their first battle against evil brought about the twist that it wasn’t Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) after the Sorcerer’s Stone, but rather Professor Quirrell (Ian Hart). Then, in the Chamber of Secrets film, they face many twists, like the reveal that it was Ginny (Bonnie Wright) opening the chamber (with Voldemort’s help) and that Professor Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh) was a complete and utter fraud, never living out the fantastical adventures he made his living writing about. Later, there’s the reveal that Professor Moody (Brendan Gleeson) had been impersonated by Barty Crouch Jr. (David Tennant) throughout Goblet of Fire. However, the best twist in the entire series, in our humble opinion, is the truth about Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall) in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Here’s why.
Who Is Peter Pettigrew in the ‘Harry Potter’ Series?
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when we are first made aware of Peter’s existence, we learn that he was best friends with James Potter and Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) — and, later we learn, Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) — when they attended Hogwarts and were in Gryffindor together. Peter followed the others around, the weakest of the bunch, at least according to Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) as she recounts the tale of Peter and Sirius’ lives at the Three Broomsticks in the third film. While hiding under his invisibility cloak, Harry also overhears that Peter was killed around the same time as his parents by none other than Sirius Black, the man sent to Azkaban for supposedly giving Lord Voldemort the Potters’ location and obliterating Peter, leaving behind only one of Peter’s fingers. For over a decade, Peter was presumed dead, heralded by some for his devotion to the Potters and losing his life to protect his friend. Meanwhile, Sirius was the most infamous and hated villain aside from Voldemort himself in the wizarding community. However, as the film progresses, we learn this isn’t actually the truth.
What Did Peter Pettigrew Do?
When Sirius manages to gather Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Remus at the Shrieking Shack, the dark truth is finally revealed. Peter was never dead — he cut off his own finger so that others would be convinced of his fate. He was the one — the “friend” — who betrayed the Potters. When the Potters were forced into hiding in Godric’s Hollow, they had to name someone to be their Secret Keeper, as in the only person who knew their location and could reveal it to others (who then could find the Potters when they were magically unable to before). At first, Sirius was designated as the Secret Keeper but was convinced to transfer the responsibility to Peter. Then, when Voldemort killed the Potters and Peter was presumed dead, Sirius was framed for all of Peter’s crimes. But, worst of all, Peter had used his animagus abilities that he developed with his friends — to help Remus when he turned into a werewolf during the full moon — to pretend to be a rat for the previous twelve years and escape detection. Not just any rat, though — he was actually Ron’s longtime pet rat Scabbers. This reveal makes the entire situation worse (and makes it all feel a bit dirtier, knowing the Weasleys unknowingly housed a murderer for over a decade).
What Makes This the Best Twist in the ‘Harry Potter’ Series?
One could argue that the Snape twist in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, where the truth of his killing Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and love for Lily Evans is revealed, is the best. It’s definitely close and is likely the most memorable twist in the story. But, the reveal of Peter being a rat — physically and figuratively — adds an entire other layer to the betrayal that took the Potters’ lives and set their son on this horrific, tragic journey to defeat the most terrible wizard of all time. They placed their trust in the wrong person, betrayed by someone who had been their friend for years. It not only makes the betrayal stronger and more devastating, especially for Sirius and Remus who had to cope with what their friend did, but shows how compelling and forceful Voldemort could be to even turn someone’s best friend against them. It’s the perfect counter to Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s friendship, too, as it’s instantly clear they would, and could, never do something like that to one another.
Additionally, it’s the first major time (of many to come) that the characters are not who they seem. With both Quirrell and Lockhart, it was painfully obvious that there was something off with both characters, so their stories ultimately didn’t hold as much weight as a “twist” in the story. There was no reason to doubt Sirius’ guilt of the crimes he was convicted for early on. He looked even guiltier due to his escape. Meanwhile, the trajectory of Peter’s story and the truth about what he did was entirely unexpected. It’s the kind of twist where there aren’t many clues building up to it, as we see with the other twists in the series, but still manages to make perfect sense and change the entire story in such a major way. Peter was such an unexpected evil compared to the likes of Voldemort and the Malfoys — someone who wouldn’t be expected to join the ranks of the Death Eaters. He was a villain unlike any other. He’s, in some ways, the total opposite of Snape, but this twist works better as we feel nothing for Peter versus the long-building feelings of disdain, hatred, or something else for Snape due to his constant bullying of Harry over the years. The reveal about Peter changed the entire story on a fundamental level, making it a darker, more tragic, and more heartbreaking tale than it had been since the beginning, setting up the darkness for the rest of the series.