Animagus
Harry Potter Lexicon Minute

Mysteries: Scabbers the Rat

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Mysteries: Scabbers the Rat

Eleven years ago, after the publication of the last Harry Potter novel and, as far as we knew, the end of canon, I wrote a piece for the Lexicon entitled “Puzzles, Mysteries, and Loose Ends” in which I discussed the things we still didn’t know and the questions which had never been answered. A few years ago, when I brought that essay over into the new Lexicon website, I updated it and removed a few things, since quite a bit of new canon had appeared since it had first been published and some questions had been answered. But a lot of mysteries still remain to this day.

This episode is the first in a series of podcasts in which I’ll talk about some of those enduring mysteries of the Wizarding World, the things we still wonder about even after all seven books, the things which have never been explained or which we can’t quite make sense of, despite twenty years of research.

This episode I’m going to talk about Scabbers, Ron’s pet rat.

Yes, of course we all know that Scabbers is far more than just a pet rat, but that’s not the mystery here. No, what I’m talking about is just exactly how and why Peter Pettigrew, transfigured into a rat, managed to insinuate himself into the Weasley household.

Let’s look at the timeline. Sirius Black confronted Peter Pettigrew on the first of November, 1981, shortly after the attack on the Potters on Hallowe’en night. To escape, Pettigrew blasted the street beneath his feet, killing a number of Muggles in the process, then transformed into a rat and ran off into the sewers which had been exposed by the explosion. So that was November of 1981. But what happened next?

At that time, Percy was five years old. Did he acquire a pet rat at that point? Or did a few years go by before Scabbers became an honorary Weasly? We just don’t know what happened from Pettigrew’s escape from Sirius in November 1981 until he is bequeathed to Ron in August of 1991.

Did Peter stay a rat right from the attack and escape? Did he immediately try to find a wizarding family to latch onto? Presumably it was no accident that he became part of the Weasley family. So how well did he know the Weasleys? Pettigrew was part of the original Order of the Phoenix along with Molly Weasley’s two brothers, but neither Molly nor Arthur were members of the Order during that first rise of Voldemort in the 1970s. Did Peter decide that a family like the Weasleys would be the safest place to keep tabs on the magical world of which he was no longer was a part?

What little we do know about Scabbers’ history with the Weasley family is revealed in Ron’s conversation with the proprietor of the Magical Menagerie in Diagon Alley. Ron is worried about Scabbers’ thin and haggard appearance since the Weaselys returned from Egypt. The witch in the Magical Menagerie was surprised by Scabbers’ long life but didn’t detect that he was actually a wizard in Animagus form. Here’s how that passage goes:

“Bang him on the counter,” said the witch, pulling a pair of heavy black spectacles out of her pocket.

Ron lifted Scabbers out of his inside pocket and placed him next to the cage of his fellow rats, who stopped their skipping tricks and scuffled to the wire for a better took.

Like nearly everything Ron owned, Scabbers the rat was secondhand (he had once belonged to Ron’s brother Percy) and a bit battered. Next to the glossy rats in the cage, he looked especially woebegone.

“Hm,” said the witch, picking up Scabbers. “How old is this rat?”

“Dunno,” said Ron. “Quite old. He used to belong to my brother.”

“What powers does he have?” said the witch, examining Scabbers closely.

“Er –” The truth was that Scabbers had never shown the faintest trace of interesting powers. The witch’s eyes moved from Scabbers’s tattered left ear to his front paw, which had a toe missing, and tutted loudly.

“He’s been through the mill, this one,” she said.

“He was like that when Percy gave him to me,” said Ron defensively.

“An ordinary common or garden rat like this can’t be expected to live longer than three years or so,” said the witch. “Now, if you were looking for something a bit more hard-wearing, you might like one of these –“

She indicated the black rats, who promptly started skipping again. Ron muttered, “Show-offs.” (PA3)

That doesn’t tell us much. We just don’t know how Percy acquired this odd, battered, long-lived pet rat.

Rowling never addressed the issue. Interestingly, she did mention Scabbers’ history during an interview, but only to point out how surprised she was that a boy asked her about it before book three came out. Here’s what she said:

The most startling thing or things I’ve ever been asked are when children ask me questions that reveal that they are clearly following my thought processes a lot more closely than I would have guessed.

There was – I can say this now because book three’s out – a boy asked me in San Francisco: “Where did Scabbers come from, what’s Scabbers’ history?” And Scabbers, for people who don’t know, is a rat who subsequently was revealed not to be a rat at all and I found it quite spooky that he homed in on Scabbers because, of course, I’d known from the first book that Scabbers wasn’t really a rat (HPM).

That was all she said. She didn’t say what answer, if any, she gave to this fan.

So we’re left with a mystery. How did Peter Pettigrew become Percy’s pet? Where did he get that dreadful name? And did he ever secretly transform back into a human now and then just to remember what it felt like?

It would seem that we’ll never know.

Commentary

Notes

In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, just a couple of minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.

Special thanks go to Felicia Cano who gave us permission to use her amazing artwork of Hermione reading a book for the logo, which was created by Kim B.

Check out the PodBean app here

And if you want to create a podcast of your own, check out PodBean's hosting service.

Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, just a couple of minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.

Special thanks go to Felicia Cano who gave us permission to use her amazing artwork of Hermione reading a book for the logo, which was created by Kim B.

Check out the PodBean app here

And if you want to create a podcast of your own, check out PodBean's hosting service.

Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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