There’s a question that doesn’t seem to have a good answer among Potter fans. Despite our best efforts and much back and forth, we continue to ask how the hell was Peter Pettigrew a Gryffindor?
For anyone who thinks the Hogwarts house traits are cut and dry, you may need to get a Pottermore account. The site consistently gives us new reasons to view this world as less black and white as it may come across when given a summary of Harry’s story or the Wizarding World as a whole. (Read here for more on exactly this subject.) But there are already so many clues in the books to house traits not being strict indications of its students and vice-versa.
From the start of Pettigrew’s career at Hogwarts, he became one of only two people known to the Potter books who participated in a Hatstall–a sorting taking longer than five minutes. Click here for Pettigrew’s full profile on Pottermore.) The Hat placed Pettigrew in Gryffindor when torn with Slytherin. After the betrayal of James and Lily Potter to Voldemort, people would point to this as a reason to doubt the Hat’s accuracy. Yet those who accuse the Hat may be looking at it from the wrong point of view.
Because of the lack of material provided by Jo and Pottermore on Pettigrew’s upbringing, time at Hogwarts, and motivations, I have to do a lot of guessing and tin-foiling. But I won’t be running in the dark because I think there’s a character remarkably identical to Pettigrew . . . only he’s on the other side.
“‘You always like big friends who’d look after you, didn’t you? It used to be us . . . me and Remus . . . and James . . .’ Pettigrew wiped his face again; he was almost panting for breath” (Prisoner 369). This line by Sirius sheds a massive amount of light on the nature of Pettigrew and how he is treated by his “friends” the other Marauders. When you hear words like “weak” and “talentless” who comes to mind in Potter? Pettigrew? Sure. What about Neville Longbottom? If his situation was different (not experiencing the trauma of his parents going mad on behalf of Voldemort’s supporters), is it that outlandish to consider Neville going the same way as Pettigrew?
Consider this passage from Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince:
“As [Tom] moved up the school, he gathered about him a group of dedicated friends [. . .] Riddle undoubtedly felt no affection for any of them. They were a motley collection; a mixture of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish gravitating toward a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty. In other words, they were the forerunners of the Death Eaters” (361-62).
Ask yourself who else gathered about him a group of dedicated friends, who were a mixture of talents, and wanted a leader who could show them more refined forms of magic? Titles and whichever type of magic they used, Voldemort and Harry’s enlisting students into the Death Eaters or Dumbledore’s Army lends Pettigrew and Neville’s lives on a similar trajectory. It all comes down to that passage in red and the person they aligned themselves to.
Despite his repeated reference to being like his father, Harry turned out better than James. He treated Neville much better than James did to Pettigrew. Again, there isn’t much textual evidence to support a rebuttal about how Pettigrew was treated by the other Marauders. Nevertheless, Neville acquires the kind of self-confidence Pettigrew never could to break the need of “big friends” and carry on the work of Dumbledore’s Army while the Trio were hunting Horcruxes. “You weren’t about to commit murder right under Albus Dumbledore’s nose, for wreck of a wizard who’d lost all of his power, were you? You’d want to be quite sure he was the biggest bully in the playground before you went back to him, wouldn’t you?” (Prisoner 370). Sirius outright tells us in this passage that Pettigrew’s character never evolved to feel like he could be independent into his adulthood.
It’s sad, really, but no less diminishes my support that the Hat did make the right choice in placing Pettigrew into Gryffindor.
Self-confidence he may lack, but Pettigrew did a brave thing giving the location of the Potters to Voldemort. It’s not easy to betray people who were supposedly your friends. This was a great win from a Death Eater perspective, and Pettigrew would go down as a hero for gaining the information needed to take down the enemy. For once in his life, Pettigrew felt important, the kind of confidence he never achieved before. If only Lilly’s love hadn’t saved Harry. . . .
Sirius tells us in Prisoner how Pettigrew was in hiding from fellow Death Eaters because they suspected him of sabotaging Voldemort’s downfall. Selfish and seemingly cowardly, Pettigrew did the only thing in his power to do: stay alive. “‘He–he was taking over everywhere!’ gasped Pettigrew. ‘Wh–what was there to be gained by refusing him?’ ‘What was there to be gained by fighting the most evil wizard who has ever existed?’ said Black. ‘Only innocent lives, Peter!’ ‘You don’t understand!’ whined Pettigrew. ‘He would have killed me, Sirius!'” (Prisoner 375). Pettigrew’s self-preservation is absolute, and, I think is what makes him a Gryffindor. I’m not saying it’s right; it’s not. I’m not saying being that selfish and un-empathic is a good quality; it’s not. My point is Peter puts on a brave face when doing whatever it takes to avoid death.
To hammer this home, let’s look at the end of Chamber of Secrets, when Pettigrew and Harry share the qualities of “resourcefulness” and “determination” which Voldemort prized in his followers. “‘Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.’ ‘It only put me in Gryffindor,’ said Harry in a defeated voice, ‘because I asked not to go in Slytherin.’ . . . ‘It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities'” (Chamber 333). How do we not know for certain that an eleven year-old Pettigrew put on the Hat and asked to be put in Gryffindor just like Harry?
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***This post is part of my Perusing Potter – a series of exploring the known and not-so-known aspects of the Harry Potter Series***
*Featured Image credit: Pottermore