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The Sorting Hat says:

You might belong in Gryffindor
Where dwell the brave at heart
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart . . .

Sorcerer's Stone - Page 118 - US Hardcover

Are there any canon examples of Peter Pettigrew displaying any of the aforementioned traits in a positive way? My sense is that Godric Gryffindor's definitions of "daring" and "nerve" did not include a person joining a group like the Death Eaters.

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    Peter joining the death eaters would require a certain degree of daring and nerve, to abandon his friends. But it clearly was not chivalrous, and he wasn't brave at heart. Even Voldemort said Peter only returned out of fear. But in Harry's case it is shown that the hat takes the student's preferences in to consideration. So perhaps Peter wanted to join Gryffindor strongly enough that that is where it put him? – Xantec Dec 5 '11 at 15:52
  • Peter not killing harry was another sign of cowardice. He knew the dark lord wanted to kill harry himself and thought the dark lord might kill him if he killed harry. – user13387 Mar 27 '13 at 3:44
37

Two points:

Are there any canon examples of Peter Pettigrew displaying any of the aforementioned traits in a positive way?

Yes. He chose not to kill Harry Potter in Malfoy dungeon (for which his silver hand killed him).

My sense is that Godric Gryffindor's definitions of "daring" and "nerve" did not include a person joining a group like the Death Eaters.

If you didn't know anything post-Hogwarts-years, I don't think most of the things that we are shown James Potter engaging in would be "Godric Gryffindor's definitions" either. He was out to make - seemingly, largely destructive and malicious - mischief, and aimed for power. Death Eaters or not, until Potter changed later, it was only a difference in quantity, not quality (Or, at best, a spectrum).

To put it another way, until graduation from Hogwarts, James Potter displayed more Slytherin-like qualities than Wormtail did.

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    Your point about Wormtail choosing not to kill Harry at Malfoy Manor is the most concrete example of Pettigrew showing an ounce of bravery, IMO. – Slytherincess Dec 18 '11 at 18:53
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    But I didn't do anything to "steal" it! I don't recall vaguely waving my hand in front of @Slytherincess muttering "those aren't the answers you are looking for" – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 10 '12 at 16:47
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    But did he let him live out of bravery though? He was stricken by guilt for having had his life saved once before by Potter. Can you really call that brave to be guilt triped into not completing an action? – Mallow Apr 17 '14 at 19:04
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    I'd say he's another example supporting Dumbledore's statement that they sort students into houses too early at Hogwarts. – Generic Geek Jun 4 '15 at 3:51
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    One might also reference the fact that the Sorting Hat takes the individuals wants into consideration, as seen in Chamber of Secrets when Harry questions why he was put into Gryffindor, and at the end of The Deathly Hallows, when Harry tells his son that the Sorting Hat takes his choice into consideration. Perhaps Peter simply asked to be put in Gryffinder. – Gnemlock Jul 12 '17 at 14:06
55

The sorting hat looks at people's minds and finds what they have the potential to rise to, it doesn't look at what they are.

Hermione was CERTAINLY qualified for Ravenclaw, but the sorting hat placed her in Gryffindor, seeing within her the capability for great courage and skill. Initially, she didn't display much of this, but she had grown into it by the end of the first book.

Harry Potter was strongly considered for Slytherin, because he DID, at the time, want power. Later in life, he made the conscious choice to set aside power - he'd grown and changed as a person.

Neville is yet another example of someone who was apparently unfit, but the sorting hat saw a great potential.

Each of these characters was Sorted based on what they had the potential for, not what they were. Had things in their lives NOT gone as they did, they may have turned out very differently.

Without his experiences in DA and the encouragement he got at the end of the very first book, Neville would never have had the courage he displayed in Book 7.

Lacking all his growth in the early parts of 7, Harry could not have given up the Elder Wand's power.

In short, Pettigrew had, at one time, great potential for bravery and courage. His life took a different path, and we may never know why.

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    @Xantec - The Sorting Hat's very magical, but not infallible, IMO. From book 1: There's nothing hidden in your head; The Sorting Hat can't see; So try me on and I will tell you; Where you ought to be. From book 5: But this year I'll go further, listen closely to my song: though condemned I am to split you still I worry that it's wrong. Though I must fulfill my duty and must quarter every year; still I wonder whether sorting may not bring the end I fear. I myself am not sure the hat Sorts solely on potential. In DH, Dumbledore says to Snape, "You know, sometimes I think we Sort too soon." – Slytherincess Dec 5 '11 at 17:43
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    @Slytherincess: Not solely on potential, no. But potential plays a BIG part in it. Of course, there's also the possibility that it has quotas :-) Perhaps in Pettigrew's year they were a bit light on the Gryffindors. – Jeff Dec 5 '11 at 18:04
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    @Jeff - I really like your answer a lot! I think it's mostly spot on, although, as I mentioned previously, I don't think potential is the only consideration. It would certainly be important, though. I have one niggle - I don't see Harry as hungry for power at eleven, rather as hungry for autonomy and the freedom to be himself. When the Sorting Hat considered him for Slytherin, I interpret that as the hat sensing the part of Voldemort's soul that occupies Harry's body. Which leads me to ask: did the Sorting Hat know Harry was a Horcrux? Or did it just sense Voldemort's Slytherin qualities? – Slytherincess Dec 5 '11 at 19:02
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    @Slytherincess: At eleven, Harry Potter had spent his entire life being dumped upon and overshadowed. His first magical act was punishment of his cousin (coupled with freeing a prisoner). It is only natural and normal for someone to feel angry about this and to wish for the power to stop their abuse. At some level, Harry DID want power. His true nature, however, tempered that greatly and helped him become the man he was at the end of book 7. – Jeff Dec 5 '11 at 19:15
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    @Jeff his first magical act wasn't freeing the snake; it's mentioned that he also made his hair grow back after his Aunt had cut it horribly, shrunk an awful sweater she was forcing him to wear, and flew to the top of the school when being chased by bullies, all prior to that incident. However, Slytherin also values ambition and resourcefulness, both of which Harry has displayed many times (ambition to be an Auror, to defeat Voldemort, etc). – technophile Dec 8 '11 at 16:50
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Peter showed nerve, daring and a certain amount of chivalry when he became an animagus during his school days. The only reason we are given in the books for Peter, James and Sirius attempting this difficult and dangerous magic is that they believed it would allow them to safely keep company with their friend Remus Lupin during his nights as a werewolf.

It took guts, determination and a lot of work to achieve that goal, and, according to Lupin, it transformed his life in important ways. Instead of spending three nights in utter misery each month, his friends' courage (and adolescent belief in their own infallibity and immortality) gave him a sense of belonging and camaraderie, an important part of growing up in any society.

The inherent foolishness of their wandering Hogsmead with a full-blown werewolf does not take away from their basic good intentions. Had they remained in the Shrieking Shack the whole time instead, the only danger would have been to the three of them and Lupin.

It took true friendship to give up free time and expend the amount of effort it had to take to master the spells involved, and, especially, to risk punishment by both the school and the Wizarding government for the transgression.

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You argue that joining the Death Eaters doesn't count as daring. That would be true if you were talking about a Death Eater who just mindlessly runs errands for Lord Voldemort, tortures Muggles, and enjoys the bullying.

But consider how Peter has become a Death eater. He has accepted to become the secret-keeper for Lily and James' hiding place, then went straight to Lord Voldemort to betray them. Sirius accuses him of this in the Prisoner of Azkaban, and while Peter later denies this and claims he's done it only because the Dark Lord has forced him, Sirius's arguments are convincing: Peter has betrayed the Marauders on his own accord, using a clever plan. This is not chivalrious, but it certainly takes a nerve.

Secondly, consider the role Peter has played in the Dark Lord rising again. In chapter 33 of the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort himself praises Peter for seeking Voldemort while he was powerless, caring for him, and helping him return. Voldemort doesn't actually use the word “courage” anywhere, but he still calls a Death Eater who does not return coward. Pettigrew cuts his own hand to help create a new body for Voldemort! If that's not bravery, then what is?


Recall this sentence from the Order of the Phoenix chapter 37.

‘Snape – Snape g – goaded Sirius about staying in the house – he made out Sirius was a coward –’

You know Sirius was not a coward. He stayed hidden because that was the best way he could serve the Order, and he knew that. When Pettigrew was caring about the helpless and bodyless Voldemort, and later when he served the risen Voldemort, he might seem like playing coward if you only look at how he was sucking up to the Dark Lord, but he did actually need considerable bravery at those times.

  • 'This is not chivalrious, but it certainly takes a nerve.' No. Absolutely not. It was cowardice. And I’m pretty sure Voldemort also says this about why he returned - not out of loyalty but fear; fear because he had no safer place to go now that Remus knew that Sirius was innocent (plus he narrowly escaped death and then the Dementors). Peter even says in PoA that he joined Voldemort's side because of the power he (Voldemort) has and the danger otherwise. He was after protection. That's not anything to do with bravery. At all. – Pryftan Sep 2 '18 at 18:32
  • @Pryftan You're mixing two or three different times in Peter's life here. I said “This is not chivalrious, but it certainly takes a nerve.” about when Peter betrayed James's secret location to the Dark Lord, and my answer claims that Peter was lying when he said “that he joined Voldemort's side because of the power he (Voldemort) has and the danger otherwise”. – b_jonas Sep 2 '18 at 19:51
  • @Pryftan “now that Remus knew that Sirius was innocent” is thirteen years later, Peter did have to grab the opportunity to transform and escape as a rat to cut his losses, and that wasn't brave. But after that, I think finding and resurrect the Dark Lord is brave, when Peter could have instead just continued to hide from the world without seeking the Dark Lord, or sought out the Dark Lord but betrayed him while he was weak. – b_jonas Sep 2 '18 at 19:53
  • How do you know that he was lying? And I’m only 'mixing' them, as you put it, because he always sought protection from the strongest. As for hiding out rather than seeking the Dark Lord? Voldemort himself says that he returned out of fear and not loyalty. Fear from what exactly? The inability to hide from his friends perhaps? Or is Voldemort wrong here also? He always sought protection and the brave don't do that, generally speaking, do they? Doesn't mean he doesn't have guts (say framing Sirius) but bravery? He hasn't any. – Pryftan Sep 3 '18 at 23:39
  • And cutting your hand off for a cause isn't about bravery but sacrifice. It's also arguable that he fully anticipated Voldemort to replace his hand (for all we know he was told directly that he would). Okay sure it must have been scary but that's just a moment in time but having moments of bravery isn't the same thing as being brave in general. – Pryftan Sep 3 '18 at 23:43
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Pettigrew was nearly a Slytherin

Pettigrew certainly had many traits characteristic of Slytherin. According to Pottermore, he was a Hatstall between Gryffindor and Slytherin, meaning that he was, in the Hat's estimation, about evenly balanced between them:

The only true Hatstalls known personally to Harry Potter were Minerva McGonagall and Peter Pettigrew. The former caused the hat to agonise for five and a half minutes as to whether Minerva ought to go to Ravenclaw or Gryffindor; the latter was placed in Gryffindor after a long deliberation between that house and Slytherin. The Sorting Hat, which is infamously stubborn, still refuses to accept that its decision in the case of the latter may have been erroneous, citing the manner in which Pettigrew died as (dubious) evidence.

The phrasing here even suggests that the Hat may have made a mistake, referring to Pettigrew's actions toward Harry as "(dubious) evidence" of his suitability for Gryffindor.

People change

The Sorting Hat does not use any unusual magic to determine students' aptitudes. All it has is Legilimency.

Talks, sings, uses Legilimency

It can only determine someone's disposition from what is in their head at that time: their thoughts, their memories. Despite the Sorting Hat's stubborn insistence otherwise, it is quite possible for people to change between their Sorting and their death, a fact that Dumbledore recognized:

“Karkaroff’s Mark is becoming darker too. He is panicking, he fears retribution; you know how much help he gave the Ministry after the Dark Lord fell.” Snape looked sideways at Dumbledore’s crooked-nosed profile. “Karkaroff intends to flee if the Mark burns.”

“Does he?” said Dumbledore softly, as Fleur Delacour and Roger Davies came giggling in from the grounds. “And are you tempted to join him?”

“No,” said Snape, his black eyes on Fleur’s and Roger’s retreating figures. “I am not such a coward.”

“No,” agreed Dumbledore. “You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon. . . ”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

When Pettigrew was Sorted, he was balanced on the edge between Gryffindor and Slytherin. Perhaps he had enough bravery, or potential for bravery, to develop into a true Gryffindor, much as Neville Longbottom did. But what happened after his Sorting? He was taken in by James's group (and James was a bit of a bully). He was pushed to its periphery and constantly mocked by the others. And then a war with Voldemort started, which could have pushed his fear to new levels. In the end, the Sorting Hat simply could not have foreseen all this.

So Pettigrew did not really display much bravery in the main series. But no surprise: this was decades after the Sorting Hat, just barely, though that he had an aptitude for Gryffindor. In the ensuing period, he had developed in quite a different direction.

  • A bit of a bully? Quite a lot more than 'a bit'. He and Sirius were awful to Severus and iirc they also hexed other people too just because they thought it was funny. As for the Hat It never admits its wrong so as far as it is concerned it did foresee everything perfectly. – Pryftan Sep 2 '18 at 22:45
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It's surely true that the sorting hat makes mistakes. After all, Peter seems to be more suited to Slytherin than to Gryffindor. But if Peter was absolutely unqualified why was he sorted into Gryffindor at all? Why would he immediately not have been sorted into Slytherin?

Because a part of Peter chooses Gryffindor. The hat puts one where one chooses to be and or- where a person will thrive. This is important. The way I think of the hat is this. It puts one where they need to be. Imagine if you will a young Snape. Scared and tortured by his Father. Now he has 2 choices. Number one we know Snape is brave, even as a young child he is cited standing up for his mother when his father is abusive. But should he be put into Gryffindor? It's a possibility. But someone who is hurting, who needs strength in themselves - should they be put into a roomful of arrogant and brave Gryffindors? For the other option is to be sorted into Slytherin. Where the ambitious and those who are clever go. Which will he draw strength from? I would hazard to say the latter. Snape is sorted to where he will thrive, where he can learn skills to pick himself up. Likewise Peter is sorted where he needs to be. Peter needs to be surrounded by the brave. Peter the terrified mouse admires courage and desires to be fearless. His greatest weakness is his greatest ambition. How do I know this? I will explain.

The circumstances of Peters death are not dismissable. It is important that Peter hesitates before killing Harry because in doing so, for a split moment he is not concerned with his own self preservation. Peters morals or his guilt or his compassion, stops him. Its not a clever or ambitious thing to do. For in this moment Peter is acting against the very core of Slytherins' principals. Perhaps Peter has a poor track record. Because whatever desire he has to do good comes second place to his own well-being. And yet Peter must have spoken that day to the hat and asked for strength, he must have said something about courage or had a burning desire for bravery. For why else would he have been sorted where he was? Alas our poor friend Peter was afraid. He needed something like bravery to find his step in the world. If we consider all the houses it makes sense that the place Peter would thrive most in a place where bravery and chivalry existed. It is a pity that Peter was so afraid, for he did not realize like our own hero did that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

  • No. It has to do with the life debt when Harry called him out on it. Something like 'You're going to kill me? You owe me Wormtail!' Dumbledore even says that Voldemort wouldn't want a servant who is in debt to Harry. Now maybe he does have some regret; after all he does suggest that it could be another person to help resurrect Voldemort but still. Even so I don't think the Hat usually talks with anyone. It's an exception. – Pryftan Sep 2 '18 at 22:49
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Pettigrew, at some point, qualified the guts of being a GRYFFINDOR Brave and courage. We may even think that he doesn't have the honor to be sorted to Gryffindor. But the point is, Wormtail is somehow brave. Neville, why was he sorted in Gryffindor? Because he is brave, he even stands up to his friends. Maybe Wormtail isn't that just strong with his own feet, maybe there are some points that Wormtail is a coward, but like everyone who was sorted to different houses, the Sorting hat bases the qualification based on their own attitude.

  • How is Peter brave? He seeks protection in others. He flies to the Dark Lord because he has more power it seems than the Order. He always sought protection. Voldemort points out that the reason he returned is not due to loyalty but fear: fear because he was outed as not a pet rat. Doesn't mean he couldn't sometimes outwit someone (look what he did to Sirius) but still that has nothing to do with courage. – Pryftan Sep 2 '18 at 22:51

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