The North Tower #28: Neville Longbottom and Peter Pettigrew

by Maline

Hi everybody and welcome back. Hope your summer holidays are getting on nicely. Today’s topic is the result mainly of a long running frustration that I’ve been building up since I first started writing here at MuggleNet and people started sending me owls on the matter. I am talking of course about the persistent theories that there’s a link between Neville Longbottom and Peter Pettigrew and that there might be a clue to how Neville’s going to act in books 6 and 7 based on how Pettigrew acted in betraying the Potters.

Let me state one first, basic thing: Peter Pettigrew is NOT Neville Longbottom. Nor are they related any more closely than witches and wizards in general (see JKR official website under ‘Is Neville Peter Pettigrew’s son?’ :-)). Since Peter is NOT Neville, it follows that Neville’s NOT Peter either and that there’s really no reason to why they should behave in the same way.

The reason for making the parallel Peter-Neville is usually one or both of the following:

  1. Peter is described to look like Neville (in Harry’s dream) and he’s described to be a weak wizard, which Neville’s seemed to be up to book 5.
  2. When making a generation parallel, it usually goes James = Harry, Sirius = Ron, Lupin = Hermione and then Pettigrew’s left, and the closest person to the Harry-Ron-Hermione-trio is Neville so he’s a convenient choice.

So I thought I’d hack them down separately. 🙂 Let’s start with number one…

Neville and Peter are NOT alike

Descriptions in the HP-series can be deceiving, especially if they’re made by a character and not by JKR as part of the underlying storytelling (just take Draco Malfoy’s descriptions of Harry for example :-)). One simply must think about this when going about any kind of analysis. One good example: Hagrid tends to generalise and exaggerate. Every wizard who turned bad wasn’t in Slytherin for one (e.g. Pettigrew, so you can stop sending me owls on this one too. :-)). And dragons really are dangerous and don’t make very good pets. So when Harry, in a dream (not one of his Voldemort-related ones, mind) pictures that Peter looks like Neville, that’s NOT something to really go on. Big red herring warning. Harry pictured Pettigrew to look like Neville in a DREAM and this picture only lasted until Harry actually MET Pettigrew. (Dreams are notoriously unreliable when it comes to how people look in them. I once dreamed I was Hermione—who looked like Buffy—and was having… hmm how should I put this… an amorous encounter with Snape who looked like Viggo Mortensen in LotR for example. (yeah, yeah, laugh all you want). The first real description of Peter Pettigrew appears in PoA, p.269 (UK paperback version):

He was a very short man, hardly taller than Harry and Hermione. His thin, colourless hair was unkept and there was a large bald patch on the top. He had the shrunken appearance of a plump man who had lost a lot of weight in a short time. His skin looked grubby, almost like Scabbers’s fur, and something about the rat lingered around his pointed nose, his very small, watery eyes.

And this doesn’t really tally with the character of Neville Longbottom (who’s usually described only as ’round-faced’), now does it?

When it comes to an analysis of Pettigrew’s character, I don’t think I can do a very good job without completely paraphrasing the Red Hen essay on the Marauders so I’ll just refer you to that. Seriously, if anyone reads that article and then still thinks that Peter and Neville is a good parallel to make, I’d be most surprised. Oh, and while you’re at it, go ahead and read the one on Neville too. 🙂

The main point is that Peter and Neville are extremely different—in looks, but mainly in character. Peter goes along with anything James and Sirius does (or so it seems, probably as long as it serves his own purposes), Neville stood up to the trio already in PS/SS when he tried to stop them from leaving to fight Quirrell. Peter is described as a person who always tagged along Sirius and James (though this description is presented to us by Madam Rosemerta, who most likely didn’t know the boys very well), whereas Neville mostly keeps to himself and doesn’t try to break into the circle of the Trio. Peter seems to be a manipulative little bastard whereas Neville is honest and noble. Just compare the scenes in the Shrieking Shack where Pettigrew is in grave danger, trying to weasel himself out of the situation (PoA) and that in the DoM where Neville, in spite of being tortured with the Cruciatus Curse, tells Harry not to give the prophecy to the DEs (OotP). I mean REALLY—they are extremely different. One thinks mainly of himself and what he can gain from each situation (which is why so many people have wanted to put him in Slytherin) and one doesn’t hesitate to risk his life for the right cause and his friends. Seriously, the ‘maybe, since Neville’s so much like Pettigrew, he’ll end up betraying Harry’ HAS TO STOP, simply because Neville ISN’T ANYTHING LIKE Pettigrew.

Snape, Pettigrew and Neville

I do see one connection between Neville and Peter though, and that connection is Snape. I know that I’m extremely influenced by the Red Hen reading of Pettigrew’s character but I think that person’s really on a good track so I’ll stick to it.

It seems pretty logical to me that Pettigrew really is one of those manipulative people who appear weak so that they can do the bad things they want to do undetected. JKR is quite fond of this type of character – take Quirrell, Bagman and Crouch Jr (Pensieve scene) for example. (Still remains to be seen whether Lockhart should be counted among them or if he really is that stupid, but having read JKR’s comments about him and the person who inspired him on jkrowling.com, I tend to go with ‘he’s really that stupid’) The ‘oh, but I’m just a weak little innocent thing who couldn’t resist the big bully’-defence almost always works after all (I’ve known a couple of these false-weaklings myself) and if you’re going to do really bad things, having your enemies underestimate you is a huge advantage (as seen in the graveyard scene in GoF with Voldemort underestimating Harry).

Now, Snape obviously hated James, Sirius and Lupin back in their schooldays, and I’ll bet my last shoestring that he hated Pettigrew too. Snape seems like a pretty shrewd reader of character to me, except with a couple of people where he’s blinded by old hate and anger (e.g. Harry, who looks way too much like James not to be hated) and it’s very possible that he saw through Pettigrew’s little ‘I’m so weak’-act. Now there’s Neville at school, giving much the same impression (‘I’m such a bad wizard’, ‘my family thought I was all Muggle forever’, ‘everybody knows that I’m almost a Squib’). Now, Neville obviously isn’t a weak wizard any more than Pettigrew was when he was at school. Like McGonagall said, there’s nothing missing in his work except confidence (OotP). Also, Neville’s a late bloomer (i.e. most probably the character that JKR said would come into their power in the later parts of the series) and it’s not until OotP that we see some real action from him (though keep in mind that he handled the Boggart just fine in PoA). I think everybody agrees that in book 6, we’ll see a very magically powerful Neville, with his own wand to help things along even more. To the point: even though I’m pretty sure that Neville really thought he was a bad wizard and that his ‘I’m so weak’-act was completely sincere, you can be pretty sure that Snape didn’t. Snape likes to have prejudices about people and make parallels that aren’t necessarily correct (e.g. Harry as the narcissist show-off and just as arrogant as his father). He also tends not to see that people might change over time (for him, James will always be the arrogant, full of himself little bully he apparently was at 15). Therefore, it’s quite likely that Snape is reminded of Pettigrew when looking at Neville, and since he can’t vent his hatred for Pettigrew at the appropriate person (who’s assumed to be dead) he chooses Neville as a stand-in (Very much like he does with Harry over James). Sometime, Snape will have to realise (along with a lot of readers I think) that people are different and not copies of other people.

Which smoothly leads us to part two:

The Trio is NOT the Marauders

Sure, we’re reminded again and again and again and for the thousandth time that Harry looks just like his father (except…and I think everyone can fill in the rest :-)). LOOKS like him. He also seems to have got some of his Quidditch talent from him (or maybe Lily was on the team too, we haven’t heard anything either for or against that to my knowledge). He doesn’t seem much like him otherwise though, mainly based on what was seen in the Pensieve. Sure, James probably wizened up in his 6th and 7th year and became nice, responsible and all that, but at the age of 15, he frankly doesn’t seem that nice at all. No wonder Harry’s in shock, seeing his father bully Snape for Sirius’s amusement. Harry would never do that, probably not even to Malfoy. Remember the Duel Club in CoS: Harry feels that it’d be unfair to curse Malfoy while he’s on the ground. James and Sirius don’t show any qualms about that in the Pensieve scene. (I particularly thought that the Scourgify spell on his mouth was vicious.) Harry has, in spite of what Snape might say about him, a great sense of justice and knowing what is right. Sure, he might fantasise about evil ways to get Malfoy and Snape, but notice that he never attacks either of them unless first provoked or attacked. Harry, at age 15, is very DIFFERENT from his father.

This goes for Ron and Hermione too. There are, undoubtedly, parallels between Sirius and Ron (as pointed out in NT 22, ‘Die Ron Die’) and Lupin and Hermione do share some characteristics (such as being the most responsible in the group and being prejudiced against because of what they are (werewolf and muggle-born)). But this isn’t enough to say that the Trio is just like the Marauders, and certainly not a cause to pull poor Neville into the equation as a stand-in for Pettigrew.

The other main difference (as pointed out in the Red Hen article) between the Trio and the Marauders is that Harry, Ron and Hermione break rules and run around school at night to try and help people and do what is right. They always have a noble cause, an end to justify the means. The Marauders, on the other hand, had no noble cause that we know of. They might have become animagi out of friendship for Lupin, but they used it to run around the Forbidden Forest at full moon. Very irresponsible, as Hermione puts it.

No, if there are any generation parallels to be made at all, they should be made between James and Sirius and the Weasley twins, at least at how we saw them in the Pensieve. Here the descriptions fit better: ‘quite the double-act’, ‘you’d have thought they were brothers’, ‘never had such a pair of troublemakers’ (followed directly by ‘Oh I don’t know, I think Fred and George Weasley could give them a run for their money’). These descriptions would fit perfectly on the twins too.

Ok, so conclusion: Neville is not like Peter Pettigrew and there is therefore no reason whatsoever to think that he would betray Harry because of this (sure, we don’t know what’s going to happen, maybe Neville’s hit with the Imperious Curse and delivers Harry to Voldy, what do we know? I just really doubt that he’d do it out of his own free will to favour his own agenda. Because Pettigrew, in spite of his defence of having been frightened into it by Voldy, HE made the choice to do it, selling out his friends in the process.)

Oh, and side note: sure, JKR said we must stop calling Voldemort ‘Voldy’, but she also said later that she was kidding and since it’s obvious that she’s got a great sense of humour, I don’t really think she minds. And I find it amusing so I’ll just keep on doing it. (i.e. no angry owls on that matter either. Wow, the way I’m eliminating topics I’ll risk only getting intelligent mail from now on… oh well, there’s still the people who can’t count to one (as in chosen ONE, not two) out there to entertain me…;-))

I’ll argue a couple of rumours about the two characters while I’m at it I think…

Pettigrew rumours

1) Pettigrew was actually in Slytherin.

No, I’m pretty sure he was in Gryffindor. Sadly, someone messed up when asking JKR the question in her last interview (writing Lupin’s name twice) so the final proof is missing. Still if you look at it, there’s really no other alternative. For one thing, Gryffindor doesn’t mean you’re a good person. Gryffindors can be really nasty (some of the things Fred and George do could definitely qualify as that, and just take Sirius at age 15). Second thing: during the first five books, we’ve seen very little interaction between the houses. Before the DA, it was basically only Hermione who seemed to actually know people in other houses than her own. Even though they have classes together, each keeps to his own kind. I therefore have a very hard time seeing how three Gryffindors could have become best friends with a Slytherin and how they could have organised their outings together. Especially when James presumably always hated the Dark Arts, just as Sirius did. Would the two of them then go and befriend a Slytherin, member of the official Dark Arts promotion House? Not bloody likely! It’d be like Fred and George walking up to say Theodore Nott, exclaiming ‘hey, you seem cool, wanna come to Hogsmeade with us this weekend?” Sounds pretty unreasonable doesn’t it? The reason Gryffindors are portrayed as super-everything in the books is that they are written from HARRY’s point of view. The view we get of the Gryffs (and the other houses as well) is HIGHLY SUBJECTIVE and coloured by Harry’s prejudices and ignorance. It’s not a ‘true’ description (if ever there was such a thing…), and as we’re slowly introduced to people from other houses (like Luna for example) it’ll be easier to take a step back (for those who choose to do it) and get a more objective view. So those of you who still have the image of the saint-like Gryffindors, get over it and accept that Pettigrew was one of them.

2) Pettigrew was with Voldemort when he killed Harry’€™s parents

There’s no solid proof either for or against this, but I kind of like it. Pettigrew was gone from his home and had surly gone to Voldemort to tell him where to find the Potters. It would kind of make sense that he would accompany him there to show him exactly where the house was. We don’t know exactly how the Fidelius Charm works in the prospect of range. Harry stood right in front of 12 Grimmauld Place when he was told the secret of where to find it, making the house pop out of thin air. It’s possible that a person has to be within visual range of the object concealed. It is, on the other hand, equally possible that this isn’t the case, so it doesn’t add proof to Pettigrew being at the Potters’ or not.

Then there’s the destroyed house. According to what we’ve seen so far, Avada Kedavra can hurt inanimate objects but the damages are pretty limited. E.g. when Dumbledore and Voldemort duel in the MoM towards the end of OotP, there’s not that much harm done. Some statues shatter and a desk is set on fire if I remember correctly, and in any case we’re really far from the whole room being blown to pieces. And the Avada Kadavra on Harry actually made contact with a living person (Voldemort, or two if you count Harry too) and when this happens in GoF (Cedric and the spider), there’s NO harm done to inanimate objects around them. So why in god’s name would the whole house get blasted to ruins by that particular AK? Sure, James and Voldy might have duelled before James was killed, bringing some damage to the house, but wouldn’t Harry then have shown at least some weak memory of cracking walls and explosions? And to utterly destroy the house like that—it should have taken some time, enough time for Lily to get out of there even—I don’t know, it just seems too unlikely to me. And after the famous AK on Harry, Voldemort was certainly in no condition to destroy a house. Neither was baby Harry, and James and Lily were dead. So unless the house destroyed itself out of grief for its inhabitants’ death, there was somebody else there that night, and who would be a more logical choice than Pettigrew, who had to come and show Voldemort the location anyway…?

The third fishy thing is that James and Lily’s wands were heard of no more after that day. What happened to them? Somebody must have taken them, and Pettigrew sure seems to have a thing for wands. Somebody must have removed Voldemort’s wand from the scene as well, and since Pettigrew was undoubtedly (99%) the one who brought it back to him, he must have found it somewhere. So unless it was kept for safekeeping at Hogwarts and Pettigrew found it there, the chances for him having taken it right off the crime scene are pretty good. And if he was there to take Voldemort’s wand, why not then take Lily and James’s at the same time? This becomes especially convincing when, in OotP, we suddenly have several escaped and wandless DEs running around in the DoM with wands of unknown origin (see NT 27).

When putting these three things together, I think the probability for Pettigrew having witnessed the Potter’s murder is quite high. (He probably left Harry alive because he was scared of him—he’d reduced his mighty master to vapour after all…)

Neville rumours

1) Neville’s suffering from a Memory Charm

This is a really popular one. I get at least one owl per day suggesting it. The main argument is that Neville’s memory resembles that of Bertha Jorkins after Crouch Sr. got her with his Memory Charm. The theory is (with some minor variations) that Neville was present when Bellatrix and co. tortured Neville’s parents to madness some time after Voldemort’s fall and that either A) one of them put a Memory Charm on him to prevent him from remembering some vital clue to the story that he would have overheard while witnessing this process, or B) that his grandmother or another relative put it on him to make him forget the painful memory (though he was only a baby, so he probably wouldn’t have remembered any more of that then what Harry remembers from witnessing his parents get murdered).

I don’t really believe this for some different reasons. First of all, I think it rather unlikely that Bellatrix and co. wouldn’t simply have killed Neville if they’d found him with his parents. Their master was gone and they really had nothing to lose. And they had no reason to believe that Neville would be dangerous to them (the prophecy was about the Dark Lord after all, and Harry had already stepped into the role as the One at that time). So why not simply kill him? As for keeping some important information about Voldemort and/or the DEs, I think it’s highly unlikely, mainly because I don’t see what purpose it could serve to the story now that Voldemort is back. We already know what happened (pretty much) after Voldemort fell up until he came back and the only big thing we don’t know is exactly what happened the night the AK curse failed and Harry got that scar. And Frank and Alice Longbottom most certainly didn’t know that (they were Aurors, they didn’t work in the DoM). So, I ask you, what purpose would it serve for JKR to have Neville play that particular part of ‘damaged witness’? What would it add to the story? (and again, why wouldn’t Bellatrix have killed him instead of wiping his memory?)

We must also remember that even though Bertha Jorkins might have had a damaged memory due to Crouch’s Memory Charm, she might not have been THAT bad. It’s mainly Bagman who talks about her awful memory, and A) Bagman’s not a very nice or truthful character, and B) he doesn’t want to have to send out people to look for her or have the hassle of one of his employees going missing in Albania (of all places). It’s highly possible that he exaggerates Bertha’s poor memory for his own convenience (or, if he’s a DE, for Voldemort’s convenience).

And as for his grandmother or another relative having wiped his memory to ‘protect’ him–Well, first I must say that Neville’s family doesn’t strike me as a particularly considerate bunch. I mean they throw him out of windows and off piers to try and ‘scare some magic out of him’! That’s really not very nice. And his grandmother obviously doesn’ want Neville to forget about his parents’ fate, taking him to see them at St. Mungo’s even though they don’t recognise him and scolding him for not having told all his friends about their condition. Neville’s grandmother would probably consider Neville having witnessed his parents being tortured to madness an honour.

My interpretation is that there isn’t really a mystery to Neville’s bad memory. He simply tends to forget things. Some people are like that. He’s a typical loner who tends to wander around in his own little world it seems. I don’t think his memory’s really as bad as Harry thinks it is either. He just remembers other things. It wouldn’t surprise me if Neville could name a thousand magical plants on the top of his head for example (something Harry certainly wouldn’t be able to do). Everybody’s good at remembering things that interest them and usually bad at remembering things that don’t. Trivial things like remembering to bring things (e.g. signed pieces of paper) are just not that interesting to Neville’s memory, and I think that’s true for a lot of people. Your memory selects what it remembers. I have a friend for example who can’t name ten countries in Europe but can tell you the ingredients and makings of about 400 different drinks and cocktails. My boyfriend, on the other hand, can name all the countries in the world, including their capitals, but can’t remember the different names and uses of my make-up things (when reading this, he protested most violently, but after going through my make-up bag, testing him, it was proved that I was right—toe separators in your hair, I ask you! ;-)).

Personally, I’m a bit like Neville, worthless when it comes to remembering things that I need to buy or bring somewhere, terrible with people’s names, birthdays and phone numbers and utterly incapable of separating left from right. On the other hand, I know the HP-books pretty much by heart, know everything that happened in every episode of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, can give you the etymology and phonetic development of an extensive number of French words through Ancient French and Latin, and used to be able to recite the entire family tree for the book series ‘Saga of the Icepeople’ (47 books, about 300 or so characters) without fail and in the correct order (it takes about an hour, I used to do it in my head while sun tanning). So I don’t think Neville’s really THAT bad. 😉

2) Neville’s in love with Hermione

Considering he asked her first to the Yule Ball and has apparently talked a lot about her at home (his grandmother seems to know a lot more about her than about Ron for example), you could say that this is a fair assumption. I don’t know if it’s true though and I don’t think it’d really matter if it is, as Hermione’s not showing any signs of returning his feelings. So I for one don’t intend to lose any sleep over the matter. 🙂

Ok, this was really long. Sorry about that. Thanks for reading it through. 🙂 See you next time.