Neville Longbottom and Peter Pettigrew: An Experiment in Sorting
I have long been troubled by the fact that Peter Pettigrew was sorted into Gryffindor; of course, for reasons of plot it makes sense since he needed to be close friends with the rest of the Marauders, and Hogwarts tends to be cliquey with their Houses. However, I also knew J.K. Rowling does not make decisions willy-nilly, so I still couldn’t reconcile how a character who is entirely motivated by fear could be sorted into Gryffindor.
I gained a new perspective when I overheard a conversation about Peter’s Sorting happening behind me at a convention, and I immediately jumped on an opportunity to hear others’ perspectives. The people I met argued that the hat doesn’t always sort an individual based on what traits they have – as it tells Harry, he might put someone in a House where it foresees an individual will succeed – and the hat may have made similar decisions with Neville and Peter. Neville, my fellow con-goers said, was not brave when he first arrived at Hogwarts, but perhaps the hat saw that Neville had an untapped capacity for bravery that his housemates would help him discover. From this, they extrapolated that Peter was perhaps put in Gryffindor because the hat saw that he needed bravery, too, and Gryffindor could teach him that. Of course, Peter failed, but Neville became a success story.
So Neville and Peter were in similar situations: Timid and unsure, they made friends with popular and powerful wizards after being sorted into Gryffindor. Although we see much less of Peter, we know from “Snape’s Worst Memory” in Order of the Phoenix that while his friends joked about the OWLs, Peter questions his responses, showing that next to his friends, he really wasn’t considered the brightest or most talented wizard. Neville, too, experiences a lot of doubt. His lack of confidence plagues him in lessons throughout the series; it’s not until Lupin prompts him to confront a boggart, and Harry encourages him in the DA, that he really masters a spell. Unlike Peter, whose friends teased him, Neville’s teachers and peers encouraged him to succeed.
Neville also slowly builds bravery over the course of the books, starting in Sorcerer’s Stone: Dumbledore rewards him for standing up to his friends, something Peter could never do. Neville continues to grow, particularly after finding his passion in Herbology – Peter doesn’t seem to have any real passions besides clinging to the most powerful wizards he encounters. This may be the most significant difference between the two: While Peter seeks out the influential so that he can hide behind them, Neville confronts even Voldemort when he is in his way because he learns that he is powerful.
Unlike Peter, Neville is never a hero worshipper: While Peter applauds James for stealing a Snitch, and often grovels at Voldemort’s feet, Neville is a bit of a lone wolf with deep convictions. While his ways of rebelling against those with power over him (slipping the gum wrapper his mother gives him into his pocket, despite his grandmother’s order to do the opposite), Neville ends up the leader of a very open rebellion at Hogwarts. Peter’s tendency to see only power in others, and seek that power, contrasts Neville’s desire to strike out on his own and find those things within himself rather than waiting for Harry Potter or his professors or family members to believe in him first. Despite his original timidity, Neville has an inner tenacity that simply takes some coaxing to expose.
Without more of Peter’s background, we can’t know for sure why Peter was cowardly, while Neville became one of the bravest characters in the series. Despite their similar origins in how the Sorting Hat placed them, giving them a chance to grow, Neville took the opportunity and duty seriously, while Peter threw it away to follow in the footsteps of others.