Six Small Acts of Bravery from Cowardly Characters
J.K. Rowling clearly values bravery highly, as evidenced by her favoritism toward Gryffindor house. Throughout the series, there are many spectacular, heroic acts of bravery that save the day and allow good to triumph over evil. But bravery is not always big acts done by people who never waver in their strength or loyalty. Rowling also allows her cowardly characters small moments of courage, tiny acts that sometimes make a world of difference and sometimes do nothing at all. Today I want to honor those small acts of bravery, because not everyone has the strength or circumstances to take on all the world’s demons. Some days all we can manage is a tiny act of defiance.
1. Marietta Edgecombe
Marietta betrays the entirety of Dumbledore’s Army (including her best friend) to Umbridge, but she manages to attend six months of meetings before finally caving in to the pressure to tell. She goes to these meetings most likely out of loyalty to Cho, who has had a difficult year and needs a friend to look out for her. Marietta hates these lessons but keeps going and keeps her mouth shut despite the very real threats of expulsion and her mom losing her job at the Ministry. Although Marietta fails in the end to keep the DA a secret, she tries hard to be brave for her friend.
2. Draco Malfoy
Despite his bravado, Draco is not a brave person. And yet at times when it really matters, Draco attempts bravery even when he has little chance of success. When Harry, Hermione, and Ron are captured and brought to Malfoy Manor, he is pressured by both his parents to tell them whether he recognizes the trio. If he says yes, his family will be returned to all its former glory, and all their faults will be forgiven. Draco, however, insists that he doesn’t know. He tries to protect the trio even though it is clear that they will be discovered regardless of his efforts.
3. Narcissa Malfoy
In general, Narcissa is not willing to stand up against evil, but in service of her son, she will do anything. When she is called upon to examine Harry, she lies to Voldemort and tells him that Harry is dead in order to be able to go search for her son. The climax of the story relies upon this small act of a mother’s bravery.
4. Rufus Scrimgeour
Scrimgeour is not necessarily a cowardly character (he used to be head of the Auror department), but he is afraid of damaging his political career by making unpopular decisions. When he is tortured by Voldemort before being killed, however, he does not give away Harry’s position.
5. Horace Slughorn
Slughorn is a man who, in general, cares more about his creature comforts than making an active effort to overthrow Voldemort. Even when he knows the right thing to do, he’s reluctant to do it if it will cause pain and inconvenience to himself. When it comes down to the wire, however, he joins the Battle of Hogwarts, risking his life to fight against Voldemort.
6. Peter Pettigrew
Wormtail’s betrayal of Lily and James is an unforgivable act of cowardice and cruelty. Yet he managed to keep the information of the Potters’ location from Voldemort for many months before finally handing them over. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Cornelius Fudge says that the Potters were killed “barely a week after the Fidelius Charm had been performed” (PoA 205). Later books make it clear, however, that this was certainly not the case. The Potters were killed on Halloween, and Lily’s letter to Sirius thanking him for Harry’s birthday present shows that they were already under the Fidelius Charm on July 31, three months earlier. Yet I believe that the charm was actually put on the Potters’ house even before that. In Snape’s memories, he asks Dumbledore to hide Lily while standing on a hilltop that is “forlorn and cold in the darkness, the wind whistling through the branches of a few leafless trees” (DH 676). This description implies that the conversation happened during winter. In that case, Pettigrew probably kept the Potters’ location a secret from Voldemort for up to nine or ten months. Considering how desperately Voldemort wanted that information, this loyalty must have taken Pettigrew an almost superhuman amount of strength and bravery. Whatever Sirius believes, I do not think it was the “finest moment of [his] life” when he gave Voldemort the Potters (PoA 369).
For some people – due to family pressures, the way they were raised, or even personality – it can be hard to stand up against evil in the world. J.K. Rowling shows us, however, that people aren’t one-dimensional, and even the most cowardly among us can attempt small acts of bravery.