*Disclaimer: The following is based on how the characters are depicted in the Harry Potter book series, not in the movies.
When Neville Longbottom is introduced into the Harry Potter series, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it is clear that he will be making several appearances as a supporting character, but most readers assumed that we knew all we were ever going to know, all that was important, about Neville then and there. Boy, were we wrong! Though Neville Longbottom was initially portrayed as the “lovable loser”, he embodied the saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”
From the very beginning, Neville displays a fair bit of courage early on, turning in Harry, Ron, and Hermione to Professor McGonagall when he catches them sneaking out after hours. It is clear that Neville, though initially portrayed as weak and unassuming, certainly has the strength of his convictions and rather than go along with the crowd, is willing to make himself even more unpopular by standing up for what he thinks is right. When we are introduced via memories to a young Petter Pettigrew in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it’s hard for readers to miss the similarities between he and Neville. Shy, chubby, friendly with a more popular boy, and soft-spoken, the resemblance ended there. Neville was always staunchly forthright and compassionate.
Raised by his overbearing grandmother, Augusta Longbottom, after his parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom, were tortured to insanity by Death Eaters, Neville, who was constantly berated by both his grandmother and great-uncle Algie for not showing early magical ability, certainly had the appropriate home environment to awaken any dormant violent sociopathy. But like his parents, not only was Neville magically talented, he was also a good person. Though underestimated by family, friends, and teachers, Neville is a committed student who shows a serious aptitude for herbology. It’s in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when both Harry and readers learn that Neville’s parents aren’t dead, as had been previously assumed, but mentally ill and hospitalized.
Like Dobby and Hagrid, Harry doesn’t know these things about someone whom he calls a friend because he never asks or seeks to find out, until the information becomes necessary to his own endeavors. But Harry and Neville’s lives are much more intertwined than either they or the readers initially realize. Professor Dumbledore tells Harry that while Professor Trelawney isn’t nearly as talented as her ancestor, Cassandra, she made an accurate prophecy when he went to interview her for the position of Divination teacher at Hogwarts. In this prophecy, Sybil Trelawney predicted that a child born at the end of July, to parents who had defied Lord Voldemort three times, would have the power to defeat the Dark Lord. This child could have been either Harry or Neville. Because Severus Snape, who overheard the first half of the prophecy but not the second, didn’t know that this prophecy placed Lily in harm’s way, and Lord Voldemort didn’t know that this prophecy was a self-fulfilling one, he essentially chose the child who would become his adversary. Trelawney said that the Dark Lord would mark this child as his equal, which not only means that Lord Voldemort brought about his own demise when he went after Harry, but that, had he chosen Neville instead, Neville Longbottom could have very well been “The Boy Who Lived”.
Though he didn’t chose to attack Neville on that fateful evening, Voldemort and his Death Eaters did have an irrevocable impact on Neville’s life. Though his parents were alive, he was orphaned in most social aspects and instead of being nurtured by two sane, able-bodied, and loving parents, was raised by a woman still grieving the fate of her son and daughter-in-law, while experiencing constant disappointment in a grandson whom she felt was lacking. This upbringing had an obvious, negative affect on Neville’s self-esteem and self-confidence, and Professor Snape added fuel to this fire, which is probably why Neville’s boggart was a fusion of these two people, who had no qualms in chipping away at his confidence in the name of “constructive” criticism.
Neville actually had much more “legitimate” reasons than nearly all of the series’ villans to be evil, yet all of his adversity only made him a kinder person, and later, the strength his family had wanted him to display reveals itself when Neville joins and then eventually, in Harry’s absence, leads Dumbledore’s Army. Neville proves himself an assertive leader, a brave warrior, and plays a pivotal role in the destruction of Lord Voldemort by destroying his most deadly and unlikely horcrux.
Neville Longbottom’s character serves to remind us that people are often so much more than who we think they are, that the boxes that others try to make us fit into are not necessarily where we belong. In the end, it was Neville’s belief in himself that brought him so far; no one else ever had as much faith in him, his fortitude, or his intelligence until he stepped up when it mattered most and showed them what he was made of. Neville’s intentions were always pure as well; he never wanted power or attention, but to be of service to the people and causes which mattered to him.
Throughout the Harry Potter series, we meet a variety of people with various motivations for their behaviours, but the round-faced, lonely boy that we meet at the inception of the series, the boy who would become a hero in his own right, was probably one of the most pleasant surprises. Neville Longbottom’s character development was so intriguing and I was very happy to see that, in the end, he wasn’t another martyr. Neville lived past the war, long enough for people to forget the boy who they’d underestimated, and start to respect the man that he had become.