After taking a few years off following the seventh book, J.K. Rowling fired up the Harry Potter hype train and drove out of Platform 9¾ at warp speed. Pottermore launched (still think that name is weird), the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage play entered production (complete with a generous helping of nerd racism), and Warner Bros. announced the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film (why there is a film based on one of Harry’s textbooks is beyond me). Supposedly, Niantic secured the rights for a Pokémon Go-style mobile game. The franchise is back in full force to prove it won’t be just a cultural phenomenon of the late nineties and early 2000s.
Harry did not go gentle into that good night after the books and films concluded, but today, we’re here to talk about his classmate born just a day before: the master of Herbology and puberty success story, Neville Longbottom.
In a series with a mopey messiah channeling dark power for good, two hundred year old wizards, a whiz-kid witch with a sky high IQ, and a frighteningly powerful immortal half-snake man; this clumsy kid manages to be one of the bravest and most badass of them all. Neville had no natural aptitudes (sans one, we’ll get to that), no great destiny, and was once believed to barely have any magical ability at all. Harry Potter books are wrought with deus ex machina, but none stopped by to helped him out. Neville Longbottom shows us that a little bit of grit and a strong sense of purpose can take a character from comic relief to legendary hero.
When we first Neville in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone if I’m covering bases), he immediately establishes himself as comic relief. He and his domineering grandmother frantically search for his lost pet toad and nearly miss the train to Hogwarts. Throughout the first four books, Neville nearly fails every class (minus one), accidentally melts a potions cauldron, breaks his wrist in a broom lesson, constantly falls victim to bullying, gets hung on a chandelier by pixies, and accidentally enables an escaped convict to infiltrate the dormitories. His only demonstrated aptitude is in Herbology. His prodigy-level grades in the class balanced out his abysmal scores in other subjects and enabled him to pass his first year at Hogwarts.
These mishaps sound like the derpiness of the Hufflepuff house, but to everyone’s amazement, Neville was sorted into the home of valor and virtue, Gryffindor. It seemed like a glitch in the Sorting Hat. He certainly embodied the Gryffindor values of generosity and honesty.
Even in his early years though he had moments of bravery in his perpetual timidity. He attempted to stand up to Draco Malfoy for heckling a Qudditch match (ending up unconscious and in the hospital wing) and tried to prevent Harry, Ron, and Hermione bringing more disgrace and punishment to Gryffindor house when they left to infiltrate the Third Floor Corridor (and is frozen by Hermione for his concern).
He wanted to do good, but lacked the talent to accomplish, well, anything.
The Other Chosen One
Neville’s character turnaround began in Goblet of Fire when readers found out exactly why he lives with his grandmother and her wacky vulture hat: his parents were tortured into insanity by Bellatrix “Voldemort’s Harley Quinn” Lestrange. Neville, it turns out, could very well have fulfilled the ‘Chosen One’ prophecy (a child born at the end of July with the power to defeat Lord Voldemort, whose parents had thrice escaped him) instead of Harry Potter. The comic relief was born just a day before the angsting protagonist, and in the end, both boys’ parents met grisly fates.
He shows his budding sense of heroism when he rushes to sign up for Harry Potter’s secret Defense Against the Dark Arts club, Dumbledore’s Army, in Order of the Phoenix. Neville struggles at first, but with a little bit of encouragement from Harry and the looming threat of Voldemort’s return, he improved “beyond all recognition” in no time.
Progress kicked into overdrive when the dark wizards responsible for his parents escaped from Azkaban, and soon Harry noticed alarming determination to learn and practice new spells. For the first time in his life (outside of Herbology), Neville Longbottom was the best in his class.
Well, second-best. Getting upstaged by Hermione is a given in any situation.
A True Hero
Neville finally shines as a hero when Dumbledore’s Army liberates the Ministry of Magic from the forces of Lord Voldemort, including his parents’ attackers. His dueling skills were not up to par with the adult wizards, further compounded by a broken nose rendering his spellcasting useless. He does however successfully resist torture at the hands of Bellatrix, bearing the pain of the same curse that drove his parents to insanity.
Despite the comical stumbles, the boy who once was assumed to be a squib (person born to a wizarding family with no magical abilities of their own) fought against a gang of murderous Death Eaters and lived to tell the tale.
His finest hour, without a doubt, came in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione skipped out their seventh year of Hogwarts to search for plot coupons, Neville reformed Dumbledore’s Army to resist Voldemort’s dystopian grip on the school. Despite enduring regular punishment and torture, he sheltered persecuted students and continued teaching them defensive magic.
The star shined brightest in the Battle of Hogwarts. All seemed lost: Harry Potter was (seemingly) dead, Lord Voldemort and his assembled army of monsters and malicious magicians stood at the doors to the school, the forces of good were pushed to the wall. Voldemort personally invited Neville to join him. He, in turn, responded by telling the most powerful dark wizard on Earth he’d join him when hell froze over.
Sheer determination and dedication even allowed him to shrug off several curses fired at him, and Voldemort’s attempt to burn him alive with the Sorting Hat failed. In the ensuing chaos after Harry revealed he was alive, Neville achieved his own Holy Shit moment by taking up the sword of Gryffindor to behead Voldemort’s snake familiar Nagini.
The clumsy, overweight, forgetful boy who barely passed his classes had grown into a hero. He led a resistance despite regular torture and death threats. He told the most dangerous man on Earth to his face to piss off. He destroyed the final Horcrux, enabling Voldemort’s defeat. He completely transitioned from bumbler to badass.
The Magical Magikarp
On his journey from zero to hero, Neville only had a strong sense of purpose and encouragement from friends. He found boundless determination once he learned his parents’ attackers had escaped from prison. He practiced, practiced, practiced, and practiced to become the man worthy of fighting alongside Harry Potter. Young adult fiction has an awful tendency to depict main characters effortlessly mastering the skills to defeat the antagonist. Neville’s development took years, and not even quick Disney montage years.
Out of the main cast of the Harry Potter series, Neville entered Hogwarts with the most disadvantages. He barely passed his classes, and regularly fell victim to bullies and his own clumsiness. Throughout the first four books, he felt like either a waste of space or an inept dolt unworthy of Gryffindor house. While Harry found a natural aptitude for dueling and Hermione was skilled at fucking everything, Neville had to work for every strength he showed by the end of the series.
Neville Longbottom shows us that even the least talented person can become skilled and well-renowned. Few people can instantly master a new skill, but anyone can practice. Our limitations are walls to be scaled, not barriers holding us back. Setbacks are inevitable and the journey is long, but grit and determination are the fuel to drive us through. Like Neville cultivates wild and wacky plants, use his example to cultivate your own magical transformation.