The Boy Who Was So Nearly King


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Sara Oster
May 2009

The Boy Who Was So Nearly King

Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter’s bumbling, forgetful friend, could so easily have been The Chosen One. You think not? But I say he has all the necessary characteristics of the hero, fits the prophecy and, though different from Harry, rivals Harry in terms of feats of bravery.

Firstly, there is the Prophecy itself. Neville meets all the criteria of the prophecy, although, as our story opens, Voldemort had not – yet – “marked him as his equal”. Neville was born the day before Harry, at the end of the seventh month. His parents had thrice defied Voldemort when Neville was an infant. It is simple luck of the draw, for Neville at least, that Harry was marked by Voldemort, not Neville. Had Voldemort’s servant heard the entire prophecy, it is possible that Voldemort would have waited before attacking, thus giving each boy, unknowingly, exactly a fifty percent chance of being chosen. Instead Voldemort hastily chose the newborn that he associated with the half-bloodedness he so hated within himself. At the end of OOTP, Headmaster Dumbledore explains the full prophecy to Harry – and thus to us, indicating that the prophecy could have referred to either Harry or Neville, and that it was finally labeled as referring to Harry only after Voldemort “marked him as his equal.”

The odd thing is, Harry,” he said softly, “that it may not have meant you at all… One, of course, was you. The other was Neville Longbottom… Voldemort himself would mark him as his equal, and so he did, Harry. He chose you, not Neville.” OOTP, p. 842.

However, Neville also is destined to be marked by Voldemort as an equal, though not for nearly another two books. Neville’s status as The Other Chosen One is symbolized by the fact that, as the last of the Rescue Mission members recover from their wounds in the infirmary, Neville sits on a chair between Ron’s and Hermione’s beds. Throughout the series, Ron and Hermione frequently flank Harry; thus, after his heroic actions in the Department of Mysteries, Neville is symbolically in Harry’s place, a position which is strengthened in the future. In the Department of Mysteries, the Rescue Mission discovers that there is a prophecy – which carries Harry’s name – labeled “SPT to APWBD. Dark Lord. And (?) Harry Potter.” (OOTP, p. 780) The “(?)” is critical – it could have been Neville… and in fact, my position is that it could still be Neville to whom the prophecy refers.

Neville fits many of the requirements of the classic Hero’s Journey. Like Harry, he effectively lost his parents, who were tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange almost immediately after the death of Harry’s parents. More importantly, Neville takes a journey of self-discovery and becoming a man that is just as impressive, and in some ways more impressive, than Harry’s journey. Like the classic hero, Neville has humble origins, as does Harry. While Harry’s origin is that of poverty, neglect and abuse, Neville’s is the humble origin of the near-squib, of apparently limited, bumbling magical ability, and therefore being rather on the outside of the elite group of full-blooded, fully-capable wizards that constitute his family. This gives him the challenge of birth that a Hero is required to have.

Harry and Neville are quite different in other ways that make Neville’s origin more humble than is Harry’s. While Harry enters the magical world and is treated, in many ways, like a prince, Neville is treated as the court jester; Neville does not expect to succeed, and others do not expect him to, whereas Harry always expects to succeed. Neville often fumbles with the very basic. When we first meet him, he has just lost his toad, and he is shortly thereafter sent a Remembrall. In his third year (Prisoner of Azkaban), his grandmother sends his permission slip to visit Hogsmeade directly to Professor McGonagall, because she is convinced Neville will manage to lose or forget it, as he believes he has. Professor Snape always comments on Neville’s inadequacies. When Professor Lockhart intends to have Neville and Justin Finch-Fletchley demonstrate how to block spells,

A bad idea, Professor Lockhart,” said Snape… “Longbottom causes devastation with the simplest spells. We’ll be sending what’s left of Finch-Fletchley up to the hospital wing in a matchbox.” Neville’s round pink face when pinker… (Chamber of Secrets, p. 193)

Neville loses the list of passwords to Gryffindor’s tower (Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 249), and this lets the “mass murderer” Sirius Black into the tower where he apparently threatens Ron. Neville is considered a joke by other students as well, constantly arriving back at Gryffindor tower having been cursed by someone, frequently Draco Malfoy, another indication that he stands in for Harry, Draco’s archenemy. Rowling is careful to paint a picture of Neville as a bumbling, ineffective person throughout much of the series, but given that she is a master of misdirection, we should pay more attention to the times when she slips in bits and hints that there is more to this apparent near-squib than meets the eye. Rowling even places Neville in the reader’s mind in place of Harry on occasion. Harry dreamed that he had overslept for a Quidditch match against Slytherin, and that his team captain, Wood, told him, “We had to use Neville instead!” (Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 302). This foreshadows Neville’s standing in Harry’s stead in multiple ways in the final book of the series.

On the other hand, Neville is, after all, placed in Gryffindor House… so what are his Gryffindorian characteristics? The first person to really point out that Neville is indeed a Gryffindor is Harry. Harry tells him “You’re worth 12 of Malfoy… the Sorting Hat chose you for Gryffindor, didn’t it…” (Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 218). Neville subsequently stands up to Draco Malfoy (Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 223) when Malfoy tells him, “You’ve got no brains” during a Quidditch match. Ron reacts with, “You tell him, Neville!” When Ron attacks Malfoy for giving Neville a hard time, Neville, after a moment’s hesitation, joins in – NOT the act of a coward. Neville tries to warn Harry and friends when he knows that Malfoy has told Filch that they are taking a dragon up to the astronomy tower after hours, thus demonstrating loyalty, another Gryffindor characteristic.

Neville stands up to Ron, Hermione and Harry when they are about to leave the tower to go confront (they think) Snape, whom they believe has the Philosopher’s Stone, because he doesn’t want them to lose Gryffindor any more points. So he demonstrates his capacity to stand up “for the greater good”. Dumbledore calls attention to Neville’s bravery when he awards him the 10 points that put Gryffindor over the top to win the House Cup, saying, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends!” (Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 306).

Professor Lupin also recognizes and supports Neville’s developing bravery and self-confidence. When Lupin tells Snape that he is about to teach the students how to defeat a boggart, Snape says, “Possibly no one’s warned you, Lupin, but this class contains Neville Longbottom. I would advise you not to entrust him with anything difficult…” Lupin replies, “I was hoping that Neville would assist me with the first stage of the operation… and I am sure he will perform it admirably.” (Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 132). Neville then defeats the thing he fears the most – Snape – by combining the boggart-Snape with another thing that intimidates him – his grandmother. As a result, the class roars with laughter and Lupin congratulates him. The story of the boggart-Snape-Grandmother makes its way through the school, and in a way, probably begins to change the way Neville is viewed by others, because he “defeats Snape”, who intimidates most of the students, not just him. Neville was awarded 10 points by Lupin, whereas everyone else who confronted the boggart was awarded 5 points. Why? Because going first takes more courage.

Neville’s importance to the story becomes more evident in Goblet of Fire. Here, we learn more about the disastrous effect of the cruciatus curse used on Neville’s parents, which helps others to see him as a much more sympathetic character than previously. It took extreme courage for him to volunteer the name of the cruciatus curse in Professor “Mad-Eye” Moody’s first class (Goblet of Fire, p. 214-315), given what we later learn about the attack on them by the Lestrange’s and Barty Crouch, Jr. (Goblet of Fire, p. 603).

It is during the DA lessons that Neville’s inner courage and determination really begin to shine. At the meeting when the DA is formed, Neville is the first person to appear at the Hogshead Inn in Hogsmeade, indicating his determination to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts (Order of the Phoenix, p. 337). In fact, he “beams” at the opportunity. In this first meeting, he stands up to Zacharius Smith, who doubts Harry’s qualifications to lead the group. He is second only to Ginny in arriving at the first actual lesson in the Room of Requirement. (OOTP, p. 390). Although his wandwork in DA lessons is not impressive to begin with, he easily would earn the award for “most improved” (OOTP, p. 454). “Only Hermione mastered the [shield] charm faster than Neville… In fact, Harry would have given a great deal to be making as much progress at Occlumency as Neville was making during DA meetings” (OOTP, p. 553)

It is in question whether or not Neville would have had the power Harry has that allowed Harry to live – the power of love, because we do not know if Neville’s parents would have died for him. It is clear, though, that Neville has quite a bit of that power, as well as other things that drive Harry. In Order of the Phoenix, over Christmas break, Ron, Harry and Hermione run into Neville in San Mungo’s, where he is visiting his parents, permanently driven crazy by the cruciatus curse. This further cements their bond, as they become the only ones among his peers who know the truth he has been living with. His retaining the gum wrapping that his mother gives him is not only sweet and sad, as Harry observes (OOTP, p. 515), but also an indication that he has tremendous capacity for that most dangerous and powerful of magical forces that ultimately overcomes the Dark Lord, love. Perhaps this, in a small way, foreshadows the fact that Neville, too, confronts the Dark Lord and emerges victorious.

Neville wants people to know the truth just as much s Harry does, though it takes courage to tell. After Rita Skeeter’s interview with Harry, Neville supports Harry’s “going public” and “goes public” in a way himself, at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall.

It’s the right thing to do, Harry,” said Neville… He was rather pale but went on in a low voice… “It must have been… tough… talking about it… was it?”

Yeah,” mumbled Harry, “but people have to know what Voldemort’s capable of, haven’t they?”

That’s right,’ said Neville nodding, ‘and his death eaters too… people should know…” (OOTP, p. 571).

Neville ends up being captured by Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad because he attempts to defend Ginny as she and Luna guard the corridor outside of Umbridge’s office when Harry attempts to find out if Sirius has actually gone off to the Ministry of Magic (OOTP, p. 742), which is not only chivalrous but also demonstrates that Neville, too, has a bit of that Hero Complex that Harry has. He insists on accompanying Harry to the Ministry of Magic to rescue Sirius.

We were all in the DA together… it was all supposed to be about fighting You Know Who, wasn’t it? And this is the first chance we’ve had to do something real – or was that all just a game or something?”

No, of course it wasn’t,” said Harry.

Then we should come too,” Neville said simply. “We want to help.”

When Harry suggests that a couple of people should stay back in the atrium, trying to protect at least some of the members of the Rescue Mission (OOTP, p. 770), Neville sees right through this and continues to insist, “We’re coming with you, Harry.” He is not about to back down from danger. This is the point where Neville really begins to shed his “squib and wimp” image. In the Department of Mysteries, Neville fully participates in the battle with the Death Eaters. When a death eater has broken Neville’s wand, Hermione appears to have been knocked out or killed, and Neville’s nose is broken, he yells to Harry from underneath a desk, “Whaddever you do, Harry, don’d gib it to him,” (OOTP, p. 793) meaning that, regardless of the danger to him, he knows that they dare not let Voldemort get the prophecy and is willing to pay the price.

Neville’s wand being broken during this battle probably symbolizes his ability to break with the past, as that wand belonged to his father. Losing his father’s wand (which probably did not work well for him at least partly because the wand did not choose him, and he did not choose the wand, so it was probably never truly his anyway) allows him to become his own man, rather than a poor reflection of his father, just as Harry learns to separate himself from his father after viewing Snape’s memory. Harry then tells Neville to go find someone and raise an alarm, but Neville yet again refuses to leave the fight. He insists that he will protect Hermione, leaving the majority of the fighting to Harry, because Harry is the more experienced and skilled fighter (and because his own wand is broken), but he intends to back Harry up nonetheless. He uses Hermione’s wand to continue his part in the fight. When Lucius Malfoy threatens Harry, Neville yells, “He’s dot alone… He’s still god be.” (OOTP, p. 800). He finally comes face-to-face with Bellatrix Lestrange, one of the Death Eaters who tortured his parents, and suffers the same cruciatus curse. Nevertheless, he continues the attack, and although he cannot utter an effective spell, he uses Hermione’s wand as a physical weapon, freeing Harry from a Death Eater by poking the Death Eater’s eye through a hole in his mask. Harry gets free and tosses the prophecy orb to Neville. In perhaps the first physically coordinated act in his life, Neville catches it – perhaps he actually has the skills of a Quidditch Seeker, like Harry. The prophecy falls and shatters not because of Neville’s clumsiness, but because he is under the tarantallega curse. It is significant that Neville is the only functioning member of the Rescue Mission other than Harry at the time of the final confrontation with the Death Eaters.

Neville begins to shed his status as “less than” his father. Having proven his courage in the battle at the Ministry of Magic, he reports to school with a new wand, the last wand sold by Olivander before he was taken by Voldemort. Harry points out that the students on the train stare at them not because they accompany Harry, but because they were also at the Department of Mysteries. Neville says, “I thought Gran would be angry about all the publicity… but she was really pleased. Says I’m starting to live up to my dad at long last…” (Half Blood Prince, p. 137). Neville gets some support from McGonagall when he chooses to continue Transfiguration, at which he is not skilled, simply because his grandmother insists. McGonagall says, “It’s high time your grandmother learned to be proud of the grandson she’s got rather than the one she thinks she ought to have – particularly after what happened at the Ministry.” (HBP, 174) McGonagall encourages him to follow his own talents and take Charms instead, at which he is good, and which, he learns, his grandmother disdains only because she herself failed her OWL in Charms.

When Harry assigns Ron and Hermione to keep an eye on Malfoy while he and Dumbledore go off to find the horcrux in the cave, and the school is invaded by the Death Eaters, they call on the former members of the DA. Neville and Luna alone answer the call, and Neville is injured in the fighting. Twice now, in as many years, Neville has courageously engaged in direct battle with the forces of evil, and continued that fight even after being injured, something he never would have done had he not discovered his own strength. And then… what is Neville doing while Harry, Ron and Hermione are chasing down the rest of the horcruxes during what should have been their seventh year at school? He is back at Hogwarts, leading a rebellion against Snape, the Carrows, and the other Death Eaters who have taken over the school. We don’t find this out until the end of Chapter 28 in The Deathly Hallows, when he shows up, injured but animated and strong, shrugging off his injuries (DH, p. 571).

Neville’s position as The Other Chosen One is evident when he assumes leadership and stands in for Harry when Harry does not return to Hogwarts. Who would have thought that the pudgy boy who lost his toad and fell off his broom would be a leader? He re-invokes the DA, and leads those forces. He stands up to the Carrows when they pick on and torture younger students, refusing to use the cruciatus curse on students who received detentions, and gets a gash on his cheek in retribution. When Alecto Carrow teaches Muggle Studies, he dares to ask how much muggle blood she and her brother have, getting another gash (DH, p. 574). He re-invokes the DA using the galleons Hermione had spelled in year 5, and openly recruits new members of Dumbledore’s Army. When they go after his grandmother to quell his leadership and open rebellion, and she escapes them.

She sent me a letter… telling me she was proud of me, that I am my parents’ son, and to keep it up… Only thing was, once they realized they had no hold over me, they decided Hogwarts could do without me after all. I don’t know if they were planning to kill me or to send me to Azkaban; either way, I knew it was time to disappear.”

He says this rather nonchalantly, and the change in his level of confidence and his overt courage clearly confuse Ron, Hermione, and Harry, who are bemused by this new Neville. Neville turns the Room of Requirement into a haven for students who have defied the death Eaters too much, and into a headquarters for the resistance movement within Hogwarts, which he continues to lead. The other students recognize and rely on him as their leader. Seamus reports, “It’s a proper hideout. As long as one of us stays in here they can’t get at us. The door won’t open. It’s all down to Neville. He really gets this room... Neville’s the man” (DH, p.578). Neville is modest and straightforward about it, shrugging off his leadership and confidence as he shrugged off Harry’s concerns for his injuries.

When Harry explains that he, Ron and Hermione have a job to do at Hogwarts that does not require the others’ help, Neville returns to the argument he made two years earlier in the Department of Mysteries: we’re all a part of Dumbledore’s army, we’ve all already fought, we’re all in this together and we will join you in your search or your fight. There is no way the new general of Dumbledore’s Army is going to let someone else assume all the risk. Neville takes an active part in the Battle for Hogwarts, using his strength, herbology, as a weapon by lobbing mandrakes over the wall and using venomous tentacula to bind Death Eaters. His grandmother shows up to join the battle.

“Have you seen my grandson?”

“He’s fighting,” said Harry.

“Naturally,” said the old lady proudly. “Excuse me. I must go and assist him.” (DH, p. 624)

In this, it is evident that Neville has earned not only his grandmother’s pride but also her respect, as she places herself in the position of HIS assistant. Even his grandmother acknowledges his leadership.

Neville, it could be argued, is one of the main causes of Voldemort’s downfall in the end. It could not have been finished without Neville. It is Neville to whom Harry entrusts the task of killing Nagini as he marches off to his certain death at Voldemort’s hands. Neville is carrying the body of Colin Creevy back into the castle. He “looked like an old man.” Harry, in whose face Neville must see some sense of doom, takes off his invisibility cloak and speaks to Neville.

Where are you going alone?” Neville asked suspiciously… “You’re not thinking of handing yourself over?”

You know Voldemort’s snake, Neville? He’s got a huge snake… Calls it Nagini…”

I’ve heard, yeah…”

It’s got to be killed. Ron and Hermione know that but just in case they…” … Dumbledore had died knowing that three people still knew about the horcruxes; now Neville would take Harry’s place: there would still be three in the secret. “Just in case they’re – busy – and you get the chance…”

Kill the snake?”

Kill the snake,” Harry repeated.

All right, Harry. You’re okay, are you?”

I’m fine, thanks Neville.”

But Neville seized his wrist as Harry made to move on. “We’re all going to keep fighting, Harry, you know that?” (DH p. 696)

Neville confronts Voldemort when he believes Harry is dead. He alone rushes to the fore as Voldemort makes his gloating claim of victory in front of the castle and its defenders. When Neville breaks through Voldemort’s charm that binds the group, Voldemort himself recognizes the courage that this confrontation takes.

You show spirit and bravery and you come of noble stock. You will make a very valuable Death Eater. We need your kind, Neville Longbottom.”

I’ll join you when hell freezes over,” said Neville. “Dumbledore’s Army!” he shouted. And there was an answering cheer from the crowd, who Voldemort’s silencing charms seemed unable to hold.

Very well,” said Voldemort, and Harry heard more danger in the silkiness of his voice than in the most powerful curse. “If that is your choice, Longbottom, we revert to the original plan. On your head,” he said quietly, “be it.”

Voldemort calls the Sorting Hat from the school and, binding Neville so that he cannot move, forces it onto Neville’s head, and causes the Sorting Hat to burst into flames. Just as Harry is about to act to save him, Neville himself breaks free from the curse.

Harry pulled the invisibility cloak from inside his robes, swung it over himself as Neville moved too. In one swift, fluid motion, Neville broke free of the body-bind curse upon him; the flaming hat fell off him, and he drew from its depths something silver with a glittering, ruby handle – The slash of the silver blade could not be heard over the roar of the oncoming crowd… and yet it seemed to draw every eye. With a single stroke, Neville sliced off the great snake’s head… And Voldemort’s mouth was open in a scream of fury that nobody could hear… (DH, p. 733).

Although it can be argued that it is Harry’s sacrifice that allows Neville to cast off the flaming Sorting Hat, it could also be argued that Neville’s courage and the love he had for his parents, for Harry, and for the general mass of students at Hogwarts would have allowed him to cast off Voldemort’s curse anyway. When he does, the sword of Gryffindor appears in the Sorting Hat, and he uses it masterfully, smoothly, much differently from the bumbling Neville that begins the journey, lopping off Nagini’s head in the one final stroke that makes it possible for Voldemort to be truly vanquished at last. Thus, Neville, too, confronts the Dark Lord and emerges victorious.

Thus, the Horcrux Destruction Team includes Harry (diary), Dumbledore (the ring), Ron (locket), Hermione (cup of Helga Hufflepuff), Neville (Nagini), Harry again (corporeal Voldemort), and, ironically, Voldemort himself (the Harry-horcrux, although it could be said that Harry himself causes that horcrux to be destroyed). (The diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw was destroyed by fiendfyre, which was invoked by Crabb after Harry found it, then lost it in fleeing from the fire… it’s hard to determine who to give the credit to for this one.) After the final confrontation between Voldemort and Harry, Neville is one of the first to reach him, and in the banquet hall where the survivors regroup to celebrate and to mourn, Harry “saw Neville, the Sword of Gryffindor lying beside his plate as he ate, surrounded by a knot of fervent admirers” (DH, p. 745). Neville, not Harry, is the true heir to the Sword of Gryffindor. His may have been, at least in some ways, the more courageous journey.

In many ways, Neville’s journey is more impressive than Harry’s. Despite his harsh upbringing, Harry does not begin his journey discouraged… more astonished. He does not seem to have emerged from his ten years with the Dursleys with low self-esteem. Neville, having been raised the effectively-orphaned son of heroic parents, to whom he is constantly compared, to his disadvantage (OOTP, p. 513), suffers from severely low self-extreme that impairs his progress academically and in practicality, at the start of his journey. Even after he begins to develop, he continues to suffer from his loss, as when he has difficulty mastering the Patronus charm because he could not think of something happy (OOTP, 606). Both Neville and Harry are taunted by Snape, though Snape’s taunting of Neville seems especially cruel, akin to “kicking someone when they are down”, like Dudly’s gang beating up defenseless children, or like picking the wings off of flies. Both boys are encouraged by teachers – McGonagall, Moody, and Lupin all encourage and aid them – but Harry’s mentoring is more intense, overt and explicit. Neville has to “squeeze milk from a stone” and make the most of the small gestures of support and encouragement he receives. Fortunately, he seems adept at this, like many resilient children. Both courageously meet Voldemort in battle and vanquish him, and given that Harry has apparently been killed by Voldemort, the fact that Neville stands up to him alone and out in front, near the end of the battle for Hogwarts, is all the more impressive. Both boys end up risking their own lives to do the right thing, to stand up to evil, and to protect others. Both boys are “true Gryffindors,” having pulled the Sword of Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat. Both Neville and Harry master academics against the odds, and, after the story’s end, become Aurors, though Neville only briefly (J.K. Rowling, in live chat on, July 30, 2007).

It could easily be argued that Neville was necessary in the story, for Voldemort to be defeated. In fact, it may actually be that both Neville and Harry were necessary, and that the prophecy actually could not have been fulfilled without both of them.

Consider: both have the necessary pedigree – parents who thrice defied the Dark Lord - and astrological sign – born at the end of the seventh month. While Harry is outwardly “marked” by Voldemort at birth, Neville is the only one other than Harry and Dumbledore, whom Voldemort meets in open battle. (All the other deaths attributed to him after his return were perpetrated upon people who were muggles (Frank), trussed up (Charity), or caught off guard (Snape)). Voldemort only engages in open battle with Harry, who is The Chosen One, and Dumbledore, whom he recognizes as the only adult wizard with the power to be a threat to him. Doesn’t Voldemort, in this way, mark Neville as his equal? Neville, I contend, is the Other Chosen One, the boy who was so nearly king… and in fact, a king in his own way.

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