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Neville Longbottom was not The Chosen One. Neville Longbottom was a boy who lived, but not the Boy Who Lived. Neville Longbottom was a boy who was overlooked, taken for granted and drastically underestimated.
But without Neville Longbottom, the magical world brought to life by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series would have ended up a very different, dark and dismal place.
The year Neville was born, the wizarding world was near to buckling under the weight of Lord Voldemort’s reign. People were fighting back, of course, but there was no real end to the horrors in sight. Until, that is, Sybill Trelawney’s first real prophecy -- The Prophecy -- unknowingly turned the tide of the First Wizarding War.
“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies ...”
—Sybill Trelawney, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
After finding out about the prophecy, Voldemort and his Death Eaters took it upon themselves to hunt down any male babies who fit Trelawney’s divination. Voldemort went after the son of Lily and James Potter, a boy named Harry. (And we all know how well that worked out for him.) He sent four Death Eaters -- Barty Crouch Jr. and Bellatrix, Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange -- after another boy, the son of Alice and Frank Longbottom.
While Voldemort killed Harry’s parents and Lily saved her son through the power of love, the Death Eaters tortured Neville’s parents with the Cruciatus Curse. Alice and Frank didn’t physically die, but they lost everything that made them who they were, and were sent to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries to live out their lives as broken shadows of their former selves. Neville occasionally visited, but the people who his parents used to be were gone.
After the incident, Neville was taken in by his grandmother, Augusta. And for a long while, it seemed like Voldemort had chosen correctly in going after Harry instead.
“Well, my gran brought me up and she’s a witch,” said Neville, “but the family thought I was all-Muggle for ages. My Great Uncle Algie kept trying to catch me off my guard and force some magic out of me—he pushed me off the end of Blackpool pier once, I nearly drowned—but nothing happened until I was eight. Great Uncle Algie came round for dinner, and he was hanging me out of an upstairs window by the ankles when my Great Auntie Enid offered him a meringue and he accidentally let go. But I bounced—all the way down the garden and into the road.”
—Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Even after realizing he wasn’t a squib, however, Neville remained a wallflower of a young wizard. He tried, certainly, to assert himself, going so far as to stand up to Harry, Hermione and Ron when they broke one rule too many during their first year at Hogwarts. (Of course, Hermione hit him with a Petrificus Totalus for his troubles.) In their third year, he became even more of a laughingstock -- sadly, even with his teachers -- when everyone found out that Neville’s boggart was Professor Snape.
“Possibly no one's warned you, Lupin, but this class contains Neville Longbottom. I would advise you not to entrust him with anything difficult. Not unless Miss Granger is hissing instructions in his ear.”
—Severus Snape, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
As The Golden Trio received acclaim for their grand adventures and racked up (and sometimes cost) points for Gryffindor, Neville quietly blossomed. His early moment of confidence stuck with him, and slowly -- and somewhat unexpectedly, at least for those who didn’t recognize the true strength hidden underneath the bumbling exterior -- he grew into one of the most vital individuals in the fight against Voldemort’s return to power. When Harry, Ron and Hermione went on the run to collect the remaining Horcruxes, Neville stayed at Hogwarts, revived Dumbledore’s Army and fought for good behind the scenes.
"But you are a pureblood, aren’t you, my brave boy?” Voldemort asked Neville, who stood facing him, his empty hands curled in fists.
“So what if I am?” said Neville loudly.
“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, whom Voldemort’s Silencing Charms seemed unable to hold.
—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The Battle for Hogwarts saw the wallflower bloom into a warrior when Neville broke free of a Body-Bind Curse, pulled a flaming Sorting Hat from his head and use Godric Gryffindor’s sword -- which only appears to and can be wielded by the worthy -- to slice Voldemort’s snake Nagini’s head clean off, ridding the world of the final Horcrux.
But it wasn’t until nearly 20 years after the dust settled at Hogwarts that Neville’s true role in the larger plot was revealed, thanks to the next generation of well-meaning but ultimately misguided wizards. (WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.)
SNAPE: “Cedric Diggory killed only one wizard and not a significant one—Neville Longbottom.”
SCORPIUS: “Oh, of course, that’s it! Professor Longbottom was supposed to kill Nagini, Voldemort’s snake. Nagini has to die before Voldemort could die. That’s it! You’ve solved it! We destroyed Cedric, he killed Neville, Voldemort won the battle. Can you see? Can you see it?”
RON: “So you’re telling me that the whole of history rests on … Neville Longbottom? This is pretty wild.”
—Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Ron might find it hard to believe, but for the rest of us who followed as he grew from a pawn in a prophecy to a trivialized student to an unabashed badass, Neville’s importance came as no surprise.
Neville Longbottom might not have been The Chosen One. But he chose to be a hero.