I will be the first to admit that for the last two years, ever since I first read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I have been waiting and waiting for Neville Longbottom to have a final showdown with Bellatrix Lestrange. I was convinced it needed to happen, both because of my love for Neville and from an objective literary standpoint. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines "poetic justice" as
the idea that virtuous and evil actions are ultimately dealt with justly.... [it] occurs, for instance, when a misunderstood protagonist is praised after a long struggle or when his or her antagonist is cast out of the community.... The term poetic justice is often applied specifically to situations in which the hero and villain get their ˜just desserts' at a pivotal moment for both of them.1
Sounds exactly like our beloved, "misunderstood" Neville and his antagonist Bellatrix, doesn't it? She tortured his parents, Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom, until they went insane,2 effectively changing the course of Neville's life and who he would become. Who knows how the boy would have turned out if he had been raised by loving parents instead of his grandmother ’ the austere and stoic Augusta Longbottom? Neville deserves poetic justice; he deserves a moment to shine when he stands up to and defeats the woman who ruined his life. Many other fans, I am certain, were waiting for the same thing I was. Even the makers of the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie obviously agreed with this idea. They gave Neville (Matthew Lewis) a line telling Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) that his parents are "better now they're about to be avenged." 3
In Order of the Phoenix, Neville joins Dumbledore's Army, the D.A.,4 to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts. His motivation for joining is not explicitly stated, though it does seem obvious that he wants to play a role in fighting for the side of good rather than stay on the sidelines. On top of this, though, I saw Neville as having a personal agenda against Bellatrix. After all, it is the news of her escape from Azkaban that spurs Neville to work "harder than anyone else in the room" in D.A. meetings and greatly improve his skills.5 Why should Neville feel this way if not because of a need to avenge his parents? Bellatrix has been in prison, out of Neville's reach, for over a decade, but now she is out where he can find her. By learning how to fight and defend himself, Neville is preparing for the war that is coming and for the moment he will face Bellatrix.
As I read chapter twenty-nine of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which Neville tells of his insurgence and defiance throughout his seventh year at Hogwarts,6 I could feel it coming. Bellatrix would show up with Lord Voldemort and the rest of the Death Eaters, and Neville would take her down. I doubted he would kill Bellatrix; I didn't think Neville has it in him to produce a Killing Curse, no matter what the woman did to him. Nevertheless, I was prepared for a spectacular duel that Neville would, of course, win. Then, as I read Molly Weasley's now famous duel with Bellatrix and watched in my mind's eye as motherly love triumphed,7 I could not help but feel disappointed. For several days after reading that "all was well" 8 and closing the book, I was upset. Part of me even considered writing a letter to J.K. Rowling and asking why she left out that scene that I had wanted and had imagined and had read fanfiction about for two entire years.
When I was not given the ending I had hoped for, I was forced to reexamine Neville and his character. Is Neville really the type of person who desires revenge? We know that Harry Potter is, based on his saying that he wants to be the one to kill Voldemort for what he did to his parents, prophecy or not.9 Because the events in the books are seen through Harry's eyes, it is often very easy to see characters through his eyes as well. Harry is bent on revenge, so when we look at Neville the way he does, Neville becomes bent on revenge as well. While both boys have reasons to want revenge, Harry and Neville are very different people. While I was part way through my second reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I realized that Neville did not need to have a showdown with Bellatrix. As poetically just as it would have been, it does not seem to be in Neville's nature to seek his own ends, in this case revenge for his parents. Throughout the series, Neville is selflessly brave; he thinks of the good of others above his own desires. He is never out for himself but chooses to act in ways that benefit those around him.
As early as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Neville puts aside his own interests in favor of the interests of others. When Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger are preparing to stop the theft of the Sorcerer's Stone and are about to leave the common room after curfew, it is Neville who tries to stop them.10 One would expect such a timid boy to avoid confrontation, not face it willingly. It probably would have been much easier for him to ignore the three or let them pass unhindered after shyly warning them that they probably should not go out. But the way Neville speaks to them shows that he is not thinking about his timidity in this moment. " ˜You can't go out,' said Neville, ˜you'll be caught again. Gryffindor will be in even more trouble. [...] I won't let you do it.' " 11 By using the words "can't" and "won't' he exerts a kind of authority that he has not exhibited before. His language also indicates that his thoughts are on his House and the repercussions it will face if Harry, Ron, and Hermione leave. Neville's foremost concern is preventing Gryffindor from losing more house points when they are already in last place in the house cup competition.12 From these assertions, it appears that Neville becomes strongest and most commanding when he is defending that which he loves, not when he is defending himself.
Further, it can be argued that Neville's concern is not only for Gryffindor in general but also for his three friends. Perhaps he thinks they are being rash and are not thinking of the trouble they could get in by venturing out. Hermione suggests pages earlier that Harry will be expelled if he tries to go after the Stone,13 and it is highly likely that Neville is thinking along the same lines. For the good of his friends, not of himself, Neville seems to be more prone to stand and fight. For a boy who earlier in the year let himself fall victim to Draco Malfoy's Leg-Locker Curse and was scolded by Ron to stand up for himself,14 it is a drastic change to stand alone and yell "I'll fight you!" 15 to three people. When facing Malfoy, Neville didn't bother defending himself because he didn't want "more trouble." 16 However, when standing up for the good of Gryffindor and three of his closest friends, Neville prepares himself to physically fight, putting his own well-being aside and showing his selflessness.
Even when Neville first meets Bellatrix, who is about to torture him, in the Department of Mysteries,17 his attention is on Harry and the prophecy, not on his own well-being. A fifteen-year-old boy faced with impending torture might be expected to plead for mercy or give in to his captors' demands. Yet Neville screams for Harry not to give the Death Eaters the prophecy,18 showing utter selflessness. He is not afraid to be tortured if it means that the prophecy is kept safe from Voldemort. Neville has as little idea as Harry what makes it so important, but that hardly matters. He stays by Harry's side to fight, however ineptly, until the very end, ignoring Bellatrix completely after their brief meeting.
Harry, interestingly, does seek out Bellatrix for revenge by the end of the battle. Bellatrix has just killed Sirius Black19 and has run off. Harry pursues her, ignoring his still-injured friends,20 and confronts Bellatrix when he catches up to her. Bellatrix asks, " ˜What did you come after me for, then? I thought you were here to avenge my dear cousin!' ˜I am!' shouted Harry." 21 Though Harry is certainly brave, he has a rashness and a need for revenge that Neville does not have. Neville's more subtle bravery, in my opinion, is stronger in its selflessness.
When Neville appears near the end of Deathly Hallows, he has undergone an enormous change. Hogwarts has been taken over by Death Eaters, with the Carrows as the heads of discipline.22 Neville, along with Luna and Ginny Weasley, restarts the D.A. that year, recruiting more members, saving students from torture, and fighting evil in every way they can.23 Obviously, this sort of behavior takes extraordinary bravery and a certain unselfish disregard for oneself. Neville, especially, has taken a great deal of punishment and injury as a result of his defiance. As Ron accurately puts it, "they've used [him] as a knife sharpener." 24 In response to Ron, though, Neville only shrugs and says that it doesn't matter; they won't kill him because he's a pure-blood.25 Clearly, Neville's desire to protect others over himself has reached a high point. Two years prior, he was willing to be tortured to protect the prophecy, and now he is willing to endure an entire school year of pain in the hopes of distracting Amycus and Alecto Carrow from the younger students.
As the battle of Hogwarts begins, Voldemort and his Death Eaters surround the castle and eventually make their way inside. 26 While the fight rages on and Harry, Ron, and Hermione are seeking out Ravenclaw's lost diadem, Neville is doing his part to fight. Though it is most likely that Neville knows (or at least assumes) that Bellatrix is nearby, he does not try to find her in order to seek revenge. Instead, Neville fights alongside Professor Sprout and others, utilizing his strengths in Herbology. " ˜Mandrakes!' Neville bellowed at Harry over his shoulder as he ran. ˜Going to lob them over the walls ” they won't like this!' " 27 Later, "Neville [...] emerged from nowhere brandishing armfuls of Venomous Tentacula, which looped itself happily around the nearest Death Eater and began reeling him in." 28 Though he is still fighting the good fight, so to speak, Neville appears to have learned from mistakes he made at the Ministry during his fifth year. He is no longer misfiring spells and doing more harm than good; he is a capable fighter who uses his strongest weapons to fight and help everyone, not just himself. Neville could have looked for Bellatrix and tried fighting her, but that would have been selfish, something that Neville is not.
Returning to Order of the Phoenix, we can reconsider Neville's motives for working so hard in the D.A. after hearing about the escape of Bellatrix and other Death Eaters. After my revelation about Neville's character, I no longer think that a personal vendetta is what "had wrought a strange and even, slightly alarming change in him." 29 Instead, I believe that Neville's concern is for what Bellatrix might do to others. Everything that happened to the wizarding world fourteen years earlier is happening again, and Neville knows he can help stop it. He is one of a small number of people his age who knows firsthand how dangerous Lord Voldemort and his followers are. Specifically, he knows exactly what Bellatrix, clearly a madwoman, is capable of. Though the course of his life is already set and avenging his parents will do nothing to help them, Neville knows that he has the opportunity to prevent this evil from reappearing and affecting more innocent people.
Looking back at the Neville throughout the series, this utterly selfless bravery of his seems to stare me in the face. Yet, it took Deathly Hallows for me to realize this aspect of Neville's character, especially in relation to Bellatrix. If Neville had a showdown with her, I would have been satisfied and would not have delved deeply enough into the books to discover this important characteristic. This is one of the things I love most about Rowling's books. Rereads are just as exciting and intriguing as first reads because there is so much to get out of them. Indeed, as much as I loved watching Matthew Lewis on screen, his reaction to Bellatrix is not really in Neville's character. Not once throughout the series does Neville selfishly act on his own behalf, and by series' end, he becomes a wonderful example of selfless bravery ’ a true Gryffindor.
1. Murfin & Ray, Bedford Glossary, 349’50.
2. Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 603.
3. Yates, Order of the Phoenix.
4. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 337.
5. Ibid., 553.
6. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 573’77.
7. Ibid., 736.
8. Ibid., 759.
9. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 512.
10. Ibid., Sorcerer's Stone, 272.
12. Ibid., 305.
13. Ibid., 270.
14. Ibid., 217’18.
15. Ibid., 272.
16. Ibid., 218.
17. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 800.
18. Ibid., 800’801.
19. Ibid., 805.
20. Ibid., 807’9.
21. Ibid., 810.
22. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 573.
23. Ibid., 574’5.
24. Ibid., 574.
26. Ibid., 636.
27. Ibid., 620.
28. Ibid., 645.
29. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 553.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Directed by David Yates. Burbank: Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007.
Murfin, Ross and Supriya M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.
”””. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.
”””. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.
”””. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.
”””. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.
”””. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998.