Neville is a fascinating character in the Harry Potter universe. At the start of the series, Neville is little more than a comic interlude. He is clumsy, forgetful, the butt of many jokes, and the target of bullying from teachers and other pupils at School. As the series progresses, however, we see the character developing slowly into something much more significant.
Neville is the son of Frank and Alice Longbottom and born on July 30, the day before the hero of the books, Harry Potter.
In the first book, we are introduced to Neville as a clumsy, forgetful boy with a moon-shaped face and one of the least cool pets imaginable, a toad called Trevor. Neville’s family believed him to be non-magical for the first few years of his life, because nothing magical happened around him when he was upset or angry. It was only when a relative dropped (accidentally) him out of the window that Neville’s magical nature revealed itself. Neville bounced all the way down the garden to the road, apparently.
It is only as the books progress that we discover more about this character. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books has deliberately revealed Neville's character and backstory very gradually. This makes me think he will play a crucial role in the eventual demise of Voldemort and the death eaters.
He is brave, prepared to stand up to friends and enemies alike. It is just that he is not a very able wizard and a bit clumsy, so when he tries to make a stand, he usually gets hit with some nasty spell. One such was Hermione's Petrificus Totalus when he tried to stop the Harry-Ron-Hermione trio from beating Voldemort to the Philosopher's stone in the first book.
However, as the series has progressed we learn that Frank and Alice Longbottom were tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange and her accomplices, until they went mad. She repeatedly used the Cruciatus curse on one, while the other was watching, in an effort to make them reveal where Voldemort had gone after murdering the Potter family.
It is possible that Neville witnessed this torture as a baby, and his forgetfulness comes as a result of memory charms placed upon him to bury what must be some awful memories.
Four death eaters were tried and found guilty of torturing both Neville's parents. All four were imprisoned in Azkaban. We discover in book four that one of the accused was Bartemius Crouch Junior. Two others are almost certainly the Lestranges (Rodolphus and Bellatrix), praised by Lord Voldemort at the end of book four.
Frank and Alice now reside in a special ward in St Mungo’s hospital, reserved for those who have lost their minds. They were aurors, who are normally the most able of witches and wizards. Tragically, neither his mother nor father recognise Neville. However the Longbottoms were a very popular, pureblood wizarding family. Longbottom is a famous name in the Wizarding world, and carries great prestige among the good guys.
As the books progress we learn that Neville is brought up by his grandmother, another fearsome character. We also discover that he has a great affinity with plants and does well in his herbology classes. There are hints that he is more able than Hermione in this class, and even rumours on the fansites that Neville will leave Hogwarts after the OWL exams described in book five, only later returning to Hogwarts as the herbology teacher.
In the same book, Order of the Phoenix, Neville starts to come out of his shell a little, as he joins the student group naming itself Dumbledore’s Army, and at last manages to cast some important spells which might help defend against attack by dark forces.
Also in book five, we see a tender moment when Neville keeps bubble gum wrappers cast off by his mother in hospital. One of the few things she ever gave to him. Neville remains as much an orphan as Harry Potter, though few of the other pupils are aware of Neville’s family history.
The parallels with Harry continue, as we discover in the closing pages of the book that a prophecy which now applies to Harry and Voldemort, could just as easily have applied to Neville and Voldemort. When Voldemort chose to attack the Potter family, he marked Harry as his enemy, so Neville may well have the potential to grow into a wizard as brave and resourceful as Harry. The prediction was made, of course, by Professor Sybill Trelawney and witnessed by Prof. Dumbledore, shortly before Neville's birth.
In an interesting twist, Neville has been using his father's wand in the first five books, and according to the rules of the HP universe, no wizard can do powerful magic with a poorly matched wand. That wand was broken during the climactic battle of book five. Perhaps if Neville gets his own matched wand in book six, his ability to perform magic will improve dramatically.