As Harry Potter crazed kids, when we were asked who are favorite character was or who we related to most our answer was most likely one of the Golden Trio. Harry, because he’s the lead and the star. Hermione, because she has the brains and the talent. Ron, because he’s funny and loyal and has the best family. Not to completely discount our responses back then, but we did not yet fully comprehend the deeper characteristics and traits of the characters in Harry Potter, nor did we fully know who we were yet. As we grow older, our answers change with us. Luna, because she may say an odd thing or two but her heart is always in the right place and she’s incredibly passionate and protective of the ones she loves. Ginny, because she feels pushed to the side most of her life and steps up to be a very powerful witch and does not apologize for it.
For me, it’s Neville Longbottom.
As a kid, no one wants to be Neville. He’s chubby, he’s weird, he didn’t know he had powers for way too long (basically, a late bloomer). He fell off of everything, he tripped over everything, he blew up potions in Snape’s class and “Ten points from Gryffindor!“. He was bullied relentlessly by Malfoy for no reason other than he didn’t have everything together and he was easy to embarrass.
I am Neville Longbottom.
As a 19 year old who has read the Sorcerer’s Stone at least 3 times before, I am rereading it once more for my study in children’s lit class for university. I have had this small theory that I’m Neville for a while, but as I am reading through this book again I keep finding more and more evidence that my theory is true. The way I came about this idea needs a little explaining, so here’s some backstory:
Most people know I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. Not necessarily in the way that I talk about Harry Potter all the time, but in the way that I know everything about the story and the universe and it’s hard to find a fact that I don’t know. I have an entire shelf on my bookcase dedicated to Harry Potter stuff, and not all of it even fits. I will definitely cry if I hear Hedwig’s Theme. This is common knowledge, and if it’s not, people find out soon enough. Then comes the inevitable question: What house are you in? Now, see, there’s a variance of how seriously certain types of fans take Hogwarts houses. Casual fans see the houses as the brave one, the smart one, the evil one, and the one that takes the losers. Fans that probably care too much about the book series know that these are just harmful house stereotypes. Me, being one of these fans, thinks much deeper about Hogwarts houses and, taking this into account, I am a Gryffindor.
So, when people ask “What house are you in?” and I respond with “I’m in Gryffindor”, a lot of the time they respond with a look of confusion and doubt. “Really? You’re a Gryffindor?” Yes, I am. Let me explain.
Hogwarts students are sorted into houses when they are 11 years old. When I was 11, I believed that I was a Gryffindor. I wasn’t shy at school, I talked in class, I introduced myself to new people, I was incredibly accident prone and had a high pain tolerance so all falls and scrapes and bruises were not a big deal. To an 11-year-old, this was being brave. Being brave meant doing big things you weren’t scared of or not even being scared of anything. That was being brave as a kid. As you grow, what’s considered bravery shifts and changes just like you shift and change.
Middle school and high school were different. I became very self conscious in middle school because of body image issues and I wasn’t very outgoing. In high school, body image wasn’t so much of a big deal as my newfound nervousness and anxiety. I went to a new school for high school, one that was small and where most people already knew each other. Making friends was hard, really hard, and I didn’t feel like I had real friends until senior year. I was afraid of doing things, like going to dances and football games or even eating in the dining hall. The nervousness turned into anxiety and I would have panic attacks if I tried to do those things. Most of freshman and sophomore year I spent all my free time tucked in the library. I still have anxiety issues today and though they manifest themselves a little differently, they are still there.
This is not bravery, is it?
Actually, to me, yeah, it is. Junior year of high school I had to give a speech in front of the whole school as a graduation requirement. I was beyond nervous. I actually tried to transfer schools to avoid giving the speech, but my parents wouldn’t let me (thanks, guys). I started panicking about my November speech during the June before. The week before my speech, the anxiety was real and bad. Surprisingly, when I woke up on the morning of my speech day, I thought “I’m excited”. Now, I wasn’t actually excited, but I knew I had to give the speech, so I told myself all day “I’m excited, I’m excited”. Once I got to school, when people asked me how I was feeling I responded by saying “I’m excited!”. By the time I was behind the stage waiting to walk out, the nerves weren’t bad nerves but excited ones. I had convinced myself and my body that I was actually looking forward to giving the speech. I don’t remember when I was on stage and talking, it was such a blur, but I do remember sitting down afterwards, being so incredibly proud of myself. I did it. I did the scariest thing in the world for me at the time, I conquered it, and that is what bravery is.
To me, being a Gryffindor means being brave when I have to be, in the moments where it matters the most, no matter how much I don’t want to. Bravery is standing up to someone else, standing up for yourself, for the first time ever even after panicking about it the night before. Bravery is moving to a dorm at your university even though you would rather live at home and commute because you know the experience will be good for you. Bravery is also living from home and commuting every once and a while because sometimes doing what is best for you and not what everyone else is doing demands a sort of courage.
This is why I’m Neville Longbottom.
In the Harry Potter books, no one thinks that Neville should be in Gryffindor. In the Sorcerer’s Stone, chapter 13, Neville was unfairly jinxed by Malfoy. This scene follows the incident:
“You’ve got to stand up to him, Neville!” said Ron. “He’s used to walking all over people, but that’s no reason to lie down in front of him and make it easier.”
“There’s no need to tell me I’m not brave enough to be in Gryffindor, Malfoy’s already done that,” Neville chocked out.
“You’re worth twelve of Malfoy,” Harry said. “The Sorting Hat chose you for Gryffindor, didn’t it? And where’s Malfoy? In stinking Slytherin.”
In the early years, not only did Neville not think that he was supposed to be in Gryffindor, but others also told him so. Fortunately, he had Ron and Harry who were willing to say nice things and be kind to him. Later in the chapter, during a Quidditch match, a miraculous thing happens.
“…Longbottom, you’ve got no brains.”
Neville went bright red but turned in his seat to Malfoy.
“I’m worth twelve of you, Malfoy,” he stammered.
This is a big deal for Neville. It’s the end of their first year and he had been kicked around and bullied by Malfoy for months. This is the first time that Neville ever does anything about it. Malfoy is unfazed, of course, a comment like that doesn’t stop a bully from being a bully. But it’s a step. Neville “went red but turned in his seat” to confront Malfoy; he was hurt and embarrassed and probably didn’t want to do it but he remembered what Ron and Harry had said the night before and decided to be brave.
That’s the thing, I think. Bravery, a lot of the time, is a concious decision. Sure, there are probably people who are naturally brave and do whatever they want; those are the reckless Gryffindor stereotypes who don’t have a regard for their own life that we all hear rumors about (*ahem* the Weasley twins). What I find interesting is that Neville is the only example of this type of Gryffindor, the one who is scared and nervous and blundering around most of the time and needs to make that conscious decision of bravery. There aren’t any other Gryffindor students that I can think of that felt like they did not fit into their house. Through not feeling like a true Gryffindor, Neville represents that kid who is not sure of themselves until they’re a bit older; a late bloomer. But they were always there, showing true moments of themselves through the mess that is growing up.
So, I think for a lot of people, or for maybe just a few, bravery is a decision we make. We’re not always sure of ourselves, it took us a while to figure out where we belong, and maybe we’re not brave all of the time, but we’re brave when it matters the most. And that’s what makes Neville and I Gryffindors.