(There will be spoilers!)
Ah, Neville, the biggest badass to ever wear a cardigan.
Neville was like the alternate-Harry. An orphan, insecure in his own ability, nervous and awkward. He had his own legend to live up to – that of his auror parents – and his own fears that he wasn’t up to the job.
Neville’s motivation changes enormously throughout the books. At first, it’s a case of plain survival. He wants to get through school as painlessly as possible (doesn’t everyone) and pass his exams. But even at the end of the first book we start to see a glimpse of Neville’s inner strength. He stands up to Harry, Ron and Hermione, blocking them from leaving the dormitory at night. Dumbledore correctly points out that it’s much harder to stand up to your friends than your enemies, and Neville was brave enough to risk ostracising himself from his peers.
It’s a strength that grows and grows. Neville volunteers to go to the Department of Mysteries with Harry, he joins Dumbledore’s army. He even stands up to Voldemort. He goes from being motivated to survive with his head down, to wanting to fight for his friends and allies. And when he kills the snake, it feels like the most punch in the air moment, because it’s the culmination of all the growth Neville’s done over the previous six instalments of the story.
A key moment in Neville’s development is the scene in which Professor Moody demonstrates the Cruciatus curse on a spider. Neville’s response reveals a hidden past that as readers we haven’t even bothered to think about. We know already that he lives with his Gran, talks about his uncle, but doesn’t ever mention parents – but we think nothing of it, because Neville isn’t that important. This scene is key, because it makes him important. Suddenly, we reassess everything we’ve learned so far. What has happened to Neville? Suddenly we’re desperate to know.
It’s a clever bit of writing on Rowling’s part, and an excellent method of character development. Neville’s always been there in the background, but before this he was just the slightly awkward nerd. After this scene he starts to feel like a real person with layers.