Tomorrow is Harry Potter’s birthday. Just about every kid who devoured books one through seven remembers that: “born as the seventh month dies.”
That prophecy comes in handy, as it’s the only way I can remember that July is the seventh month in the year. It’s also important in Harry’s journey, when he hears the prophecy and Dumbledore tells Harry that, in fact, he might not have been the Chosen One. Here’s Sybill Trelawney’s prophecy:
“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…” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, p. 741)
Harry is somewhat less that thrilled to hear this; in fact, he “felt as though something was closing in on him. His breathing seemed difficult again” (p. 742). Just to be sure, Harry asks if he is the Chosen One. Here’s Dumbledore’s response:
“The odd thing, Harry,” he said softly, “is that it may not have meant you at all. Sybill’s prophecy could have applied to two wizard boys, both born at the end of July that year, both of whom had parents in the Order of the Phoenix, both sets of parents having narrowly escaped Voldemort three times. One, of course, was you. The other was Neville Longbottom.” (p. 742)
Dumbledore goes on to explain that Voldy’s estimation of Harry, a half-blood like himself, as the more dangerous of the two, determined the outcome: Neville, a pureblood, was not “marked… as his equal”; Harry Potter became the Chosen One.
Not by fate, but by human decision.
Take that, Chosen-One-Elected-Aeons-Ago-At-The-Dawn-Of-Time-An-Irrevocable-And-Unalterable-Great-(And-Tragic)-Destiny trope.
Plenty of people have written about Neville‘s own heroic arc as he grows from a self-effacing, lonely, accident-prone** bullied boy who doesn’t dare to tell his friends about his parents because he expects they’ll laugh at him to a man who, having endured torture, resisted, and witnessed his friends being tortured for two years (under first Umbridge then the Carrows), defies Voldemort to his face, kills the final Horcrux, and ultimately goes on to pursue the field he loves and to care for generations of Hogwarts students as professor of Herbology.
So, since today is Neville’s birthday, let’s take the time to celebrate The-Boy-Who-Was-Almost-The-Boy-Who-Lived, and to notice the people around us who are overlooked and underappreciated, especially those whom others treat with casual cruelty or neglect. And to recommit ourselves to gentleness and patience with people who have become incapacitated in some way, whether temporarily or permanently, like Alice and Frank Longbottom.
Happy birthday, Neville Longbottom!
* I seem to have missed any fan discussions on what Dumbledore goes on to say about this power: that contained in an eternally locked room in the Department of Mysteries is “a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than the forces of nature… perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there” (p. 743); in other words, love. I would dearly love (sorry!) to hear what other people have thought about this characterization of love as an almost physical presence, for so it seems, if it can be locked in a room. What does this say about love, at least as it is manifested in the wizarding world in the Harry Potter series? Is love tangible?
** Okay, so this incident doesn’t happen. But can’t you just see it?