Severus Snape is one of the most nuanced characters in the Harry Potter series of books and films, with the tortured Potions Master’s early villainy and antipathy to students revealed to be masking the torture of his lost love for Harry’s deceased mother Lily in the final parts of the story.
Still, there’s one mystery about the character (played onscreen by the late Alan Rickman) that still remains somewhat unresolved. We totally get why Snape focused so much of his anger on Harry – he reminded him of both the love he lost and the enemy who he perceived as taking her from him, James Potter – but why was he always so hard on Neville Longbottom, spending an awful lot of time berating and belittling the young student? It couldn’t just have been because of his struggles with academia, could it?
Well, probably not – because one fan has laid out exactly why he thinks Snape had such a problem with Neville, and it’s pretty convincing. Posting on Quora, Potter expert Sahil Juneja (who claims to have read every book 16 times) points out that Snape may be lashing out at Neville because it could have been HIM who Voldemort targeted instead of Harry, as pointed out by Albus Dumbledore in the books:
‘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.’
“Neville could have been the ‘Boy-Who-Lived’,” Juneja goes on to explain. “Had Voldemort chosen Neville instead of Harry, Lily would still be alive.”
“For years since Lily’s death, [Snape] blamed no one but himself. He turned coats for Dumbledore in order for some penance but that wasn’t enough of course. He still loved Lily and couldn’t bear that thought.
“And one fine day, Neville Longbottom came along. The living embodiment of his guilt. He manifested all his anger and hatred for himself onto that poor little boy. It was more likely a subconscious thing. The sight of Neville triggered the guilt and he couldn’t stand it.”
The post also acknowledges that Snape’s hatred of mediocrity and own experience with bullying could also have contributed to his treatment of Neville, and overall we’d say this is a pretty convincing reading of the text, albeit one that’s a bit depressing. Neville was bullied and harangued for years for something that was in no way his fault, and he was never to find out exactly what he was supposed to have done wrong – is it any wonder that he had some confidence issues for a while?
Oh well – at least he (sort of) got his revenge on Snape once.