From Albus Dumbledore to Neville Longbottom, it seems that the Harry Potter series has hundreds of characters, or at least ten, vying for that number one spot on the leader board; even nine years after the seventh and final book was released.
As much as I would love to analyze every single character in the series, I only have time to focus on a select few.
Ah, Severus. He may not have been an overtly pleasant person, but he was a hero up until his death.
Or was he?
This theory has mostly been pushed around mostly by girls in their late teens and early twenties (after they move on from bad boy Draco Malfoy); that Severus Snape really did love Harry and take care of him and is; therefore, the hero of the "Harry Potter" series. While this theory sort of holds water in the film series (you can thank Alan Rickman's talent for that), it completely breaks down in the books.
Snape is a complete asshole in the books; not just to Harry, but also to every single house except for Slytherin. He takes over two hundred points from Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw (those are just the times mentioned), never awards points, constantly criticizes Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and, to top it all off, speaks almost lovingly about the dark arts.
Snape was a death eater throughout the books as well as just being mean. When Dumbledore heard Snape sobbing about Lily, he immediately began a scheme of blackmail against Snape; that Snape would either protect Lily's son or stain her memory forever. Is it any wonder that he became the headmaster of Slytherin house; Slytherin being the house that has produced the most dark wizards? Is t any wonder that he took to torturing the other inhabitants of Hogwarts by all but potentially fatal means?
Dumbledore knew the risks of having Snape around, so he saw to it that Snape be answerable to him alone; that Snape would trust and fear him completely, because having a death eater in his control would make defeating Voldemort all the easier.
Unfortunately, Dumbledore had not factored in his untimely death at the hands of a cursed horcrux. He had to put his plan into hyper drive, because without him, Snape would be free to go back to his old ways. He orchestrated his death in such a way that Voldemort would be able to figure out that he had to win the elder wand from Snape; thereby sentencing the latter to death.
*Side-note: I figured out that Dumbledore had sentenced Snape to death back in 2005. Nobody believed me.
As the saying goes: old habits die hard. Snape, realizing his freedom, took over Hogwarts with his gang of death eaters. The words that Dumbledore had spoke to him, to protect the students of Hogwarts, were slowly fading away as the Carrows became more and more brutal. By the time we saw him in the boathouse, when he asked Voldemort if the former can bring Harry to him, Snape was, again, completely loyal to Voldemort. He had no intention of showing Harry those memories. He just wanted to feel wanted; even if Voldemort only wanted him.
But Snape fell victim to Dumbledore's hastily put together plan; that Voldemort would figure out the puzzle of the elder wand. Voldemort killed Snape, and Harry saw those memories that would tell him the final hurdle in Dumbledore's master plan to kill Voldemort.
Was Snape a hero? No. He was an angry old asshole who acted purely out of a selfish desire to redeem himself in the eyes of the dead.
Was he a villain? Sort of. He did his best to make everyone around him miserable.
Snape was an anti-hero; the character that portrays the overarching theme of the story; in this story, that love wins out.
What about the cleverest witch of her age, Hermione Granger? She may not have killed Voldemort, but she was an invaluable tool to his defeat. She was the real hero of the series.
Or was she?
This theory has its roots around the nerd world. The argument is that neither Harry nor Ron could have accomplished much without her persistence and knowledge.
Hermione is "an insufferable know-it-all", according to Snape. Barely a moment passes in the series when she is not shooting her hand up into the air or saying her catchphrase, "I'm off to the library."
When book seven came around, we saw the Hermione that was always prepared, had a taste for danger and adventure, and a bit of a badass. She started out by having enough of her wits about her to apparate Harry and Ron out of the doomed wedding, planning far enough ahead to have realized that neither Harry nor Ron would have brought a change of clothes with them, and was instrumental in planning the raid on the ministry. Furthermore, she stuck by Harry even as her kind of-sort of boyfriend asked her to come with him.
This evidence is what has been used as proof that Hermione is the hero; that Harry and Ron would have been lost without her. She is not the hero; however.
Hermione is the stabilizing force in the book; the character that keeps everyone on the same page.
Neville Longbottom is, I'll just come right out and say it, not the hero. He definitely has some heroic traits as early as book five, but Neville serves a more practical purpose. He is our bridge to the wizarding world; the character that everyone can relate to. Everyone has days where they feel stupid, and Neville shows us it doesn't have to be that way.
The hero is, by definition, the opposite of the villain. We all know that the villain is Voldemort, and who is his opposite? Harry Potter. Harry Potter is the real hero.
*For a quicker, almost always reliable way to spot the hero, check if he or she is mentioned in the title.