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boy with a scar

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If Voldemort had chosen the pureblood boy, not the halfblood, as his opponent? This Neville would have had graves to visit, instead of a hospital. He’d still have grown up in his grandmother’s clutches, tut-tutted at, dropped out windows absentmindedly, left to bounce on paving stones.

Let’s tell this story: Alice Longbottom, who was the better at hexing, told Frank to take Neville and run.

She died on the braided rug of their sitting room floor. Frank heard her fall from where he stood in front of the cradle. He did not have time to run.

When the Dark Lord climbed the stairs and saw Frank, he laughed at the small man in front of him. Frank had crooked teeth, a mis-sized nose, big fingers and small, watery eyes. Voldemort looked at him the way children would look at Neville, in almost a decade, at stubby fingers around a rememberall, a wrinkled brow and a stammer. “Move aside,” he said, the way a different Voldemort had once offered a way out to Lily Potter. That had been for the sake of another man’s love, and this was for his own contempt. “Just let me have the boy. Did you really think you could—”

When Neville met Voldemort again, in his fourth year, when Luna’s advice, his own gillyweed knowledge, and Ginny’s Bat Bogey Hex lessons had gotten him through the Triwizard Tournament he’d never signed up to enter, there would be a bubbling scar on Voldemort’s sunken left cheek. His father had had time for one curse. Frank’s love had saved his son, marked him, but his hate had been enough, too, to scar Tom Riddle through every rebirth and transformation he would ever have.

Harry Potter would have grown up as James’s oldest son. I think Lily, who missed her sister, and James, who had found three brothers at school and loved them more than life, would have had more children: a little sister who James taught to fly (little Tuney’d be Keeper to Ginny’s Seeker, in a decade, and gossip terribly about Harry), a baby brother Lily fervently talked James out of naming Lupeterius. Harry would have grown up spoiled and loved, magical, with toy broomsticks and playdates with the other Order kids— stumbling Neville, the Bones girl and the rollicking Weasley bunch.

If the Potters were never the main targets, never hiding and frightened, I don’t think Peter would have turned when he did. Not enough gain. Not enough tail-tucking fear. Peter would have limped through to the end of the war, whiskers shivering in his soul even when they were popping champagne on the night Neville Longbottom’s parents died.

They raised delicate glasses that had somehow survived all the first war, laughing, in Godric’s Hollow, to the Boy Who Lived. Augusta Longbottom planned her children’s funeral and wondered if her grandson’s forehead would scar like that. Lily danced in the living room with James, on the garish rug that Sirius had bought them as a joke and that they had kept just to spite him.

But this was a story about Neville now—it would always be a story about Harry, somewhat, because it had never been the scar that made the boy. When Draco Malfoy stole Neville’s rememberall, this Harry would still jump on a broom; when Hermione, weeping in the bathrooms, didn’t know about the troll, Harry would still run to tell her—that instinct was not something even having loving parents (especially these parents) would have kept from him.

But this had always been a story about Neville, too— unscarred Neville, Neville with his pockets full of gum wrappers, this had always been the story of his rise and his steady soul. But this time he was marked from birth, a scar on his forehead and hands that weren’t any better at holding a wand. This time, his grandmother had even more reason to look at him with disappointment when he spent all his childhood looking powerless.

Neville was not the disappeared savior who they whispered about. Halloween was still a celebration of Voldemort’s fall, but Neville was a lucky object, not a small hero, because where there had been a vacuum to fill when it had been Harry Potter, to fill with wonderment and thanks, here Neville toddled down Diagon Alley and held his grandmother’s hand. The whole world knew this boy was probably a squib, with pudgy fingers and a slow stammer, who didn’t learn to read until it was almost time to go to Hogwarts.

When Neville got his Hogwarts letter, the whole wizarding world was very politely surprised. He got told congratulations from strangers in the street, who in different universes would be shaking Harry Potter’s hand and swooning. Neville was far above smart enough to recognize than none of the other children got congratulated for the victory of being asked to attend school.

He asked the Hat for Hufflepuff and it gave him Gryffindor. He hoped they did not expect him to learn how to roar.

This was a Neville scarred. This was a Neville who would still get a rememberall and still forget it in his room two days out of five, who would eat a Weasley treat and turn into a canary, who would take Ginny Weasley to the Yule Ball and not once step on her toes.

This was a Neville who had had long conversations with the garden snakes in his backyard as a child and who had snuck them bits of his breakfast, kept track of which little serpent liked soft boiled eggs and which would dare to try a bit of sausage if he wiggled it properly. When he first got to Hogwarts, lonely, a lion in lamb’s fleece, Neville hid out behind the greenhouses and made friends with the snakes who curled on the warm rocks there.

In their first year, the same three kids fought a troll in a bathroom and became friends, because you can’t really escape it, after that. Neville had headaches, especially in Defense Against the Dark Arts; he thought it must be the garlic stuffed in Quirrell’s turbin. He tip-toed his own self down to kitchens and made himself tea to help with the ache.

Neville still tried to stop them, on the night Harry Potter met Voldemort for the first time and was summarily ignored by him, except for the sake of the Stone hidden in Harry’s pocket. Neville stood up in that common room, shaking, because the Hat had put him in Gryffindor and if he could not choose his destinies he would at least try to live up to them. Harry was still a firecracker of a child, his wild hair only surpassed by Hermione’s, and Ron was a cheerful time bomb.

"It’s You-Know-Who," said Harry, who in this world had never been afraid before, and Neville flinched. "You of all people—"

"It’s not," said Neville. Neville called him Voldemort, but only to himself, because he hated making other people flinch but he thought you should be on a first name basis with your nightmares. "He’s dead. You’re wrong. You’re going to get in trouble, and even if you weren’t wrong, I’m useless, so don’t—"

"I’m so sorry," said Hermione, drawing her wand, and they went to go break the Stone out of the Mirror for Voldemort and put Harry into a brief coma. Neville sent him a few boxes of chocolate frogs, listened to Hogwarts cheer for Potter, and cried a little bit because all was right with the world.

Or did he go with them? I am supposed to be brave, he told himself. But this was a boy who didn’t believe he was. Neville laid on the floor, petrified, until someone tripped over him on the way to the bathroom. He nursed his bruises in his bunk while Harry Potter slept in the infirmary.

With no love’s curse on him, Harry only survived because Fawkes had shown up, shrieking, to burn Quirrell to a crisp. The phoenix had always had a soft spot for reckless children. Dumbledore had always had a contingency plan.

Harry was reckless and Neville was not, and it was different in this world— this Harry thought he was invincible, not that he was less important than other people’s lives. Harry wanted to be as brave as the stories his godfathers told around the Christmas table.

At the end of it all, when things were measured and last stands made, it would not be the phoenix that came to Neville’s aid, or the sword. By the end of this, he would have an army at his back.

When the second war came, all four Marauders would be breathing. Fred and George would have had to find their passages themselves, had to invent their own map on cheaper materials and less prowess in Transfiguration but with a stronger grasp on physical chemistry— maybe theirs would have been enchanted spectacles or a scrying stone tucked in a pocket, something they could hold onto and wouldn’t have to worry about burning.

When the second war came, the Marauders would be the ages the wizarding world imagined the martyred Longbottoms had been when they died—adults, not the young, terrified, brave twenty-somethings they had been. Sirius would have a bit of a pot belly, even when he went Animagus and curled up by the fire, all limbs splayed in the air.

Peter gardened. Remus slept on their couches, all of them, but refused to take charity. After a few years, the Gringotts goblins stopped sending Remus letters whenever his vault got broken into and some new bag of Sickles and Knuts left behind in it. They cited budget cuts and a need to preserve paper. Lily kept a tally on a piece of notepaper on the kitchen fridge, summing up who had managed the most break-ins. She was winning.

The last thing this Harry would be was a bully. Lily had made sure of it. and, more than that, so had James. Decency, kindness to people who are different than you—these had been lessons hard won, built and earned, tinged with retrospective horror. James had been a child once, but he had once been a bully, too, and he was old enough now to know that those were different things.

"Boys may be boys," James told his sons. "But that never means cruelty. It means you trip over things, and forget your mother’s birthday—lord knows I do—and never manage to wash behind your ears. But you be kind, kids, or you aren’t worth anything at all."

In this world, Severus Snape was not a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He was never a double agent. Lily’s death was never dangled in front of him like bait, like a bauble, to drag him into something like light. Severus shared one cell wall with Bellatrix Lestrange and another with Rodolphus.

Lily leaned on her husband’s shoulder, in the faint warm light of their kitchen, and said, “But you be kind to you, first. Harry, you don’t owe anyone any part of you, no matter what they say.” James had lost a lot more sleep over Snivellus Snape’s fate than Lily ever had over the sweet, odd boy who had brought her daisies and hissed slurs at her sister.

When Harry first met Draco Malfoy, he didn’t hate him. On principle.

Harry stopped Malfoy’s bullying whenever he saw it, but Harry also said “good morning” every breakfast, like he meant it, and enjoyed the flabbergasted look on Draco’s face. Some days it was a joke, some days a penance, and on the best it was a kindness.

But we said this was a story about Neville, and it is.

When Neville heard a whispering voice in his ears his second year, he was quietly, firmly sure he had gone mad. That type of despair was quiet, in hands like his. It was resigned.

In that common room, there was another frozen chest like his, however, another set of hands watched carefully, tearfully, by the person they belonged to.

In this story, someone listened to Ginny Weasley. Neville asked her what was wrong and listened to the answer.

She was losing time, and he was losing trust in his ears. Ginny promised to listen when he heard words, and to follow when he ran after the whispers. He promised to watch her, to help her count her hours, and to follow when she drifted shakily away from the backs of groups.

Neville found Ginny out by the chicken coops three times, glassy-eyed, and each time he wrapped her in his small twelve-year old arms until she stopped fighting him and woke up.

He didn’t manage to find her before she scrawled red threats on the Hogwarts walls, left Mrs. Norris hanging by the tail, but he took her down to the kitchen after, got some hot soup in her, and helped her scrub all the paint off her robes. He told her it was not her fault, which he had not promised to do, but he had said he would tell her the truth.

When Neville, terrified, wary, told her he could talk to snakes, Ginny shrugged. ‘Enemies of the Heir beware’ was scrawled on the Hogwarts walls and she knew pointing fingers at this juncture might get a bit complicated. Instead she said, “Ah, that makes sense,” because whenever Neville heard voices, she heard hissing.

They went into the book together, tumbled into Riddle’s memories. “He’s lying to us,” Ginny whispered, eleven, intimate with the difference between chicken’s blood and red paint on her hands. When young Riddle pointed to Hagrid’s Aragog and called it the monster, Neville thanked him politely for the news and they both tumbled out into their bodies.

"I can talk to snakes, not spiders," Neville pointed out.

"And it’s Slytherin’s monster. Why would it be a spider?” said Ginny with exasperation.

They tried to burn the book in the fireplace, learning Incendio from a suspicious Hermione and borrowing fire salamanders with Fred and George’s help. They broke into the Restricted Section to learn spells of destruction. Nothing worked.

Ginny had bad dreams, her soul still half in someone else’s pages, and she thought she knew where the entrance to the Chamber was. They were talking about closing down the school. Neville thought about living with his grandmother forever, not getting to come back, and decided that was less important than anything happening here. But Hermione got petrified, so Ginny grabbed Neville by one hand and dragged him up to where Harry and Ron were huddling together.

"We’re going to do something stupid," Ginny told them. "We thought you two were the people to talk to."

They got Fred and George, too, though not Percy, and soon each of them had pockets full of the twin’s more useful tricks and toys. (“It’s not on our map,” Fred told George, offended, when the bathroom sink opened up. They would feel gratified, years later, when they met the Marauder’s Map and found that they had missed this passage too).

Ginny collapsed to her knees on the bone-strewn floor of the Chamber, but her eyes didn’t close. Riddle ripped himself from the diary. He was just a barest outline and a hiss.

This time, it was not Harry alone. Ron judged the playing field, the pieces and the resources, and called orders that his brothers mocked loudly and then followed. Fred and George threw spells and tricks that spewed gum into the snake’s lethal eyes. Fawkes brought them a Hat and Harry dragged the sword out of it. Neville drew on every old lesson from garden snakes and screamed instruction and distraction at the basilisk. Harry killed it.

Hogwarts would always help those who asked for it. “I did ask,” hissed Ginny, and yanked the fang out of the basilisk’s head. “Hogwarts wasn’t listening.” Riddle howled when he went and Ginny limped out of the Chamber with one arm on Harry’s shoulders and one on Neville’s because Fred, George, and Ron were all much too tall.

(Lockhart didn’t manage to get on the end of his own faulty Obliviate, but he did manage to trip over one of dangling sleeves and end up in a full body cast. Dumbledore started looking for a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.)

There was no Sirius to break out in their third year. He was home, teaming up with Lily to torment James, who had grown what Sirius called “stodgy” in his old age. Sirius was too busy to lurk, hollow-cheeked, in the shadows; he had to teach the littlest Potter, who was still too young to go to Hogwarts, how to fly.

There was no Peter to lurk and nibble, to chitter and flee. Pettigrew was busy trying to teach Lily how not to kill every begonia she planted. He was busy mailing bottled bedtimes stories to little first year Tuney Potter, because she was homesick and he did the best animal voices. She would pull her head under her covers and uncork the bottle, and curl up until her godfather’s voice put her to sleep. When Tuney woke up, the bottle had always restoppered itself. It would start off, the next night, at whatever part of the story she last remembered.

So, except for some very intensive education on legal policies, appeals, and animal rights (Tuney, tagging at Hermione’s heels, became passionate about Buckbeak), that third year was a rather relaxing time. Lupin was a lovely teacher, and Harry was beside himself with glee about his (other) godfather’s presence, even if some little tattletale shared about his furry problem at the end of the year. Neville quite liked Lupin. He thought he might have understood about the snakes.

Neville met Luna Lovegood that year, too. “My father says your story is propaganda from the Ministry,” was the first thing Luna ever said to him. “He says He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was really brought down by a combination of centaur secret police and the Aurors’ gingivitus scheme.” Ginny laughed aloud and Neville decided, immediately, that he liked Luna. It was nice to meet someone who disbelieved in you, sometimes.

He and Ginny spent most of Neville’s peaceful third year exploring the castle with Luna. Ginny took them flying on brooms, around and around the lake, and Luna took them out to meet thestrals. Neville, who had not had his worst memories ripped to the front of his mind by dementors, could not see them. Ginny could. She had never seen anyone die, but she had killed Tom Riddle’s ghost and sent some of her self with him.

Neville introduced them to the snakes behind the greenhouses, expecting his friends to shy away, to run. Ginny grinned, instead. “Are they poisonous?”

Luna sank to her knees, palms out, robes pooling. “They’re warm,” she said, dreamily shocked, when they curled over her wrists. 

"It’s just the sun," said Neville. His hands were a little shaky.

"That’s all it ever is," said Luna.

When Neville’s name got pulled out of the Goblet of Fire the next year, Ginny had to nearly shove him to the front of the room.

"Better a Puff than a squib!” Malfoy shrieked in the hallways, thrilled with himself, flashing Support Diggory/Longbottom Stinks buttons. Harry gave him disappointed glances and Draco was really not sure what to do with that kid.

After Voldemort returned, after Neville crashed down in front of the hedge maze onto Cedric’s corpse, Neville told Harry, “It should have been you.” Neville told him that, blubbering, when they pulled him to his bruised feet, and he told Harry again, quietly, on a late midnight in the boy’s dormitory. “It should have been you. You’re the brave one. You’d have stopped it. They’d believe me, if I was you.”

"Nonsense," said Harry. "You’re a hero, Neville." Then Harry sent Hedwig for Luna and Ginny because he and Ron both knew very little about what to do when someone started crying on you.

(Ginny bumped his shoulder in what was supposed to be a warming sort of bruise. Luna counted his tears with utter seriousness, cheering each one. “Did you know tears feed blubbering grackles?”)

The next year, Umbridge came. When Hermione explained her plan to Harry to teach the other students, she wheedled with Neville, too. “Neville, you got through the Triwizard Tournament.”

"With lots of help!"

"And Harry, you got through the third floor corridor our first year, and we all fought the basilisk our second. Well, not me."

"You’re the one who figured out what it was!"

Harry taught his favorite Expelliarmus from the dueling club Neville hadn’t attended, how to keep your head in battle, and all the useful prank and battle magics his godfathers had ever taught him. He wrote home for tips and Sirius and Lily sent him letters of suggestions while Remus and James sent back letters of cautions. Peter sent a pack of Dungbombs for Umbridge’s office.

Neville and Ginny taught the fire and destruction spells they had learned for the diary. Neville told them about the graveyard, stumbling, Ginny stubbornly adding in any bits of his own bravery he forgot to repeat.

Hermione dug up instructions on Patronuses, which seemed useful as messengers, and they taught that with Lupin’s stressed head floating in the fireplace to help out. Harry’s was not a stag but a snowy owl. Neville’s Patronus was a garden snake, and it coiled shyly around his ankle when people stared at it.

Neville had a nightmare of his grandmother, spitting in Voldemort’s face somewhere dark and lined with glass orbs. He went to Ginny. “I think Tom’s lying to us again,” she said. “But we better check it out.”

They broke into Umbridge’s office. The pink menace took Harry and Hermione, the clear ringleaders, out to the forest, and while they were busy leaving her to Grawp and the centaurs, Neville, Luna and Ginny disarmed Malfoy’s crew and sent Floo after Floo out— they woke up Lily and James, and they didn’t actually wake up Sirius and Remus, who were deep in a slightly tipsy chess game. Peter peered out at them, and then rushed off to gather Mundungus and the other harder-to-find members of the Order.

There was a ruckus at the Department of Mysteries, but Neville and his friends were busy at Hogwarts while the Order of the Phoenix did their good work. The kids woke teachers, sent someone out to rescue Umbridge, and rifled through her desk to find something to either condemn her or blackmail Fudge with. Luna called Neville’s grandmother by Floo until she bothered to wake up and ask him if he’d got better marks in Transfiguration this year, that’s a strong wizard’s subject.

When Neville went home that summer, he slept til noon the first day, exhausted. Then he packed a bag and spent most of the rest of the summer couch-hopping from the Potters’ to the Wealseys’, the Lovegoods’ and last to the Grangers’, where he learned more than he ever wanted to about dental health and quite a bit he did want to about electricity. He saw a lot of Lily Potter that summer, too, because she found the Grangers delightful. Lily came over most weeks to watch Saturday morning cartoons, which she had sorely missed.

The school seemed peaceful when they got back for their sixth year, but Draco Malfoy seemed twitchy. Only Harry noticed, but Harry had been saying “good morning” to Draco for years now, through pranks and vicious Quidditch competition, sneers in Potions and taunts in the hall. He still managed to sound like he meant it each time.

"You suck for a lot of reasons," Harry had told Draco once. "But my mom says not all of them are your fault, and dad says to be the better man. Mom says I don’t have to give you a chance, but I can, if I want to. The rest is up to you."

Draco ran away, after Christmas. His parents disappeared from their estate, as did all of the ancestral jewelry that wasn’t soldered down or already cursed. Dumbledore, if it could be avoided, had never wanted to put murder on a boy’s conscience anyway, so he already had a secondary plan in place. This didn’t bruise it much.

Peter Pettigrew had been frightened, once, but he was older now. He was not twenty and desperate, but the Death Eaters remembered when he had been, and so they believed Pettigrew, easy, when he skittered into their camp.

Dumbledore didn’t have Severus’s heartstrings to play puppetmaster on, so he had circled Peter. Dumbledore called it a penance for a crime never committed, and Peter believed him.

In a different world, Albus Dumbledore had told Severus that he wanted to keep the Potter boy safe, and alive, and well. Do not listen to wise old men when they smile at you and ask you for repentance. I do not care how clean their hands seem.

In this story, it was Pettigrew who let the Death Eaters in, and it was Pettigrew who killed Dumbledore in the high tower. It was Neville who was hidden below the tower floor, listening to Dumbledore plead and tumble off the battlements.

It was still Harry, though, who chased Pettigrew down the grassy slope, screaming about cowardice.

His godfather had been that young once, sixteen with war brewing on the horizon. When Peter had cried like that it had been quiet, alone, buried in the back of the closet, where no one would know that he was scared, that he didn’t want to die for them. Harry raged down the grass after him, the castle alight behind him, wand drawn, shrieking about cowards, about family.

"I know," said Peter, whiskers not shaking at all. "I’m sorry." He didn’t scream it. He got himself beyond Hogwarts’s borders and Disapparated.  

The Potter house was stuffed with all the Marauders but one, that summer, and it was quiet like a wake. Peter had never told even his best friends about Dumbledore’s plan.

No one said, “I always knew he was a rat,” because they had known that, they all had. To them rat meant blooming hedges in the dead of winter, meant poor table manners and bottled bedtime stories. There were dried herbs hanging in Lily’s kitchen that had grown in Peter’s garden. She did not throw them out.

Harry, a locket in hand, gave Sirius his baby brother’s last letter. Sirius read Regulus’s sharp handwriting over and over, the hateful hope he threw in Voldemort’s teeth. When Regulus had died, years ago, Sirius had swallowed hard and thought good riddance. Sirius wrapped a hand now around his godson’s shoulder and said, “Thank you.”

Neville spent the first part of that last summer in that shivering house, before Bill and Fleur’s wedding, before the war fully began. After a week of stunned silence, Lily rounded them all up, fierce as Neville had only known Ginny to be, and made them all go play Quidditch in the dry summer heat until they came in exhausted, flushed, wearing some kind of smile.

Kinglsey’s Patronus warned them at the wedding, and they split up. Dumbledore had been solemnly gifting Neville with memories and theories of Tom Riddle’s Horcruxes all last year, and Neville had gone back after each lesson and told the stories to his friends. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had always been the reckless, and they volunteered to scour the world for each piece of Voldemort’s soul. Hermione was good at riddles and ruthlessness, at staying alive; Ron at seeing patterns, weaknesses; Harry at pulling through in the last, hardest moments.

They had a screaming row about it first, with Molly and James and Sirius, about children going to war. Remus sat in the corner, face in his tired hands. Lily stepped in, finally, a hand on James’s shoulder, a finger to Harry’s chin.

"I wish you didn’t have to," Lily told her oldest son. "But I am so proud of you." She had grey in her red hair that shouldn’t be there, but it was.

In his will, Dumbledore had left Luna a Put-Outer which she used to cause chaos in Hogwarts’ occupied corridors. He left Ginny nothing. He left Neville a snitch, and Neville gave it to Harry. “You’ll have more fun with this, I think,” he said. When Neville went to die he would not see the faces of parents lost. He had never found the Mirror of Erised. None of that made it hurt more, or less.

Neville went home. He went back to Hogwarts. He’d have been arrested on sight, so he took Arthur Weasley’s car and then tip-toed up to the Room of Requirement. He did not have the cloak. Harry had the stone and he would have the wand. When Neville walked out to the forest to die, he would not be master of anything, let alone death. He would be a boy, not yet quite grown, who was ready to die for other people. And, really, that was all this had ever been about.

Neville waited for children to come to the Room and they did. Some came because they were brave or wise, fair or clever. Some came because they were frightened. Young Slytherins lingered by the walls, shy, scared, and Neville greeted them each by name. Luna greeted them each by favorite ice cream flavor, but that was because she understood the important things in life.

Tuney Potter slipped in, heading straight for Ginny’s right hand; Tuney had her father’s hair, wild and tangled down to her shoulders, her mother’s freckles, and both their stubbornnesses. The youngest Potter child had been kept home, kept hidden, but Tuney had refused.

Neville stood up in front of them, and he remembered standing in the Gryffindor common room, shaking, telling three reckless kids to not be brave. “I know none of us feel like we are the people who are supposed to be here,” he said. “This is a big story, for heroes, and I think I cried three times last week.”

"Well, I cried four,” a Ravenclaw from the back of the room called, grinning.

"You win," he agreed. Neville looked out at Dumbledore’s last army and they looked back. "This is supposed to be a school. It’s supposed to be safe, and you’re supposed to be children, do you see? Children, and we shouldn’t have to be fighting these battles. It never should have been us. It never should have been me."

He had Ginny at his back, all bright hair and brighter hexes. Luna had her eyes on everything but other people’s gazes, and she slipped in and out like a breeze to whisper secrets and riddles. There were dozens of frightened children staring up at him, listening like he might be saying something worth hearing.

"But we’re all there is," said Neville.

There was a small army at his feet, rosy-cheeked and soft-palmed. When they had nightmares, these days, they woke up so quiet. Their dormmates woke up, too, anyway, light sleepers all, and tossed them chocolate.

Harry came back, Horcruxes and their shattered shells in hand, Ron and Hermione at his tired heels. This time, Neville did not tell Harry he should have been the one carrying the scar. No one should have to carry this. But Neville looked out at his lieutenants, his foot soldiers, and knew— any one of them would have tried if he had asked them to.

Neville used his snakes to send messages through the Hogwarts halls. By the end, even Gryffindors were keeping snake treats in their pockets. Hufflepuffs were inventing spells to heat flagstones up to just the right sunbaked warmth, and Ravenclaws were teaming up with Slytherins, trying to see if Parseltongue was something you could learn.

When the challenge echoed through the halls, Neville walked out to the forest. He didn’t tell anyone he was going and they were not surprised when he was gone, just furious, just proud. Neville didn’t know about the Horcrux living in his skin and bone, but he did know what he owed the children clustered in the belly of that castle.

The Death Eaters carried Neville’s body to the courtyard, and offered the students ungenerous terms of surrender. Neville was not there, not in this story, to be the first to stand and refuse, but his lieutenants beat him to it, his foot soldiers and his children. In that courtyard, Harry killed a snake with a sword for the second time, but those kids had spent nearly a year watching Neville refuse to give up against all odds. He had taught them how and they would not let their general down now.

Voldemort was mortal now, every shattered piece of his soul turned back to sand and dust. When he died at Hogwarts’ doorstep, his body thumping on the flagstones, it was at the end of a half dozen avada kedavras, screamed from the throats of children who would have war living in their breastbones all their lives.

Neville was too busy to watch Tom Riddle hit ground; he counted his soldiers, his children, checked perimeters and measured enemies. Neville rose to his feet. His army turned outward, wands drawn, and the Death Eaters broke and fled.

There were bodies laid out on the Great Hall floor. In every version of this story, there were bodies here. That is what war does. A brother. Lovers. Children.

Harry’s face went rigid when he saw his godfather on the ground— Peter was not really his godfather, not exactly. Sirius had gotten Harry, and Remus got his little brother, and Peter was Harry’s little sister’s.

But Peter was laid out there. He had gotten six Death Eaters before they had gotten him. When Harry said something numbly about guilt, about repentance, Ginny, who had been there, shook her head. “No, I don’t think that was it.”

Harry went to find his sister. By the time he reached Tuney and told her the news, he was crying. It was not quiet crying and he did not care.

When they found Peter’s last letter, hidden in Tuney’s disused pile of old stuffed animals, the Marauders got drunk and loud, sad and furious, and proud, so proud, of Peter for being brave enough to let his friends hate him. It is one thing to stand up to your enemies and quite another to stand up to your friends.

The dust settled. They had to decide what to do now that imminent death was no longer so high on the menu. Neville let his bangs grow out and cover his scar. Harry got rid of the wand, the stone, and kept the cape. People recognized Neville not by his scar or his clumsy hands, but by the set of his shoulders, his chin, the way the room turned to look for his orders.

Neville would make the rest of his life about life — growing things and teaching children. Harry tried out to be an Auror, reckless and lucky and good. Neville applied to work as a Herbology teacher.

Neville listened to his students, the shrill girls and the shy ones, the boys who stumbled over their tongues and the ones who walked with chests shoved out like pigeons’. He left flowers at more graves, these days, than just his parents’. He made a little flap door in the greenhouses so the garden snakes might slither in and curl up in the warmth, even in the winter.

His scar did not ache. All was well.