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.