What if Voldemort went after Harry and Neville, and gave no one a chance to die for them? What if both Chosen Ones died as children?
Gosh, we didn’t want to pull our punches today, did we. Okay, well, I guess here we go–
Because Voldemort wasn’t gone, because there was not a sudden flood of peace–they didn’t send enough Aurors to take down Sirius Black.
Instead of standing laughing in the street when they came to arrest him, Sirius ran. He Apparated away and went to find Remus, because they still had work to do.
That first meeting, after Remus got the news of Peter’s “death,” of everyone’s, was a difficult one. It was outside the wreck and ruin of the little cottage in Godric’s Hollow and that only made it worse. It had been the only place Sirius had been sure Remus would go that night.
“What a Halloween, eh, Moony?” he said from the bushes and Remus almost cursed him right there, until Sirius managed to shout and dodge and wave his hands enough to explain that they’d switched the Secret Keeper. Sirius started laughing when he saw Remus start to believe him, and it wasn’t the mad laughter of a man who had lost everything, because Sirius hadn’t, not quite.
When Remus buried his head into Sirius’s shoulder, outside the slightly smoking shell of Lily and James’s home, they both cried like the children they were.
In a different world, they would have had this reunion in the scarred confines of the Shrieking Shack, thirteen years too late. In a different world, Sirius would have been gaunt, grimy, gasping with demented fury. Remus would have been washed out, threadbare. They would both have looked far too old for their ages, but there would have been a boy with messy hair and his mother’s green eyes staring accusingly out at them. In a different world, Harry would have hated Sirius until he understood, and then he would have loved his godfather for the rest of his life.
If you asked them, the boys crying on Lily and James’s doorstep, or the skeleton of a wanted man and the wan ghost with the beast living under his skin– if you asked them which world they preferred, they’d have an easy answer for you.
But what did happen, in this story where they buried the Chosen Ones too early and there was no love to bring them back? They kept fighting. The war did not end. Voldemort had seven Horcruxes and he thought he was immortal. For now, he was.
In this world, there was no prophesied boy. Love was not magic; it was only soft touches and quiet words, promises they could not promise to keep. An extra piece of chocolate tucked into a packed lunch. A mother’s favorite earrings passed down and down, hand to hand. Love was not magic. It did not resurrect.
Halloween Night 1981 was one more night in a long fight, to almost everyone. This was not the first time whole families had been lost. This was not the last time they would bury children.
But that night, Augusta Longbottom withered. Peter Pettigrew shivered, somewhere, welcomed into plush halls with open arms. Petunia Dursley found only the milk on her doorstep in the morning.
When Remus took Sirius back to one of his safe houses, Remus drank the same way he had in that other reality–in mourning and not any kind of celebration. But this time, he did not drink alone.
Only Dumbledore curled in on himself over lost opportunity, knowing exactly how much hope they’d lost in those two houses, now empty, now cold. He knew about the prophecies, Sybil Trelawney’s hoarse forgotten promises. He knew how powerful Tom had become and he knew how much weight they had been hoping to put on the shoulders of those two lost boys. He knew Harry had had his mother’s eyes.
(Albus did not know, however, about Neville’s first word or that Harry had refused new, magical toys to instead chew and slobber on Lily’s favorite, soft old doll, which she had carried from a Muggle world to a magical one.
Dumbledore thought about the war that night. It would save lives, this old man and his tired soul, that this was how he mourned. But there were more opportunities lost here than a war one day won; there was a grief here that had nothing to do with strategy.)
“We are lost, Minerva,” Dumbledore said.
Professor McGonagall was trembling, thin and severe with it. “You don’t think that,” she said and she was right. But it was a night to believe thoughts like that. In the morning, there would be new plans, new hopes, but not on this Halloween. Dumbledore took out a lemon drop and sucked on it. Minerva found the fire whiskey. The sun rose, eventually. They called a meeting of the Order the next day.
There was no prophesied boy, but there was still this–dozens of shadowed young faces looking up at Albus and not running, even at the very end of the world. Dumbledore looked out at his chess pieces, pawns and queens; his children and his friends; his collateral damage. He had the beginnings of a plan swelling in his chest.
It would take them decades to get their hands, quietly, on every Horcrux. Tom Riddle had to think they were secret. He had to think he was safe. It would take them almost decades, but one day he would be mortal again.
These dozens of faces–they were mortal now. Alastor Moody could feel mortality in the aches of old broken bones; Andromeda rewrote her own last name, refused to fear sea serpents, and refused to pretend that the serpents could not swallow any one of them whole. Remus and Sirius felt empty, gaping holes in the seats around them, and they made crude, expansive, joyous toasts to friends’ memories.
When Molly first reached over and held Arthur’s hand, they knew this was something that could not last. That was why they held hands, held on, held tight.