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The Years of the Rat

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Chinese Zodiac: Rats are imaginative, charming, and truly generous to the person they love. However, they have a tendency to be quick-tempered and overly critical. They are also inclined to be somewhat of an opportunist.

Year 1

Chinese Zodiac, rat: "somewhat of an opportunist."

Peter's parents had thought he was a Squib for years. He'd never shown any particular affinity for or even interest in magic, and as a child, he'd always played with the Muggle boys in the village, instinctively shying away from the four or five other children of wizarding families.

But Peter knew he wasn't a Squib. He stole his father's wand some nights and made it sparkle and spurt. Once he pointed it at a turtle his friend Jack found in the fishpond and made up some words. The turtle turned bright orange.

Peter learned from an early age that magic was about intent first and foremost. If you wanted something badly enough, you could make it happen even if you didn't know the right spells.

Peter learned from an early age that you could get away with almost anything if the grownups thought you were dull and stupid.

Peter learned from an early age that he was much cleverer than most of the people around him, and that was a delicious secret he hugged tight to himself and giggled about alone in his bed at night. Peter liked secrets. He always had. He just liked knowing things that no one else knew, whether they were important or not. It made him feel powerful.

So when the letter from Hogwarts came, the summer he turned eleven, he pretended to be just as surprised as anyone else, and once his parents went to bed, he laughed until he was nearly sick.

*

At Platform 9 and 3/4, Peter listened with half an ear as his father went on and on about how wonderful Hogwarts was and how much Peter would love it and "remember, your mother and I will love you no matter what house you get sorted into, so don't be frightened." Peter smiled blandly. He hadn't thought much about the house system yet, but he knew his parents expected him to wind up in Hufflepuff.

"Pettigrew," someone said in a steely voice. Peter's father turned and beamed ridiculously at a tall, imposing wizard with a stern face and dark hair.

"Rosier, old chap!" Peter's father exclaimed delightedly, shaking the man's hand with no small enthusiasm. "My god, it's been years!"

Rosier smiled. It was almost a friendly smile, but it oozed condescension. "Your son, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, this is my lad Peter, just starting his first year! Petey, this is an old friend of mine, from school."

Peter smiled and shook Rosier's hand obediently. Rosier had the coldest eyes Peter had ever seen, and Peter suppressed a shudder at the full icy force of that gaze turned on him.

"My son, Evan," Rosier said, indicating a boy several inches taller than Peter, with his father's dark hair and cold eyes. He smirked at Peter. "Also just starting at Hogwarts."

As their fathers talked, Evan and Peter just looked at each other, silently sizing each other up. Peter made sure to smile too widely and shrink down just a bit more. The Rosiers were clearly a better family, of higher status than the Pettigrews. People like that tended to like Peter only inasmuch as he reinforced their own perceived superiority, and he did want to be liked. "So what house d'you think you'll end up in?" Peter asked, breaking the silence.

Evan rolled his eyes. "Slytherin, of course, like my father."

"Oh," Peter said. He picked at his sleeves. "Do most people take after their parents, then? In the sorting, I mean."

"No, only in the good families." Another smirk.

"Oh." Clearly, Peter shouldn't have just overlooked the house distinctions. The sorting was more important than his parents had led him to believe. Once on the train, he spent much of the trip listening to a third-year girl explain the house system to a couple of Muggleborns and deciding what house he wanted to be placed into.

If Evan Rosier was to be believed, Slytherin was a good house to be in. Lots of powerful, pureblood wizards came out of Slytherin. Peter would have plenty of people to kiss up to, to make good connections with. But on the other hand, Slytherins were expected to be sneaky and ambitious, which Peter thought was a really stupid way to go about it. If everyone thinks you're sneaky, they'll be keeping an eye on you, and you can't sneak particularly well when you're being watched all the time. Besides, Slytherins had a tendency to go into the Dark Arts, and while Peter liked power, he didn't want to be evil. So Slytherin was probably out.

Ravenclaws were too clever by half; he couldn't pull his usual dull-and-stupid act if he went into Ravenclaw, and because they were so intelligent, Ravenclaws were probably a bit suspicious by nature. Besides, power didn't come out of reading a lot of books all the time; power came out of practical application, and most Ravenclaws were far too devoted to their studies to actually do much with them.

Hufflepuff would be ideal for the dull-and-stupid act, and his parents certainly expected him to be sorted there, but there was something about it that put Peter off. After all, being surrounded by a bunch of twits for seven years probably wasn't a good way to actually learn anything on your own. Furthermore, Hufflepuffs rarely went very far after graduation, usually finding themselves cheerfully stuck in low-level Ministry jobs, and that just wouldn't do. A good portion of power was influence, and influence primarily came from connections, and Peter probably wouldn't make any good connections in Hufflepuff. Nothing useful, anyway.

Which left Gryffindor, and after considering it for a while, Peter decided that this wasn't half bad. Gryffindors were supposed to be brave above all else -- not necessarily intelligent, though, and there seemed to be a sort of brawn-not-brains quality to the house. And bravery was such an intangible quality; even a dull and stupid boy like Peter Pettigrew might possess it. Besides, his father had been in Gryffindor, so if anyone thought his placement odd, they would chalk it up to family lines. And Gryffindors often did great things after graduation; knowing them wouldn't hurt a bit.

So when it was his turn with the Sorting Hat, Peter just thought hard about Gryffindor, and how he wasn't really smart but he'd like to be brave, to be somebody, my dad was Gryffindor and he's the most incredible person I know, if only I could fill his shoes, won't you please give me a chance Mr. Hat?

"Gryffindor!" the hat shouted, and Peter hid a secret smile. After all, the most important thing about magic is intent, and if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen.

*

There were five other Gryffindor boys in his year. Peter was sure he'd been introduced to them at some point, but he'd also been introduced to everyone else in the entire house, so he was a bit hazy on names. Besides, he'd lived in a small coastal village all his life, where he'd known everyone by sight and hadn't had to learn a new name since he was five. Hogwarts didn't intimidate him, but it would take some getting used to.

The largest of the first year Gryffindors was a dark-haired, good-looking chap who had quickly established himself as leader of the pack. He lounged decadently on his bed with the air of someone accustomed to privilege and power, exuding confidence. The others instinctively gathered around him, looking to him for conversation and approval. Peter followed suit, the quiet pale shadow in the corner of the dormitory.

"I wish first years could go out for Quidditch," the large boy was saying. "I left my broom at home with my little brother; he'll probably destroy it by Christmas."

"What kind of broom do you have?" a blond-haired boy asked. Peter thought his family name might have been Dearborn, with a funny-sounding first name. "My dad bought me the new Shooting Star over the summer."

The large boy scoffed at this. "Shooting Stars aren't so great," he said. "My uncle Alphard says they'll be out of business in ten years, tops. I've got a Nimbus," he added proudly. "It's loads faster than any Shooting Star."

Dearborn scowled at him. "Nimbuses aren't anywhere near as agile, though. They'll dump you halfway through a spin."

"Yeah?" The boy raised an eyebrow mischievously. "Willing to put good Galleons on it? I'll bet I can fly circles around you. Or I would if I had my broom here." He looked out at the other boys. "What do you lads think, Nimbus or Shooting Star?"

Peter and another boy agreed that the Nimbus was better, although a boy with messy black hair and round glasses voted staunchly for the Shooting Star. The sixth boy in the room remained silent. The large boy gave him a pointed look. "What, no opinion, Lupin?"

"I've never been on a broom," Lupin said quietly. "So I suppose I wouldn't know the difference."

The five boys stared at him. "Never been on a broom?" the leader said incredulously. "What, do you live under a rock?"

Lupin ran a hand through his brown hair self-consciously. He was a pale, skinny boy, the sort who probably never spent much time outdoors. "My parents think it's too dangerous," Lupin said. Too pale, Peter decided. Sickly, maybe? Sick boys tend to have overprotective parents. "Besides," Lupin continued, "my mum's a Muggle, and she doesn't much take to Wizarding sports. She says they're uncivilized."

The large boy let out a surprised laugh. "A Mudblood, then!" he cried delightedly. "Oh, my mother would have fits if she knew I was rooming with you, Lupin!"

The rest of the dorm fell silent. Lupin stared at the floor.

"I wouldn't go around insulting other people's bloodlines, Black," the bespectacled boy hissed. "I know all about your family. Toujours pur and all that rot, right?"

The large boy -- Black -- shifted uncomfortably. "Shut up, Potter."

"His family's all Slytherin," Potter told the other boys. "Dark wizards, the lot of them. You can tell by the name."

"I said shut up," Black hissed.

"Are you spying on us Gryffindors?" Potter pressed him relentlessly. "Is that what you are, a Slytherin spy?"

"I'm no one's spy, and I'm not a bloody Slytherin!" Black yelled, jumping off the bed and pulling out his wand. Potter responded in kind. For a few long seconds, they remained frozen in a silent face-off.

"Apologize to Remus here," Potter finally said.

Black glared at him venomously, but slowly lowered his wand. "I'm sorry, Lupin," he said, although his eyes never left Potter. "I meant no offense."

Lupin coughed, his face flushed red. "None taken."

"All right, then," Potter said, and tucked his wand back into his robes. The tension dissipated eventually, as the boys all awkwardly made their way to their respective beds.

Potter is the more powerful one, Peter thought to himself as he pushed back his bedclothes. He'd been surprised by the result of the minor skirmish. Black makes a better show of himself, but Potter's the stronger of the two.

I'll remember that.

*

They were eating breakfast in the Great Hall the next day when the owl came. It dropped a big red envelope right in the middle of Black's plate, scorching his eggs.

"Better open it," Dearborn advised, inching his own plate of breakfast away from Black's. "You're likely to get a face full of eggs, otherwise."

"How d'you suppose he's gotten in trouble already?" Potter murmured, a wicked glint in his eyes.

Black ignored them, eying the Howler with something like resignation. He took a deep breath and slit the envelope with his butter knife.

"HOW DARE YOU BESMIRCH YOUR FAMILY NAME IN THIS WAY?" the Howler screeched. Most of the Gryffindors had their hands over their ears. "A SON OF MINE IN GRYFFINDOR! I'LL HAVE YOU EXPELLED! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING, CONSORTING WITH GRYFFINDOR FILTH?!" A few of the other boys shot Black dirty looks.

Potter smirked openly.

The Howler's tirade went on for several more minutes. Most of the Gryffindor table got tired of its ranting and abandoned their breakfasts in disgust. But Black remained, staring grimly into space and letting the thing wear itself out.

The only Gryffindors left by the end of breakfast were Potter, Lupin, Peter, and of course Black, who was tersely informing the owl to go home, "and no, I'm not sending the old bat a message, so bugger off."

"How's your mum doing, Black?" one of the Slytherins called over, sniggering. Another deliberately knocked Black's glass of juice into his lap as she left the Hall. Black endured the taunting in silence, stonily mopping up the spilt juice.

Potter gave him one long, inscrutable look, then turned and left. Dearborn and Fenwick, the other first-year Gryffindor boys, were waiting for him just outside the Hall. The trio went off to class together, laughing.

Black looked across the table at Lupin and Peter. He grinned crookedly. "Parents, eh?"

Peter exchanged a glance with Lupin. After a moment, they looked back at Black and nodded as if they understood.

Later that morning, Black offered Lupin an embarrassed but genuine apology for the whole Mudblood thing, and offered to shake on it. Lupin eyed his outstretched hand in surprise, then hesitantly clasped it in his own.

It was an awkward handshake, but it was a start.

Year 2
OED, rat: n. slang (orig. U.S.). Used ironically in pl. to express incredulity: ‘humbug’, ‘nonsense’.

"I think I know where Lupin goes every month."

Peter nearly choked on a chocolate frog, which took advantage of his distress by hopping out of his mouth and halfway across the dormitory. Sirius calmly leaned over and grabbed it as it leapt past his bed. He tossed it back over to Peter, who caught it rather messily and ate it with a vengeance. Neither of them looked at Potter, still standing alone in the doorway.

"You heard me," Potter said angrily, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "Stop pretending you didn't."

"You're daft," Sirius said. "You don't know anything."

"Piss off, Black. I was talking to Pettigrew, anyway." Potter took a step towards Peter's bed. "Seriously, Pettigrew, I think I know where he goes every month."

Sirius stood and stepped between the two boys, bristling. "Shut up, Potter. How would you know more about Remus than me or Peter? We're his friends."

Potter raised an eyebrow. "If you were really his friend, you'd want to know what I know. But you're not. Pettigrew here is; that's why I was talking to him." He turned back to Peter. "You want to hear me out, don't you, Pettigrew?"

Sirius grabbed the front of Potter's robes. Potter didn't even flinch. "What do you mean, I'm not Remus's friend? What makes you think Peter cares more about him than I do?" Peter stiffened a bit at that, face flushing, but swallowed back his retort.

Potter smiled coldly and calmly pushed Sirius away. "Because you're an arrogant arse who can't even be buggered to check in on your own mates when they go missing once a month. I hardly know Lupin and I've been worried about him. It's not natural to play Houdini that often."

This made Sirius pause, at least for a second. "What's a Houdini?"

Potter rolled his eyes. "Famous Muggle magician. I'm not surprised you don't know. You're so purebred you probably grew up thinking Muggles were just fairy tales."

Sirius's eyes glittered dangerously and he took a menacing step forward. Potter smirked and reached into his pocket for his wand.

"Hey," Peter said. They ignored him. "Oi, listen to me!"

Sirius reached for his own wand.

Peter stood and stomped his foot. "You're both idiots. Stop it." And amazingly, they did -- or at least stopped glaring at each other and looked at him, which was a promising start. "Potter, what do you think you know about Remus?"

"He's a werewolf."

Without hesitation, Sirius and Peter had their wands out. Peter shot off a spell to yank the door shut and locked as Sirius cast a silencing charm on the room. And Potter suddenly found himself with two wands shoved in his face and not the slightest chance of defending himself. Not that any of them had learned much in the way of dueling yet, but it couldn't have been a comfortable position for him.

"You ever tell anyone else a filthy lie like that," Sirius hissed, "and I'll glue you to your broom and send you straight into the Whomping Willow."

"Are you mad?" Peter added. "Do you know what would happen to Remus if even a stupid rumor like that got around? He'd be expelled!"

"And besides, it's absolute nonsense," Sirius said. "A werewolf, in Hogwarts! Don't be absurd."

Potter took a step back. "Just listen to me," he said.

"No!" Sirius yelled. "You're lying! You're trying to get Remus in trouble!"

"Why is he missing every month?" Potter persisted. "And always around the full moon, did you notice?"

"Get out of here," Sirius growled. "And don't you dare mention this to anyone. Anyone!"

Potter glanced over at Peter, who just kept his wand fixed on him, unwavering. "Fine," he said, turning towards the door. "But I'm not lying. Remus is in the hospital wing." His attempt at a dramatic exit was spoiled when he had to tug at the door futilely for half a minute until Peter remembered to unlock it.

Once Potter was gone, Peter and Sirius just stared at each other in silence for a few long moments. "If Remus really is in the hospital wing, we should go check up on him," Sirius said finally.

"What if he's right?" Peter asked. "If Remus is really a werewolf, we might be in danger."

Sirius grabbed him by the front of his robes. "Remus is not a werewolf," he snarled. "And if you ever mention a word of this to anyone, I'll kill you. We're his friends. We never betray each other, never. Understand?" Peter nodded hastily, and was released. Sirius straightened his collar. "Whose side are you on, Peter? Ours or Potter's?"

"Yours," Peter said quickly. "You know I'm on your side, Sirius."

Because Potter might be the stronger one, but he'd never actually hurt Peter. Sirius might.

*

In the hospital wing, Remus saw them before they saw him. He shrank under the sheets. "Get out," he said frantically. "Get out before Pomfrey sees you!"

"Remus--" Peter started.

Remus looked close to tears. "You're not supposed to be here! Go away!"

Sirius walked up to the bed and deliberately tugged the sheets away from Remus. Remus shrank even smaller, if that was possible, as if he could disappear if he tried hard enough.

Sirius and Peter just stared.

"Remus," Sirius said finally, horrified, "what happened to you?"

His body was a mess of bandages, some bloodstained. What little of his skin they could see -- his shoulders and some stomach -- was covered with painful-looking scratches. One long scar ran from his neck to somewhere under the swath of bandages -- what looked like the end of it poked out on his left hip. He had a large purple bruise on his jaw.

Peter swallowed hard. "I hope the other bloke looks worse," he said lightly. The joke fell flat. Remus just stared at his hands, and Sirius didn't even appear to have heard.

"Remus," Sirius said softly.

"It's nothing, really," Remus said, shaking. "Honest, just an accident. I'm okay, stupid of me really, I--"

"He had a bit of a run-in with the Whomping Willow," someone said dryly. Peter whirled around guiltily -- which made no sense, really, what did he have to feel guilty about? -- to see Madam Pomfrey standing in the doorway. "There's a reason it's restricted, and that's a lesson for all of you. Now, Mr. Black, Mr. Pettigrew, I must insist that you return to your dormitory. It's getting late."

Peter and Sirius allowed themselves to be shooed out of the infirmary. "Whomping Willow?" Peter muttered.

"No tree did that," Sirius said. "Trees don't have claws."

"Not even the Willow," Peter agreed. He looked up at Sirius. "Now what?"

Sirius stared off into space. His mouth was set in a grim line. "I think we need to have a chat with Potter."

*

"Did she ask you why you needed to borrow her Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook?" Peter asked worriedly.

"Don't worry about it," Sirius said. He smiled humorlessly. "Narcissa probably thinks this is a sign that I'm planning on returning to the dark side."

"I found some stuff in the library," Potter added. "Still haven't figured out a way into the Restricted Section, alas."

"You haven't?" Sirius said. "You're a twit, then. There's a passage--"

"We're here to study," Peter interrupted nervously. "It's nearly dawn. What if someone comes down to the common room early and finds us?"

Sirius snorted. "What if?"

"They'll see all these--" he waved his arms about to imply all manner of Dark materials "--books!"

"There's nothing bad here," Sirius said disdainfully. "Not a single scrap of restricted parchment."

"Some people do study on their own, you know," Potter added dismissively.

"Third year Defense textbooks?"

"So we're advanced." Sirius plopped down into an armchair and deliberately opened the textbook. "Last chapter, right?"

"Think so," Potter agreed, reaching for the first book in his stack. "Here, Pettigrew, I think this one might have something on werewolves in it somewhere."

Something occurred to Peter. "Hey, Potter, you said you knew where Remus went every month. So where does he go to...change?"

Potter shifted the books on his lap uncomfortably. "Well, I meant...generally. I'm not sure where he changes. I tried to figure that part out -- I worked out a sort of tracking spell, but I'm not sure what to ground it with."

Sirius looked up. "Oh, that's easy," he said unexpectedly. "My mum taught us that when we were little, in case we ever got separated from her...here, all you need is a bit of parchment..." He ripped off a bit of the scroll he'd started to take notes on and began drawing a little diagram. "Look, we know he's in the hospital wing now, so it's a good test. See, here's the infirmary -- the halls around it -- all right, I'll draw up a rough plot of that part of the first floor--" He sketched out little rectangular rooms. He had a surprisingly neat hand for drawing, Peter noticed. "Then you link the map to the castle -- there's a wicked spell for it." He touched the tip of his wand to the parchment and rattled off a string of words Peter didn't recognize. They didn't sound like Latin, and Peter wondered uneasily just what sort of magic Mrs. Black had taught her sons.

As Sirius recited the spell, the lines of the diagram shifted around slightly, correcting proportions to match the hospital wing's actual floor plan. Potter and Peter leaned forward, staring. Sirius didn't seem to notice their rapt attention. "So now we add your tracking spell, Potter. Here, I'll draw Remus up here in the corner." He scribbled a small stick figure outside the realm of the map. "You can use any symbol you want for him, or even a little box with his name written in. Just touch your wand to it and ground the spell."

Peter had no idea what Sirius meant by this, but apparently Potter knew better. He nodded and followed Sirius's direction, reciting a brief incantation of his own. This one was Latin, at least, which lessened Peter's discomfort a bit.

"Okay," Sirius said, when Potter was finished. "Now all I have to do is connect your spell to my map." Another strange spell. Greek, maybe? No, the words felt darker, somehow. More ancient.

The stick figure vanished from its corner and reappeared on the crude map, lying complacently in the infirmary rectangle. It twitched slightly.

"There," Sirius said triumphantly. "Now, all we have to do is sketch out a rough map of the castle grounds next full moon, and see where he goes. Your tracking spell was the difficult bit, Potter -- attaching it to a map is easy."

"Easy enough when you've got Dark wizards in your family tree," Peter muttered. They ignored him.

He and Sirius opened their books and started reading. But Potter stared at the map for a while with a curious, intense expression. He didn't say another word.

Just as the sun's first rays crept over the windowsill, the entry to the common room swung open. Remus slipped through noiselessly, then froze in his tracks.

"Hi," Peter said uncomfortably. "You're feeling better already, well done -- look lads, it's Remus..."

"What are you doing down here so early?" Remus asked. He forced a smile and walked over to them. "Sirius Black, studying? I never thought I'd see the--"

He saw the book open on Sirius's lap.

"Er," Sirius said. "While to the untrained eye, this may appear to be the werewolf chapter in the third-year textbook, it is actually, in fact, one of Bella's dirty mags."

Remus looked understandably terrified. "Who...who knows?"

"Just the three of us," Sirius said quickly. "It's okay, Remus. It doesn't bother us. We're still your friends."

"You won't..." Remus swallowed hard. His hands were shaking visibly. "You won't tell anyone, will you?"

"Never," James said firmly. "No one else will ever know."

They didn't give themselves a proper name until a few months later, when they overheard a livid Filch refer to them as "those undisciplined marauding beast-children." But that was when they became the Marauders, anyway.

Year 3

OED, rat: n. ...Also as a general expression of disgust, annoyance, etc.

"God, Peter!" Sirius yelled. "Why are you such an idiot?"

"I said I was sorry!" Peter said, cringing. "I didn't know!"

James put a hand on Sirius's shoulder. "Calm down--"

Sirius shook him off. "Did you see what he did? Did you? He completely messed up everything!" He stormed out of the dormitory. James rolled his eyes and went after him.

The room was resoundingly silent in the vacuum created by Sirius's dramatic exit. "It was just fireworks," Peter squeaked into the silence. "I didn't know that he'd planned to--"

"Well, that's his fault for not letting you in on the prank," Remus said reasonably. He was rummaging around under his bed. "Now where did I...ah!" He emerged triumphantly, bearing an innocuous bag of something or other. "Want a chocolate?"

The bag contained sweets, apparently. Peter accepted the offered chocolate with as much dignity as he could manage. "Why didn't he just tell me?"

"Because you're absolute rubbish at Charms," Remus said cheerfully, "and he was sure you'd muck things up somehow if you were in on it."

"Looks like I managed anyway," Peter grumbled. "I'm not as stupid as he thinks I am."

Remus gave him an inscrutable look. "I know. You're loads better than me at Potions, at least."

"That's not saying much."

Remus threw a chocolate at Peter's head.

*

Peter tried to grab James after Potions. "Look, can't you talk to him for me? I just wanted to--"

James shook him off disinterestedly. "He'll come around eventually."

"I know, but I thought if you--"

"Give over, I'm not kissing up to Sirius for you."

Peter frowned. "I offered to do his Astronomy homework, to make it up to him, but he wouldn't even listen to me."

James nearly fell over himself laughing, and several of the nearby portraits joined in, carried away by his mirth. "I'm not surprised," he managed. "You? Doing Sirius's assignment? You'd completely bollocks it up, what sort of apology is that?"

Peter flushed. He wanted to protest that he really wasn't at all bad at Astronomy, but the words wouldn't come.

"Oi, Potter, you coming?" a fifth-year boy called over, heading down the corridor with a couple of other lads from the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

"Listen," James told Peter vaguely, heading over to join them, "just leave it be. I've got Quidditch practice, I'll see you later, all right?"

"Sure," Peter mumbled, but James was already gone. Other students, in pairs and groups, shoved past him, totally indifferent to the small, chubby boy standing alone in the middle of the corridor.

*

Peter spent most of Transfigurations trying to think up a way to provoke some response out of Sirius, to no avail. Finally, in desperation, he wrote a rather pathetic and long-winded apology on a scrap of parchment -- if nothing else, he knew how to be a good arse-kisser -- and charmed it to scurry across the floor like some sort of little rodent and slip into the pocket of Sirius's robe.

Well, that was the plan, anyway, but as the note-mouse wound its way around one of the Slytherins' desks, Evan Rosier stuck his foot out and squashed the parchment under the sole of his shoe. While McGonagall's back was turned, he casually reached down and snatched the note.

Peter stared down at his Transfigurations text and pretended to be focused on the lesson, but he could feel his ears get hot.

After a moment, Rosier passed the note over to his friend Snape. Peter, several rows behind them, could see their shoulders shaking in suppressed mirth. He tried to concentrate on transfiguring his teapot into an iguana, but only managed a rather disgruntled newt.

In the corridor after class, Rosier and Snape cornered him. "Having a bad day, Petey?" Rosier taunted.

"Heard you had a bit of a spat with your boyfriend," Snape added, with a cruel smile. It wasn't that Snape hated Peter, Peter knew. It was just that hating Sirius had proved rather hazardous to Snape's health and general well-being, and Peter made an easier target. And Rosier was just a total arse.

"Pity, that. You two looked so well together," Rosier said, voice dripping with false sympathy.

Peter sighed. "Can I go to dinner now?" He tried to push past him, but Rosier shoved him back against the wall.

"You look like you could stand a diet," Snape smirked, poking his wand into Peter's plump stomach.

"Think we should give him a bit of exercise?" Rosier suggested. "Honestly, Petey, what would your father say?"

There was a flaw in his dull-and-stupid act, Peter realized abruptly. His dueling skills were just not up to par. He might be able to stand his ground against one of them, if he was lucky, but not both. His eyes darted around, trying to find a way out.

Sirius and Remus were coming out of the classroom. Oh, thank Merlin. Sirius saw them first. For a second, he just stared, face completely devoid of expression. Peter honestly thought he was just going to walk away.

But either his conscience won some internal battle or his hatred for Snape currently outweighed his anger at Peter, because he finally sauntered over and tapped Snape on the back. "Wotcher, Snivellus."

Remus, following, pushed his way between Rosier and Snape with unusual force. "You all right there, Peter?"

"Positively spiffing," Peter mumbled.

Remus turned to the two Slytherins. "Hullo, lads," he said pleasantly. "Just going to dinner, weren't you?"

"Oh, they were," Sirius said. He grinned malevolently at Snape and toyed with his wand. "But you know me, Snivellus. I'm always willing to take a few minutes out of my hectic schedule to spend some quality time with you."

Rosier looked ready for a fight on general principle, but Snape shook his head almost imperceptibly and stepped away. "Right," he snapped. "Have a lovely meal, Pettigrew." He turned on his heel and stalked off. Rosier, always a bright lad, decided that he didn't really want to take on three of the Marauders by himself and followed Snape.

"Thanks," Peter said, embarrassed.

Sirius looked right through him, as if Peter weren't there. Then he turned and walked away.

Remus watched Sirius go with an unreadable expression, then smiled at Peter. "You'd have done the same for us."

Would I have? It was an intriguing concept. Peter would have to think about that.

"Come on," Remus said, tugging Peter's sleeve. "Let's go to dinner."

*

In the Great Hall, Sirius was pointedly sitting as far away from Peter as possible.

"He's never going to speak to me again," Peter moaned, digging into his potatoes and wondering why it still mattered.

Remus rolled his eyes. "Don't be stupid, of course he will. He just likes to sulk."

"I ruined his Halloween prank! He'll never forgive me!"

"There will be other Halloweens."

"Not for another year!"

"Listen," Remus said quietly, "Sirius isn't the only person capable of Halloween pranks."

Peter blinked.

"Maybe you should prank him. He's being a real arse to you."

The thought of getting Sirius back just a bit for his nastiness that day was quite appealing. But Sirius was also the ringleader, He Who Makes Brilliant Mischief, and James the most talented at putting plans into action. There was no way Peter could top them on only a day's notice. "Halloween is tomorrow night. I don't have time to come up with anything good."

"Have it your way," Remus shrugged, prodding his dinner disinterestedly. "I would have missed Sirius's prank anyway; it's full moon tomorrow."

"Yeah."

*

Halloween was not a good day for Peter. Sirius was still bitter about the ruined fireworks, and had made it his mission for the day to scare the crap out of Peter at every possible opportunity. The fifth time Sirius jumped out at him (from behind the statue of Imogene the Incontinent), Peter panicked and tried to Riddikulus him. He felt certain that he wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Sirius and a real boggart from that point onward, and decided to play it safe.

Needless to say, it was a stressful day.

Remus, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically cheerful. At dusk, he set off for the Shack in high spirits, humming tunelessly to himself. Peter grimly thought it was because he was escaping from Sirius's hexes and whinging for the rest of the night.

Aside from throwing humiliating hexes at Peter from around corners, Sirius still wouldn't speak to him. James mainly just conversed with Sirius, leaving Peter to trail after them as they made their way down to the Halloween feast.

Later, no one would be able to determine exactly how it happened. It was as though an invisible tripwire had been strung out across the entrance to the Great Hall, which had a particular fancy for Sirius. The instant he crossed through the doorway, he was flipped upside down and whisked upwards towards the ceiling. Halfway up, he stopped so abruptly it nearly gave him whiplash. There he remained, twirling around slowly as he yelled bloody murder. Gradually, a violently orange glow surrounded him, starting from the top of his head and working its way down -- er, up -- to his feet.

And he was stuck up there for half an hour while all the professors tried to get him down. With each successive attempt, the orange glow grew brighter and more appalling, until you could hardly see Sirius through it. Even once they figured out how to reverse the charm and get him down -- and he landed so heavily it was a wonder he hadn't broken anything -- the glow remained. It wouldn't dissipate for a full two days.

Peter just watched in awe as Sirius Black, most accomplished mischief-maker in the school and possibly even the entire history of Hogwarts, was soundly pranked.

And none of the teachers even thought to talk to Remus Lupin, who was, after all, undergoing the painful process of transforming into a werewolf when the incident in question occurred.

*

Later that night, the light of the full moon bathed the common room in silver. Peter tried to do his Transfigurations reading, but he couldn't concentrate. A warm, fizzy feeling had settled in his stomach after the prank, and it refused to dissipate. I've never really had a friend before.

A real friend. Not someone he followed around like a good little arse-kisser, not someone he chose to emulate out of some twisted desire for present or future benefits, but someone he genuinely wanted to hang around with. Someone who did things for him, not just the other way around. Someone who was willing to humiliate the leader of their gang in front of the entire school, just to make Peter feel better.

Someone who didn't even get to see the results of his craftsmanship, because he had a stupid disease that made him turn into a savage monster every month and had to be shut away in an abandoned shack for his own good.

It wasn't fair.

Peter tried to focus on his Transfigurations homework. Read the chapter on Animagi and write eight inches of parchment summarizing. He sighed and pulled out his quill. Animagi are wizards who are very good at Transfiguration, he wrote. So good that they can transfigure themselves into animals and still be able to think like a human.

Remus couldn't think like a human when he was in werewolf shape.

They are very rare because it takes a lot of work and studying to become an Animagus. It's even harder than getting high marks on all your NEWTS.

He wished that he could do something really fantastic for Remus, to thank him.

Animagi don't get to choose what animal they turn into. Their animal form reflects some part of their personality. Professor McGonagall is a cat probably because she's very clever and independent. (I like cats. I think they're beautiful creatures, don't you Professor?)

He wondered if there was a way to make the werewolf thing easier for Remus. A really cool potion, maybe, but none of the Marauders were very good at Potions. Peter was best at Ancient Runes (and he was more than competent at Charms, but that was one of the classes he played dumb in), James and Remus were both brilliant at Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Sirius was a real genius at Transfigurations. He could have gotten top marks if he'd only do the homework occasionally.

There are many benefits to being an Animagus. In animal form, Animagi can communicate with real animals and do whatever their animal can do.

There had to be something Peter could do for Remus.

Also, when they are in animal form, Animagi are immune to many human problems. They are immune to the effects of many spells, human diseases, and things like werewolf bites.

Something went click in Peter's brain.

He stared at his parchment. No. No, it was impossible. There were only a handful of Animagi alive anywhere at any time. It was way beyond their magical capabilities. Totally impossible.

But on the other hand, the most important thing about magic is intent, and Peter knew that if he wanted something badly enough, he could make it happen.

Year 4
Chinese Zodiac, rat: "imaginative, charming, and truly generous to the person they love."

Oddly enough, Remus was the first of the Marauders to discover girls. Or, more accurately, the girls discovered him.

Logically, Peter had known that there were a fair number of girls in their year. But the full impact of all that femininity never really hit him until there were suddenly girls everywhere. A small pack of them materialized wherever the Marauders went, whispering in the corridors and tittering in the library and generally making it very difficult to do much marauding.

Initially, of course, they all assumed the attention was for Sirius and James, who strutted about accordingly. And maybe some of it was, but gradually Peter realized that most of the girls only hung around when Remus was there; they tended to disperse disappointedly when it was just the others.

Peter couldn't figure out what it was about Remus that attracted them. Remus was the tallest boy in their year, true; he'd had his big growth spurt early, but it just made him sort of awkward and lanky. He looked well enough, but he wasn't nearly as handsome as Sirius or as confident as James. And he was the quietest member of the group -- in public, anyway. Peter supposed he had a sort of bookish charm, but nothing all that remarkable.

Whatever it was, none of them expected Remus to go with Melinda Bell for the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year. Or with Gwendolyn Vane to the Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw quidditch match. Or with Dearborn's two years' elder sister for long walks around the lake.

Sirius finally put his foot down when it came to his cousin Cissy. "Are you mad, Remus? She's Slytherin, and my bloody cousin to boot! God, she used to run around the lawn naked when she was little."

"Shut up, Sirius," Cissy snapped before Remus managed to get any words out through his blushing and stammering. "I can go with whomever I like."

"What do you girls see in him, anyway?" Sirius whined.

Cissy tossed her pale blonde hair. "He's the only genuinely nice boy in Hogwarts," she said. "A real gentleman, unlike the rest of you lot." She wrinkled her nose elegantly. "A girl likes being treated like a lady sometimes. And there's something to be said for the strong and silent type; Remus has an air of danger to him that's incredibly sexy."

Remus's blush deepened considerably, and Cissy giggled and led him away.

"Don't worry about it, mate," James said awkwardly. "She'll drop him as soon as he tells her he's half Muggle."

Sirius snorted and didn't seem particularly consoled. "I just thought he had better taste," he muttered.

"You're not jealous, are you?" James asked. "Because he gets so many girls?"

"I'm sure loads of them fancy you two as well," Peter said, and inwardly winced at his obsequious tone. "Remus is just...more approachable."

"And if it bothers you that badly, I'm sure he'll let you have one of his castoffs," James added solemnly.

Sirius punched him in the stomach.

*

Peter was in a corner of the common room with his wand, doggedly working through the kinks of a particularly difficult charm Flitwick had assigned them. He was so engrossed in the magic -- there was an odd flick of the wrist that he hadn't got quite right -- that he didn't realize that Sirius was watching him.

"You know, you're not half bad at Charms," Sirius said.

Peter jerked his wand in surprise and sent the charm off to shatter against the wall.

"Or at Transfigurations," Sirius continued. "I've seen you practice on your own at night. Not that I'm complaining, mind, because we're almost ready for the next part of this whole mad Animagi idea of yours."

"Er," Peter said. Not that it would be all that terrible for his friends to find out he was actually a competent wizard, but the habit of secrecy was a hard one to break. It was nice to be underestimated all the time. Comfortable. He much preferred to hide his skills and be thought stupid than to show off. What if he revealed his true abilities, and they proved not to be all that special? What if he really wasn't particularly good at magic, and everyone saw?

"You know what your problem is?" Sirius asked. The scrutiny in his eyes made Peter uncomfortable. He hated confrontations with Sirius the most. James mainly just overlooked him, and Remus accepted him for who he was, but Sirius was...dangerous.

Peter coughed. "What's that?"

"Confidence," Sirius said firmly. "You freeze up when you know other people are watching, especially professors. You'd do all right if you could just learn to ignore them."

"Right," Peter said, and didn't know whether to feel relieved or disappointed.

Having duly meted out words of wisdom to lesser beings, Sirius went back to his book.

*

"Do you suppose we should have a chat with Remus about all his girls?" James said unexpectedly one night over a game of exploding snap.

Peter blinked as his cards exploded, singeing his hands. "Why?" He sucked on his sore fingers.

"Well, there are just so many of them."

"It does seem rather heartless of him," Sirius agreed. He glanced over at James slyly. "And he's taken to disappearing with Lily Evans in the evenings."

"Well, he should know better!" James spluttered, red-faced. "I mean, she's rude and loud and tells tales on us to McGonagall. And she's sneaky and self-righteous and--"

"And very pretty," Sirius added mischievously. "And James fancies her like mad."

"I do not!" James insisted. "I can't stand her! It's not right for Remus to consort with...with the enemy! He'll give away all our secrets!"

"Not Remus," Peter said loyally. "Don't be absurd."

"I just wish I knew where they go every night," James whined.

"He takes her to that abandoned classroom we found behind the suit of armor on the second floor," Sirius said, dealing out another round of snap. "I wanted to work on the Surprise there, but Peter wouldn't let me go in."

Peter felt his face flush. "I saw them go in earlier. I thought they should have some privacy."

"How generous of you," James grumbled. "So he's already given away one of our secrets, at least."

Sirius frowned, no longer amused. "You don't think he'd tell a girl about..."

"About his furry little problem?" James suggested sourly. "I certainly hope not."

Peter glared at them. "He's kept that a secret since he was just a little kid. We wouldn't even know if you hadn't made a lucky guess. Why can't we just trust him?"

"Him I trust," James said. "But Lily--"

"Remus can do whatever he likes with whoever he likes," Peter said stubbornly.

"God, you don't suppose they're, well, kissing in there or something?" James said, appalled. Sirius looked vaguely ill at this suggestion.

"I don't know and I don't care," Peter declared. "I don't see why he shouldn't snog her if he wants to."

For a long moment, the only sounds in the room were the slaps of cards. "Well, good for Remus," Sirius finally said, with no small amount of bitterness. It certainly didn't sound like he meant it, but James and Peter just nodded agreement and continued with the game.

*

Sirius was in a foul mood for days. He taunted Peter more than usual and was short with James, and lashed out angrily at Remus at the slightest provocation. One night, walking back from the Quidditch pitch after practice with James (also on the team) and Peter (the loyal fan), Sirius happened to run into Snivellus Snape.

Literally.

"What the hell?" Snape demanded, landing with some bewilderment in the damp grass.

"Watch where you're going, won't you," Sirius snapped. "Or does that gargantuan nose of yours impede your vision?"

Snape's eyes narrowed. He pulled himself to his feet sharply, brushing some grass off his robes with short, perfunctory movements. "I have somewhere to be," he said stiffly. "If you don't mind."

Sirius took a step towards him, crowding him. "Maybe I do mind. Where are you slinking off to, at this time of night?"

"What's it to you?"

"Oh, everything, Snivellus." Sirius's voice was dangerously silky. He slipped his hand into the pocket where he kept his wand.

Peter nudged James softly in the ribs, wondering if they should interfere before things got out of hand. But though James was also fingering his wand, he didn't make a move.

Snape looked over at them and sneered. "Just the three of you? Where's that incompetent, bookish friend of yours? He doesn't usually stray far from the pack."

It was the wrong thing to say. Sirius's wand was out and ready. "You filthy minger. Go on. Insult Remus again. I dare you."

"Touched a nerve, did I?" Snape laughed. It was not a pleasant laugh. Peter could see him reaching into his robes for his own wand. "You'd make a perfectly revolting couple. Too bad he's off shagging that ginger Mudblood in the library. Or didn't you know?"

If James had ever intended to interfere, he'd changed his mind. His face was very red, clear even in the murky night.

"Keep going," Sirius hissed. "Keep going, you slimy little grindylow."

"A real enigma, your Lupin," Snape mused mockingly. "Rather gangling and awkward, isn't he? But a pretty, girlish sort of face. You like that sort of thing, don't you, Black? Your brother's told me stories--"

Peter didn't recognize the hex Sirius shot at Snape, but it wasn't pretty. Parts of Snape's skin seemed to be peeling off his body. Snape snapped out a curse that made yellow boils break out across Sirius's face. This duel was going to get very nasty, and soon.

After a few more seconds, James did finally step in and disarm them both, adding a few quick counter-hexes so that Sirius, at least, was looking more or less like normal.

"So Potter saves your arse, as usual," Snape rasped. "How fortunate for you, Black. You did a shoddy job of defending pretty Lupin's honor--"

And Sirius threw himself at Snape, knocking him over. Snape's head hit the ground with a nasty-sounding thud. Undeterred, Sirius began laying into Snape with his fists, pummeling his chest and arms with terrifying fury. Snape tried to fight back, but he was ill-equipped for a physical fight, and before too long, he was wheezing out a surrender of sorts, bleeding heavily from a gash over his eye. Sirius ignored the attempt at truce, and broke Snape's nose with sickening crunch.

James just stood by with their wands and watched as Snape was given the worst beating of his life.

It didn't take long before Peter's fear got the better of him and he ran back to the castle to fetch Madam Pomfrey. By the time they got back out on the grounds, Snape was lying in an undignified heap on the grass, badly bruised and bloody, but Sirius and James were nowhere to be found.

Torn between his conscience and his friends, Peter stammered out that he'd seen the incident from afar and didn't know who'd done it, then fled as Pomfrey got to work healing Snape.

Snape told all, of course, but as the wounds were not magically inflicted they were soon healed, and Sirius only got a few evenings in detention for it. Peter, remembering the crazed look in Sirius's eyes that night and the unrelenting assault of his fists, thought he'd gotten off far too lightly.

The Marauders never spoke of it again.

*

"Are you going out with Lily Evans?" Peter asked. He and Remus were alone at a table in the library, ostensibly working on their History of Magic essays. Sirius was still in detention, and James was probably working out a way too sneak him in some butterbeer.

Remus blanched and dropped his quill. "No. We're not."

"It's okay if you are," Peter pressed on awkwardly. "I mean, I think James fancies her and Sirius..." He faltered, remembering the Snape incident. "...well, Sirius doesn't seem to like her much, but I think it's fine. You know. She's pretty."

"She is, but we're not," Remus said, looking tired. "It's nothing like that."

"You just seem to spend a lot of time with her, instead of your other girls, so we thought--"

"Sirius and James can think what they like," Remus said flatly. "I don't really care."

"Well, if you're not, then--"

"I'm a teenaged bloke!" Remus practically shouted. Pince glared at him from her desk, and he lowered his voice. "So I hang around with girls a lot. I'm supposed to, aren't I? I'm supposed to want to be surrounded by as many girls as possible, as often as possible, right? It's normal. For once in my life, I'm perfectly normal." There was an unusual edge to his voice.

Peter frowned. "You mean you don't really fancy any of them?"

"Not particularly, no," Remus said wearily, the bite in his voice gone. "I'm just...not interested in girls right now. It's not all that important to me."

"Not even Lily?"

Remus smiled wryly. "Slughorn assigned her to help me with Remedial Potions. That's all."

A new thought occurred to Peter, a strange one. "You're not bent, are you?"

"No!" Remus said, very quickly. He ran a hand through his hair. "No," he repeated. "I just don't fancy anyone right now."

"So why didn't you just tell us that?" Peter asked. "God, you should hear the way James and Sirius talk about it," he added, and immediately wished he hadn't.

Remus sighed. "Let them talk," he said softly. "I don't mind."

Remus had never asked what might have prompted the assault on Snape. Peter wondered how much he'd guessed. Remus was far too willing to turn a blind eye when it came to Sirius. He tried to work on his essay, but couldn't think of anything to write.

"I envy you sometimes, Peter," Remus said. "You're so...ordinary."

Peter smiled and wished he knew what to say.

*

The second potion in the Animagus process was supposed to be ready on the night of a full moon. Which was rather convenient, really, since that meant there was no way Remus would stumble upon them.

"Okay, this potion is kind of creepy," James told them when they had assembled in one of the secret rooms they'd discovered while marauding. "This is the part that eventually determines the nature of our animal forms."

"What do we have to do?" Peter asked, vainly wishing that Lily was in on some secrets. She was the best at Potions in their year -- well, along with Snape, who was now avoiding Sirius like the plague -- and her expertise might make Peter feel a bit more confident about the effects of this concoction.

James glanced over at Sirius, who pulled something out of his robes. "We're supposed to take a silver dagger -- family heirloom, this is, and bloody difficult to lift without my mum noticing -- and dip it in the potion. Then, uh, we're supposed to, well, cut our hand open and drip the blood into the potion. I guess we should divide it up into three parts first. I don't want to drink any of your blood by mistake."

"And remember, it's got to be your left hand," James added. "Something about your right hand representing the part of you anyone can see, but your left revealing your secret inner self. I think it's the reverse if you're left-handed."

"How much blood do we need?"

"A fair amount," Sirius said nervously. "It's kind of dodgy, actually. If we made the potion right, then dipping the dagger in it first means the wound should heal quickly, but we won't know until we try it."

James looked pale. "At least there aren't any incantations or anything this time," he said. "And we'll be halfway to becoming Animagi once this part's finished."

They all stared at the dagger and potion.

"Someone's got to test it," Sirius finally said.

"It's your dagger," James pointed out.

"You made most of the potion," Sirius retorted.

They squabbled about it for a bit, until finally -- "I'll do it," Peter said.

Sirius and James stared at him.

"It was my idea in the first place," Peter said quietly. "And it's for Remus, isn't it?"

He picked up the dagger and dipped it in his cup of potion. The liquid clung to the blade in a pale green sheen. Peter studied it for a long moment, then calmly plunged the dagger into his left palm and watched his blood seep out.

He didn't feel a thing.

Year 5

OED, rat: n. A rodent of some of the larger species of the genus Rattus.

Sometime early in their fifth year, the rumors began really penetrating the thick, protective walls of Hogwarts. They were vague -- whispers of a shadowy threat, hints of strengthening Dark Magic. There were a handful of odd disappearances noted in the Daily Prophet, mainly fairly powerful wizards of pureblood families. Peter's dad's friend Rosier vanished one autumn night, and it was said that he was joining the growing Darkness. His daughter, Evan's elder sister, left Hogwarts a few days later. Sirius's aunt and uncle pulled Cissy out of school to arrange her marriage to the heir of the Malfoy family. The most frightening stories told of a nameless Dark Lord whose powers rivaled those of the infamous Grindewald.

But for the most part, few students took the rumors seriously. This was Hogwarts, after all. Nothing really bad could happen here.

*

The last stage of the transformation into Animagi was every bit as difficult as the textbooks warned, and then some. There were tongue-twisting incantations to memorize in which the slightest mispronunciation could wreck months of labor, and impossibly complex potions whose ingredients could only be collected by the dark of the new moon, and whatnot. But they got through it all, somehow, and finally, finally, in the dubious shelter of a massive oak on the edge of the Forbidden Forest on a dark and stormy night, they were ready.

The dark and stormy bit was specified in the arcane parchment; James wondered aloud in the thunder and lightning were actually critical to the spellcasting or if the original Animagus just had a flair for the dramatic. The out-of-doors bit was mandated because they had no idea what animal forms they might take, and they'd chosen the ancient oak as one of the few spots in the Forbidden Forest both close enough to the castle to be relatively safe and far enough away to remain unnoticed. Even the strangest of animals would probably not seem out of place in the Forest.

They'd rehearsed the final incantation endlessly beforehand until they could speak it in perfect unison. James's eyes were feverishly bright, and Sirius's face was gray. Peter clutched his wand with a sweaty hand.

They raised their wands.

And it was soon over, practically before they realized they'd begun.

None of the scrolls of instructions had actually explained what, exactly, would happen once the final incantation was spoken. Peter wondered if he would just suddenly transfigure into his animal shape, or if his animal would walk (swim? fly?) right up to him and start talking. Would he have to wait a while for the change to occur? Would it start affecting individual body parts one at a time, or all in one go? And how would he learn the spell to actually transform back and forth from human to animal -- would the animal teach him? And for the love of all that was good and powerful, how would he find out what animal he was?

The answer, as it turned out, was simple: he just knew.

"Oh," James said softly. Sirius gazed at them both with wonder in his eyes. And Peter just laughed and laughed, joyfully and long.

As for effecting the transformation itself, it was as simple and natural as slipping into a familiar robe.

*

Rat, Peter thought, and shrunk down into rat shape. Peter, he thought, and sprang back up. Rat. Peter. Rat. Peter. And back and forth and back and forth, giddily, until he couldn't tell one form from the other.

*

During their trek back to the castle, soaking wet and exhausted and exhilaratingly happy in the dusky gray pre-dawn light, Sirius decided they needed to have code names. (Sirius had recently developed an unhealthy taste for Muggle spy novels.) He'd already affectionately dubbed Remus "Moony" their fourth year, and the nickname had stuck.

Since Peter couldn't come up with anything good for himself -- "Rat," he kept repeating, firmly and contentedly -- Sirius somewhat less-than-affectionately decided to call him Wormtail. That nickname stuck, too, but Peter didn't mind. Nor did he mind James's pity or Sirius's poorly contained mirth at the form his Animagus had taken.

They just didn't understand. Rats were brilliant. They were small and sneaky and could slip through cracks in walls. Peter would be able to explore Hogwarts as thoroughly as the Marauders had always dreamed, sniffing out every last secret passage and hidden nook in the castle. There was nowhere he couldn't go now, nothing he couldn't do, no secret he couldn't sniff out.

Sirius and James would be glad of his friendship now.

*

Remus was sitting alone in front of the common room fireplace when they tumbled through the porthole. He glared at them. "Where have you idiots been? Did you think I wouldn't notice you sneaking out at midnight? I bloody well ought to report you all."

"Then it's lucky for us you make a lousy prefect," Sirius said. "So shut up. We've got something fantastic to tell you."

Remus just folded his arms and looked at them, challenging.

"Look," Sirius said softly, and shifted seamlessly into his Animagus form.

"We can all do it," James burst out excitedly, as Remus gaped open-mouthed at the massive black dog capering about his feet. "I mean, me and Pete aren't dogs, but we're Animagi, too--"

"We studied for years and years--" Peter interrupted.

"It took us ages to find the ingredients for the potions--"

"I cut my hand open on Sirius's mum's heirloom--"

"The last potion tasted awful, let me tell you--"

Sirius just barked, a deep, ringing tone.

If Remus weren't already sitting, he probably would have fallen over. "How...why...?"

"We did it for you, Remus," a human Sirius said, still wiggling his rear a little as though wagging an invisible tail. "Werewolves can't hurt our animal shapes, right? We can keep you company when you change. Maybe we can even help you remember yourself."

"Sirius's Animagus is the best for that, since dogs and wolves are practically related," Peter put in -- rather generously, he thought, seeing as Sirius had all but taken full credit for the whole idea. Well, the great hulking ugly puppy had done most of the actual research, he supposed.

"Yes, I expect so," Remus said in a strangled tone. "So, ah, what are your Animagi, then?"

"I'm a stag," James said proudly, " And Peter here is a rat."

"Right," Remus croaked. "Lovely creatures, rats." He cupped his head in his hands, deflating abruptly. "If anyone finds out, you're all going to be in so much trouble," he whispered, but the look in his eyes told them everything he didn't know how to say.

*

Peter shamelessly skipped all his classes the next morning in order to become accustomed to Wormtail -- and the rat's advantages.

Within a few hours he had made two important discoveries. Firstly, the longer he stayed in rat form, the longer it took his thoughts to snap out of rat mode. There was a certain dark paranoia and an odd craving for peanut butter (not cheese) that lingered with him for a few minutes after shifting back to human form. Peter decided to spend a day or two over the summer entirely as a rat, and see if the ratlike side effects became more pronounced.

But secondly, and more importantly, he discovered that Hogwarts was far more extensive and fascinating than he could ever have imagined.

"You have no idea," he told James over a late lunch. The Hall was nearly empty. "I mean, the library alone has at least three different hidden passageways we didn't know about, including one that leads straight from the restricted section to the bookcase behind Pince's desk. I bet she knows about that one, right, and that's how she kept interrupting our Animagus research." He paused for a second to shovel a forkful of potatoes into his mouth. "And, oh man, I found a tunnel that goes down to the Slytherin boys' loo! Do you know how much marauding we could do in there? And then--"

"Imagine," James interrupted quietly, "if we could map it all out."

"--there's this porthole behind--" It sunk in. "What?"

"A map," James breathed. "A definitive map of Hogwarts. No, don't look at me like that, I've been thinking about this for years only I never thought we'd manage it. But now... You can really get anywhere in the castle, can't you? And Sirius and I can do the grounds, no one will look twice at a deer in the Forest or a dog near Hagrid's Hut."

Peter put his fork down. He wasn't hungry anymore. "All of Hogwarts..."

"I first thought of it second year, when Sirius and I put the tracking spell on Remus, remember? Only it never quite worked properly, because we couldn't tie it down to a really accurate map. It's bloody lucky he went in through the Willow and not some passageway inside the castle, because that map only showed a rough outline of the grounds." Peter nodded; James had never seemed entirely satisfied with the spell and crude diagram. "So I wished, then, that we could make a full map of Hogwarts, so we could run the tracking spell properly. I tried to draw one up on my own, but it was a real mess and we kept finding new tunnels and such, so I gave it up. Besides, the Animagus project was more interesting. But now..."

"We could do it," Peter said, awed. "That would be brilliant, James." And for once, he wasn't just playing up.

*

That evening, in his excitement, Peter bypassed dinner in favor of further exploration. There were all manner of crooks and tiny passageways sprinkled throughout the castle, and it would take him months to discover them all. Tonight, while everyone was at dinner, he planned to do a thorough investigation of Gryffindor Tower.

He found an intriguing crack where wall met floor in a corner of the common room, which turned into a narrow little space in the walls -- so narrow even Wormtail had trouble squeezing through. It twisted up and around and finally deposited him, unexpectedly, right into his own dormitory, under one of the large four-poster beds.

There was someone, or possibly two someones, on the bed,

He cautiously poked his little furry head out to check it out, sniffing the air.

There, on the bed, still fully clothed but with indications that they might not be for long, were Remus and Sirius. Snogging. Quite thoroughly.

Well.

Oddly enough, Peter realized he didn't particularly care, although he hoped it wouldn't muck up the Marauders as a group. He kind of wished Remus had trusted him enough last year to just admit to being a shirt-lifter, but he mainly just still thought that Remus should snog whoever he bloody well wanted to. Sirius didn't deserve him, but it wasn't Peter's place to judge.

Still, the experience did teach Peter one thing: being a rat was going to be fantastically useful. Bloody hell, he would know everything going on in Hogwarts!

Absolutely everything.

Year 6

Chinese Zodiac, rat: "a tendency to be quick-tempered and overly critical."

"Well, it's about that time," Remus said, pushing back his chair. "Sorry, Peter, but you'll have to work through the rest of the Arithmancy set on your own."

Peter stared balefully at the assignment. For once, his complete idiocy in a subject was not feigned -- the bloody coursework was impossible. It hadn't been so bad until this year, but damn, this stuff became utterly impenetrable after OWLs! They needed it for the map, he kept telling himself, to get through it. The map needed advanced Arithmancy.

"James and Sirius will help if they ever get out of detention, I'm sure," Remus said kindly.

"Yeah," Peter said flatly. "I'm sure."

Remus patted his shoulder. "Sorry, Peter."

"Have a nice full moon," Peter sighed. He scratched the back of his neck. "I wish I could go with you, but without Sirius and James..."

"I know. The wolf thinks you're supper." Remus winced. They had found that out the hard way, when Peter went through the Willow earlier than the other two one night. He'd come out all right, of course, but it had been a little too close for comfort. Without the presence of the larger Animagi, the wolf had trouble remembering that a rat was a friend and not a snack.

"We'll try to come by once they're out of detention," Peter offered, although none of the boys were quite ready to face the wolf after it had been alone with itself for several hours. Better to be there from the transformation itself. Safer.

Remus just shook his head, smiling gently. He gave Peter a little wave and left the library.

Peter remained on for a little while, struggling through an equation. Damn James and Sirius and their incredibly inconveniently timed detentions! Okay, the prank had been fucking brilliant, but did they have to pull it on the day before a full moon? And with a whole Arithmancy problem set due? Peter sighed, giving up, and headed back to the dormitory. No Wormtail tonight. He wasn't in the mood.

*

The moon had just barely risen when Peter reached Gryffindor Tower. The other two boys in his year, Caradoc Dearborn and Benjy Fenwick, were playing wizard chess in a corner of the common room. Peter nodded a greeting and wandered over to watch for a bit. It got boring pretty quickly -- both were intense players who spent several long minutes contemplating each move. Benjy's king had fallen asleep, and the pawns were taunting each other from across the board. The moves were made so gradually as to be nearly imperceptible. Peter soon gave up and went upstairs to their dormitory, nearly being mown over by a couple of first years -- had he ever really been that small and bouncy? -- on his way up.

He'd hardly kicked off his shoes when the door burst open and James and Sirius ran in. "Stupid -- stupid -- fucking brainless twat!" James was hissing.

"A fucking honest mistake!" Sirius protested. "He probably didn't even believe me, or even if he did he's sure to get it wrong anyway -- where's the cloak?"

"I've got it," James said, face red with rage, "and I'm fucking going down there on my own, so don't you touch it, you inbred idiot!" He flung his invisibility cloak over his shoulders, but before hooding himself completely, he looked directly at Peter. "Bloody stupid Black pride," he said, and vanished. The door swung open for a moment, then slammed shut again.

Peter blinked. "What's going on? What was that all about? Why aren't you still in detention -- you can't possibly be finished already? Flitwick will kill you. So what's happened?"

Sirius sat heavily on the edge of his bed and covered his face with his hands. "I think I just made the biggest fucking mistake in my life," he mumbled.

And somehow, Peter knew. It was like the chess game downstairs. Somehow, the pieces had been moving while he wasn't watching the game, and now -- checkmate. Oh, fuck. Something cold and hard settled in the pit of his stomach, twisting it. His mouth was dry. It was hard to swallow. "Who did you tell?" he whispered.

Sirius lifted his head miserably. "Snape."

"What, exactly, did you tell him?"

Sirius ran his hand through his hair shakily -- a gesture he'd picked up from Remus, Peter noted coldly. "I'm not sure," he said helplessly. "I was so angry at him, Wormtail, you don't understand -- I was just saying things, I don't know, taunting him, he was so insufferable, he kept hounding me about Moony -- I didn't think, I shot off something about the Willow, and the knot, but I was vague as hell, really, I don't think he'd--"

"Fuck!" Peter spat. He strode over to Sirius and yanked him up, hard. Too surprised to resist, Sirius stood. "We've got to go tell Dumbledore, now."

Sirius shrank back, wide-eyed. If he'd been in his dog form, he'd have his tail between his legs. Peter had never ordered him about before, never. "Peter..."

"You shut up," Peter snapped, feeling the cold rage within him, freezing him. His words were icy. "What the hell were you thinking? We never betray each other, never. You told me that our second year and I believed you, Sirius, I really did. But you, you don't think, you're so fucking stupid! I mean, it's Remus we're talking about, the best friend any one of us has ever had, plus you're fucking shagging him--"

"How did you know that?" Sirius blurted out, stupidly.

"I'm a goddamn rat!" Peter yelled. "You and James are the ones who send me sneaking around all the time, you should bloody well know no one can keep secrets from me!"

"Peter--"

"Dumbledore's office," Peter ordered, his voice shaking. The pure rage was fading away, and the effort of standing up to Sirius -- berating him, even -- ran so dramatically counter to everything Peter had become over the past six years that it was almost physically draining. Liberating, though, in a disturbing sort of way. "Let's go. Now."

*

"Wait," Sirius suddenly said, when they were halfway down the corridor to the headmaster's office. "The map."

"What about the map?" Peter demanded crossly. As his fury dissipated, his fears grew, and being frightened put him quite out of sorts -- well, more so than he already was.

Sirius was fumbling with the pockets of his robes. "It can tell us if Snape is even heading down to the Willow at all."

"Good idea," Peter said bitterly. "I wish I'd thought of that. Back in the dormitory, say, before James went off on his rescue mission. It would have been useful. But we're not going back to the dorm for it now."

"No, I've got it here," Sirius said, finding it in his trouser pocket. "I was working on it a bit earlier -- I solemnly swear that I am up to no good!"

The map wasn't quite finished yet. It was fully sketched out and certainly functional, but there were still a few glitches left to be worked out. For example, while the map could tell them the exact location of anyone in Hogwarts, it still wouldn't just volunteer the information. They had to ask it to show specific people -- well, they could demand it to show everyone, but then the parchment would be crawling with little floating pictorial representations of every last first year and house elf in the castle, and you couldn't make out who was where. The map hadn't yet learned to distinguish the people that mattered from those who didn't. And Filch could be lurking just around the corner, but the map wouldn't divulge such vital information without being asked. James and Sirius were still hard at work on that particular problem.

But once asked, it told. "Prongs and Snape," Sirius demanded, his eyes fixed on the Whomping Willow's icon.

For a second, nothing happened, and Peter dared to hope for the best. But then little footprints tracking James Potter and Severus Snape materialized, marking their paths across the parchment. Sirius swore eloquently.

Snape was already at the Willow, but James was still several hundred meters away.

*

Dumbledore was seated in a large armchair in his office, with two smaller but lavishly cushioned chairs arranged as though he were expecting guests for tea. Peter wondered if he had somehow known they were coming, but while the man was a brilliant wizard, he still wasn't omnipotent. Or was he?

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow in bemusement as Peter and Sirius entered, but gestured welcomingly for them to seat themselves. "Well, boys, you needed to speak with me?"

Peter elbowed Sirius sharply in the ribs.

Sirius coughed and stared at his shoes. "Er, Headmaster, I think I may have made a big mistake..."

Dumbledore listened patiently as Sirius (with Peter's help) explained that they knew about Remus Lupin's condition, and how they'd found the passageway from the Willow, and then about the incident with Snape. They left out the bits about the map and being Animagi, but Peter could see that Dumbledore understood more than he let on.

"...and then James ran out to find him, and--"

"So you have endangered the lives of two of your dearest friends, as well as Severus," Dumbledore interrupted quietly. Sirius visibly wilted. "What do you expect me to do, Sirius? If it is as you say, the drama has already unfolded, and there is precious little I may do to stop it."

Sirius blanched. "But if Snape gets as far as the Shack--"

"Then he will encounter a fully grown werewolf at the peak of its hunger and rage, and if he is fortunate enough to survive the attack, there will be no cure." Dumbledore's gaze was not accusing, just sad. Somehow, that made it all the worse. As always, Dumbledore was addressing Sirius, not Peter -- come to think of it, Peter couldn't remember a single occasion on which Dumbledore had spoken directly to him, rather than to his friends -- but for once, Peter was glad to be left out. "And while I will do everything in my power to protect Remus from the resulting outcry, my hands will be tied in the worst possible way."

Sirius looked like he was about to cry, and Peter didn't feel much better. He clung to his anger, letting it blossom within him; it was easier to be angry. Your fault, he thought at Sirius. All your fault.

"But for now," Dumbledore said firmly, rising, "we had better go and see what damage has actually been done."

Peter and Sirius jumped to their feet, but before they had gotten much further, there was a loud knock on the door.

"Enter," Dumbledore commanded, and James burst in -- dragging a very pale, angry, but unharmed Snape in with him.

"He's all right," James said unnecessarily.

Snape jerked away from James's grasp and pointed straight at Sirius with a trembling finger. "He tried to have me killed!" he announced shrilly. "He tried to murder me!"

*

Peter and Sirius waited out in the corridor while Dumbledore spoke privately with James and Snape. The hall was a bit too dark for comfort -- it was after lights-out, after all -- but neither bothered with so much as a Lumos to dispel the gloom. Sirius fidgeted with his wand, while Peter leaned against a wall stonily with his arms crossed in front of him. Neither spoke.

Eventually, the door opened and James came out into the hallway, pulling the door shut again behind him. "He wants to speak with Snape alone," he said grimly. "I expect he's going to try to convince him not to tell anyone about Remus, but I don't know if Snape will agree to keep quiet. Not about this."

"I could hardly blame him for talking," Peter muttered. "After all, the wolf nearly killed him." James shot him a venomous look, and Peter shrank back into the shadows.

Even in the murky dimness, Sirius looked pale. "Prongs...how close was it?"

James took off his spectacles and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Very," he said shortly, putting the specs back on. "The dozy twat actually pushed up the trapdoor and went in. I had to shove him aside and change to keep the wolf back. Gave him a nice hard kick in the chest, too -- the wolf, I mean, not Snape. I dragged Snape back into the passage while Remus was stunned. Hopefully, the sniveling idiot was too mad with fear to register the bloody stag materializing right in front of him."

"You kicked Moony in the chest?" Sirius asked, horrified.

"Yes, and in a few other places besides. He'll be feeling it in the morning, but what else was I supposed to do? He'd have torn Snape apart."

"Poor Moony," Sirius said softly.

"Poor Snape," Peter retorted. They ignored him, as usual. "Poor all of us. What happens now?"

No one knew, so they just kept waiting.

*

It seemed like hours, but finally Snape emerged from Dumbledore's office. He shoved past the trio without a word, and stalked down the corridor and out of sight alone, furious and silent. For once, Peter could sympathize.

"You can come back in now," Dumbledore called from his armchair, and they obeyed.

"Is Snape going to--" James started, but the headmaster cut him off with a wave of his hand.

"Severus and I have reached an understanding," Dumbledore told them. "He will not speak of this incident to anyone. However, I would advise you all to avoid tormenting him in the future." He looked pointedly at Sirius, who flushed deeply and studied the carpet.

"What's going to happen to Remus?" Peter asked. What he meant was, will Remus be expelled, but Dumbledore misunderstood him -- probably deliberately.

"He'll make out all right," Dumbledore said gently, "although somewhat the worse for wear, I'm afraid. Werewolves generally don't take well to being teased with the possibility of a meal."

"What do you mean by that?" Sirius demanded, stepping forward.

James put a hand on his shoulder, tugging him back. "The wolf knew Snape was there, Pads. It was pretty fucking pissed off when I stopped it--" He glanced at Dumbledore and flushed. "--sorry, Headmaster."

Dumbledore smiled faintly. "It's all right. But Sirius, I believe you should assist Madam Pomfrey when she goes to fetch Remus in the morning. It might be instructive for you to see firsthand the consequences of dangling human prey in front of a werewolf -- and then snatching it away."

Sirius's face was gray. He nodded stiffly. "Yes, sir."

"Well, if that's settled, you may as well try to get some rest," Dumbledore said firmly, conjuring up some cots with a flick of his wand. "There's nothing more any of us can do for Remus until sunrise."

They all nodded dutifully, but none of them would be able to sleep.

*

"James?" Peter whispered into the semi-darkness.

"What?"

"D'you suppose Remus has really hurt himself badly this time?"

"Probably. Maybe. I don't know."

"I'm frightened."

James snorted. "You're always frightened. Trembly ickle rodent."

"But this is--"

"Shut up, Wormtail," Sirius snarled from across the room.

Peter shut up, letting that cold fury seep back into him slowly, stronger and more satisfying than fear.

*

Madam Pomfrey stopped by to fetch Sirius just after the moon faded out of sight. It was still an hour or two before dawn; there was just the barest suggestion of sunrise shedding its ghostly grey light in the eastern sky. Once they had gone, James and Peter abandoned all pretense at sleep, and hurried down to the hospital wing to wait for them. It felt like hours before they returned with Remus.

When Peter and Sirius had found Remus in the infirmary their second year, they had been shocked and a little frightened at his condition. But when Peter saw Remus being carried in by Pomfrey and Sirius, it nearly turned his stomach.

He couldn't look at Remus for long before he had to turn away. Remus looked like -- well, like raw meat. "Bloody hell," James breathed, and Peter couldn't tell if that was a description of Remus's appearance or just a random oath.

"All of you, out, now," Madam Pomfrey ordered, easing Remus onto a bed. The starched white linens would never be the same, Peter thought irrelevantly. "I mean it, boys. I understand you're concerned, but if you know what's best for Remus you'll leave my infirmary at once and allow me to work on him. These wounds are very nasty."

They were too stunned to react, at first -- even Sirius, who had helped bring Remus in, stood motionless by his bedside. Maybe the full impact of what he had done was finally sinking in. Then Pomfrey turned her backs on them and bent over Remus, and James gently tugged on Sirius's arm. "Come on, mate, let's go."

Sirius stumbled blindly out into the corridor. The first rays of sunlight were streaking in through the eastern windows, bathing his face in gold. Like an angel, Peter thought, except not. Fallen from grace.

"Do you think he'll ever forgive me?" Sirius mumbled pathetically, but James just clapped him on the shoulder and didn't answer.

We never betray each other, never, twelve-year-old Sirius had whispered in Peter's ear. But Sirius had been the betrayer. Sirius had betrayed Remus in the worst possible way, violated the most precious rule in the Marauder Code of Laws. If that trust could be broken, then...then nothing was sacred, after all.

Peter had forgotten, lately, that he wasn't as dull and stupid as he pretended to be, forgotten that he couldn't trust anyone with his secrets. He'd forgotten that, and trusted these three boys, his friends. Well, friends could betray you as easily as enemies -- more easily, actually, because friends knew more of your secrets than anyone else. Friends knew that Peter Pettigrew was not quite a complete blithering idiot. Friends knew that Remus Lupin was a werewolf.

It was a very dull and stupid thing to do, letting your best friends betray you. Like Sirius betrayed Remus. Perhaps the way to protect yourself, then, was to...no.

What mattered now was that Remus would probably forgive Sirius, in time, because he was foolish and trusting and maybe even a little in love. But Peter couldn't make that mistake.

And although Remus would probably forgive Sirius, Peter never would.

Year 7

OED, rat: n. The act of changing one's side.

In the summer before the Marauders' seventh year, the turmoil wracking the wizarding world became too great for even the incredibly insular and overprotected students of Hogwarts to ignore. Lord Voldemort, previously just a shadowy figure tainted with darkness, fully revealed himself at last; it soon became common knowledge that all manner of misdeeds and evildoings dating back to the late 1960s could be attributed to him. Voldemort's followers, who had been given any number of appellations over the years, became publicly known as Death Eaters, and the sinister Dark Mark began materializing in the skies above the homes of their victims. Hogwarts was probably still the safest place in the wizarding world, but the seeds of doubt were sown, and more parents pulled their children out of school in search of safer places to hide from the Death Eaters.

On top of everything else, the Marauders all had parental issues that summer. Sirius's parents formally disowned him, finally -- he'd left home late in the previous summer, but it took a while for the situation to become official. James's parents took Sirius in and treated him like a second son, and, in doing so, unwittingly made enemies of the Blacks and several other powerful pureblood families. The Lupins tried to convince Remus to leave Hogwarts, with no success, and nearly drove him mad with their constant worries and nagging. And Peter's parents fled England in terror -- his father, a former member of the Slug Club, had only been a few years younger than a certain Tom Riddle and had good reason to fear a number of his former classmates -- to settle in a small provincial town in France with Peter's maternal grandparents. They never asked Peter to leave Hogwarts, and he never offered to join them on the continent.

They all more or less lived with the Potters that summer.

*

The Hogwarts staff was grimly determined to carry on business as usual for as long as possible. The new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was a young Auror named Frank Longbottom; his class was immensely popular with the Gryffindor students in particular, and enticed many upperclassmen to seriously consider becoming Aurors themselves. Which, Peter decided, was probably why Dumbledore had hired him. In the theoretical upcoming battle between good and evil, Longbottom was a powerful role model for the 'good' camp.

"All right, you lot, settle down," Longbottom announced to the classroom of Gryffindor and Ravenclaw seventh-years. "And clear out your desks and chairs. We've got a practical today." 'Practicals' were what Longbottom called lessons that involved actually doing things rather than just studying magical theory.

"Dueling again, professor?" one of Lily Evans's friends asked, smoothing back her hair and giving him a winning smile. All the girls were mad about Longbottom, and the fact that he was a married man didn't seem to slow them down much.

"Not quite, Miss Jacobsen," Longbottom told her. "Today, we're dealing with curses. No, don't roll your eyes like that, Mr. Potter, I'm well aware that you've had extensive instruction on defense against standard curses. But in the thick of battle, there are just some things you won't have time to block -- or won't see coming at all. And you won't always have a chance to step aside and try to remove the curse before jumping back into the fray. So you need to learn how to work through the handicap -- even try to make it into an advantage, if possible. For example, the Conjunctivitis Curse. Refresher: who can tell me the effects of this curse?"

Lily raised her hand. "It affects the eyes and vision of your target."

"A textbook answer. Yes, this simple curse will seriously impair your sight -- the sense many wizards rely on the most. It causes a mild but irritating burning sensation in the eyes, and your vision is reduced to -- well, it's like trying to peer through a dense fog. The ocular irritation is a distraction, and the sudden near-blindness can easily prove fatal to a careless witch or wizard. However, being hit by this curse is only as debilitating as you allow it to be. It should not completely remove you from the duel -- or battle, as the case may be. Let's try it out. Miss Evans, please, and Mr. Potter." He waved for Lily and James to come into the center of the room. The rest of the students sidled back against the walls, giving them space. Peter watched with interest. "All right, as unlikely as it may be for the Head Boy and Girl to turn against each other--" A few Gryffindors laughed as James flushed bright red. "--Evans, please curse Potter with the Conjunctivitis. Potter, you may not block the curse, but once it hits you, you may do anything in your power to successfully incapacitate Evans. For now, Evans, once you've cursed him, you can only use defensive spells to protect yourself. Later on today, once you've all had a try being cursed, I'll allow standard dueling conditions. On my mark, now, Evans."

She smiled and pointed her wand at James, eyes sparkling with mirth. They weren't quite dating yet, but it was a near thing. "Conjunctivitis ocularis!"

The curse must have hit James squarely, because its effects were immediate. "Bugger!" he groaned, doubling over and rubbing at his eyes with one hand while waving his wand about erratically with the other. "Impedimentus!" The spell was far off its mark; Lily didn't even have to dodge it, although a couple of Slytherins in that general area jumped out of the way.

James blundered around for a few more minutes, shooting off several equally ineffective spells, until Longbottom finally took pity on him and performed the counter-curse. "Not quite as easy as you might think, Potter? Let's give someone else a go." He scanned the room. "Fenwick, come here, please, and Pettigrew."

Benjy was a fairly accomplished duelist; he stepped forward confidently. And Peter was widely known to be a bumbling fool under most circumstances -- oddly enough, no one considered the fact that he must have done reasonably well on his OWLs to even be in this advanced class. They probably thought he'd cheated off of Sirius and James.

"All right, Pettigrew, let's see if you can handle the curse better than your friend Potter. Fenwick, if you will be so kind..."

Benjy grinned. "Conjunctivitis ocularis!"

Peter had never been hit by this particular curse before -- it wasn't popular in the students' duels, although now he wondered why. The burning in his eyes was more distracting than he'd expected; it took a real effort to resist just curling up and rubbing at them. No, he thought. I won't touch them. It would probably just make it worse. Instead, he tried to open his eyes wide to get as much sight as possible. That didn't help -- it just made his eyes water up, and blurred his vision all the worse. The best thing to do, he discovered, was to only open his eyes the tiniest bit and squint. He could just barely make out shapes in the fog. But he had no idea where Benjy was or what he was doing. So how could he...

Think like Wormtail.

Rats have absolutely rotten vision. Not quite as bad as Peter's was right now, perhaps, but pretty damn close. And he certainly spent enough time as Wormtail -- the blurriness had never bothered him in rat shape. Granted, the whiskers helped a lot with that, but he didn't have that particular advantage at the moment. So instead -- hearing.

He tuned out all his other senses and just listened, hard. Okay, filter out the background noise -- there. That was the soft squeak of Benjy's well-shined shoes on the hardwood floor. That was the rustle of his robes. That was the quiet hiss of his breath. And that meant that Benjy was -- there. "Expelliarmus!" Peter shouted, taking a long stride in the direction he had just pointed his wand. The gasps of a few classmates, the clatter of wood hitting the floor -- it had worked. Another rustle, and Peter jerked out his free hand and grabbed a fistful of cotton robe. He shoved his wand right into the soft fabric. "Petrificus totalis!"

He felt Benjy stiffen and slump, a deadweight. He let go of the boy's robes quickly, before he might accidentally tear them as Benjy fell.

Longbottom spoke the counter-curse, and Peter's vision cleared up instantly. Benjy was lying frozen on the ground, a very surprised look on his face. Longbottom freed him from the petrificus, and Benjy sat up slowly. Suddenly, he grinned widely. "Jolly good one, Peter!"

Almost reflexively, Peter smiled back. Hell, it felt good to do something well for once.

"Well done," Longbottom told him. "And that's a lesson for you all: if you lose one of your natural advantages in a duel -- say, your sight -- don't dwell on it. Potter was unsuccessful because he didn't know how to respond to the loss of his vision; he kept trying to rub his eyes and make them work again, which was not at all effective. But Pettigrew here learned from his friend's mistake: he didn't waste time trying to see through the curse; instead, he adapted and focused on his other senses to locate his opponent. Furthermore, Fenwick made the mistake of assuming he'd incapacitated Pettigrew with the curse; he underestimated Pettigrew's ability to adapt to the handicap, allowing Pettigrew to easily catch him off guard and disarm him. Now--"

The classroom door opened, and McGonagall entered. She walked up to Longbottom and whispered something urgently into his ear. He nodded. "Pettigrew, Professor McGonagall needs to speak with you."

"Please step outside with me, Peter," McGonagall said. Her eyes were anxious. She was rattled by something; that couldn't be good.

Peter nodded and stuck his wand back in his pocket. Longbottom clapped him on the shoulder. "Good work today, Peter," he said, and there was pity in his eyes.

As he walked out, Peter was jostled by Evan Rosier. For an instant, their eyes met, and Rosier smirked at him.

And as with the incident with Snape last year, Peter just knew.

"Peter," McGonagall said gently, after looking to be sure they were alone in the hall, "it's difficult to tell you this, but...your father was killed last night. We just received word a few minutes ago."

"Death Eaters, right?" Peter asked. He felt strangely devoid of emotion. He'd never been particularly close to his father -- his parents, like most people, thought him a rather dull boy -- but still. His father. He ought to feel something.

McGonagall had never believed in treating her students like children; she spoke to them all as she would to other adults, even the ones she didn't personally favor. "The Dark Mark was seen in the sky over your grandparents' home, yes. Your mother and grandparents all survived the attack, by the way; it seems your father was alone in the house when they struck."

"I'll bet it was Rosier," Peter said dully. "He and my father were friends in school. Dad used to say that Rosier always thought he should have been Slytherin, because he was the secretive sort. Mum and Dad went to France to hide from him." Should he pretend to cry? No, there was no point; McGonagall already felt sorry enough for him as it was.

"I know," McGonagall said. "I went to school with your father as well. I was a few years ahead of him, but I remember him. A quiet boy, a little odd perhaps, but a good man. The wizarding world will miss him, Peter."

Peter just nodded. The emotion was coming now, but it wasn't sorrow. Anger. His father had been so stupid. He'd been friends with Rosier and a couple of the others who were now Death Eaters; they'd probably asked him to join them, and only killed him because he said no. Stupid. He'd left Peter's mum a widow, Peter without a father, all for what? He hadn't even tried to fight back, had he? No, just let them walk in and kill him. It was a stupid, stupid death. Didn't he know that staying alive was the most important thing?

Peter swore to himself that he would never, ever be as stupid as his father.

*

Peter didn't much feel like going back to class after that. He didn't feel like doing anything, really, so he went back up to the dormitory and just lay on his bed, thinking. He thought about his father, and the Death Eaters. Rosier had done it, had to have. Peter remembered him clearly, that meeting his first year at Platform 9 and ¾. Rosier and Peter's dad had been friends, sure -- and then Rosier had betrayed him. Friendship couldn't last in the wizarding world these days, not with Voldemort and his Death Eaters getting bolder and stronger every day, and Peter wasn't the only student who'd been quietly taken aside in the past few weeks. No, there was a war going on, a quiet one still, but a war nonetheless. And when two friends met, the one who stabbed the other in the back was the only one guaranteed survival. Maybe it shouldn't be this way, but it was, and Peter couldn't change the way things were.

Betrayal couldn't be undertaken lightly. Its effects were powerful, and lasting. It had been nearly a year since Sirius's little mistake with Snape, but the rift it had created would never fully heal. Sirius pretended that everything was back to normal -- hell, maybe he was oblivious and self-centered enough to think it really was -- but Peter just saw the hurt in Remus's eyes, the new scars that cut across his face for all to see. Remus had forgiven Sirius, of course, but he would never really trust him again.

I could use that against them.

The thought came to Peter unbidden. It was the logical progression, after all. Nearly a year ago, he'd walked down the hall with Sirius and James, with Remus scarred and bloody in the infirmary, and had come to a dangerous realization. He'd pushed it back, of course. He hadn't been ready for it yet. But now...

Perhaps the best way to protect yourself is to be the betrayer before you can become the betrayed.

"Peter?" Remus stuck his head in the door. "Oh, there you are! We've been looking for you for ages." His head disappeared for a second. "He's in the dorm!"

"Where else would I be?" Peter asked, as the other three Marauders tumbled into the dormitory.

"Put your shoes on," James ordered. "Dumbledore wants to see us in his office, now."

Peter shoved his feet into his shoes, his body instinctively responding to an order from James before his mind had a chance to catch up. He hated that. "Me, too? Why?"

"He's called a few other seventh-years in as well," Sirius said cheerfully. "Come on."

Peter obediently started following them out, but Remus caught his arm. "What did McGonagall have to say?" he asked quietly.

Peter stuck his hands in his pockets and looked away. "Death Eaters killed my dad last night," he said bluntly. No reason to keep this secret, after all. Remus might even care.

"Oh, God!" Remus said, eyes wide. "Peter, I'm so sorry!"

"It's all right," Peter muttered, inexplicably embarrassed. "We weren't all that close."

"But still -- well, your father!"

James, who'd been too far down the stairs to catch the exchange, turned and shot a dark look up at them. "What's going on?"

"Peter's father was murdered by Death Eaters," Remus told him.

"Shit!" James said, startled. "Why didn't you tell us, Pete? That's awful!"

Sirius had also heard the last bit. "I wonder if my cousins had anything to do with it," he muttered darkly. "Cissy's married to that tosser Malfoy now, and I heard that Bella was bonking that Lestrange bloke. Bloody wankers, the lot of them. That's really horrid, Peter."

"Yeah," Peter said.

*

Dumbledore had assembled a number of students in his office; the Marauders were the last to arrive. Also present were nearly all the other Gryffindor seventh-years -- including Caradoc, Benjy, and Lily -- six Hufflepuffs, and two Ravenclaws. Everyone looked tense. Dumbledore stood behind his desk solemnly, and drew up simple wooden chairs for the Marauders as they entered.

"Now that everyone is here, I will tell you all why I have summoned you today," Dumbledore said quietly. "I have no desire to make the sort of longwinded and virtually meaningless sort of speech favored by the Ministry of late, so I shall keep this brief and simple. There is a war coming. I believe you are all mature and intelligent enough to realize this, despite the Ministry's assertions to the contrary. There is a war coming, and there is a point at which we must all decide which side we are on. If any of you are as yet undecided, or if you plan to flee the country or go into hiding in hopes of escaping it, then you may leave this room now. There is no shame in doing so; several of you have lost relatives and loved ones already in this conflict, and more lives will certainly be lost before the end. If you leave now, you shall go in peace and with dignity."

Dumbledore fell silent for a long moment, looking into the eyes of each student. No one moved.

"Very well," he said. For an instant, an expression like relief passed across his face. "What I am about to tell you all may not be repeated to anyone outside of this room. I have selected you on the basis of your intelligence, your various talents, and above all, your loyalty to friends and family. In a few months, you will be graduating, and the time has come to decide what you will do with the next few years of your lives." He cleared his throat, and stood up a little straighter. "I am a member of an association of witches and wizards who believe that Lord Voldemort represents a serious threat to our society and the world as we know it, and are willing to fight for that belief. We believe that the only possible successful resistance is an organized one, and every individual in our order has his or her own valuable skills and knowledge. Alone, we stand no chance against Voldemort and his Death Eaters; together, we may be a force to be reckoned with. Our numbers are small, but growing. For as long as Hogwarts continues training children, every year I will approach certain seventh-year students with the same proposition I extend to you all: join us. We have a long and extremely difficult battle ahead of us. Not all will survive it; perhaps none of us will. But it is our only chance. You are our future. You are our strongest hope that there will be a future."

He gestured to a tattered old book on his desk.

"This is a Portkey. It will take us to an undisclosed location in the heart of London -- not our headquarters, incidentally. But there you can meet the other members of this group, and speak with them, and decide whether or not you are willing to join us." He smiled wryly. "Of course, I hope that you understand that those of you who decide against it will have your memories modified slightly, as a safety precaution."

A couple of student giggled a little at this, but no one was leaving yet. Interesting, Peter thought, and wondered if perhaps this little organization of Dumbledore's did stand a chance against the Death Eaters. He went up to the desk and touched the Portkey, like everyone else, and found himself in a smallish, shabby room. The window curtains were drawn, so they couldn't see where they were, but he could hear traffic sounds outside. A flat in Muggle London, then. Probably.

"Welcome," Dumbledore said, once they were all assembled, "to the Order of the Phoenix."

Peter looked around in disbelief. The shabby room was filled with people, yes -- but it wasn't a particularly large room, so crowding it wasn't difficult. Longbottom and his wife were there, along with a few other Aurors, easily identifiable by the professional cut of their robes and the sharp intelligence in their eyes. The rest were a motley assortment of ragtag wizards -- one or two looked actually dangerous, but most just appeared unkempt and vaguely eccentric.

There were fewer than thirty of them in all, not counting Peter and the other seventh-year students.

This is it? Peter thought. These are the wizards who think they can save the world? A handful of misfits and untrained students?

And as Dumbledore began introducing the students to the older members of the Order, Peter knew.

They didn't stand a chance. The Dark Lord's forces far surpassed this. He would crush each and every one of them like bugs.

They were all going to die.

And above all else, Peter wanted to survive.

*

They used another Portkey to get back to Hogwarts just before lights out, and split up to return to their respective House common rooms. James and Lily had some Head Boy and Girl duties to attend to, and some of the other Gryffindors were still engaged in a long, animated conversation with a couple of Hufflepuffs. Peter, Remus, Sirius, and Caradoc headed off back to Gryffindor Tower on their own.

"Can you imagine?" Caradoc said. "A chance to do something important after graduation. Maybe now I can convince my mum that there are practical applications to being a Cursebreaker."

"Maybe Dumbledore can get me a real job," Remus said wistfully. "I used to think it was the Ministry or nothing. And, well..." He didn't finish the thought. Werewolves were forbidden positions with the Ministry of Magic, and several other lines of work besides.

Sirius grinned and threw his arms around Remus and Peter. "Ready to save the world, lads?"

Peter pulled away. "You don't get it, do you?" he said coldly. The others stopped walking and looked at him in surprise.

"What do you mean?" Remus asked.

"You think this is all some sort of game," Peter said. "Save the world, beat up the bad guys, get the glory, right?" They didn't respond. Peter wrinkled his nose in disgust. "You idiots. Haven't you been paying attention? This is war. People are dying. We're up against a power the likes of which have never been seen before, ever. And we don't know how to win. Did you see Dumbledore's face back there? He's scared. He doesn't know what he's doing. Why else would he recruit a bunch of untrained kids?"

"Scared, Peter?" Sirius asked quietly.

"You're damn right I'm scared," Peter snapped.

For a second, they just looked at each other. Finally, Sirius laughed. "Poor Peter," he said. "Where's your Gryffindor courage, old chap?" He shook his head with mock sadness. "You know, sometimes I wonder if you were sorted into the right house."

Remus and Caradoc laughed, and life snapped back to normal.

Peter forced a grin and went along with them, but a coldness settled in the pit of his stomach. Well, he had tried, hadn't he? And they hadn't listened. They never listened to him. They never would. Fine, then. It would be their loss, in the end.

He sometimes wondered if he really had fooled the Sorting Hat, or if his audacity in thinking he could was a prime example of the sort of courageous idiocy so prized by Gryffindors. Well, there was also a dark sort of courage in standing up to your closest friends, choosing sides against them, even betraying them if necessary. It takes courage to go against all you've been taught and raised to believe in.

And when it came down to it, Peter had that sort of courage in abundance.

*

He ran into Sirius's younger brother by accident, really. They'd both been given detention by Filch for completely different reasons, but he'd lumped the two of them together because he assumed that, being from Gryffindor and Slytherin, they would of course hate each other, and that made their punishment all the more delicious.

They spent the first fifteen minutes silently scrubbing (no magic!) all of the ancient torture devices in a small dungeon previously unknown to students -- not even the Marauders, which irked Peter somewhat.

"So, what're you in for?" Peter finally asked.

Regulus glared at him. "He found me on the third floor after lights-out," he muttered sullenly.

"That's it?" Peter scoffed. "You're a fifth year, aren't you? You should know better than to be caught."

"Well, what'd you do, then?" Regulus demanded, eyes flaring.

"Just taking the fall for another one of your brother's lousy ideas," Peter said. He made no attempt to keep the bitterness out of his voice. Actually, he played it up a bit.

Regulus smiled grimly. "I know the feeling. I'm glad he's got you to blame these days. It's nice being the golden boy at home, now that he's not around to tarnish my reputation anymore."

"Take him back," Peter said. "I don't want him."

There was a long pause. Peter rubbed at an unidentifiable spiky thing vigorously, well aware that Regulus was sizing him up.

"So what do you want, then, Pettigrew?" Regulus asked, a strangely predatory glint in his eyes. He was young yet, and fairly unimportant in the scheme of things, but he had powerful relatives. This was it.

It wasn't that Peter wanted to be evil. He just wanted to stay alive.

"There's a war coming," Peter said simply. "It's already begun. I just want to survive it. I think your brother's chosen the wrong side, and I don't want to make the same mistake." He appraised Regulus coolly. "And you?"

Regulus smiled. "There's someone I think you should meet."

The Years of the Rat

OED, rat: v. To desert one's party, side, or cause, esp. in politics; to go over as a deserter; to turn traitor. Also, in Criminals' slang, to inform.

After graduating from Hogwarts, the days and months and years started blending into one another. Peter spent more and more time as Wormtail, and rats have a very narrow sense of time. What was is past and unimportant; the future stretches no farther than a few more minutes and may not really exist. There's just now, and that's all that matters.

The longer Peter spent in rat form, the more rat-like his thought processes became. The past was in the past and the details were hazy, and the future promised to be more of the same. He didn't look for an end to the war (and war it really was now) or hope for future glories and riches. He didn't even notice that he was being drawn deeper and deeper into the Death Eaters' plots, that he was passing more and more information to the Dark Lord. He just survived, and survival is a moment-to-moment thing.

Sometimes entire days passed as Wormtail, and he scarcely noticed.

*

He had to buy a new dress robe for James and Lily's wedding; he wasn't sure what happened to his old one. Maybe it got too small or too tattered and he'd thrown it out. Maybe he'd lost it in one of his numerous moves (he'd lived in five different flats in London over the past year, driven by a deep-seated paranoia that might be Wormtail's fault or might be related to the whole double-agent game he was playing). Or maybe he never really had one. That was always a possibility. It wasn't important enough to remember.

Being Peter in the company of other people always sharpened his mind somewhat, reminded him who he was and where he came from and what he was doing. He spent too much time alone or just observing others as Wormtail. The rat was useful for his work, both for the Order and the Death Eaters. In the Order, he was a sort of messenger, delivering communications too sensitive for owl post, but whenever he delivered a message he then doubled back in rat form to watch its receiver's response. Along the way, Peter learned the contents of most of the messages he carried, and Voldemort found that information very useful indeed.

But it meant a hell of a lot of time as a rat, and not much as human. It was good to just be Peter sometimes; even Voldemort and the handful of Death Eaters who knew that Peter reported to him usually called him Wormtail.

There were a lot of wizards and witches getting married these days; Peter supposed that with the ongoing war growing more dangerous every day, people tried to live for the moment. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die, and the Potter wedding was the living example of that particular adage.

"Peter!" Sirius cried gaily, stumbling across the room to throw an arm around Peter's shoulders. "You aren't nearly plastered enough yet! Have a firewhisky! Have twelve!"

"That's all right," Peter replied absently. "You're drunk enough for both of us." His mind was elsewhere; he was watching James and Lily dance together. James wasn't much of dancer, but he looked well enough today, pressed up against Lily, moving as if he were just an extension of her body -- which was true enough now, Peter supposed. That relationship was like a rock, and they'd likely be the most effective married team the Order had, along with the Longbottoms. He'd consider it, but Peter knew he'd never be able to drive a wedge between them. Too bad. His only orders from Voldemort, apart from spying, were to do everything in his ability to splinter the Order from within. He couldn't do much without compromising himself, but over time... Not the Potters, though. To strong a foundation to crack.

But within the Marauders themselves, well, he had a couple of ideas. Too early to make a real move yet, though.

Yeah, spending time as Peter definitely woke his brain up again. He should do this more often.

Sirius followed Peter's gaze. "They're so right together," he mumbled, almost morosely. Sirius's moods were always mercurial, and the alcohol certainly helped things along. "I wish I could be that right with someone."

Discord within the ranks? Sirius now had Peter's undivided attention. "What about Remus? Aren't you two--"

Sirius snorted in a very canine fashion. "We're no James and Lily, that's for sure."

"You've got a flat together."

"Sometimes I think the only reason he hasn't found his own place is because he can't afford it," Sirius complained. "I don't know for sure; he doesn't talk to me about those things. I never realized how secretive he was before."

Peter raised an eyebrow. "Remus? Secretive? You don't say."

Sirius waved his hand dismissively. "You know what I mean. He's supposed to trust me."

You just don't get it, do you? Peter thought incredulously. All this time, and Sirius still thought the incident sixth year hadn't changed anything? Idiot.

Yeah, Peter could use this.

"Maybe I should find a nice girl somewhere," Sirius rambled on philosophically, downing another drink. "Girls are supposed to talk about their feelings and tell secrets and stuff, right? And they're nice. They're soft and they smell nice. Do you like girls, Peter?"

"Er, yes, they're lovely." Peter didn't much care about romance, one way or another. He'd been with a girl or two, sure, to see what it was like. It was nice enough, but unnecessary. Peter didn't bother much with unnecessary things these days.

"A girl would be nice," Sirius decided, then changed his mind. "Except the talking and feelings and things might get annoying after a while. So maybe not."

Peter wondered what would happen if Remus were to come over now, with Sirius in this mood. It might be entertaining, at least. But no, Remus was on the other side of the tent the Potters had set up for the wedding and reception, and it wasn't quite worth the effort of fetching him.

Instead, he amused himself by playing Good Friend to Sirius, which included listening to all his drunken confessions and helping him find his way home when he had Had Enough. It didn't take long to get to that stage, which was good, because it gave Peter an excuse to say his goodbyes and get out of there while the party was still raging. After depositing Sirius in his flat, Peter scurried off to do...well, Wormtail business.

Late that night, on their way home from the wedding party, James's parents were attacked and killed by a small group of Death Eaters, including Regulus Black. Regulus was Peter's usual contact; he held a similar position among the Death Eaters to Peter's in the Order, and he relayed messages that were too sensitive for more normal channels -- like information from spies.

Peter was never sure exactly why the elder Mr. and Mrs. Potter were murdered; it didn't seem to have all that much strategic importance. But the Death Eaters weren't very good at separating business from personal, and the Black family had never forgiven the Potters for taking Sirius in.

*

Peter next met Regulus two days later, in a narrow alley in one of London's poorer neighborhoods. "You seem to have put my information to good use," he commented mildly. "Did the Dark Lord give the order to kill the Potters, or did you actually take some initiative on your own?"

Regulus seemed uncharacteristically on edge. "Bella ordered it."

"I should have known. It was a great blow to her pride when the Potters seduced Sirius away, wasn't it?"

"You have information for me?" Regulus asked crossly.

Peter smiled and pulled a thin roll of parchment out of his robes. "Your first killing, right? How did you like it?"

"They were blood traitors, like my brother," Regulus replied shortly. "They deserved to die."

"Of course, but that wasn't my question. You were supposed to tell me how much you enjoyed it, like all Death Eaters do. My pay, if you please."

Regulus shoved a small cloth bag full of coins at him. Another benefit to being on the dark side: while the Order couldn't afford to pay its members regular wages, the Death Eaters could. "Take it and go," Regulus spat. "I'll not have my loyalties questioned by a rat." He turned and Disapparated, rather abruptly.

Peter shook his head in amusement. They all still thought calling him a rat was an insult.

*

He avoided meeting directly with Voldemort as much as possible. Voldemort scared the shit out of him. Better to deal with Regulus, that haughty scion of the Black family, so like Sirius would have been without James. Proud, lonely, and not as strong as he thought he was. Peter pitied him.

He'd even rather face Bellatrix than the Dark Lord, because she was scary and possibly deranged but at least she still cared what other people thought of her, even if 'other people' only really meant Voldemort and possibly her husband. But still. Better than Voldemort, who just didn't fucking care about anyone but himself. Bella was less powerful than Voldemort, too. Obviously.

So he avoided meeting directly with Voldemort as much as possible.

It wasn't always possible, of course, but Peter didn't like to dwell on those encounters.

*

Peter measured time in pregnancies. It seemed like half the female population of the wizarding world decided to get pregnant at around the same time, over the course of a couple of years after the Marauders' graduation. He wondered which of these unborn children would grow up to be the key players of their generation. Who would be the leaders, the followers, the outcasts, the miscreants? Who would survive to adulthood, and who would die in infancy?

He measured time in deaths. Of Order members, mostly, if only because he knew them all by name, while the vast majority of the Death Eaters were only shadowy figures. The deaths began adding up in earnest just as all the babies were being born. He wondered if Voldemort had planned it that way. Probably just coincidence.

He measured time in Order plans foiled through his information, in Order members wounded and killed because of a note he had made to this or that parchment, handed over to Regulus in due course.

He measured time in the eyes of the people who realized they'd been betrayed, too late. There was no time left for them, none at all. He only dealt a handful of deaths personally, and he remembered each one vividly. Benjy Fenwick's was the worst or the best, depending on how you looked at it. Peter incapacitated him much the same way as in that Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson, except that standard dueling conditions no longer applied. Only tiny bits of Benjy were ever found; Peter filed that particular spell in the back of his mind as a particularly good way to make someone disappear -- or seem to disappear.

But most of the time, Peter didn't bother measuring time at all.

*

One bitterly cold winter's day, Regulus didn't meet Peter at the appointed time. Wormtail waited there for nearly an hour, curled up in a small pile of litter, but Regulus didn't show. Because Peter's information was never passed along, a small group of Death Eaters walked straight into an ambush organized and led by Sirius. Peter idly wondered if Regulus and Sirius were somehow working together, but knew it was probably just ironic coincidence that one brother's failure led directly to the other's success.

A week later, Peter learned that Regulus was dead. He didn't tell Sirius. It took a while for the information to get through the Order's usual channels, but they eventually heard the news. Apparently, Regulus had tried to back out, and Voldemort issued a license to kill immediately -- which amused Peter no end. It sure is rotten luck to have your communications compromised, isn't it? Not that he ever explained the irony to anyone. He somehow doubted that anyone else would get the joke.

Sirius responded to Regulus's death somewhat strangely. He just laughed, that short, barking laugh ringing throughout his flat when he was told. Peter wondered if Sirius was coming slightly unhinged.

He voiced this concern to Remus alone, and Remus took it in exactly the intended way. The already-damaged trust between Moony and Padfoot eroded just a little bit more.

*

It was almost childishly easy to splinter Remus out of the group. Remus had always been a loner by nature, forced into habits of secrecy and distrust by the disease incurred in childhood. He'd always been desperately lonely for true friendship, and clung to it when he thought he had it, but his greatest fear was the betrayal of that friendship; Peter hadn't forgotten the look in Remus's eyes after the Snape incident. And Peter exploited that fear for all it was worth, gradually but thoroughly. A word or two here, a hint there... It was like a game for Peter, a master game of chess, stretched out so slowly and languorously that you hardly realized the pieces were moving until -- checkmate. He'd learned that game from Caradoc and Benjy, and though he hadn't appreciated it at the time, he was certainly putting it to good use now.

Remus kept right on trusting Peter, of course. That was the beauty of it. Remus needed to trust someone, after all, and the pair of them had never entirely managed to puncture the Best Friend Bubble of James and Sirius's relationship.

They don't appreciate you, Peter told him.

They don't trust you like they should.

It's the werewolf thing, I know better but they don't, pureblood prejudices, you know.

It's like the thing with Snape, sometimes they just don't think, but that's all it takes.

I trust you, though, Remus. I'll always be here for you.

So easy, like following a script. Peter might have felt guilty about it, but by pushing Remus away from the other Marauders -- and, by extension, the Order -- he was probably actually pushing Remus out of harm's way, ensuring his survival. And in the end, Remus would know how to save himself, instinctively, like a frightened animal. Peter liked that about Remus. They were both survivors.

*

Just before little Harry's first birthday -- and when had he gotten so big? Peter really needed to keep better track of time -- Dumbledore sent Remus out on a secret mission of sorts. Remus was to seek out the other marginalized Dark creatures in the wizarding world, from other werewolves to vampires and the like, and feel them out. Learn if any of the neutral ones might be amenable to the Order, and how many had already gone over to Voldemort's camp. Peter only learned of the mission because he was the person handling the dispatches about it, and would (if necessary) deliver reports directly from Remus to Dumbledore when, for whatever reason, Remus couldn't go in person.

No one else, not even other Order members, not even Sirius, knew what Remus was supposed to be up to.

It was absolutely perfect. Remus was now vanishing for days, even a week or two at a time, and no one but Peter knew where he was or what he was doing. He missed the quiet little birthday party Lily and James had for Harry. He missed Order meetings. He made Sirius and James more suspicious of him than Peter could have ever managed on his own.

The final nail in the coffin, as it were, was also inadvertently of Remus's own devising. He owled Peter one night in early October to meet him in a seedy pub in Liverpool. He said he had an urgent message for Dumbledore. Peter didn't know why Remus couldn't have Apparated back to London himself; he'd never find out, and didn't really care.

"So what's all this about?" Peter asked, joining Remus at an isolated booth in a dark corner of the pub.

Remus pulled out a roll of parchment. "This needs to get to Dumbledore, as soon as possible. I'm sorry I can't check in myself, but I'm involved in a...situation here, and I can't get out just yet."

Peter took it and stuck it in his robes. "So what's in the report?" Remus visibly hesitated. "Come on, you hauled my arse out of bed at one in the morning to go halfway across England to play delivery boy, and I bloody well want a hint as to why." He did overtired and petulant well.

Remus sighed and stared into his untouched pint. "As of last night, the entire werewolf population of England is officially compromised. You-Know-Who finally got his hands on the Werewolf Registry. I assume someone in the Ministry is working directly for him -- probably several people. At any rate, he knows exactly who we all are now -- and where we are, and where our families are -- and can turn us -- or kill us -- one by one, as he so chooses." He ran a hand through his hair. He looked as though he'd aged several years in the past month or so. "Werewolves are officially not amenable to the Order now."

"What about you?" Peter asked, feigning surprise. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Remus just shrugged wearily.

"You should leave!" Peter told him. "Get out of the country, get out of Europe. You-Know-Who isn't all-powerful yet, there must be somewhere--"

"I have arrangements in place, if I so choose," Remus told him quietly, and wouldn't say another word on the subject.

*

It couldn't have worked out better if Peter had planned it. Rather than go directly to Dumbledore, he went straight up to the flat Sirius and Remus shared, and spent nearly ten minutes banging on the door before Sirius opened it.

"What the fuck," Sirius snarled -- rather mildly, Peter thought, given the circumstances.

"Message," Peter said, already shifting his manner of speech into 'babbling' mode. "I've got a message and I'm supposed to deliver it straight to Dumbledore, only I stopped to have a look and don't give me that look, Sirius, I had to, you see, because it concerns Remus and--"

Sirius held up a hand for silence. He yanked Peter fully inside the flat and shut the door, then accioed his wand and cast a silencing spell on the flat. "Okay. You're going to speak more slowly, Peter, and you're bloody well going to make sense or I'll shove my wand up your arse."

Peter pulled the parchment out of his robes. "It's about werewolves," he said. "I shouldn't be showing it to you, but...just read it."

After a moment, Sirius nodded and took the parchment, unrolling it. As he skimmed its contents, his brow furrowed. "Who gave you this?"

Peter hedged deliberately, shifting his weight. "I really, really shouldn't be telling you this..."

"Cut the crap, Peter. You've broken enough rules already, just take the next step."

You have no idea, Peter thought. "We have...someone in place. In northern England. He has certain...contacts. I deliver messages from him to Dumbledore." Good old Remus and his eminent professionalism; he never signed his name to any of his reports. "Normally I don't read them, I swear, only this time something he said made me wonder, so..."

"Right. Thank you." Sirius read the document over again, more carefully. "Peter, this is...I need to show this to James."

"You can't!" Peter protested. "I've got to give it to Dumbledore straightaway, I shouldn't have even--"

"It concerns Remus, and what concerns him concerns the rest of the Marauders, right? James needs to know."

Peter made a great show of reluctance. "I suppose I could show it to him myself...if you'll tell me where they are this week?" James and Lily currently evaded Voldemort not so much by hiding as by moving around fairly constantly. Harder to hit a moving target, and all that. Peter knew they thought they'd found a good permanent place to hide, but they hadn't settled there yet. Once they did...well, there were always ways of getting to them, he supposed, although at the moment he wasn't sure just how. He'd keep working on that.

Sirius shook his head firmly. Ah, well, it was worth a try. "Sorry, Peter. It's not that I don't trust you, you know. It's just that the fewer people who know this, the better."

"Right," Peter sighed. "Well, I suppose I could let you hold on to the parchment for a little while. But I need it back by tomorrow night, at the absolute latest. Seriously. Promise?"

"No problem," Sirius said, and the funny thing was, he'd probably be true to his word.

"You don't think..." Peter started, with just the right amount of hesitance. "I mean, the report. Remus wouldn't really turn, would he?"

Sirius glanced down at the parchment grimly. "He might not think he has a choice."

Perfect.

Even if Peter actually got into a little bit of trouble for this -- unlikely, since he had a number of excellent excuses up his sleeve -- it was worth it. Remus was out. Now he just had to work on driving a wedge between James and Sirius, which would be a lot harder.

But as it turned out, he wouldn't have to do much of anything.

*

Several weeks passed. Remus vanished -- for good, probably, Peter thought. He wondered what Remus's 'arrangements' had been. Whatever they were, they had been good ones, and Voldemort soon lost what little interest he'd had in that particular werewolf.

And one sunny afternoon in late October, Peter met Sirius, James, and Lily in a public library -- in the Restricted Section, appropriately enough. The perfect place for some good old fashioned marauding.

"Where's Harry?" Peter asked, by way of greeting.

James and Lily exchanged a look. "One of our new Muggle neighbors is watching him," Lily said.

Peter smiled wryly. "I suppose you can't tell me where. Is this goodbye, then?"

"No," James said. "Actually, it's...well, we need to perform the Fidelius Charm. Tonight, if possible."

Peter glanced at Sirius.

"Not with me," Sirius said gruffly. "I know, we've planned it this way for ages, I'm the boy's bloody godfather, but..."

"Too obvious," James said bluntly. "Especially if Remus is compromised. It's just a risk we can't afford to take."

"Besides," Sirius added, "if there really is a spy within the Order, he or she will probably come after me, and that's our best chance of identifying them."

Peter's head swam. He didn't have to fake his befuddlement this time. "So...what you're saying is...?"

Lily smiled gently at him. "Peter, would you be willing to be our Secret Keeper?"

No. They can't possibly be this stupid, can they? "Are you taking the piss?"

Sirius sighed, leaning against a bookshelf. "Just say yes, Pete. We know you'd never let us down."

"It's his decision," James said, never taking his eyes off Peter.

Well, there really was only one thing to do, wasn't there? "I'd be honored."

He'd never thought it would end up being this easy. Never in a million years.

*

"I bring good tidings, my Lord. The very best. That's why I had to deliver the news personally."

"Well?"

"I know where the Potters are."

*

When it all went wrong, Peter didn't question it. He didn't refuse to believe the rumors, like some Death Eaters, or engage in heated debates as towhy. He just got the hell out of there before anyone else could remember exactly who had directed the Dark Lord to Godric's Hollow.

He didn't bother returning to his flat. He had nothing but the robes on his back and his wand in his pocket, and didn't care. There was no question of ever living in the wizarding world again. He had gambled it all, and lost, and it was only a matter of who would kill him first -- the Order or the Death Eaters. He'd have to go into hiding, deep hiding, as Wormtail, and probably never take human form again. Even then, he would never be really safe. A couple of the Death Eaters knew his rat shape, would be able to track him. As would Sirius...

Sirius.

It was all so obvious, wasn't it? Sirius was the only Order member who knew that Peter had been the Potters' Secret Keeper. But everyone else thought it had been Sirius. And Peter knew Sirius. The odds were a hundred to one against that Sirius would actually stop to tell anyone, by the way, it was Peter who did it. No, he'd want revenge. He'd want to kill Peter with his own hands, then tell the story afterwards. And he was a fucking genius with tracking spells, Marauder's Map or no. So he'd come straight for Peter, and wouldn't stop until...

...until Peter was dead.

So Peter would die. And Sirius would probably be hurled into Azkaban without any questions asked, and no one would believe that he hadn't been the Secret Keeper because the only people who could support his story were dead.

And the remaining Death Eaters wouldn't bother hunting down a dead rat.

*

Peter knew that magic was primarily about intent, and if he wanted something badly enough, he could make it happen. He knew that there needn't be an extant spell for what he planned, so long as he had enough power and control over the magic. And the manner of Lily's death had taught him that the greater the personal sacrifice, the more powerful the effect.

So he planned it all perfectly. He waited for Sirius in the bustling street. His hands were hidden under his very loose robes, his left hand delicately tickling the base of his finger with a silver dagger. No wand today; he must appear to be totally defenseless. Besides, what use has a rat for a wand?

And, right on cue, Sirius came.

"How could you, Sirius?" Peter screamed. Heads turned. Muggles stared. Sirius made a low growling noise in the back of his throat. "How could you betray James and Lily? You killed them!"

Come on, you git, he thought, raise your bloody wand.

Sirius advanced upon him, eyes murderous. He raised his wand.

Calmly, Peter slipped the dagger through flesh and bone. He didn't feel a thing. His finger fell to the ground, and the world exploded around him.

Peter smiled, slipping into his rat form like a familiar robe, and scurried away.