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Chapter 15: The Rat
There were a lot of things that Peter Pettigrew didn’t want to be doing at any given time, but at the moment, this certainly ranked high among them. He unconsciously stuck his tongue out from between his teeth as he rummaged in the top of his sock, searching for the address he’d scrawled on a scrap of paper – he knew that he’d stuck it in there earlier. It was where he always put things for safekeeping. But his nerves were frayed, his reflexes hexed to pieces, and it was difficult to concentrate.
Not that it wasn’t his own doing, but still - he’d never imagined in a thousand years that he would ever willingly offer himself up as a spy to You-Know-Who’s followers.
There was much that had prompted it, he thought now, with an almost scary lack of emotion about the thing entirely. Mostly he thought it was the sense of fear that accompanied being in the Order of the Phoenix – something he certainly had never even thought about before actually joining. It wasn’t the picture of heroics and noble deeds that Sirius had painted it to be at all. It meant watching your back always, because you never knew when someone wanted to see it gone. It meant the very real prospect that maybe - just maybe - it was possible to lose a war. It meant that you were the weak one, in many ways, and he knew exactly what happened to the weak ones in those sorts of circumstance. And Peter knew he was one of the weakest.
But there were other factors, too, and as guilty as he felt for thinking about them – well, they had contributed. For as long as he could remember, he’d been the butt of Sirius’s jokes. Sirius meant well, and Peter knew that he’d never really meant any of the sarcastic things he said, but that sort of thing got to be extremely tiring after a while. Peter always tried to play it off like he hadn’t minded, but who wouldn’t mind that after over seven years of it?
And he knew he was nothing special in the Order, either, constantly overshadowed as he was by James and Lily. He’d not managed to recruit a single person yet on his own, and while James kept telling him that it was okay, he knew Gideon Prewett especially was disappointed.
If he succeeded in doing this – and being a double agent was a tall order – he wouldn’t have to disappoint people anymore.
“Got it,” he muttered, fishing the twisted scrap of paper out of his pocket, holding it up a bit to the buzzing lamp on the corner in order to try and see the numbers on it better. He knew he should have gone slower in copying down the address, but it had been burning – what sort of lunatics sent messages on fire? – and now he couldn’t tell if that was a zero or an eight. There was a sort of wavy blot of ink directly in his way.
No. It was definitely a zero. And that meant he was here… didn’t it?
Peter craned his head back and looked at the building he stood in front of, but there was absolutely nothing remarkable about it. He fished about in his other sock now and extricated, with some difficulty, the rolled-up letter he’d placed there.
He smirked slightly, so that the lamp caused his face to look a bit skull-like in the shadows. Really, it was because of Sirius, and Beth, that he was able to get this letter, which led to the one that had arrived half in ashes, which had led to him standing about on this particular square of cracked pavement. He’d let it slip one day that Moody was keeping his eye on a man at the Ministry, a low-level worker in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
“He’s supposed to be a real nobody,” Sirius had said – Peter recalled that Sirius had snickered to himself at that, as though he found the whole situation highly amusing, instead of one that the Order should have been keeping tabs on. That, too, had always slightly irked Peter, the fact that Sirius found something to laugh about in anything, even things that weren’t supposed to necessarily be humorous.
“Well, You-Know-Who’s not exactly going to wander about trying to convince the Minister to join him, is he?” Beth had responded. “He’s got to start small, Padfoot.”
Taking this information and going to the Ministry on pretense of trying, yet again, to recruit somebody into the Order of the Phoenix, Peter had managed to locate the man in question, who’d listened with interest to the story he, Peter, had presented. The Order was weak, he’d told him, flawed, and Peter was prepared to take it down from the inside, as long as it meant he wouldn’t fall with it. The man had promised he’d get in touch with Death Eaters higher in the ranks, and that had been the end of the conversation.
It was the first time Peter had heard the word “Death Eaters” and was able to conjure up a mental image of something also synonymous with “human.”
He had almost expected nothing to come of the words he and the Ministry worker had had – and in fact, the first few nights afterward had been dotted with cold sweats and nightmares, sure he was going to be killed at any moment for what he knew. But on the eighth night following, the burning letter had arrived:
Remember this address. Meet there on the thirtieth, at half-past eleven at night. Come alone; do not share this information. Someone will meet you and provide further instructions.
609 Neward Court, Ravensbridge, London
Well, it was the thirtieth now, and it was – Peter stuck his tongue out again without meaning to, shaking up his sleeve to check his wristwatch – almost half-past on the dot. And he had confirmed that, yes, the address he’d written down did in fact contain a zero and not an eight. But not another human being was in sight.
He had been fooled.
Just as Peter was about to turn around, call it a wasted effort, and head home, there was a sort of noise that stopped him. But it wasn’t a noise, really – it was more of a feeling, a sensation that he really wasn’t alone in front of this crumbling townhouse on a less-than-appealing street. He strained his eyes through the darkness, trying to see if anybody was there.
“Hello?” he called, with a poor attempt at injecting bravery into his voice.
Even though he was looking nearly right at it, he still jumped a foot in the air when a section of the previously impermeable darkness shifted. Two eyes blinked slowly; he could only tell they were eyes once they opened back up, and the lamp glinted off their reflective surfaces. “You’d best hope,” said a low, slow voice, “that you are Peter Pettigrew.”
“I am.” He winced a bit at how squeaky and shaky his voice sounded in comparison with that of the figure, who was still drenched in inky shadows and didn’t appear to want to meet him in any sort of hurry.
The figure laughed in a wheezy manner, at odds with the deepness of its voice, and finally moved to stand a bit closer to him, so that he could see that it was, in fact, a person. What perhaps startled him most was the fact that it was not a man, as he had previously assumed, but a woman. A rather ugly woman, he thought absently – her red hair was badly in need of a wash, and pulled back so severely that the thin, pale skin at her temples was even further stretched. She was rather short and stocky, and when her fingers fluttered about the clasp of her cloak, he could see that they were as stubby as the rest of her.
“Hello, Peter Pettigrew,” she cackled mockingly. “It is a good thing you’re him, you know, else I would’ve had to kill you, and that would have been messy.”
Peter swallowed, panic unmistakably clenching the pit of his stomach. “I’m here to see –“
“Yes, yes, I know what you’re here for,” she snapped, all traces of humor evaporated from her demeanor. She ran her eyes over him a few times and snorted. “Don’t cut an impressing figure, do you? Get in, then – bad idea to be standing about outside.”
She gestured toward the door of the house she’d hidden in the shadows of, and he pushed his way through the cracked black door, not wanting to have to be asked twice. The foyer of the house wasn’t much lighter than outside it, however; the lamps dotting the walls were barely lit, and a few of them kept sputtering feebly.
Peter could hear voices coming from behind a wall to his right; he assumed the door was further down the entrance corridor. “This way?” he asked, trying to be helpful, and he jerked his head toward the direction of the low murmur of voices.
The woman looked at him as though he were a toad she’d like nothing more than to squash under the heel of her shoe. “No,” she said venomously. She pointed one of her stubby fingers up. “You’re needed up there.” She turned and immediately began ascending a very crude staircase assembled from what looked like packing crates. Peter was fairly sure it hadn’t been there a few seconds before, but maybe his eyes hadn’t adjusted properly to the darkness.
As he climbed behind the stout woman – he realized with an inexplicable feeling of fear that he didn’t yet know her name – his brain turned gears slowly, trying to process exactly what he was doing. Could he even do this – did he have the strength to act like he belonged to two factions, two sides of a rapidly escalating war? There was nothing from stopping the exact same things happening here – pushed aside, shunted around in favor of the more powerful and more successful. And back in the Order, at least, he had had friends to encourage him.
Sirius’s barking laughter met his ears faintly, as though from underwater, and Peter’s lip curled unconsciously. But here he was on the winning side. And that, above all else, was where he needed to be. For him, losing was not an option; he didn’t have enough strength to survive if he lost.
The woman halted at the top of the staircase, so abruptly that Peter very nearly ran into her. She didn’t turn back to face him again, and he nearly asked what they were doing before someone else stepped onto the landing from a corner, adjacent to a tiny, narrow door. Got a thing for skulking about, this lot, he thought.
“Alecto. I thought you were –“ The man who had stepped from the corner leaned to the side a bit to inspect Peter. He grinned in such a way that he, Peter, knew instinctively that the pair of Death Eaters was related. The two the same laugh, the same slightly misshapen features, the same sloping shoulders. “Ah, you found him.” He jerked his thumb at the door behind him. “Roark’s in there.”
“I know,” Alecto said, a bit grumpily; her hands balled into small fists at her sides. “Stop acting like you know more everything in the world, Amycus, or I’ll jinx you.”
The man called Amycus smirked a bit and shrugged his shoulders, as though to indicate that he really did have vastly superior knowledge. “I’ll be downstairs, then,” he called over his shoulder. Peter could hear Alecto grinding her teeth; she stood in front of him for a few more moments, fuming.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” she finally spat savagely, turning on her heel and apparently only just now remembering that he was there. “You heard him, go in!” She shoved his shoulder roughly, and Peter scurried toward the door, trying to prevent her from lashing out at him again more than anything else.
The room was small and damp-feeling, smelling like something that had long since been festering. Peter wrinkled up his nose as he shut the door behind him, taking extra time as he did so. He didn’t really want to look at whoever else was in the room with him, although thinking he might somehow get out of it was foolish.
A dark-skinned man stood in the otherwise bare room, against the opposite wall; his fingers, surprisingly long and thin for one of his bulk, were toying delicately with a dark-wooded wand. A ring on his thumb caught the cracks of light that managed to slip through the grime on the solitary, high-up window.
“What brings you here?” he asked without preamble. For some reason, Peter could only watch the wand in Roark’s hands; his eyes were dark and fathomless and terrifying.
“I didn’t ask who you were,” Roark said coldly. “If you were someone other than Pettigrew, you’d be dead by now.” He sneered openly as the thought made Peter shudder involuntarily. “I asked why you were here. There’s a difference.”
Peter looked up and made an effort to look Roark straight in the face. “Because I can help you. I can pass you information about the Order of –“
“And we’re supposed to believe – we being the Dark Lord’s followers, his servants – that you’re willing to do this?” Roark almost appeared bored, but for the spark in his eye that belied his flat tone. “It’s a lofty promise, Pettigrew. And one I’m not sure you’re intent on keeping.” He resumed playing with the wand; until that moment, Peter hadn’t noticed that he’d stopped.
“I am,” he said firmly, shoving his hands into the pockets of his robes so that Roark wouldn’t be able to notice their shaking. “If it means – if it means protection from the aftermath. Whatever happens in the end.” His eyes flicked back up to the Death Eater’s. Slowly, Roark grinned.
“Then you’ve come to the right place, haven’t you?” He took a step closer to Peter, who flinched instinctively. Roark smirked. “But if you’re going to do that” – and he waved the wand at Peter’s clenched fists – “we might as well kill you now, for all the good you’ll do us.” He raised his wand, as though contemplating the action.
“No!” Peter yelped, backing hastily toward the door; his back slammed into it uncomfortably, and he flinched again. “No, I – I can do it. But don’t kill me.” He half-raised his hands, like he was about to ward off a very feeble attack.
“Even if it means turning in your friends?” Roark whispered silkily. He turned about abruptly and began pacing, his thick, muscular arms clutched contemplatively behind his back. “If we agree to keep you on as a spy” – and he looked very much like he was disinclined to the idea – “we can still kill you if you disobey orders. And we will.”
For a moment, faces flashed across Peter’s mind’s eye. James and Lily, and Sirius, and Remus, and Beth. Even Mary and Marlene. The seven of them had been the best friends he’d ever had – and protecting himself would mean losing all of them. He swallowed thickly against his Adam’s apple, which seemed to have swollen about three times in the span of a few seconds.
“Yes,” he said, more breath than formed word. “I’ll do whatever it takes to stay alive.” He couldn’t look at Roark as he said it; hot, burning shame was flooding through him, racing through his veins and burning the tips of his ears. He couldn’t have looked at anybody just then.
His chin snapped up swiftly as the sound of the Death Eater’s footsteps drew near again. The man’s face, now hidden even more deeply in shadow as he moved past the infinitesimal pricks of light, was a mixture of amusement and caution, and something unnamed, something darker. He held out his wand again, and this time, Peter stood his ground.
“Amycus.” At the sound of the name, the door behind Peter clicked open; he hurried away from it hastily as the stocky witch’s brother entered the room at that moment, head bowed in slightly mocking deference. Peter had no idea how Roark had known Amycus was out there.
“You summoned?” he said, upper lip lifting slightly as he did so. Roark rolled his eyes.
“Come here,” he snapped. Sullenly, like a reprimanded schoolboy, the misshapen-looking wizard did as he was told. “Get out your wand.” Before Peter could react, Roark’s right hand shot out and yanked Peter’s own, his grip like iron.
“What’re you doing?” he gasped, icy fear trickling through him.
“To make sure you keep your word,” said Roark gravely, “you, Peter Pettigrew, are going to make an Unbreakable Vow.” He laughed humorlessly at the younger man’s expression upon hearing those words. “Oh, yes,” he added nastily. “You’ll remember what I said. It’s not a lofty promise.”
“Are we ready yet?” drawled Amycus. Roark glared at him, and his head jerked toward his and Peter’s hands, motioning for the other to go ahead. Amycus withdrew his wand from the folds of his cloak and placed the tip of it on their interlinked hands.
“Do you, Pettigrew, pledge your allegiance to the cause of the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters?” When Peter didn’t respond right away, Roark looked at him fiercely.
“I do,” Peter said shakily. As soon as the words had left his lips, a thick, coiling jet of flame erupted from the end of Amycus’s wand, looping itself around Roark’s and Peter’s hands. He stared openmouthed, but the Death Eater’s gaze didn’t lower from his face.
“And will you serve, to the best of your ability, the orders you are issued, even if they are unsatisfactory to your conscience?” A wicked grin twisted the dark man’s lips.
“I will.” A second tongue of flame wrapped with the first. The two links glowed brightly for a few seconds, almost pleasantly warm on Peter’s bare skin. He watched it intently, disregarding how the light was burning small patterns into his retinas. Slowly, the links faded, though he could still feel them, bound around his hands.
As soon as it was gone, the horror of what he had done struck him. He looked at Roark wildly; both he and Amycus were wearing slightly cruel half-smiles, as though they’d caught an animal in a trap. Like a rat, said a voice inside his head.
Without looking back, he stumbled blindly from the room, nearly pitching headlong down the stairs in his haste to leave that godforsaken house. How could he have done what he had? How could he ever be forgiven for something like that? Maybe no one will ever find out, he thought, but even as he did, he knew they were false words. The villain was always found out.
He had almost reached the door when, from nowhere – it seemed like it was coming from the wall itself, through which he had earlier voices – a hand shot out and grabbed his arm. Peter pitched forward with the momentum of his flight from the house, and was jerked around roughly. Severus Snape was standing over him, and he looked absolutely livid.
“What are you doing here, Pettigrew?” he spat angrily, glancing quickly around to see if anyone was looking in the pair’s direction. The foyer was empty. Peter, still breathing hard, could only stare at Snape. It had been nearly two years since he’d seen him, back when they were at school together. And somehow, he’d gotten the feeling – mostly from Beth and James and Sirius – that he wasn’t supposed to bring this particular person up in conversation. Certainly Peter hadn’t been expecting to see him here.
Snape sneered. “Are you still as thick as you used to be?” he snapped. “I asked you what you’re doing here.” He paused, and then added, in a lower and somehow sharper tone, “Does Beth know you’re here?”
This seemed to loosen Peter’s tongue. “Why do you care?” he shot back. Snape’s lip curled.
“Get. Out.” He spoke through clenched teeth, squeezing Peter’s upper arm hard before shoving him roughly in the direction of the door. And though Snape’s behavior was beyond bizarre, Peter didn’t need to be told twice. Not stopping to glance back, he bolted through the front door, down the steps, and onto the street once more.
Desperately, he squeezed his eyes shut, still running, his shoes thudding on the pavement. Between one step and the next, he had transformed from man to rat. As a rat, nobody would notice him – he was nobody. And that was exactly what he felt like right now. Still breathing hard, but somehow distant from everything in this miniature body, Peter headed for his flat.
He didn’t change back into his proper human form until he needed to, right outside the locked door inside. It took him twice as long to insert the key in the lock, so badly were his hands shaking – twice as long to open the door – twice as long to find his way to the tiny bathroom. He sank to his knees and threw up into the toilet, gagging and hating himself.
He could still feel the fiery chains on his hands; he looked at them as they trembled, and almost imagined that they were still there, a permanent scar of his treachery.
A/N: I'm so excited to post this chapter! For a couple of reasons, actually. Primarily among them is that quite a few of you have asked about what's going on with Peter at this point in the story, and now it's all kind of set out definitively. Up until this point, he'd been having doubts and misgivings, but this chapter marks the first time he's actually set out to definitively do something. And the second reason I'm glad to post this is just because it's been a very stressful week, and it's nice to know that some things, like Snethday updates, stay the same.
Big thanks to Lia, Becca, and Ty for looking over and critiquing this chapter for me! And thanks to you guys, of course, for all the support. As always, opinions on this chapter are super appreciated!