The scene was a churchyard in a small village, the cemetery quiet in the still morning. Near the middle was a freshly-dug hole, somewhat larger than usual as it was intended to hold two coffins, but in the half-light it looked decidedly eerie. The air was thick with fog, and a superstitious person might have thought that the spirits of the departed were swarming around, as though they were not quite ready to welcome the new additions to their number.
A cracking sound broke the silence, and suddenly a figure appeared behind the church. Even in the half light, it was clear the person was trying to shrink into the background, eager not to be seen. When the light crossed him he was revealed to be a rather short young man, aged maybe twenty-one or two, with rather dirty, colourless hair, watery eyes and a long nose. He was somewhat overweight and his clothes looked like they’d been slept in.
Which indeed they had. In fact, the young man hadn’t changed his clothes for four or five days, and that was apparent. In that time he also hadn’t washed or shaved, and the beginnings of a thin wispy beard had appeared around his chin, but not much – even in that much time, he hadn’t been able to start a proper beard.
The young man looked around furtively and, satisfied he hadn’t been spotted, suddenly transformed into a brown rat. The long nose and watery eyes were the same, and a toe was missing on the left front paw where the young man had been missing a finger, but otherwise he was completely unrecognisable as the person who had appeared a moment earlier. In rat form, he scurried around the perimeter of the church, finding a spot near the doors where he could watch without being seen.
After an hour or so the church began to fill up. It was a funeral, the funeral of two young people who had been mown down in cold blood the previous week. Two of the young man’s best friends, in fact. James and Lily Potter.
This funeral was supposed to have been for their son, Harry, as well, but for some reason he hadn’t died as his parents had. The young man – his name was Peter, so we will call him that from now on – couldn’t understand how Harry had survived. He wasn’t supposed to. No one survived when the Dark Lord paid them a personal visit.
Peter watched the crowds build up. People they had known from school, both students and staff, though some of their friends hadn’t made it to the age twenty-one or twenty-two, due to the war. Members of the Order of the Phoenix, the group set up to fight the Dark Lord. Friends and family of both victims, both wizard and Muggle – Lily had been Muggle-born, after all.
He spotted Moony fairly soon after the latter arrived. He looked haggard, unsure of what to do, though perhaps that wasn’t surprising: he had just lost all his best friends in one fell swoop. He hovered around Dumbledore and the other Order members, probably because he didn’t know who else to talk to. Peter, still watching from his hiding spot, felt a pang of regret – this was all his fault, after all. He was the one who had told the Dark Lord where James and Lily were hiding. He was the one who had put the blame on Sirius. He was the one who had betrayed them all.
And it had been a difficult decision, though he doubted any of them would believe that if he told them. But any idiot could see how the war was going, that the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord would end up victorious, and he for one didn’t want to be killed as a traitor when that occurred. And when they approached him they told him as much – if he didn’t co-operate, he could say good-bye to, well, being alive. And he liked life.
Besides, he had to admit it had felt good, knowing he was getting one over the others. Particularly James and Sirius, who had claimed to be his friends all those years but had continually derided him, insulted him, suggested he was lucky they were even talking to him. And for a few years he had agreed with them, but eventually he realised he was worth more than that. He shouldn’t always have to be the butt of their jokes, the cause of their laughter or the subject of their contempt. And Bella, when she had sought him out, had confirmed all that, and promised a spot right up top, in the Dark Lord’s inner circle, when he took over, if Peter did the right thing in the meantime.
For a full year he had pulled it off, pretending to work for the Order while really spying for the Death Eaters, passing on the whereabouts of the Potters and anyone else they wanted information on. The McKinnons, for example – that had been one of his. And Benjy Fenwick. The Dark Lord had been very pleased with his information over the past several months. It had been easy, though – no one took him seriously, so they didn’t watch what they said when he was around.
Even when they knew that there was a spy, and they’d narrowed it down to someone close to the Potters, still no one had suspected it was him. Moony had suspected Padfoot, and Padfoot had suspected Moony. No one even thought Peter was a possibility. Proof that they had underestimated him for all those years.
Well, he’d shown them, he thought. He had been looking at having much more power than any of them had. Particularly now. James dead, Sirius in Azkaban, Remus looking like half the man he was.
Peter had to admit he’d been surprised, when Sirius had been sent to Azkaban without a trial. Even he, in his wildest dreams, hadn’t thought it would be that easy. He hadn’t thought Sirius would submit to being taken by the Hit Wizards without a fight, hadn’t thought that Dumbledore’s testimony that Sirius had been the Secret Keeper (which of course wasn’t true) would be instrumental in Barty Crouch’s decision to forego the usual procedures in convicting and sentencing prisoners. Peter had been fairly confident that Sirius would have been convicted anyway, even with a trial – without being able to produce Peter alive, in human or rat form, Sirius’s argument wasn’t persuasive at all, even to people who might have wanted to believe him.
Of course, the plan had worked well. He’d worked it out with Bella. He would confront Sirius in a public place as though he was the one who had done the chasing (in fact he would just be somewhere blindingly obvious so that it was easy for Sirius to find him), and then blow up the street with a Blasting Curse. None of them even knew he could cast a Blasting Curse, that’s how little they thought of him. And then he’d transform into a rat and run off into the sewer while Sirius just stood there in confusion. Cutting off his finger in the process had been Bella’s idea – she said that they needed to find at least a part of him, and while it had been painful it had been well worth it to see the usually unstoppable Sirius Black carted off without even raising a wand in his own defence.
But there was a catch that none of them had anticipated. Yes, the Dark Lord had gone to the Potters’ house on Peter’s information, and yes, he had killed James and then Lily like he planned. But then he tried to kill Harry. A baby. And – no one was completely sure what had happened – it didn’t work. The Dark Lord disappeared instead of Harry. Peter had gone back to the house the following day to try to work out what had gone wrong, but it was swarming with Aurors and members of the Order and he’d barely been able to get in, even as a rat, to see for himself. And in the wreckage that had been Harry’s room, Peter had found a wand that he recognised as belonging to the Dark Lord, but nothing else. He picked it up in his teeth and hurried for a hiding-place, just in time as the Auror Moody came into the room and may have caught a glimpse of his tail as he scurried off.
But now, it was James and Lily’s funeral, and everything had changed. Peter was confused, unsure what to do. His triumph at getting one over everyone who had laughed at and derided him over the years was tempered with doubt as to whether he had made the right decision. At the time it had seemed right, as it was clear which way the war was going and he did want to survive it. But now, with the Dark Lord gone, it looked like maybe the Order had won after all. He’d picked the wrong side. And he couldn’t show his face again, not considering he was supposed to be a tragic martyr for the Order, killed when he chased down his much stronger, more talented, more powerful friend in a fit of righteous anger brought on by the ultimate betrayal.
He looked at the crowded church. James and Lily had been popular and the turnout was larger than even he had thought it might be. The service would be starting soon, so if he wanted to see it he would have to creep into the church very shortly so he wasn’t locked out. Looking around to check if anyone would notice if he did it now – even though only Moony knew his Animagus form, it was still a risk – he noticed someone else skulking in the shadows, trying to watch without being seen. Even from this distance, Peter could recognise who he was sure was a fellow Death Eater. Severus Snape.
Snape. His presence distracted Peter momentarily as he wondered what on earth he was doing here. Everyone knew he hated James with a passion, he was probably cheering that he was dead. And while he’d been friends with Lily in their early years at school, she hadn’t spoken to him since that day in fifth year when he’d called her a Mudblood, so it could hardly be for her. Maybe he just wanted proof that James Potter was actually dead. It would fit his character as Peter knew it.
In any case, Snape kept lurking in the background as Peter scurried into the church, just in time as the doors were closed a minute or so later. He wasn’t really used to Muggle ceremonies so he wasn’t sure what to expect, and he didn’t really listen as the churchman spoke a few words about James and Lily that did nothing but prove he didn’t know them. It wasn’t until Dumbledore got up to talk that the tension that had been in the room started to dissipate and the tears started flowing in earnest. Even the men, those who never cried, were succumbing. Dumbledore could have that effect on people.
As he watched, Peter could feel the self-doubt gnawing at him. Here he was at the funeral of two of his best friends, and it was his fault they were dead. Another of their best friends was in prison for the crime and for Peter’s “murder”, neither of which he actually committed. And the last of their group, Remus, was clearly lost – he had lost not only his friends but also with James his source of income, and with his lycanthropy he would in all likelihood have great difficulty find a job, so he was to all intents and purposes sentenced to a life of poverty. All these lives either taken or ruined, and it was all Peter’s doing. And for what? For the favour of the Dark Lord, a man who had now disappeared into nothingness, who it seemed would now not lead the wizarding world.
Was it the wrong decision? Possibly. But, Peter realised, he was too far in now, he couldn’t turn back. There was really only one option still open to him, and it was to wait and see. No one knew what had happened to the Dark Lord, so it was just possible that he might return one day. And he, Peter, would have to bide his time until that happened.
As the crowd filed out of the church and into the cemetery towards the burial plot, Peter came to a decision. He would spend his time as a rat, which was the only way he could ensure he wasn’t found to be alive after all. He would go to the Ministry and choose a witch or wizard to catch a lift with to their house, in the hope he might be adopted as a pet. Probably one with shabby-looking robes, so they were less likely to seek a pet in the pet stores and more likely to adopt a stray they found. And one with children who might like a pet rat. It would take some research but he could do it, and all he had to do was make sure they didn’t know Moony, because he was the only person still alive (and not in Azkaban) who might possibly recognise him.
And then, he’d wait. If there was any hint of the Dark Lord getting powerful again, he’d re-join him immediately and with any luck be welcomed back as faithful supporter. It was better than nothing, and, he concluded, it was also the only option he had left.