Chapter 1 : The Fool
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There never was anything quite so powerful as the lure of the Marauders. There was a particular kind of magic in the appeal of being liked, of being included in the exclusive confidences of the most notorious and universally admired students in the whole of Hogwarts. They were the boys for whom the world seemed to open up indulgently, offering opportunity and good fortune like a sweet for them to pluck at their leisure. There was no one immune to the glow of their acquaintance, the kind of light which they cast upon all of those around them, privileged to be in their presence and grateful, so adoringly grateful for the gift. And you were the most grateful of all.
To find yourself among them like an ill-fitting piece of a puzzle was the kind of blessing you were not accustomed to expecting. Each time you approached and joined the company you waited for someone to turn and point out that you did not belong, to ask what you were thinking by forcing your presence on them, or to admit that, after all, it had been a temporary lapse of judgement on their part. Those were the radiant and golden days, perpetual summer in the life of an awkward and fumbling teenage boy. There was no misfortune or discomfort that could touch a member of such an elite club, nothing that could mar the days you spent at the side of your brothers in mischief.
It was not only the acceptance you craved. It was the power, yes, the power and control that being in a notorious society offered you. The ease of it was seductive. There was no one free of their influence and at their side the aura of respect and admiration was cast upon you, too. You counted on their adoration to shield you from your own mediocrity. You were, at best, a passable student. Your spellwork was neither exemplary nor abysmal. It was undistinguished. You were uncomfortable and graceless in conversation, quick to redden, quick to lose your temper and the frustration was evident in your behavior. You seemed to repel witches. In truth, you frightened them. They did not understand that you were stuttering with rage not at them, but at yourself.
But among them, included in the conversations and antics of the boys for whom everything came gracefully, you were no longer the solitary and uninviting figure sitting alone at the dinner table. You were faultless, because your faults were their strengths. You were blameless because they could do nothing wrong, even their sins were regarded as virtues. You were never alone. You were among them, by their sides, included and valued, sitting with the demigods in their vaulted thrones.
But you were not one of them.
It took time for you to understand. When the gift of their society was presented, you were careful never to question it, lest you should discover that it had been a dream, an illusion woven by a wishful and lonely mind. But you could not stop the understanding once it began to grow in your mind. They did not need you. You could offer them nothing. You were not the most handsome, nor the most charming, certainly not the brightest or kindest. Their court was well occupied with admirers and they the handsome princes who reveled in it all. But they chose you, bestowed upon you the place others would certainly have fought for. Why? What were you, to their bright, youthful kingdom? Ah, but you are not quite so dim as the world believes. You know. You are the Fool.
You were chosen because you could never be their equal. You were kept close because your awed admiration fed them like a Hogwarts feast. They performed and you applauded. Your fumbling and your stupid mistakes, your ill-controlled frustration and inadequacy entertained the court next to their brilliance and charm. You were the jester, the one that did not belong, the one whose very difference served to highlight all of their goodness and grace. You sat beside them and were lit by their radiance but never glowed yourself, no, because yours was a dim and undignified existence in comparison.
But they were kind. Perhaps they did not even realize the cruelty of their generosity. And you were not so angry, after all. You were still the lucky one. You were the Fool of the highest court, a privileged fellow, indeed. Your father had gone by the time you were four, your mother was a weak and unloving woman, your had no family until now. Until your brothers. And it was only your own stupidity which invited their laughter. You thought that, with time, perhaps you could learn their secret, absorb some of their charm. You watched them, adopted their mannerisms, their words, and when you spoke you looked to them for approval. They did not need you but you needed them, you needed to learn how to gain influence the way that they did, how to make the world remember your name. You were ambitious but cowardly, could not rise to the top but had a talent for attaching yourself to the ones who could pull you up. And pull you up they did. They were generous with their talents, enjoyed your gratitude.
But golden days were never meant to last. The sun set on your bright ambitions, on your warm happiness, and all of your blessings flickered and died. And it began so innocently that you, the Fool, saw nothing. For James, love was all-consuming and miraculous, and Lily's radiance more than enough to draw him, slowly and inexorably, away from the inseparable brotherhood which he himself had ruled. But there was no resentment, not at first. You were whittled to three, but the bonds of companionship were strong enough to withstand the blow. You did not at first realize what you later understood, because you had always been the one apart, the last to see. They did not need you. The princes were good and strong and stood alone, though still united, they could each triumph in their own right. Sirius had always been charming and handsome, he would have crowds flocking to him wherever he went. Remus was always going to be talented and wise, the favorite of his teachers and the kind helper of other students. And James, glorious James, stood with Lily and the world sighed over this proof that perfect destiny could exist, for what could be more beautiful, more appealing, than the love of two so young and perfect?
But you, you had depended on them. You had clung to their success and they had always, kindly, offered it. What were you without them? What triumph could you claim? You began to discover a truth which you had once known, but happily forgotten. You were nothing. You were a cowardly and untalented boy, unblessed with anything extraordinary except the good fortune of having had them as friends. The world was happy to turn its back on you. And they were crueler still for all their kindness because you could not hate them. They had abandoned you to your own mediocrity and could not be blamed for it. You had been given a taste of power and now craved it all the more. But there was no denying the fact that you were not meant to do great things. You were unremarkable, forgettable. All of your failings which had once served them so well were now looked on by the rest of the world with disgust and contempt, for the Marauders were not there to give you a place at the table. You were the Fool left gamboling in an empty and unlit court.
Slowly your own lamentable temper, the vileness which was so well concealed among their virtue, began to taint and soil your thoughts. You could not hate them but resentment had always come remarkably easily for you. Bitterness filled up the space left by the contentment which you began to feel they had stolen. You were supposed to be brothers. The offer of their friendship had seemed tantamount to a promise which they had broken. They had given you a place in the world and then snatched it away, left you to stumble awkwardly through life alone. The idea grew in your mind and festered there, rotting everything which had once seemed so sacred. They had thought you such a Fool, had been amused by how dull you looked next to the shine of their accomplishments. You had been nothing but a private joke. They wore the faces of kindness and took comfort in their own virtuousness but beneath, they had used you, perhaps unintentionally, but cruelly all the same. You had never been one of them, but you needed them and they deserted you.
Slowly you drifted into the company of others. They had none of the charm nor the kindness of the friends you had known but they accepted your presence and you were drawn to their ambition. You took a harsh pleasure in knowing they were the kind of people who your brothers would have despised. They were cold and cruel and dark. But they offered you a place and you took it. They were growing in power and that appealed to you. And when, soon after school, they formally invited you to join the ranks of their organization, it seemed like an opportunity. You had never wanted anything but to be a part of something memorable, to have your name remembered. You had little interest in politics, no particular feelings on much of any subject. But they told you that you would be feared. The ones who had laughed, who had thought you a Fool, would see you and feel chills in their spines. That was what finally decided you.
You entered into the army of the Dark Lord. And you told no one. The ones whom you had once called brothers knew nothing and the idea pleased you. They had left you alone to find your own way and you had. You had been nothing without them but now, now you belonged somewhere once again. You were more powerful than they could imagine. You had found a place where being a coward, being bitter and angry and imperfect, were not failings, but embraced. You cared nothing for the cause. All you knew was that the idea that had festered in your mind had grown. Not only had your friends failed you, but the world had turned its back. You slipped through the cracks and no one noticed. The very fact that they believed your lies, that they did not see the changes wrought in you, was proof of their indifference. But they would not be indifferent always. When they heard your name spoken with a hush of fear, perhaps then they would understand. Perhaps they'd regret their neglect.
And so you served. And your fumbling ways did not matter. You were a Fool no longer. The frustration which built in you, the quick bursts of rage which had so amused the boys at school, were assets here. You let it out. You let yourself feel bitterness and resentment and frustration. The world had slighted you and left you to rot and you would make it regret the day. You would make the world feel the pain of being alone and unwanted, of being the one who was not needed or noticed, the one who could never stand alone. You would gather the rage and unleash it. The very heavens would tremble at the mention of your name and you would dance in the rain that fell on the undeserving earth.
But now, for the first time, a pause. The world in its infinite turning slows for just a moment.
There is a question to which you know the answer. This is, in itself, something unusual. You argue with yourself and neither of the entities on your shoulder is a very persuasive speaker. The very fact that they had entrusted you with this secret speaks of their regard. But they chose you because you were the weakest, the one who would be least suspected of knowing. They placed their secrets in the hands of the Fool because it was the place no one would look. The irony of it you appreciate but don't fully understand.
The fact that you are considering your options repulses you. But it is a detached, disconnected sort of disgust. You never had high expectations for yourself, anyway. It does not surprise you that you would consider monstrous betrayal. And in the considering lies the twisted center of the matter- because, if you are considering, then surely you are already a monster. And if you are a monster, then you have little hope of discovering goodness in you now. It is as though you have slipped somewhere on a treacherous slope and you are tumbling now, falling with uncontrollable speed toward some unimaginably horrifying end. But you have accepted this. In acceptance, you find that it is not so difficult after all to consider.
You are alone. Whatever you choose from this offering of paths will not change your solitude. And there is the strong possibility that denial will mean your own death. You are not noble, nor courageous. It is the truth which you learned about yourself in the beginning of your fall from grace. You want to think that you have the strength within yourself to discover a grain of righteousness. You wait for the revelation, wait to be swept away by the glory of realizing that you could never betray your friends. You wait for the moment when you will find within yourself the one who deserves their company. It never comes. You should have known better. They were the very ones who showed you the glow of virtue which you do not possess.
The excuses come easily now. Who were they to expect you to do the right, good thing? You do not believe in your own goodness. How can you act upon that which you do not believe? You do not deserve them. You have failed them and will fail them again. You will prove to them that you are the Fool which they suspected, the weak, pathetic creature who could follow after them but never walk in their light. You will prove to yourself that you are unworthy and despicable. There is some satisfaction in the idea of having been right about yourself all along. Yours is an endless and self-perpetuating cycle of failure and disappointment.
It is strange to you what kind of fate can be wrought from the exchange of a few simple words. They are easy to say. You expected them to be. You are fulfilling the expectations of the world which created you. And, after all, your part is short. Simple. You take no satisfaction in saving your own worthless life. There is savage pleasure only in knowing that your monstrous and indefensible evil will be remembered by those who thought you so incapable. But it is a short-lived pleasure. Alone in your bedroom, tears begin to choke you. You lay curled in a tight, trembling mass of disgust, simultaneously sneering at your own pathetic weakness and shaking with grief. It is not too late to warn them, perhaps. You could leave now, go to them and become a hero, save them and earn their mercy.
But it is too late for you, Peter. It always has been.