Chapter 1 : Secrets
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“I… don’t know.”
“I can tell when you’re lying, Pettigrew.” Voldemort’s voice is high and cold, and quiet enough that Peter is forced to listen closely, to hang on his every word. His life depends on it. “Now, I will give you one more chance. Who is the Secret-Keeper for the Potters?”
Peter eyes the wand in Voldemort’s hand. Any sudden movement of that wand and Peter will be dead a second later. No one will hear him in the darkness if he cries for help. There will simply be a flash of green light and Peter will die. He has only one way to stay alive now.
“I’m the Secret-Keeper.” Peter’s voice is barely a whisper.
How has it come to this? He hasn’t even lasted a week yet.
It was the twenty-sixth of October, 1981.
Peter Pettigrew had never seen the sky so dark. A few wispy clouds drifted overhead, fingers of vapour that stretched across the heavens as if reaching for something unattainable, while behind them a few stars blinked weakly. A few lights were on at the nearby church, dimly illuminating the graveyard behind it.
His legs felt like cold lead with each step he took up the stone walkway; perhaps if he delayed long enough in reaching the door, he might never have to do this at all. But time seemed to have stopped for him. The neighbourhood was silent apart from the dull thud of Peter’s boots hitting the flagstones. After a slow, agonising walk, he stood in front of the welcoming red wooden door. There was a paper jack-o-lantern taped to the door, its silly triangular eyes and toothy grin making Peter feel even more detached from reality. A house full of laughter and light, surrounded by silence and darkness. His hand shook as he knocked on the door. He swallowed and cleared his throat twice. It sounded very loud in the still night.
The door cracked open about a millimetre, and Peter could see one hazel eye peering out at him.
“What’s your Animagus form?” whispered the voice behind the door.
“A rat,” Peter said, identifying himself so that the occupants of the house knew he wasn’t an impostor pretending to be Peter Pettigrew. But he was pretending: masquerading as the person he used to be, before he got involved in both sides of the war. The guilt gnawed at him as he knew what must be in store for the Potters. But this was the price he had to pay if he wished to stay alive.
The door opened wider, and light streamed out from the house into the dark night. James stood aside and let Peter hurry past him into the safety and warmth of the house.
Now that the door had closed, Peter took a moment to breathe deeply and calm himself down. He could still feel his hands shaking, so he drove them deep into his pockets. James and Sirius were present in the room. Remus was not.
Peter felt a lump in his throat as he thought about Remus’s absence. Once one of his best friends at Hogwarts, Remus merely hovered on the periphery of the group now. Ever since Marlene had been killed a few months earlier, Remus had been increasingly disconnected and often absent from gatherings with his old school friends, which made it easy for Peter to feed little white lies to James and Sirius to sow suspicion and misdirect them. Remus was the perfect scapegoat; after all, he was no stranger to secrets, having a tremendous secret of his own, and Peter used that to his advantage.
“Remus said he had better things to do. I don’t really know where he is, though. He never says anymore, does he?”
“He’s a werewolf; we know he’s good at keeping secrets. What if there are more secrets we don’t know about?”
“You reckon Moony might be a spy for You-Know-Who?”
Peter had become adept at concocting stories that explained why Remus hadn’t turned up to any particular gathering. And over the past few months, as Peter had planned it, distrust had crept into the group of old friends, eating away at them and throwing them into chaos, like a spiralling vortex sucking in all that they used to take for granted.
Gone were the days when four schoolboys would sit together in their dormitory under the golden glow of the lamps and share their secrets, about girls, troubles at home, or ideas for new pranks on the Slytherins. The days of sharing were long past; now they had to keep secrets in silence.
Peter looked up. James was smiling, although he moved stiffly and jerkily, and appeared paler than last time Peter had seen him. “Lily will be down in a minute,” said James. “She's upstairs checking on Harry. He’s got a cold or something – passed it on to both of us, too.” He laughed in an attempt to lighten the mood. It sounded forced.
Across the room, Sirius was sitting on the edge of the sofa, his foot tapping agitatedly on the floor. Every once in a while he looked at his watch, flicking it as if it had stopped. His girlfriend had been tracking a Death Eater for a couple of days now, and based on the frequency with which Sirius looked at his watch, Peter assumed that Sirius hadn’t heard from her recently.
“You all right, Padfoot?” Peter asked, his voice full of friendly concern.
Sirius turned from his watch to face Peter, although his foot continued its tense tapping. “It’s killing me to sit tight and wait, completely in the dark about what’s happening,” he said. “But if I go looking for her, I might end up exposing her as a spy.”
Peter began fidgeting. The distractions in their lives might have been the only things keeping his friends from realising that Peter himself was a spy for Voldemort.
He looked towards the sitting room doorway, waiting for Lily, wringing his nervous hands behind his back, making knots of his fingers. His right thumbnail was cutting into the palm of his left hand. Half of him wanted Lily to show up and end the waiting, but the other half of him wanted to put it off forever, because he didn’t want to be burdened with the guilt of the inevitable.
“Thanks for doing this, Wormtail,” asked James, those warm hazel eyes staring into his own. James had said he wasn’t afraid of Voldemort, but Peter could see the fear in his eyes.
Eyes were the windows to the soul, someone had said once.
All the lying and deceit had started in November the previous year. Peter lost his job when his supervisor was killed by a Death Eater, though he didn’t tell anyone. They all had enough to worry about as it was, and he wanted to keep putting on a brave face, to still appear successful to his friends. He didn’t have time to find a new job, as the Order of the Phoenix occupied nearly all of his time, so after a few weeks of watching his savings in Gringotts dwindle and fearing that they would run out, Peter thought maybe he’d try sneaking food from a nearby shop after closing hours. It was easy; he’d simply transform into a rat and help himself to whatever he wanted.
The trip to the shop was easy enough. He quickly scampered through the dark street, dodging around the little pools of water in the holes where cobblestones had come loose, and then crawled through a hole in the skirting board, the narrow walls of the hole tickling his whiskers. Upon entering the shop, he turned into a human again and collected an armful of various breads and cheeses, hastily transferring them from the shelf into a paper bag. He was certain that, even as a human, the darkness of the shop and of the night concealed him, and no one would see him from outside. He was good at being unnoticeable.
Hands full of stolen provisions, Peter stood by the window plotting his escape. As he looked out for any movement, any eyes that might be watching him from the safety of their own windows, he received a great blow to the back of his head. His vision swam with little popping points of light, and tears began to form in his eyes as his skull stung from the impact. When the twinkling lights vanished at last, Peter found himself collapsed on the floor, at the feet of a towering, moustached man in a dark cloak.
“Pleasure to meet you,” the man said slowly in a flat voice. “I’m Janus Gibbon, and I’m the owner of this shop. This is my stuff you’re stealing.” He kicked the paper bag, scattering baguettes across the floor.
Peter tried to defend himself, but all that escaped his lips was a squeak of terror. He couldn’t go to Azkaban for petty theft, could he? He made up his mind to change into a rat and scurry away to safety, but before he had the chance, there came another sharp pain. And another. He heard the man bellow “Crucio!”
He felt a thousand knives attacking him at once. Each atom in his body was being separated from the others. The pain was too much, and time dragged on for what felt like hours. And then it stopped. Gibbon lifted his wand, terminating the Cruciatus Curse, and eyed Peter. Peter could see the dark outline of a skull and a snake on Gibbon’s forearm, and shivered. That was the mark of Voldemort. The owner of the shop was a Death Eater.
“Feel like talking yet, Pettigrew?” Gibbon snarled, his lips curling into a wry smile as he taunted Peter. “That’s right, I know who you are. One o’ them self-righteous bastards who’s fighting against the Dark Lord. You’re going to lose.”
Peter could feel his breath coming in short gasps, and the trickle of cold sweat on his brow. He didn’t know if he could transform now, his mind clouded by panic and his body still sore from the Cruciatus Curse. All he needed was a second to collect himself. But he was not given a second. The next thing he knew he was face down on the floor again, writhing in pain. He tried to cry for help, but no one was there to save him.
“Do you know how easy the Killing Curse is, Pettigrew?” asked Gibbon.
Peter realised the second assault of the Cruciatus Curse had stopped, although pain still seared through his body. He opened his eyes to see Gibbon crouching in front of him, holding a wand to Peter’s neck. He was close enough that Peter could see every detail of those yellow, crooked teeth, and smell the garlic on his breath. Peter wrinkled up his nose in disgust and tried to lean away subtly.
“So, what have you found out?” Gibbon asked. The point of his wand was digging into Peter’s neck.
“N-nothing,” he stuttered.
Gibbon jabbed the wand harder into Peter’s neck. “Tell me about Dumbledore’s little resistance group.”
It would take two words for Gibbon to kill him. One word to torture him again. “We’re called the Order of the Phoenix,” Peter squeaked, his heart racing. “Dumbledore is in charge. There are about thirty of us. Thirty-two, I think, at the last meeting…”
Gibbon cut through Peter’s nervous babbling. “What have you found out about the Dark Lord’s plans?”
Peter wanted to be anywhere but where he was. He felt too weak to transform, and he couldn’t keep silent, so all he could do was answer the questions he was asked. He tried to be vague, but with every bit of information he divulged, his heart sank.
Surely the Order would understand, though. If any of the others had been tortured to within an inch of their lives, they would have given in. How could they not?
“Now we’ve got a few choices here,” Gibbon growled. “I could kill you… or let you crawl back to your pathetic resistance group, find you again in a few weeks, and we can repeat this meeting over again.”
Peter gulped. “Is there another option?” he asked weakly.
Gibbon leered. “Of course,” he said. “Your information may actually be useful. Perhaps the Dark Lord will want to hear it himself.” He pulled up his left sleeve and pressed his fingers to the black outline of the Dark Mark on his forearm. The snake appeared to move, and Peter could only watch mutely, horrified but transfixed.
There was a loud cracking noise, and Peter started. Voldemort himself was standing in the shop, a tall, commanding presence with a snakelike face and red eyes. The temperature in the room seemed to drop instantly, the air still.
“This had better be important, Gibbon,” said Voldemort in his chilling voice. “What is this?”
“I’ve just obtained some valuable information from this little worm,” said Gibbon. “Pettigrew. He’s in Dumbledore’s resistance group. The Order of the Phoenix, they call themselves,” he added in a mocking voice.
Voldemort’s thin lips stretched into a smile. Peter found this to be even scarier than how he looked when not smiling.
“Well done, Gibbon,” said Voldemort. Then he faced Peter with his cold red eyes, eyes that seemed like they could read Peter’s thoughts. “This can be much easier next time. No one will have to torture you if you willingly give me the information.”
Peter still couldn’t bring himself to speak. How did one possibly have a conversation with Voldemort and live to tell the tale?
Voldemort sneered. “Look at yourself, grubbing around on the floor, listening at walls for hints about my plans. The Order of the Phoenix will fail. You are already failing; I have killed many of your number. But if you are useful to me, I will let you live. If you are in my service, I can offer you success, power, and protection. I am the most powerful wizard alive, and who better to protect you?”
Still shivering against the wall, Peter latched on to the small shred of hope he found in Voldemort’s words. He hadn’t thought about it that way before.
All he’d ever wanted was to be liked, to be important. In school he was the Marauder who everyone forgot about; the one who slipped into the background. He’d never been powerful. And now he was being offered great power, and a position of relative security amidst all the violence. A way to survive past twenty – something he’d never really thought he would have. If he did what Voldemort asked, Voldemort would protect him. The promise of protection from an incredibly strong Dark Lord was much more comforting than the weak protection of his school friends and Dumbledore, who were constantly being attacked by Death Eaters and narrowly escaping with their lives.
Switching sides meant working for someone who killed people without mercy, who threatened and tortured, and Peter felt ill at the thought of doing that. But he’d been fighting for so long in this war – a few years now – and he was still on the losing side, making no gains. He was so tired of it and wanted the war to be over. With Voldemort, Peter would be one of the victors, and the thought of such power was enticing. But in exchange for security and power, Peter would have to sacrifice his friendships with people he’d known since he was eleven. Was it worth it?
He found himself unable to look away from Voldemort’s hand, in which he held his wand, stroking it absently with a thin, pale finger. Again Peter could only think of how simple it would be for Voldemort to kill him in an instant if he said no.
“What would you possibly gain if you oppose me?” Voldemort asked. “I will answer that for you. You will gain nothing. You will lose your life, and all of your friends.”
Gibbon nodded. “And don’t even think about lying to us. The Dark Lord can tell. But lying to your Order – that’d be easy, since they trust you.”
Peter saw how it had to be. There wasn’t really a choice. Betray his friends, or die. So he nodded slowly. He knew he should say something, but all that came out of his mouth was a nervous blathering of unintelligible syllables.
Gibbon, clearly losing his patience, grabbed Peter by the back of his cloak and thrust him forcefully out the door. Peter landed facedown in a puddle, his nose smashed against the cobblestones.
“I have no doubt I will see you again, Pettigrew,” said Voldemort from the doorway, and then Gibbon slammed the door.
Finally alone again, Peter’s entire body ached as he slowly pushed himself onto all fours and crawled into a small dank alley between two shops. He always felt safer in small spaces. He hugged his knees to his chest and rocked back and forth in the dark. How much had that information cost the Order? He knew it had taken years to gather it. And it had taken mere minutes for him to give it up. He felt sick just thinking about it.
But he had a feeling this wouldn’t be the last time. The Death Eaters had gained information from him once, and they’d certainly want more.
He didn’t know what to do.
All he knew was that the Death Eaters would come for him again.
He opened his eyes. The Potters’ sitting room looked too bright, as if the warm yellow lamps in the sitting room would shed light on Peter’s own secrets that he was working so hard to hide.
The rhythmic creaking of footsteps on wooden stairs directed Peter’s attention to the doorway into the hall, and finally Lily walked in, a tired smile on her face and dark circles under her green eyes. They were ready to cast the Fidelius Charm now.
Originally, the Potters had planned for Sirius to be their Secret-Keeper and the one person able to divulge their location. They’d only decided last night to switch to Peter, in what they’d imagined was the perfect way to mislead Voldemort; Voldemort was much more likely to assume it would be Sirius.
Peter wondered briefly if he should ask them to switch back to Sirius again. Then Peter wouldn’t be able to tell Voldemort anything. But that would likely result in Sirius’s death, rather than the Potters’. Sirius was brave and would never give in to Voldemort even if it killed him. So either way, someone would die. But it wouldn't be Peter.
And as much as he cared for his friends, he still thirsted for the importance Voldemort would give him. But this was the hardest his job had ever been. Usually he just passed on information about random people, or those in the Order he didn’t know very well. But James and Lily… they’d been his friends for a decade. The past year of simultaneously trying to maintain his friendship with his old school friends, and gain the approval of a dark wizard who would otherwise kill him, was slowly destroying Peter. He didn’t know who he was anymore. He’d got himself stuck in a terrible situation, and now he had to follow through with what he started. How could this have gone so far? Why did it have to happen to him?
Tabitha, the Potters’ calico cat, crept into the room, pausing to rub against Lily’s leg before leaping up onto the sofa, her yellow eyes boring into Peter’s. Cats made him uneasy. Maybe it was from years of having the ability to transform into a rat, or maybe because those eyes seemed to penetrate deep into his mind, to see the traitor behind the guise of friendship. Peter looked away from the cat and stepped back slightly. “Are we ready?” he asked the room at large, infusing his voice with a confidence he didn’t have.
He was going to be able to give Voldemort the most welcome information, and be justly rewarded. He’d be a hero among the Death Eaters, and the idea of being so respected briefly inflated him with a sense of pride. But then he saw James and Lily’s innocent, tired faces as they approached him, ready to cast the charm. They had no idea what he was planning. Peter’s heart sank again, as well as his resolve.
How much he wished he could tell them, to confide in his friends as he had done so long ago. He wanted to spill the whole story, let all the secrets out, hear his friends say it would all be okay. But it would accomplish nothing; he was a traitor now. He had to pick one side and be loyal, because the life of duplicity couldn’t last any longer, not when he was faced with a task like this.
With a deep breath, Peter held out his shaking hand and grasped James and Lily’s hands. James began his incantation to cast the protective Fidelius Charm on himself and Lily, the spell to put their lives in Peter’s hands.
Peter tuned out James’s muttering as he stared at the three clasped hands. He had so much power now. That was what he’d always wanted, but now that he had it, he wanted to be rid of it. This wasn’t the way he’d wanted power. Now that he could change the fates of so many people with a word, he wanted to return to that overlooked boy who followed James and Sirius around in school. They never did anything to hurt him; Peter stuck with them because he admired them. And now Peter had just affirmed his loyalty to the Dark Lord, whom he followed because he was terrified not to.
Even if he attempted to conceal the fact that he’d been made Secret-Keeper, it wouldn’t last long. Voldemort would find him and extract the information, and Peter would have no way to refuse. It was always like that.
“Where are the Potters?” asks Voldemort.
In that instant, Peter holds all the power. His friends’ lives are in his hands. He has the knowledge, and Voldemort does not. If he keeps silent, if he refuses to divulge the secret, he will have power over Voldemort. But he will die.
Peter’s moment of power is fleeting; when faced with Voldemort, he is defenseless. The words come out against his will.
“In Godric’s Hollow,” Peter says thickly, his voice cracking, and he looks at the floor. “31 Peverell Street.”
“Thank you,” says Voldemort softly. “It looks like I won’t have to kill you after all.”
The air is rent by a loud clap as Voldemort Disapparates, and Peter shuts his eyes tightly to prevent hot tears from escaping. He crumbles to the floor, his shoulders shaking as he comes to terms with the weight of his betrayal. He has just sold two of his best friends to the darkest of wizards in exchange for the meagre consolation that he himself will live another day.
He cannot even consider going back home now; the only image cropping up in his mind when he thinks about houses is the laughing jack-o-lantern on the Potters’ door a week ago. Now it has probably been burnt to a crisp. Peter simply remains kneeling on the floor, sobbing in the shadows, absently sliding his hands along the rough wooden floor.
The guilt is too much. If Voldemort is successful and the Potters are unable to escape, Halloween of 1981 will haunt Peter Pettigrew for the rest of his life. Peter can’t bear the thought that he brought about the death of his friends, and tells himself it’s Sirius’s fault if the Potters die. It has to be.
Eventually he notices that his hands hurt. He looks at them to find they are full of splinters and covered in blood.
He can only pray that Lily and James will get away in time.
Disclaimer: Anything you recognise belongs to J. K. Rowling
Thanks so much for reading! This is my first time writing a dark/angsty story so I'd love to hear your feedback on it. Thank you!
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