Chapter 1 : You, Traitor
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You won’t let that happen, because you’re not a fool. You were in the top five in your Defence Against The Dark Arts class at school, although you didn’t do so well in your exams - practical work always came more naturally to you than conveying the hows and whys in structured essays several inches long - and regardless of the fact that Transfiguration might have been your poorest subject at NEWT level, you were still talented enough to become an Animagus for your best friend. Even recently, just two months ago, you framed Sirius for thirteen murders including your own. The entire wizarding world believes in the lie that you skilfully constructed on the spur of the moment.
Who would have thought of it? Who would have guessed that little Peter Pettigrew, always tagging along with his friends, would turn out to be more intelligent than the rest of them?
The answer is no-one, and in its own twisted way, this makes you proud.
In the distance, there is the sound of explosions relentlessly piercing the air one after the other, rhythmically creating an unique tune. You know that if you parted your curtains and looked out of the window, you’d see the dark night turn polychromatic with the sparks that the Muggles have managed to create. Yet, their celebrations do not bother you; tonight for them signifies the end of a year and the beginning of another. Tonight for you is nothing. What difference do New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day make to a murderer who has nothing left to live for? December thirty-first and January the first are just two more days to cross off on the calendar, simply another two days on the run.
Last year, last New Year’s Eve, it was different.
You’d spent Christmas with your mother and sister, but your mother was never one for loud, rambunctious festivities, so she’d insisted that you and your sister spend New Year’s Eve with people your age. Your sister had immediately run off to her fiance’s family to celebrate with them, while you chose to spend it with your friends. James and Lily, Sirius and Remus. They are either dead or barely living, and it was you who inflicted that fate upon them.
But at that time, you didn’t know of what would happen. That day last year, you were just focused on Lily’s wonderful cooking; on James’ excitement as he cradled his five-month-old son in his arms; on Sirius’ plans of how he would be the best godfather in history once Harry was old enough to start pranking; on Remus and the standing game of chess you always participated in whenever you crossed paths. When you close your eyes and focus, you can hear Lily’s laughter filling the air, infecting everyone else with hope and joy and faith. You can see in your mind’s eye James standing next to a bonfire, trying to read the instructions on the box of fireworks while Sirius arranged them haphazardly over said bonfire, Remus close on his heels as he repositioned them away from the Potters’ home and the windows of their neighbours, while you stood next to Lily with baby Harry in your arms, laughing along with her as you explained how you’d secretly charmed the fireworks not to explode for Harry’s safety but hadn’t yet told your friends.
You miss them. You miss them so much that it hurts.
Is it really your fault that they’re dead, though? Should the entirely of the blame be laid at your feet, because you uttered a handful of sentences that, in their eyes, you shouldn’t have? After all, you didn’t mean to commit the ultimate betrayal. You just wanted them to be safe. If they’d just allowed your master to kill Harry, everything would be okay. Yes, they would have missed him - but they would be alive, not to mention all the people who died to protect them. People like Marlene McKinnon and her family, attacked and killed because Marlene was a member of the Order, and friends with Lily before she went into hiding; the whole family died because the Dark Lord believed that Marlene knew where the Potters lived. People like Frank and Alice Longbottom, tortured into insanity for information on the Dark Lord’s location after he failed to kill the boy. Muggles whose blood was spilled in multiple failed attempts to frighten the Potters into surrendering, including Lily’s parents.
All of those people would never have died if James and Lily hadn’t given up their son for the greater good. You were just helping them to see the error of their ways, weren’t you? Trusting Dumbledore was a mistake; he didn’t want to fight without obeying the rules of warfare, but against someone like the Dark Lord there really wasn’t any other choice. Rules never mattered to your master, nor did they matter to you. You knew what you were doing would never be sanctioned by the Order, that’s why you did it. That’s why you infiltrated the Death Eaters; because you believed that you could take down the Dark Lord from within his own ranks.
You still can't believe that you failed.
Despair is your closest friend these days; it grips you with the unyielding guilt of failure, and remains forever in the shadows. It whispers to you in the darkness of night, in that tranquil moment just before you fall asleep.
That word sends a chill down your spine, especially as you didn't mean to betray them. You aren't sure when your subconscious stopped referring to the Dark Lord as Lord Voldemort and instead began to respect him as your master. You didn’t mean to go over to the “dark side”, but you couldn’t help it. All it took was one step in your master’s direction, and suddenly life accelerated at a dangerous pace; like quicksand, it dragged you into a world you never wanted, and no matter how loudly you screamed, there was no-one to save you.
But there used to be. Even though it was two years ago, you can still remember the day that James proposed to Lily with you and Remus and Sirius and her parents looking on. It's engraved into your memory; New Year's Eve, 1979.
Mr and Mrs Evans were hosting a small gathering to celebrate the new year. Like Lily, they didn't believe in large, extravagant parties where you could only spend five minutes conversing with one person before being dragged away to talk to someone else. Lily's sister and brother-in-law were there, and James had insisted on dragging you, Remus and Sirius along for "moral support", since he and Mr Vernon Dursley didn't get along particularly well. You'd complied with his request, of course, because you hoped that if the tables were turned he would do the same for you.
James had planned his proposal with military precision, and when everyone was staring at the fireworks on the little black box that the Muggles called a teliveeseyon, he knelt down and when Lily turned around again she saw him like that, so shocked that she was silent and you all heard his carefully rehearsed words.
"Lily Evans, you're the one true love of my life. You make me happy beyond description, and you put up with me despite how stupid I can be at times. You've become a part of me, and if I ever lost you I wouldn't be me at all... so, Lily, will you do me the greatest honour any man could have and marry me?"
There was silence, and then there was a yes.
You can almost hear the sound of James whooping now, although the practical part of your brain knows that it's probably the sound of the fireworks outside. In a way, you're jealous of James - even two years on, and even now that he and Lily are no longer part of the living. He changed his own fortune, risked the beginning of the New Year. If Lily had said no, then 1980 would have been a terrible year of James - the discovery and subsequent birth of Harry aside - but he took a leap of faith and for that reason, 1980 was the best year of his short life.
You wish you were brave enough to take a similar leap of faith and change your fortunes, but you don't feel courage these days. All the spirit and confidence that you used to have has been dampened by your own actions.
James and Lily, Sirius and Remus.
It is all your fault, but you didn't mean for things to end up this way. You had the best of intentions, but trusting the Dark Lord is like quicksand. The moment you decided to impart a small piece of unimportant information to your master, you lost your grip and began to drown in the impending requests for more, more, more. At first, you withheld some knowledge, but his fury was inflicted upon you so rapidly and harshly until you held nothing back at all, and signed your best friends' death warrants.
A loud rapping at the door disturbs you from your thoughts, and you quickly extinguish the candle with your thumb and finger before slipping it into your pocket - the wax will leave a nasty stain, unfortunately, but it is better than getting caught. In moments, the room is plunged into darkness and you stumble over to the door, opening it with a dull groan.
"I was sleeping," you lie. "What's going on?"
"The person next door to you reported the smell of burning. I've investigated and there doesn't seem to be any trace of fire anywhere, so if you don't mind, I'd like to check your bedroom just to be on the safe side. Wouldn't want this place burning down, especially on New Year's Eve," the bed-and-breakfast owner says, his moustache resembling a furry sausage in the dimness before he moves his portable light - you aren't sure what it is, except that it's a large black stick that emits light from one end, not unlike your wand - and the light illuminates your body. You're confused, and you look down to realize that you're still in your winter cloak, not your pyjamas, just as the man queries with a suspicious tone, "Are you quite sure you were sleeping, Mr Smith?"
"Yes," you say, standing aside to allow the man to enter the room. You don't really have the right to stop him, and you need to appear compliant and respectable lest he evict you - every hostel, bed-and-breakfast and hotel in the country has been fully booked for the past two weeks so that family members could spend Christmas near their relatives if they live a great distance away.
The portly bed-and-breakfast owner follows you in, switching the elicktrescity on as he does so. Immediately, you notice that your bed is pristinely undisturbed, and you internally groan at your own stupidity. You aren't sure why your ability to lie to others has waned over time; perhaps it's from the stress of being on the run, or maybe your subconscious is refusing to allow you to master the art of deception once more, considering the consequences of the last time you did.
"I'm going for a walk," you sigh. "This room's almost claustrophobic. Feel free to look wherever you like; I hope you find the source of the burning."
The man stares at you in mild disbelief; you're sure he's probably thinking of the thick snow outside, and the bitter winds that chill to the bone all those who venture out. But it doesn't matter, because even if you freeze to death, you'll have deserved it for what happened to James and Lily and Harry and Remus - Sirius' imprisonment would have happened anyway, because he'd have killed you; those Muggles simply provided their lives to save you.
You begin to walk away, blindly putting one foot in front of the other as you traverse the hallway, down the stairs, past the reception area and finally, through the double doors of the entrance. Instantly, the wind howls and lashes at you, its bitter gusts causing you to shiver in your thick cloak. Pulling the cloak closer around you, you turn right and begin to walk away from the small village and towards the empty countryside. In the distance, you can see the Devonshire fields, the white snow that covers what is normally lush green grass pristinely undisturbed. It appears to be a lovely place during the summer; the sort of place where families can go camping and have fun, at least you think so. You’ve never had the opportunity to come here before, to this small, unknown village tucked away in the south-west corner of Devon, barely a hour away on the train from the capital, Exeter. Perhaps you’ll be here next summer, just to see what it’s like?
Somewhere in the back of your mind, you know that you’re trying to avoid thinking of Dementors, Aurors, Order members, Death Eaters. Any of them would destroy you upon sight, because you are meant to be dead. If any of them learn of your existence, the truth will be revealed and you’ll most certainly be sentenced to the Kiss. You know you’re asking for trouble by constantly moving around, especially now your funds have dilipidated; you need to either get a job and settle down somewhere, or give up all the human comforts you possess in order to live with the common rats. Neither of those options sound particularly appealing: staying in one place heightens the risk of being discovered, and you’re painfully aware of how Muggles like to poison rats; there are some who’ll keep them as pets, but according to Lily, the type of rat you are is not one that Muggles particularly like.
You don’t want to be found, and you don’t want to die, because you’re still waiting.
He’ll come back. Your master promised to come back, and you believe him. There has to be some sort of reward, something to make your actions worth committing. That’s why you betrayed them, after all; so that the world wouldn’t be rife with war and you wouldn’t need to continue your meaningless existence of secrets and lies. You’re supposed to be worth more than that.
Suddenly, you can hear the sound of voices discussing Quidditch, and it’s clear from the subject topic that the people speaking are wizards. You look around wildly, not wanting to be seen, but there is nowhere to hide. With no other alternative, you close your eyes and transform into your rodent form before scurrying into the corner of the pavement and somebody’s front step, hoping desperately that you will not be seen. As the group of people approach nearer, you can see them clearly; a tall ginger-haired man with a receding hairline, and a crowd of redheaded boys; the oldest two are the ones discussing Quidditch, in particular the upcoming match between the Chudley Cannons and the Caerphilly Catapults. At the back, a sullen-faced boy stumbles forward, nose in his book while two identical toddlers run in circles throwing snowballs at each other.
You know you’re in trouble when one of the toddlers sees you and runs in your direction. Despite you trying to run away, he catches you and picks you up by the tail. The combination of blood rushing towards your head, your body flying haphazardly in the air and the increasing distance between you and the crowd cause you to scream in terror, although the sound you emit is more of a high-pitched squeak.
“Fred!” someone shouts. “Put that rat down!”
You can feel hands around your tiny body and as soon as Fred lets go of your tail, you bite the finger of the hand gripping you. Surprisingly, although its owner lets out a yell of pain, he does not let go of you and this disorients you just enough to realize that the boy holding you is the same boy you saw reading his book.
“Percy!” the same shouting voice continues. “Rats can carry disease; let go of it now!”
“But, Dad!” Percy protests. “You know I’ve always wanted a pet! I can have this rat, can’t I?”
You look up to see the older man shake his head, his expression sombre.
“Not if it’ll bite everyone it comes into contact with,” he says.
Percy lets out a groan. “But, Dad, he was probably frightened! Wouldn’t you be frightened if you were a rat and George had just picked you up by your tail?”
This seems to confuse the older man, and you’re confused yourself until you realize that Fred and George must be the identical boys you saw. You don’t know if the boys’ father has made a mistake in identifying his sons, or if Percy deliberately said the wrong name to distract him from saying no to keeping you, but it doesn’t matter because one of the older boys lets out a shout and suddenly everyone is following him. You’re jostled in Percy’s palm and bite the sleeve of his coat to hold on, lest he drop you and cause you to get trampled upon. When the family stop in the middle of one of the snow-covered fields you’d seen as a human some minutes ago, you let go of Percy’s sleeve and jump to the ground before scurrying towards a woodsy area. You hear the sound of footsteps, and guess that Percy is trying to follow you, but his father shouts his name.
“Let it go, Percy. It’s cruel to keep it if it doesn’t want to be a pet.”
You hear Percy sigh, but the sound of footsteps cease. However, the peace is brief, for within seconds there are a series of large explosions that send terror reverberating through you. You wish that you could transform back into human form in order to investigate the source, but the family of redheads remain present in the field, looking up at the sky and cheering. When you look up, all you can see is snow-covered tree branches and you’re intelligent enough to know if you break cover to see whatever they’re looking at in the sky, you’ll be at risk of being picked up by the tail again. Suddenly, you realize that Percy is staring at you, ignoring the sky.
“It’s just fireworks, Ratty,” he says. “It’s New Year’s, although I don’t know if that makes sense to a rat like you.”
Your nose twitches as you realize that finally, it is 1982. You did not anticipate the time to go so fast when you departed the bed-and-breakfast you were staying in, but it is a new year now. All over the country, wizards and Muggles alike are celebrating the beginning of something new, but you cannot. What is there that you did not have last year? In fact, you’ve lost so much this year, you’re beginning 1982 in a much poorer state than you began 1981 in.
Percy is looking at you with a strange expression before approaching you, and against your rodent instincts, you stay where you are. “Come on, Ratty,” he pleads. “I know you’re scared, but I promise you’ll like living with me. I won’t let Fred or George or Ron hurt you; Ginny’s just a baby, she’s my little sister, and Ron’s my youngest brother, he’ll be two in March, so he’ll have his own room far away from me and you.”
At first you’re uncertain, wondering why something in the back of your mind says Percy’s brother Ron is important until you realize: Ron is just four months older than Harry, and he’ll be in Harry’s year when he attends Hogwarts. Percy isn’t special, but he’ll have an excuse to spend time with Harry, because his brother will be inevitably friends with him, and therefore you will. Until your master comes back, you can gather intelligence about the likes of Harry Potter; you aren’t sure where he lives now, but it’s entirely possible he could be with Remus or one of James’ extended family members, and you might even see him in Diagon Alley.
You’ll be special, because you’ll have knowledge. You’ll be able to redeem yourself to the Dark Lord, because you know he won’t be pleased that his visit to James and Lily proved fatal.
And so you scurry over to Percy, your awkwardly shaped teeth chattering with the cold. He picks you up and holds you against his chest, covering your body with his shabby cloak.
“Happy New Year, Ratty,” he says.
Your nose twitches and you let out a squeak, which he interprets as your New Year greeting.
And, although Percy cannot decipher what your expressions mean in rat form, especially because he cannot, you smile.
This is your chance at a fresh start.
As mentioned in the summary, this was written for the Writer's Duel. The prompt I chose was New Year, New Start and I'm hoping I've depicted it enough in this one-shot :3 If you liked this, please do leave a review and let me know - it would completely make my day! ♥
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