I hate this thing, God knows how I hate this thing. Slytherin fools and their snakes. Why is it always snakes? Why couldn’t it have been anything else, even spiders. But no, it had to be snakes. I hate the way it watches me, hate the way it looks at me as if it wants nothing more than for me to be its next meal. Human or rat, it wouldn’t matter. She’d devour me if he let her. Useful. You have to remain useful, Peter, or you will end up her dinner.
The small man approached the large snake with trepidation. His fear amused her and aroused her hunting instincts. He smelled like a rat, he even almost looked like one to her. The bottle in his hand was covered by a thin rubber layer. She didn’t like this at all, but accepted it as necessary. The god who ruled her world commanded it for his benefit and so far he had been exceptionally benevolent with her. He had fed her the woman. Fed her the old man, granted he was dead and live prey would have been more enjoyable, but he had been tasty nonetheless.
Stay calm, stay calm. His thin hand with its loose wrinkled skin reached out for the large snake’s head. She fixed him with her lidless gaze and hissed softly her displeasure. Hey, this is no picnic for me either, you know. With practiced care he grasped her behind the jaw and used the edge of the bottle to pry open her mouth. She resisted for a moment, then gave in like she always did. He pressed her fangs through the rubber strip and pressed down on her upper jaw applying pressure to the venom glands. Milky white fluid dripped from the hollow tips of the long white teeth and the force of his hand on her upper jaw expelled the toxic liquid from the sacs that held it, waiting for her next victim.
A spoonful pooled at the bottom of the jar. The flow stopped and he released her quickly, dodging the nipping jaws. If she bit him now it would be a minor bite, not the fatal infusion of poison that not only caused a raging fever and spasms, but also prevented the wound from healing. If the poison did not kill the victim quickly, they would likely bleed to death slowly. He took the bottle and quickly retreated from the dank spot she had taken as her own. As heinous as this task was, the worst of all was to come.
The feeding. During the feeding he would be force to touch the slightly slimy, scaly skin of his Master. To cradle the small form like a grotesquely deformed fetus, while it suckled from the potion he would now brew. A small sense of guilty pride swelled in him. The only time he felt proud was when he let himself dwell on the basic fact that he, Wormtail, was being entrusted with a life and death task by the most feared man to have ever lived.
Letting himself into the dark room he set about his duty with the movements of one who has learned this skill by rote. There was nothing artistic about the way his now thin body with its sagging skin prepared and measured the ingredients. He knew there were some who worked over a cauldron like an artist over a canvas. Precise movements, graceful motions, careful eyes that gauged exactly the right degree of bubbling to constitute a low simmer versus a fast simmer. No, his way wasn’t pretty and it sometimes took an extra try or two, but he got the job done. It was a complicated potion and it afforded him that extra measure of satisfaction that he, Wormtail, was able to create it.
This room was both a refuge from the glowing red gaze of his master and a torment. Coming here meant escaping from the demands of the Dark Lord, but it was also in this quiet that he faced his memories; memories that were becoming more and more troublesome. Combining the ingredients for the basic restorative potion he tried to postpone the ruminations that would come. The ginkgo biloba built the Master’s circulatory health and the milk thistle aided the growth and health of his delicate liver. The burdock root, the dandelion and red clover cleansed and enhanced his immune system along with the Astragalus, which supported the production of white blood cells to fight the viral and bacterial infections the Dark Lord risked in his state. Finally, the Ashwaganda, the rejuvenating tonic that heightened strength, stamina and vigor was added and the mixture was allowed to simmer.
And they came. The memories came upon him as he stood there watching the flames flicker under the cauldron. It recalled the memory of hundreds of tiny stars twinkling like the lights from hundreds of fires beneath hundreds of cauldrons. The memory of the cool grass beneath his arms as he lay on the ground, arms behind his head, looking up at the inky blackness. He sighed heavily and surrendered to the images pounding now in his head.
They were young, very young. Their seventh year at Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry stretched out in front of them. The September sky above the Quidditch pitch seemed to stretch up to incomprehensible distances. This night was different than the others. There were no wild adventures, no laughter rang out at remembered pranks, no outrageous plans were being laid. Instead, all four boys sat or lay stretched out in silence. Upon returning to school a few days before, they had discovered that some of their classmates were missing. On the train Lily Evans had noticed that at Hufflepuff girl she planned to form a Herbology study group with for the upcoming NEWTs was not on board. Sirius was the first to notice the absence of the Ravenclaw twins. He had been working on getting the girl to go out with him for several months and she kept putting him off to the great amusement of his friends. But it was as they sat at the Gryffindor table during the feast that first night that they noticed Thomas’ absence. The boy who made up the fifth in their dormitory room was never a part of their group of friends. He was a stickler for following rules and often tutted at them when witnessing or overhearing their exploits. He wasn’t a bad sort, just the kind Moony had politely called a stick in the mud, while Sirius suggested the stick was actually located in a much more personal and painful location.
None of the teachers seemed to want to talk about what happened to the missing students and the stories had grown quite wild. The Headmaster had finally had to speak on the matter. They had known that Thomas was a muggle born and it seemed the other three had been as well. And just like Thomas, they were dead. It was becoming more and more dangerous to be a muggle born. It was getting more and more dangerous to be anything but a pureblood.
“Are we all in agreement, that despite what Dumbledore didn’t say in there, we know who is responsible for this?” Sirius had spoken in uncharacteristically hushed tones.
“Yeah,” James said, equally subdued. “I don’t think there’s much guessing to do here.”
Peter turned his head to look at Moony. But the boy didn’t say anything; he looked off into the distance with a worried expression. Soon all three were watching him. “Moony?” Sirius’ voice broke the quiet.
The sandy-haired boy simply turned his blue-grey eyes on the small wiry figure stretched out on the ground to his left. The wild black hair framed the long face and his hazel eyes stared back up with sudden comprehension. “Yeah, I know Moony. Evans. It could just as easily have been Evans.”
Evans. Big deal, Peter thought, one more know it all muggle born out of the way. Why James wasted his time with a mudblood he just couldn’t fathom.
“And what happens when they’re done with the muggle-borns, James? Who do they come after next?” The voice came out hoarse and worn as if it came from body much older than its 17 years.
“Then, based on what I’ve overheard in that hell-hole I used to call home, they come after the half-bloods.” Sirius answered for them all. “You, Moony, they come after you if you don’t swear allegiance to them. And if they don’t figure out the werewolf thing first and come after you for that sooner.”
Peter felt his heart flutter. He hated being reminded of this little fact. Sure Remus was a half-blood, but that didn’t make him all bad. He had learned over the years that even half-bloods could be ok. But the werewolf thing… His stomach knotted every time he thought of that. Remus was nice enough. He never actually picked on him or made fun of him, but there was always that half-breed perversion hovering over the boy’s head.
Peter kept these thoughts to himself. His feelings about Evans and his feelings about Moony. He learned early on that these boys he called his friends had little tolerance for the use of the word mudblood and he was well aware that James and Sirius, if pressed to it, would choose the half-breed over him. It simply wasn’t politic to speak your mind. This was a lesson he learned early, before he came to Hogwarts. With Mrs. Pettigrew for a mother, it was never a good idea to speak one’s mind.
“Don’t sweat it, Moony.” James sat up. “We’ll look out for each other. All of us. That’s what it means to be friends, right? We’re the Marauders. No one takes on one of us without taking on the whole lot of us. There are plenty of Slytherins who’ve gotten that message clear over the years.”
Yes, thought Peter, there is strength in numbers.
Moony shook his head. “I’m not so much worried for me as for the others.”
“Look, we’re Gryffindors,” Sirius said rising to his feet. “We look out for each other. We’ll watch out for Evans, even if she is a great pain. We’ll watch out for each other no matter.”
James rose to his feet and stood beside Moony, grabbing a hand and pulling the taller boy to his feet. Peter scrambled to stand, not wanting to be the only one left on the ground. “All of us, Moony. Right Wormtail?” He acknowledged Peter for the first time.
“Right. We’ll stick together.” A twist of uncertainty began inside him. It was better to have powerful friends who could protect you and these young men had done just that so far. But the idea of putting himself out there for them? Of course, he shook his head to clear it; if the time came he would do the brave thing. He was a Marauder. He was a Gryffindor.
James’ hand reached out and took hold of Sirius’ wrist. They had done this many times. It was their way of sealing their bargain. Peter always managed to maneuver himself between James and Sirius, tonight there had been no chance. Sirius grasped Remus’ wrist. Remus reached for Peter. He suppressed the shudder and tried to smile. His other hand was sweating when it reached for James’. Joined in a circle beneath the stars, with the Quidditch hoops bearing witness, they repeated the ritual they had begun as small boys on the night they swore to keep Remus’ secret. “We protect each other and our fellow Gryffindors,” James’ voice was strong and clear. Each boy repeated the promise in turn.
So sweet is the protection offered by the walls of school for a boy. As the death toll mounted and the numbers of those following the man whose name was no longer spoken aloud grew, it all stayed very unreal for him. Here inside Hogwarts with his only worry being the approaching NEWTs, Peter could forget about the world outside. But the day of matriculation came and the friends left Hogwarts behind. They did not, however, leave behind their Headmaster. They were quickly pulled into the ranks of those swearing to fight against the man now feared throughout the wizarding world.
Pulling into the present, Wormtail checked the progress of the potion. It was simmering nicely. Small bubbles burst upon the surface at the edges. Small ripples of explosion pulled up from the heat of the depths to disrupt the calm appearance of the potion. Just like life that year after Hogwarts.
Peter worked for his mother in the family business. They sold boring, everyday items that a wizarding family couldn’t live without. Kitchenwares that made the lives of the everyday witch easier. The automatic potato peeler, the grinder with the self turning crank, the teapot that kept tea at exactly the right temperature; all of these wondrous things that would put any teenage boy directly into a coma. But the store had been passed down for generations, from one Pettigrew to another. “People will always need kitchenwares, my boy,” his grandfather had often pontificated. “Nice safe business. No risk, no strange new ideas. They may not make you rich, but kitchenwares will keep food on your table and a roof over your head.”
It was once again shaping up to be a mind numbing day. He had stood behind the counter of the shop, helping one old witch after another who needed to replace a Bints’ Magical Blender or a Perkins Self Percolating Coffee Pot, while daydreaming about the exciting, and up ‘til now relatively safe, activities he was engaged in for the Order. His mother wouldn’t approve of his using the shop to funnel in materials and supplies needed in secret by the Order, but it gave him the feeling of being a part of something important. He did not envy James, Sirius and even Remus the more daring and dangerous activities they were being asked to do. No. He didn’t envy them at all.
He just finished putting the receipt for a self regulating pressure cooker in the bag and scooting it across the counter to an old witch wearing a tall pointed hat in neon green and a fur stole of some undeterminable animal in a bright pink, when the bell on the shop door rang. He paid little attention. No one interesting ever came in here except by mistake and they quickly corrected that. As the older woman left the counter he noticed the back of a dark brown head standing before a display of kettles. The young woman, and she was young, seemed to be examining each display model carefully. It’s a kettle, he thought, how hard a choice can it be?
He stepped from behind the counter to approach her. At least she was someone to talk to. Stepping up to her he cleared his throat, “Ahem. Can I help you?” She turned to face him and his eyes widened. Large brown eyes looked up at him from behind large silver rimmed glasses. The round face colored prettily and she turned her gaze away from him quickly, knocking over three kettles from the display in her haste.
“I’m so sorry, so sorry,” she muttered kneeling to pick them up. Peter knelt along side her and retrieved one of the kettles and took the other two from her shaking hands. Standing, he put them back on the display and stared at her. She was looking shyly down at the floor and then suddenly lifted her eyes so that she peered at him through her lashes and over the tops of the glasses that had slid down the bridge of her nose. “I’m sorry about that. I’m so clumsy.”
“No problem,” he swallowed hard. He knew this girl, at least he was pretty sure he did. Hadn’t she been in his year at Hogwarts? A Hufflepuff? Smith? “Can I help you find something?”
“I need a new kettle. I just got my own place. I need a new kettle.” She blushed. “I said that last part twice didn’t I?”
“Yeah… yeah, you did.” Peter stammered. He reached up and picked up one of the models on display. “This one isn’t the most popular or the most expensive, but it lasts the longest.”
“Thank you, Mr. Pettigrew.”
He turned to walk over to the counter and stopped. “How did you know my name?”
She smiled slightly. “Well, Pettigrew is the name over the door and we were at school together. I don’t expect you’d remember or even have noticed. You were a Gryffindor and part of the popular crowd. I was a Hufflepuff and… well, I wasn’t. Popular that is.”
“Smith?” Peter offered hesitantly. “Jeannette Smith?”
She colored brightly and her eyes seemed to shine. “Yes. That’s me.”
Peter looked down at the kettle in his hand and then down at her. He looked down at her he realized. She was shorter than he and not many people were. “Here,” he said thrusting the kettle out to her. “Take it.”
“But Mr. Pettigrew, don’t I need to pay you?”
“No,” Peter looked everywhere but at her, “no, consider it a house warming gift from a school friend.” Wow Peter, that was almost smooth.
She smiled at him again and thanked him. He watched her leave the store and was still watching when she halted outside the front window and looked back in at him. She raised her hand in farewell, and clutching the kettle to her chest as if it had been a priceless treasure, she hurried off.
Peter turned to see his mother standing behind the counter watching him. Merlin! he thought, here it comes. But his mother said nothing. She simply looked at him strangely for a moment then turned and walked away.
Three days later his mother announced that she had volunteered him to do a favor for an old family friend. Their daughter had moved to London and knew hardly anyone. She had told them that Peter would be glad to escort the young lady to dinner and make her feel welcome in the big city. He had groaned inwardly, but remained silent. His mother had made her proclamation with that tone that told him that argument was not only futile but a very bad idea.
The girl would be meeting him at a small eatery on a side street off of Diagon Alley. Peter walked in, several minutes late as usual. He gave his name to the hostess and she assured him the young lady had been on time and was waiting. As he entered the dining room he swept his eyes over the crowd and spotted a small brown head bent over a menu, sitting very much alone. His heart increased its pace as with each step it seemed the woman was leading him directly toward those big brown eyes and one Jeannette Smith. Suddenly he was standing at her table staring down at her, mute.
She looked up at him in surprise. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Yes, it’s me. I didn’t know it was going to be you.” He winced at the sound of his words then noticed her smile happily.
“I’m glad it’s you. I was so worried.”
Peter sat down across from her and gave a great deal of attention to his menu. The evening went better than anything he could have imagined. She spoke little about herself after the initial introduction. “My father’s name is Smith. But my mother’s family is tied to many of the oldest wizarding families. We are related, distantly, to the Prewetts, the Knotts, and the Claggs. We are also very distantly related to the Blacks and Malfoys as well.” She was attentive and he found that he was telling her more about himself than he had ever told anyone.
A week had passed, during each he had either had lunch with his Miss Smith or dinner. Tonight he was finally to be invited to her apartment to a home cooked meal. He was standing behind the counter of the store, distracted, when a deep voice growled behind him, “Don’t move.” He felt the pressure of a wand in his back and an arm circled his neck tightly. “We know you’re working for the Order. You’re done for you little blood traitor.”
Peter’s heart nearly stopped. My God! His breath was coming so fast he sounded like a locomotive. As suddenly as it had appeared the arm and the pressure of the wand were gone and replaced with a low chuckle. “Man you are so easy, Wormtail.” The familiar voice cleared some of the panic from Peter’s mind, but his entire body was now covered in sweat. The black heads rounded the corner of the counter and came into view. Sirius and James. Potter was shaking his head in an “I can’t believe you did that,” way and Black was laughing loudly. “Scared the snot out of ya, did I mate?”
“That wasn’t funny, Sirius,” Peter squeaked out.
“That wasn’t funny, Sirius,” Black mocked, mimicking Peter’s high pitched voice. “It was so funny, wasn’t Prongs?”
“Whatever you say,” James shrugged, examining the display of self flipping griddles. “Do these things actually work?”
“Prongs! Can you get your head out of that domesticated fog for a minute?” Sirius shook his head. “He’s hopeless, Wormtail. Hopeless I tell you. The minute she slipped that ring on his finger a matching one hooked through the nose. Self flipping griddles, I ask you. Next he’ll be asking about the longevity of kettles.”
Peter colored slightly and chose to answer James. “Yes. Do you want one for Evans?”
James looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Evans? She’s Potter now, Wormtail. For some time I might add. Try Lily, huh?”
“Sorry Prongs, but she’ll always be Evans. ‘Ooh, Professor, I know the answer.’” Sirius stood up straight, rocking on the balls of his feet with his hand in the air waving madly.
“Stop it.” James cuffed him on the back of the head. “She stopped doing that around third year and you know it.”
“Once an apple polisher, always an apple polisher, eh Wormtail?” Sirius winked at him.
James sighed and lifted one of the boxes onto the counter. “I think I will get this. Oh, and there was that other thing I asked you to order for me last week.”
That’s why they were here. To pick up the latest delivery for the Order. The stomach lining of the Chinese Fireball had magical properties that no other dragon had. It was technically illegal to import them and the Chinese didn’t permit them to be sold outside the country. This did not stop the Order. Dumbledore wanted them. Dumbledore got them, shipped to Peter in boxes marked as teapots. Peter rang up James’ order and slid the packages into a large bag. James took it from him and motioned for Sirius to follow.
“Oh, Wormtail, we’re getting together at the Potter abode tonight. Lily is going to be spending the evening with her parents and it’s poker.” Sirius leaned against the counter ignoring James. So that’s why the gift. Peter thought. He had long ago noticed that his friend went out of his way to please Lily Evans… Potter. So a night out with the boys was worth one self flipping griddle, eh?
At that moment the store door opened and both dark haired men stiffened. The small young woman entered wearing a smile and moved to the counter. When she saw them standing there, she stopped and froze. Her eyes widened.
“Jeannette,” Peter said automatically.
“I’m sorry, Peter. I didn’t realize you had customers. I’ll wait.”
Sirius raised one eyebrow and looked the girl over. The appraising expression made Peter squirm and he saw her as Sirius must see her. Plain looking, nondescript clothes, smallish figure, nothing special. Just simply there. “Who’s your friend, Wormtail?”
He watched her frown at the nickname. She knew he hated it. “You’ve met her before, Sirius. Jeannette Smith, this is Sirius Black and James Potter. Jeannette was in our year at school.”
James smiled politely and shook her hand gently. Sirius looked at her and then broke into a winning smile. “Smith? Naw, Wormtail you must be mistaken. I’d have remembered a pretty girl like this.” He lifted her offered hand and made as if to kiss it. Peter watched her pull her hand away from him with a small squeak.
“Don’t tease her, Sirius.” The frown on his face pulled the colorless brows down over his pale eyes.
A twisted grin broke on the handsome face. He nodded to the girl and moved around the counter toward the back exit. He stopped beside Peter, looked back over at the girl and whispered. “So the rat has found himself a little mouse. Interesting.”
“Come on Sirius.” James prodded him with the edge of the bag. “Will we see you tonight, Peter or do you have plans?” A soft smile edged his lips.
“I have plans. Couldn’t we do this another night?”
“Sorry, but this is the only night Moony could make it this week.” James said casually.
It was on the tip of Peter’s tongue to say that he’d be there, he’d reschedule dinner with Jeannette, then he saw her soft eyes watching him. “I’m afraid I can’t make it. Please give my regrets to Moony.” Peter straightened up and looked Sirius in the eye. “Goodbye Sirius.”
The grey eyes held a bewildered and astonished look as one eyebrow rose high and the other pressed down low. “Very interesting.” With a final look over his shoulder at Miss Smith, he left the store.
Many hours later, well fed with cheeks rosy from a well supplied wine glass, Peter sat on the couch. She sat close to him and he wondered exactly how he could maneuver this so he could slide his arm around her.
“Peter,” she began slowly, “why do you let them get by with treating you like that?”
Peter started. “Who?”
“Black and Potter.”
“Treat me how? They’re my friends. Friends tease each other sometimes.” He repeated to her the very things he often said to himself, the things Sirius had said to him.
“I see. Maybe it’s a guy thing and I just don’t get it.”
Peter sat there quietly thinking about it. “Maybe it is. Maybe it’s just how they are.”
“You may think I’m terrible for saying this, Peter, but it really bothers me the way they put you second to the rest of them. Especially when they put you second to that Lupin.” Her soft little girl voice next spoke the words he had heard only in his own head. “I mean, he’s a half blood and all, isn’t he? You’d think that a couple of purebloods would put more value in their own kind.” She looked up at him hesitantly, “Especially when the pureblood in question is you, Peter.”
“Lupin’s a half blood, but he’s alright,” he muttered.
“I’m sorry, Peter, you must think I’m a horrible person, but I was raised to believe that blood matters. I mean it is obvious that it matters. Look at you and your friends. Does the half blood even have a job yet?” He was aware that these words coming from her would have turned his friends against her, but that these were often his own thoughts she was speaking troubled him most.
Peter swallowed hard. “I don’t think you’re horrible, Jeannette. I understand what you’re saying. Lupin is my friend but he is a half blood.” And something else that makes him the horrible one.
“It’s sad that your friend Sirius has turned his back on his family. Family is so important, don’t you agree?” She moved a bit closer and Peter could feel the warmth of her next to him.
“Yes, I do agree. Family is very important.” Peter found his tongue loosed considerably. As the evening wore on he spoke more to this girl about his beliefs concerning blood purity than he had spoken since he was 11 years old and found himself faced with the understanding he’d have to hide those feelings if he wanted to be accepted by the boys who shared his dormitory room. He told her how horrified he was that James would marry Lily Evans.
“A proper young man might date a mudblood, but they shouldn’t marry them,” she agreed sagely.
When time came for Peter to leave, she walked him to the door. He stood awkwardly for a moment, looking down. “Thank you for coming, Peter. I really enjoyed spending this evening with you.” He lifted his eyes to look at her and found her looking up at him through those dark lashes again.
“I had a really good time, Jeannette. It was nice talking to you.”
“Peter, would you go somewhere with me tomorrow?” She reached tentatively for his hand and slipped her fingers into his. His face flushed.
“Sure, where did you want to go?” He watched her eyes, unable to break away.
“A my mother is giving a small party and I have to be there. Family obligation. It would be bearable if you were there with me, Peter.” The wistful, hopeful look in her eyes tugged at him.
“I’d be happy to go with you,” he muttered softly. His eyes traveled down her face and he looked at the small full mouth. He really wanted to kiss her but was afraid to. What if she didn’t want him to?
As if she read his mind, “Peter, I love how you’re such a gentleman. We’ve been going out almost a week now and you haven’t tried to kiss me. I hope you won’t think I’m terribly forward if I say that I believe I’d like it if you did kiss me goodnight.” She paused as if horrified she had actually said the words. “That… that is if you want to.”
Peter lowered his head slowly and she looked up at him. Her eyes closed and she tilted her face upward. Peter pressed his lips clumsily to hers.
He smiled all the way home.
Her hand slipped into his as he stood fidgeting in the entry hall of the house. She set him quickly to ease when she reminded him it had been their mothers who had orchestrated their first date. “Mother hasn’t seen you since you were a boy. She’s looking forward to seeing you again.”
The next several minutes were a blur. All he could really register was that he was being greeted cordially by people whose last names were among the oldest and purest of the wizarding world. Dinner was pleasant and he felt at ease with her sitting across from him smiling reassuringly and the dark haired beauty he knew to be Sirius’ cousin sat next to him seemingly enthralled with the kitchenware business. “Don’t use them myself,” she purred placing one manicured hand on his arm gently, “but our housekeeper insists that there is no place but Pettigrew’s to supply our needs.” She lifted her wine glass and smiled at him, her eyes glancing over at him, “Of course one would always rather do business with one’s own kind, don’t you agree Mr. Pettigrew.”
“Yes, Mrs. Lestrange,” he squeaked out.
He had held his breath when Theodore Knott, a distant cousin of the Smith family, had muttered his lack of sympathy at the recent death of a mudblood and his family. “The man was trying to push through a change in laws to prohibit asking if someone were a mudblood, half blood or pureblood before hiring them. I tell you, he had to have made a great number of people angry with that. But no, they always come back to blaming one person.” A hush had fallen around the table. The name of that one person was never spoken, but even Peter knew who was meant. “As if someone of his stature had the time to worry about every annoying mudblood out there.” Knott had continued.
Mr. Lestrange had turned his eye to Peter and asked with a surprising directness, “What do you think, Mr. Pettigrew?”
He drew in a breath. Jeannette had been the only person he had ever spoken these words to out loud, she hadn’t been shocked, maybe her parent’s friends wouldn’t be either. “If I’m hiring someone for the shop I want to know what their background is. I think that there is a difference between purebloods and those who are muggle-born. ”
“Exactly,” Rodolphus Lestrange agreed, nodding and flashing Peter a smile. “A man wants to know the history of the person who might be caring for his store in his absence, tending to his children, or tending to his medical needs. I wouldn’t trust anything but a pureblood healer.”
Screwing up his courage, Peter interjected. “I agree, Sir. A pureblood healer goes into their education with much more of an understanding of magic and what it means to be a wizard. I think teaching should be viewed the same. I’d want only a pureblood teaching my children,” he blushed and tried not to look at Jeannette. “Not someone who is just learning themselves what it means to be a wizard.” His words were met with smiles and nods of agreement. Several times more that evening they sought his opinion on matters of importance. They were listening to him. Listening to what he had to say and truly seeming to value it.
Walking home from having again felt the pleasure of kissing her goodnight, Peter thought about the evening. Sirius’ cousin didn’t seem so bad. Maybe it was just family stuff with her and Sirius. Did cousins fight like brothers and sisters? Heavens knew Sirius fought with his brother, Regulus. Everyone had been so very nice.
The months moved by quickly. He was more comfortable with Jeannette than he was with his friends at times. He had to be more and more careful that he didn’t slip when talking to them. They definitely wouldn’t understand the attitudes that had been given wing and ear by Miss Smith and her friends. And she was perfect. She understood when he had to work late for his mother, and often arrived with a basket filled with supper. She said nothing when he had to miss seeing her because of Order business. He had not yet told her about the Order, but only that he had business. She simply smiled and said she understood. On one occasion she had even offered him the use of her apartment to host a ‘boys’ night’ for his friends. She had been less than pleased that Moony was going to be there, but had said nothing openly. Peter understood. He had known Remus Lupin for several years, perhaps that was why he accepted him more easily. He kept Moony’s secret, though. Jeannette would definitely not understand his being friends with a werewolf.
One night, three months after that first date, he sat on her sofa before the fire. One arm was draped around her shoulders and she curled against his side. This was all the liberty he allowed himself. He’d take no more with her. She was what his mother called a nice girl. Boys didn’t take liberties with nice girls. They had just finished dinner and were enjoying the quiet when a knock sounded on the door. Jeannette opened it and welcomed Rodolphus Lestrange into the room. “Ah, Mr. Pettigrew, what a delight to see you.”
“Peter, please,” He stood and offered the tall dark man his hand. Lestrange took it warmly and firmly.
“I’m pleased to find you here. I was just coming to tell Miss Smith that an old friend wished to see her. An old friend who has been... avoiding the social scene for a while. I came to personally escort her, but I find her in no need of an escort.” The brilliant white flash of teeth shone in Peter’s direction and he felt himself growing warm.
Lestrange seemed to become thoughtful. “Perhaps it is not lost.” He looked at Jeannette and then at Peter. “I’m sure our friend would be thrilled to meet you as well, Peter. Come along. You must both come. I promise a great time for all.” The dark eyes fixed him with a knowing look, “You’ll find he shares certain opinions common to you and I, Peter. You shan’t have to censor yourself in his company.”
Hesitantly Peter agreed. Lestrange disapparated after whispering something to Jeannette. She had nodded and no expression had flickered on her face. She turned to Peter. “Do you mind if we go by Floo? I know apparating is easier, but my friend guards his privacy. This way we can arrive at the same time.”
A squelching feeling began in Peter’s stomach. He didn’t like the idea of going somewhere he didn’t know. It could be dangerous and Peter was not in favor of anything dangerous. He had always believed the better part of bravery was to avoid getting in situations that called for it in the first place. As if she sensed his hesitation, Jeannette stepped forward and took his hand. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want Peter. I’ll understand if you would rather go home than spend the evening with me.” Those dark brown eyes looked up at him. She rose up on tiptoe and placed a swift kiss on his mouth, then stepped away toward the fireplace. Peter followed.
She extinguished the fire and Peter stepped in. She stood in front of him and reached for his hand. Facing away from him she wrapped his arm tight around her. “Hold on, ok. I don’t want to lose you.” Peter slipped his other arm around her waist and felt her lean back into him. This was beyond nice. So very beyond nice. She dropped the hand of Floo powder and the roar drown out her words.
He stepped from the hearth into a dark stone room. From the chill and dampness in the air, he guessed they were far below ground. As soon as they cleared the hearth, he heard a voice behind him clearly say “Colloportus.” The hearth opening was replaced by a solid stone wall. Peter looked up at the man who had spoken the charm. Lestrange smiled at him.
“He really is a bit obsessive about his privacy,” her voice pulled his attention back to her. She seemed different somehow. She seemed to stand a bit taller, to be a bit more certain of herself.
They followed Lestrange through a door. It opened into a circular room. The floor of the room was marked with a large band filled with runes Peter really couldn’t make out. Four points along the circle were marked with large stars and several smaller ones spanned the spaces between them. Sitting in the center of this circle was a single chair. A larger one sat outside the circle and was occupied by a figure whose face was in shadow. He watched Lestrange approach the figure and kneel. He shadow man nodded and Lestrange took his place on one of the large stars. Realization began to fill him as the man spoke a charm to increase illumination in the room and his face came into focus.
Black hair shot through with grey cut to the collar. Black eyes watched him carefully. He knew this face. Dumbledore had made sure every member of the Order knew this face and could recognize it instantly. Lord Voldemort. He turned to Jeannette who stood at his side and was watching him. His eyes filled with his disbelief.
She took his hand and looked into his eyes, “No one here will hurt you, I promise. I’d never bring you somewhere you weren’t safe. Listen to him Peter. Just listen to him. They’re trying to make him into a monster, he’s not a monster. They’re afraid of his power. Just hear him out, Peter. He doesn’t think so very differently from you and I.”
Peter wanted to believe her, but he wasn’t stupid. This was Lord Voldemort. This man would hurt him if he didn’t get what he wanted. The only question why he was wanted here.
She led him to the chair in the center of the room and urged him to sit. He did, not because he wanted to sit, but because he couldn’t think of anything else to do. She then turned and walked to the seated figure and knelt. The smooth high voice spoke out for the first time. “Jeannette. I have missed your company. I hope my neglect has been worth it, but then I can see it just may have been.”
“I hope you will find it worthwhile, my Lord.” She rose and took a place in the circle on the star directly in front of Peter. Two more dark figures moved from the corners of the room. Both dark and both Lestrange’s.
The man rose and stepped into the circle. As he passed its boundary, the band of stars began to glow, illuminating the runes that were placed amongst them. The imposing figure came closer until the face was as clear to him as that of the woman he glanced at, wondering if he had been betrayed. “Mr. Pettigrew, I am pleased we have this chance to meet. I am Lord Voldemort, but then you already knew that, didn’t you?”
Peter nodded and the man smiled. “Clever boy, I knew you would be a clever boy.” He walked slowly in a circle around the chair. The hem of his robe brushed the stone floor and the patterns that marked that hem, as well as the cowl and cuffs, began to glow slightly. Silver, gold and what looked remarkably like someone had turned pearls into threads, stitched out the protection spells woven into the fabric.
“I’m told by those who I trust as much as one such as I can trust, that you are a young man of vision. That you are able to see beyond what the Ministry and Albus Dumbledore have been pouring down the throats of the wizarding world for years now. I am told you are one of those few, those brave, who are not afraid to speak what he knows to be truth.” The man had completed his circuit and came to stand before Peter again.
Peter said nothing. His mind was blank with panic. Did they know he was a member of the Order? If they did, what would they do to him? He stared unwillingly at the face before him as a bird stares at the cobra that rises up out of the grass in its path, spreading its hood before it strikes and mesmerizing its intended victim. Almost no coherent thought passed his brain except to wonder what torment lay in store for him. A soft tickling sensation began in the back of his head and he knew the man was sifting through his mind like a maid on laundry day, sorting the information he found there.
“Speak, my clever boy,” the man encouraged. “You are among friends.” He leaned in closer and fixed Peter with a piercing look, “Perhaps for the first time in a long time, you are truly among friends.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Peter mumbled.
“Come now boy, I’m not asking you to reveal the secrets of Dumbledore’s precious little army of fools. I know about them and can catalog his members easily. But I’m not interested in that. I am interested in you. In learning if there is still hope for the purebloods of our race or has Dumbledore managed to squeeze all pride in our heritage from the youth since he took control of that school. You are among the first to complete the full seven years under his watch. I know those who came up in my own house, Slytherin, have resisted him. But what of the others? Has he managed to squash out of you the dignity and pride that is your birthright?”
The man was very close now and Peter could see the way the pale skin almost seemed to glow in the torch light. “I am a pureblood,” Peter stammered. “I’m proud I am pureblood.”
“Of course you are. It is a pity that others of your circle are not as proud and do not value that in you which no amount of clamoring or conniving can strip from you. I have heard shameful tales of how purebloods have been treated.” The man was circling him again and paused behind his chair. Peter’s gaze shifted across the circle to watch the woman who had led him to this place. She smiled at him sweetly, but said nothing until the man spoke again, “Go on Jeannette, my dear.”
“Trust him, Peter. I told you, he’s not what they say. I hate the way they treat you. And them purebloods too. But they don’t respect that. Have they ever really?”
Peter could feel the breath of the pale man on his neck. “They’re my friends,” he murmured. But already he wasn’t so sure that these people were wrong.
“Your friends?” the voice asked so very close to his ear. “Are they your friends?” The man straightened and moved away from him slowly to stand before Rodolphus Lestrange. “Are they his friends?”
“No,” came the reply, “not in any way I recognized. We were at school too, Peter. How many times did Black and Potter make you the butt of the joke? How many fat jokes? How many slights to your intelligence? How many times did they demean you, eh Wormtail?”
The Dark Lord moved to the next figure in the circle. Peter turned in his chair to see her standing behind him. Bellatrix. She smiled at him, her eyes holding a power and sexuality that terrified him. “Poor Peter,” she began. “We all saw it, year after year. We saw them ridicule you. How many times were you called stupid or thick? How many times were you mocked just for being yourself? How often were you left behind in the library struggling with homework when they could so easily have helped you? But no, they were out running about, having fun without you. How many times were you left behind while they chose the company of that mealy-mouthed half blood, what was his name? The one Dumbledore chose to be a prefect?” She paused and raised an eyebrow, “Oh yes, Lupin.”
The Dark Lord moved on and Peter swiveled in his seat to face Rabastan Lestrange. “Come Pettigrew, the way they treated you like a lap dog to lick up their scraps, and you a pureblood. You had a right to their respect and to the admiration of others, but when did they ever do anything but diminish that admiration? How many times did they target you? Everything from the childish “kick me” sign on your back to transfiguring a squid into a book so that it spit ink in your face when you opened it. We saw it all happen, Pettigrew. We saw your ‘friends’ welcome and embrace the half bloods and mudbloods of the entire school, while ignoring you –at best. Even that annoying Evans, Gods someone should have shut that wretched creature up long ago. How many times did you watch Potter glorify her tiniest acts as if they were worthy of worship? Did your successes earn such praise?”
Peter’s mind flew unbidden to the day he had managed the Animagus transformation. Standing in the Shrieking Shack he had transformed before them all. Black had looked down at him and had started to laugh. “A rat. A rat. Oh Gods, Peter you’re a rat.” He had grabbed his side from laughing so hard. His breath gasped sharply as he literally rolled upon the dust covered floor barely able to choke out sound, but able to moan, “a rat,” over and over.
Potter had looked relieved and simply rolled his eyes exclaiming, “About damned time, Peter.”
“Look at the little wormy tail,” Sirius had choked. “Wormtail.” It stuck.
He had looked up at Moony, and been shocked by what he saw in the grey-blue eyes. He saw no pleasure at the transformation that had been undertaken at great risk and for his benefit, no appreciation for the skill learned. No, he saw pity. The half breed, half blood pitied him.
The Dark Lord was standing close again. “Do you see my boy. Yes, you do see now, don’t you?”
“They’ll always choose Lupin over you, Peter,” Jeannette said softly. “The day in the store, they would not change for your plans because it meant inconveniencing him.”
Peter wasn’t sure why this memory came to him then but it did and it hurt just as much as it had that day. James, standing in the front of the muggle church, Sirius and Remus by his side. Peter was in the pew. “Sorry, old man, but she’s only got one sister and then Alice to stand with her. Can’t have more boys than girls you know.”
The pain that had ached in him that day took hold again. It merged with the remembered anger and shame from the day in the Shrieking Shack. All of the “teasing” flooded to him now and it no longer seemed ok. It no longer seemed like something mates did. He scrambled to think of a time when they had teased Remus. Other than the nickname Moony, which he knew the boy had disliked, he could find none. Oh, there was the occasional ribbing about this girl or that girl liking Remus, talk that had sickened Peter. The boy was a werewolf, the idea of any decent girl… it was revolting.
But never could Peter remember being treated as anything but the tag along. He was less in their eyes than Lupin. He was less in their eyes than Evans. Hell, he had been less in their eyes than any number of people. The nagging thought that had plagued him as a boy came back. He was kept around as a pet, as an amusement.
But he had laughed as well. Fine, he may not have been the best or the brightest at schoolwork. Sure he was a short, fat, not too bright lump of a boy. But he was a boy who had been smart enough to attach himself to the coattails of the best and brightest. No one dared to pick on him while they were there. Only now the price he had paid for that protection didn’t seem as worth it as it once did.
He looked up into the eyes of the man before him. “I won’t help you hurt my friends.”
The ivory skinned face smiled at him. The smile did not reassure as much as it seemed to seal a bargain of some sort. A bargain Peter had not realized he had made until it was made. “But I don’t want you to hurt your friends, my boy. What I want you to do is protect them. Help me to protect all of our kind from the lies of those like Albus Dumbledore. Don’t you see it is he who made your friends what they are? It is he, with his open arm policy toward mudbloods that has warped them. Why he’s even turned young Black against his own family, his own mother. Who would turn a boy from his mother?
“We don’t want to hurt them, we simply want to make them see clearly is all.” One more time around the chair and the voice came from behind again. “At least I hope we will be able to make them see it. Let me assure you, my boy, I hurt no one who does not seek to hurt me, none of us does. But our duty to our fathers, our mothers, their fathers and mothers, our duty to our children,” he paused slightly and Peter felt the compulsion to look at Jeannette. She was blushing slightly and looking down at her hands. “We owe our race and the world an unblemished future.”
“Must the mudbloods be killed for that to happen?” Peter asked quietly, still watching her face.
“Of course not.” The man had moved to his side. His progression and pacing was making Peter dizzy. “We must simply act as the guardians of the gifts nature has given us. We must not allow them to be soiled and abused by those who do not understand their value or potential. It is for this I am called evil, Peter. But I ask you, would the muggle government of this country allow unlimited immigration of outsiders, of foreigners whose ways were markedly different? Would they then allow those foreigners to force their culture and their way of life down the very gullets of their own children? Would they allow them to destroy the very heritage and society that spawned them and the achievements in which they hold such pride?”
The Dark Lord’s voice was growing in volume and brimming with passion. “No, they would never permit it. Yet when those same muggles are given access to our world, they immediately expect us to do just that. To allow a bunch of dangerous children, and that’s what they are, my boy, children; allow them to destroy our world, our customs, our lives. We are expected to adapt to them while they refuse to assimilate to our society. How is that fair? How is this rapidly advancing destruction of who we are as wizards anything but a plot to destroy us all?”
An overwhelming desire to believe this man rose in him. His mind began to calculate and tally up the advantages of this situation. War was coming. How often had he heard them say it? He was a member of the Order and would be protected by them. But how well have they been able to protect anyone, lately? The question nagged at him. The death toll was rising. If these people though him sympathetic to their cause would that be an advantage? Of course it would. He’d be protected on both sides. They never told him anything important, nothing that it would hurt for these people to know. And in doing so he would be helping those like himself. And it would please her.
“What do you want of me?” Peter asked, his eyes narrowing as he watched the Dark Lord’s smile widen.
“Only that you be honest with us, Peter,” he said softly. “I ask only that you tell me what you know about the plans of Dumbledore’s little army. I realize it may not be highly secret information, I doubt Dumbledore trust a true pureblood like yourself. He’d much rather trust the half bloods and mudbloods, he has too much power with them. He has become a god to them, a benevolent being to dispense favor and wisdom. Tell us what they share with you, Peter. Information. I shall never ask you to dirty your hands. I shall never ask you to risk yourself. A friend does not ask that of a friend.”
What could it hurt? He wasn’t stupid, as gentle as this man sounded he was still Lord Voldemort. His life would be forfeit if he refused to play this game, but in truth was it a game he didn’t want to play? Was he agreeing out of fear? Cowardice? I’m a Gryffindor; I would never be a coward. What this man says makes sense, he told himself. He wouldn’t be asked to hurt anyone, just pass along some information. Hedge his bets. Either way someone would come out the winner in this, and who ever that was, Peter wanted to be on their side. More, he wanted to have played a role in the fight, then he would have more than their protection, he’d have their respect.
“They don’t tell me much,” Peter squeezed the words out past the dry lump in his throat. “But what they do I will pass on. I owe it to my family; past, present and future.”
Over a year passed. Jeannette’s friends, for he could not bring himself to call them what they were –Death Eaters, remained true to their word. He passed along meaningless information. What the Order imported, what his friends told him about their activities, scrambled bits and pieces of information passed to Lord Voldemort. The only time they had treated him harshly was when he had tried to withhold information. It was worthless, but he had not told them of an order of Singapore stinging nettle extract that had been ordered. The pain that event cause was nothing he wanted to remember.
Sweet Jeannette was a sweet as always, she had not been there and did not know about it. He had not told her. She sported a promise ring on her hand. Her family, she told him, believed in long engagements.
Late one night, Peter was summoned from his sleep by a popping noise. He looked up and his heart leapt at the figure standing in the room. He listened for almost an hour as Sirius laid out his argument. The Potters and their young son must go into hiding. Dumbledore had suggested a Fidelius Charm to protect their whereabouts. Now Sirius had come to him to ask the unthinkable.
“You have to do it, Wormtail.”
“Me?” Peter’s voice came out almost without sound, “Sirius why me?”
“Because I’m too obvious, mate. No one would ever suspect you. We’ll keep you safe. We have a safe house ready, no one will find you even if they do suspect you.” Sirius’ grey eyes searched his own for a long moment. “Please, Wormtail. We have to keep them safe. We all promised. Don’t tell me you’d break that promise too.”
Sirius shook his head, “Never mind, it’s not important.” He stood up. “We have to do this now, Peter.”
This is it, he thought, this is what they’ve been waiting for. Had they known this would happen all those months ago or had they too been hedging their bets? He stood up and dressed quickly.
“Oh and Wormtail,” Sirius said, his voice seeming to shake as he spoke. “You can’t tell anyone where they are, do you understand? No one. Not even Remus.”
“Why wouldn’t we tell Remus, Sirius?” Peter had paused in the midst of his fastening charm.
“Just don’t ok, I’ll explain it to you sometime, but the less people that know the better.”
He sat in the chair in the center of the circle. The runes glowed white and lit the face of the man across from him. The memory of the pain of the Cruciatus was fresh in his mind. He felt sorry for James, but no one was worth that pain. He would be sad to do this.
“So you have information for me, do you Peter?” A smirk curled the mouth.
“Yes Sir. I have information.”
“Wormtail!” The voice penetrated his mind as if the man who spoke it was standing beside him. He had awakened.
He ladled the solution into the bottle and affixed the rubber top, similar to that used to nurse a baby. He took a deep breath, steeling himself against the sight that would meet him, the smell and feel of the putrid half living being. There was no more hedging. Only one side accepted him now and that side had to win. He had to make sure they won. Pulling open the door he called up the stairs, “Coming Master. I am coming.”
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