Disclaimer: The following is not purely original fiction (it's called fanfiction.net, after all), but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. I will return all characters in fairly decent condition. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment.
A/N: Can or cannot be read with 'Always Their Friend'. 'Always' was written in mind of being a sequel to this, but turned out to have nothing to do with Higgs. Still, they fit pretty well for a Peter mini-series, something of which our fandom is woefully lacking.
For possibility the first (and hopefully the last) time in his life, Peter rather wished he were a girl.
The thing was, girls had this strange ability to disguise themselves with some makeup and nice clothes and a confident walk. Even the mousiest of girls could come out of the woodwork sophisticated long enough to get past some prissy secretary. Boys couldn't manage it that easily. Well, Peter supposed some could. James, for example - he'd have no problem with this. Sirius could've charmed his way in. Remus was enough of an actor. All right, perhaps it wasn't only a girl thing. Still. No matter how much he washed his hands and face, they stayed tell-tale'd grubby. And he was too small. If he had some height on him, or maybe wasn't so chubby…
So the only thing he had to rely on was how he acted, something Peter himself didn't have much faith in. Sirius had been delighted to find over the last year that if you walked the walk and looked business-like, teachers would think you had permission to go here or there or out past curfew. The trick was not looking troublemakerishly. You couldn't slouch or loiter. You had to think model-student. Of course, it helped a lot if you had a decent (not good, just decent) record, so Sirius couldn't often pull it off, but James and Remus had picked up on it. And gotten quite adept at it.
Peter wished he had done it more the past year. It would've been good practice for now. As it was, he had tried acting calm and cool on the Underground. Hadn't done badly, either, he thought, for all it was completely new to him. He simply didn't look around; he quenched his curiosity and focused on his small little sphere.
Now he was in the right area of London; he could get to Diagon Alley simply enough and did so. Only one person had stopped him, an older witch who had taken one look at him and connected him to the Pettigrew name. 'And how's your family, love?'
Wasn't that a nice way of putting it? She was inquiring after Abby, of course. Not 'how's your mother' or 'how's your sister'. He wondered if this woman knew. Probably.
'She's doing well enough,' Peter had said, thrilled that he hadn't stuttered. His voice was a little shrill and too fast, but, thank Merlin, no stutter. Not a bit of one. She had passed on without asking why he was there - so Sirius was right, they did assume you weren't sneaking where you shouldn't be sneaking! - generously giving him a Chocolate Frog into the bargain.
He was so taken by the unexpected gift that he forgot that he needed to ask where Red Lion Alley was. He could've asked Tom at the Leaky Cauldron, or the witch who knew poor dear Abby Pettigrew, but no, he'd forgotten, and now he'd have to ask a stranger. The stutter made a brief comeback, but he eventually came across it.
His breath caught. Red Lion Alley had none of your typical topsy-turvy wizarding style. It was surprisingly Mugglish at some parts, and the Alley merged further down with what Peter was sure were Muggle businesses. The buildings on this end were taller than usual for the wizarding world, too, a good few stories. But the ground was cobblestone. The familiarity was comforting. He could do this. It was his right. One of the men in Mrs Skower's Inc had brought him into the world. Thus he had an obligation to see him through it at least a little, didn't he?
Peter had to search for about half an hour. All of the buildings were rather alike. None had storefronts and few had signs proclaiming their business. He went into one and found it was the wrong place. Finally, he saw the name Mrs Skower's in frosted glass on one of the windows. He must've passed it six times by now and hadn't seen it.
Get a hold on yourself! Splendid advice, really, but none too pratical.
'And what do you want?' asked a bored girl at the front desk. She looked possibly a year or two out of Hogwarts, although Peter didn't recognise her. He did have the distinct impression that she hadn't said a word to anyone coming in all day, but a kid like him alone was cause for questioning.
Peter remembered to breathe first, speak afterwards. 'I'm to speak with Mr Thaddeus Higgs.'
'Mr Higgs, eh. Have an appointment?' She was hiding something in her mouth. Pretty deftly, sure, but Peter hadn't shared a dormitory with James and Sirius for going on five years to no purpose.
'Hhn.' Her tongue swept whatever-it-was to the other side of her mouth. 'Good luck.'
'There's a directory for a reason,' she snapped.
'Might want to be ready to swallow that quickly,' he shot back. She looked startled; Peter felt indefinitely more assured at this.
'Executive offices?' he asked the directory.
'Which executive?' asked the directory, sounding even more bored than the receptionist with its dull monotone.
'Higgs's secretary; 3-C.'
Peter was vaguely annoyed. Secretary? Well, wasn't daddy dear living the high life, not about to see folks without screening. Because he was fourteen, he knew things; secretaries served the purpose of screening visitors to their employer.
Everything was too clean-cut, Peter was thinking as he trudged up to Floor Three. The whole building was too clean and polished and straightforward and boringly brown-marbled. And secretaries. Just be confident, like you have a perfect right to be here. There aren't too many people running around. He can't possibly be busy. Confident.
The door was open; he knocked on the doorframe as he entered, a trick Remus sometimes used when they were sent to a professor's office. Remus could sometimes wrangle them out of three detentions with stuff like that.
The secretary's frizzly dark brown head snapped up as he entered, annoyed behind her eyeglasses. Peter realised that part of the trick was that you didn't look as though you were entering; you had every intention of coming in, but you let whoever was inside - overworked, underpaid secretary; irate Professor McGonagall - actually give you the affirmative.
'Excuse me, please.' So far, so good, but she was fixing him with a dark, unnerving stare. 'I'd like to speak with, with Mr H-Higgs.'
'I'm sorry but he's quite busy,' she said, all in one rehearsed breath, not sounding the least bit sorry. 'You need an appointment.'
'Can I set up one, then?'
'What's your business with him?'
'It's - ' Peter cut short. She gave him another glance, and with the strange telepathy that females sometimes had, she somehow managed to convey to him with perfect clarity that he had a little boy's grubby hands and that his robes were askew and that he was too chubby and that his part wasn't straight. 'It's not official business, not Mrs Skower's stuff - '
'That's what goes on in this building, Mr - '
'Pettigrew. Then could you please tell me how to contact him?'
'I can't give out Mr Higgs's personal information,' she said, a shade too patiently. 'If I did that to everyone that comes in, he'd be stalked within an inch of his life and I lose a job. It's a lose-lose situation.'
'Please, could you at least leave a message for him?'
The witch sighed.
'You're being rather rude,' said Peter, struck by his own daring. 'How're you to know that, that I'm not family?'
'Family wouldn't contact him via the secretary, and besides, I know his family, everyone knows, and you're not of it. Not an ounce of Pettigrew; it's all Higgs blood and Balustrade money.'
'Well, t-there's a least an ounce of Pettigrew in it.'
'So you're saying that if I called him over the fire now, he'd know your name?'
'He mightn't know m-mine, not with such an important life and big family as his,' Peter said, with awful sarcastic humility, 'but if you'd kindly tell him it's Peter Pettigrew, from Miss Abigail Pettigrew, he'd know it.' He had the feeling that full names were to be used here, and that the 'miss' was rather threatening. The secretary was struck by the conclusion that this was a Higgs bastard. Letting illegitimate children of the boss running around loose was very non tres bien.
The only question was whether Thaddeus Higgs would deign to speak with him.
She delivered the message. Peter couldn't hear his father, but she turned to him. 'What is it you want?'
Peter was surprised. 'Erm - well, I'd like to, to talk with him. Privately. For - For j-just a bit.'
A few seconds later, the secretary was nodding in the brusque way of someone who feels as if a brat has gotten the best of them and isn't pleased. '4-B. You're cleared.'
'T-T-Thanks,' said Peter, dismayed to find nervousness returning with vengeance. He left quickly, stumbling a little and scuffling the marble. To go up to 4-B - or, a traitorous, treacherous thought in the back of his mind - to run out of the building and catch the Underground back home now? His stomach was in a knot. Several of them. Now that the moment was actually there, no obstacles like transportation and location and lying to your-mother-who-you-still-thought-of-as-older-sister and irritable office workers.
He went up to 4-B. Like the Gryffindor I am.
'Come on in,' called a voice. It was a male's light and friendly voice, almost breezy in its tone. Not much like the aristocratic pig Peter had imagined. Well, all right, charming, dashing aristocratic weasel, he figured. Peter hesitated a moment. So now his father was Lord Thaddeus Higgs; it said so on the door. Well, excuse me for breathing, Da!
He opened it. The room was much less imposing and more comfortable than the rest of the building. It was covered in a Muggle-style blue carpet and had similar dark furniture, but then there was a wizarding-style rug, chairs with griffins carved on the back, and two owls hanging from the ceiling in cages. It was a clean room, though, painfully so. Maybe this was where he had gotten his tidy streak.
Lord Thaddeus Higgs was sitting casually in one of the chairs on the rug by the fireplace. He was smiling.
'Hello.' Well, no stuttering, at least.
'And good morning, Peter,' his father replied. 'Why don't you sit down.'
'I was - afraid I'd be interrupting you. That you'd be busy.' Something about that open face made him add, 'Or that you were hoping I wouldn't show up.'
'Well, you came a few years earlier than I expected, I'll say that much. Certainly not complaining, though.' He had been a year older than Abby, but he looked much younger and in the very pink of health. 'But no, the busy stuff is a nice little fiction to scare away the sharks, and an excuse to have a secretary.'
Peter found his tentative replying smile turning into a slight glare. 'So you have to have a secretary? Re-requirement for executive position?'
'Oh, it keeps Aequinna busy and happy. My civic duty.'
Peter doubted the happy part, but decided it was best not to say so.
'So you surprised me,' said his father in a musing tone. 'Definitely, earlier than I expected. Figured you might show up very young or near when you were about to leave Hogwarts - maybe after. Maybe not at all.'
'Did you want me to do that?'
'Do which?' Lord Thaddeus Higgs was still smiling.
'Show up later. Or not at all. Or even earlier.'
'I would have been disappointed at the not-at-all option,' he said, and Peter found a sincerity there that caught him off guard. 'Sorry if I'm making you nervous. I don't want to start exclaiming on how big you are or anything.'
Peter found himself laughing; maybe it was nerves. His father started to chuckle with him. 'I know I'm big,' said Peter. 'Fat, too.'
'Who said that? Stocky, certainly.'
'No, definitely chubby.'
'Does your mother know you're here?'
'Abby's abed today. The healer came, wanted to check her condition - I took the opportunity to sneak down here.'
'Condition?' his father repeated inquiringly. 'What's the matter?'
'She has the fwooper fever. And a touch of consumption.'
Lord Thaddeus Higgs shook his head, and his tongue clicked. 'Poor old girl.'
'Do you care about her?'
'Do I care about her? Oh, certainly. I'm not lying to you; I'm not in love with her any longer, I'm married, we're not riding off into the sunset. Abby was my first love, though. You never forget that. And a dear friend altogether.'
Peter found himself frowning in confusion. And Thaddeus Higgs saw it.
'I know, perhaps a seem a bit of a cad to you, perhaps a lot of a bit, perhaps a cad all the way through, getting a girl pregnant and then running off. But it's politics, Peter; I did whatever I could by Abby. My family refused to let us marry. They wanted it to keep qu - '
'Of course they did,' said Peter, finding himself scathing. 'Couldn't dare pollute the line with a poor girl like Abby Pettigrew, a girl who might have to work for a living, even if the Pettigrew line goes farther back than the Higgs one.'
'That it does,' said his father, solemnly. 'I made the same argument to my parents.'
'So - So you bought her off. Threw out a measly hundred Galleons to the girl, 'sif that was anything to you, keep it down, keep it down, don't let the child have the father's name. Hush-hush.'
Peter found himself on the verge of a tantrum and tried to calm.
'Well, it was a hundred and fifty, with a hundred and fifty more in trust for you when you finished Hogwarts. And you're quite right, something about the whole thing is certainly off.'
'What would have happened if it was the rich one who was a girl, had a child, by a bloke out of Abby's - my - class?'
'Depends on the family. Some might let the boy marry her and then make his life miserable. If the boy refused, the baby might be aborted, the girl might be disowned. It might have lived as an aristocratic bastard-by-the-mother; these aren't medieval times. Fact was, though, it wasn't.' Lord Thaddeus Higgs was very sober and serious about it. 'I am sorry, Peter. It isn't quite fair. But perhaps we can make the best of it?'
Peter shrugged. 'How are you doing?' He felt too shy to rehash the issue.
'Me? I'm doing decently well. The work is mind-bogglingly boring. I've a wife and another child. I've been collecting coins for a while, now. How are you doing?'
'F-Fine, I suppose.'
'Is there anything I all I can get you, Peter?'
Peter stared at the carpet. Coming in, he had been prepared to demand everything under the sun for him and Abby. 'No, thanks.'
'Think on it. At any time. Say, if you wanted to visit again - let me give you a more direct way, so you won't have to get past the secretaries.' His father had brightened considerably as he stood up, searching for a slip of parchment.
'If I wanted to visit again?' Peter asked.
Lord Thaddeus Higgs looked slightly crestfallen. 'If you wanted to, that is.'
'But do you want me to?'
'Well, why wouldn't I not want to? I'd like to get to know my son. Do you know, you're my only son, Marie and I only have a daughter, and there was another little girl who died of dragon pox?'
'I'm sorry,' said Peter, automatically but still seized by real sympathy.
'Yes, well, it was bad for the girl, of course. I can't pity myself - have had more than my share of good fortune - hopeless thing, though, was two. That's not living, not a life at all.' He was scratching the parchment with a quill. His writing was loud; Peter could hear him doing it.
'When did you meet? Was it at school?'
His father looked surprised. 'Peter - did you find this out all roundabout? Did your mother tell you anything?'
Peter shrugged. 'I figured it out only this summer. It wasn't that Abby never said anything. S-She supposed I had just - just picked it up, somehow. Figures she would think so. I - well, I-I never pick up much anything.'
'Really? You must have been terribly clever, to get past Aequinna.'
'No, I'm not at all. I try - usually - at school, such. But I'm not clever at all. I just kind of plod on.'
'Well, there's nothing wrong with being a plodder. Some of us aren't naturally gifted; we have to work at it. I must've been amongst the best of plodders. Professor McGonagall thought I was an idiot, and I doubt she was far off the mark.'
'Really?' Peter's head snapped up. He was interested in his father again. 'Oh, Mc - Professor McGonagall' (his father gave him a conspirator's grin) 'hates me.'
'Oh, she doesn't hate you, she doesn't hate most outside the classroom. Just inside of it, she can be a real dragon.'
Peter nodded vigorously - at the inside the classroom part, although he didn't believe the outside bit one iota.
'Do you like school, apart from the dreaded McGonagall?'
'Oh, I like it pretty well,' said Peter. 'Some of the classes are interesting. And it's more fun than being at home. And I really like my roommates.'
'That's good, good - who are your friends?'
Peter's pendulum swung again, and his mood darkened. It seemed Lord Thaddeus Higgs was determined to avoid the unpleasant topics. Kept complimenting a bit over-much, too. Peter was no more happy at being tried patronisingly than any male fourteen-year-old. 'Well, there's James. James Potter. Surely worthy of even you, a Potter. Doesn't have as many detentions as Sirius, though. They're the clever ones. You wouldn't have to sugarcoat them. And then there's Remus. He's a werewolf, by the way.'
Lord Thaddeus Higgs didn't so much as bat an eye, which rather defeated the whole purpose of saying it, and Peter gasped as he realised what had jumped out of his mouth. Even had his father been shocked, betraying that secret wouldn't have been worth it at all. 'Oh no - but - y-you can't tell a-anyone, you c-c-can't tell; he'd have to leave the school, he and his family might have to leave the whole country, if anyone knew - '
'Knew what?' his father asked, and Peter breathed more easily at the tone. Immediately he forgave Lord Thaddeus Higgs all and everything.
He was still casual. 'No girls yet, I imagine.'
'No - we're too young for that.' Peter made a face of disgust, and his father laughed. 'Well, Sirius, I little, but I think they're after him and not the other way 'round.'
'And your mother? How's she just now?'
'Oh, she's doing a little better. The summer is her best medicine, the healer says. Winter is worse. She's bed-rid, though.'
'That's really too bad,' said his father, and there was real regret in his voice. 'Take this, will you?' He gave Peter the parchment. 'I'd like to see you again - and possibly speak with Abby, too.'
Peter stared at it, and asked the dumbfounded question: 'What should I call you?'
'Hmm - well, you call your mother Abby, don't it? Just call me Thad.'
'All right.' Peter felt too shy to say it yet, but Thad was much more welcoming than any paternal address, and definitely more so than Lord Thaddeus Higgs.
'Now, what year are you in? Fourth - fifth this year, isn't it?'
'Yes. First of September.'
'That's an old tradition,' said Thad, but not in a way that made Peter feel thick for saying it. 'What House are you in?'
Peter felt a jolt that Thad didn't know this. 'Gryffindor - we all are. The four of us,' he tacked on, for clarification.
'You talk of them a lot.'
Peter felt strangely discomforted. 'Well, well, of course I do. They're my friends. We're really close.'
'You don't need to explain yourself to me on that score.' Thad paused. 'So. Play Quidditch or anything?'
'No - no, that's James. He's the best Chaser in the school.'
'A fifth year?' Thad looked amused.
'I had heard the Potters' child was good, still - '
'Couldn't you come to a game sometime? You'd see.' Peter blushed. Maybe that had been too forward, maybe Thad would get impatient with him, maybe -
'That would be grand, actually. Haven't seen a House game in a while.'
'What House were you?' Peter asked.
Peter stared. This was an adult Slytherin? Not that he was expecting horns and a pointy tail, or even a pet snake, but - he was so normal. Nice, even. There was the occasional tolerable Slytherin, but they didn't tend to be friendly.
'In fact,' continued Thad, ignoring the stare, 'let's make it a Gryffindor/Slytherin game. That way at least one of us gets to brag.' He was smiling down at Peter. His father was tall, Peter realised, not extraordinarily so but tall enough.
'That would be great.' (Especially as Gryffindor was sure to destroy Slytherin - Peter had no doubts about it.)
Well, one invitation had been accepted, and suddenly Peter wondered. There was still something he thought his father owed them - Abby, at least. 'Erm, s - Th-Thad?'
'Do you - well.' Peter stared down at the hands on his lap. 'You said I could ask you for something. I mean, I didn't come up here just to beg favours, really, but…' He trailed off. That wasn't wholly the truth. He had come to confront and demand. But since when did the Quartet of Mischief worry about the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help them Godric's sword?
'I think you're quite overdue to ask a favour, and I'm quite overdue to grant it.'
Peter explained. About the medical expenses and his mother's condition, which wasn't worsening quickly but steadily enough. About the sea air that the healer said would clear her lungs. About the impossibility of garnering that money.
'I know you're, you're not married o-or anyth-thing, and that you've p-paid - erm, g-given her money, b-but - well, it is k-kind of y-your responsibility; they s-said the pregnancy c-complicated things, a-and - well… When I asked her about, well, y-you know, you and her, a-and found you had m-money - w-well, I said, isn't that, well, inconvenient - s-she s-said no way, no way could she ask you, based on a-an a-affaire years ago.'
'That was always Abby Pettigrew,' said Thad fondly. 'Straight as you can be. No, I think she can ask me for something in a life-or-death situation based on an affaire years ago.'
'Most certainly. Let's think though. The thing is, you must account for pride. I don't want to damage Abby's. I'd like it to be a happy accident that she suddenly gets the Galleons to do this.'
'Like winning the Ministry's drawing?'
'Like that. Only the Galleon Draw would be far too complicated. They have clippings in the Daily Prophet for it and everything. Something simpler.' Thad chewed on his quill, which he had been absently playing with all along. There was a knock at the door, and Thad jumped. 'Oh, Mr Fawcett! If you'd please wait one moment.' He turned to Peter. 'Have the parchment? I'm terribly sorry, Peter; there's an appointment right now.'
'I'll need to be hurrying back.'
'Right, right - I promise you on my lordship that I will think it over. Abby Pettigrew is going to come by roughly a hundred Galleons - '
' - yes, a hundred, very shortly. You keep mum on this, is the word.' They were standing up. 'It was very nice seeing you, Peter, I'm glad you showed up and hope you're glad you did too.'
'Yes - I, I am.'
'Till later,' said Thad, hand held out a little awkwardly. 'We plodders have to stick together.'
Peter shook it. 'Till later,' he replied.
A week later, a malfunction caused the Floo Network to send all its users to the home of Miss Abigail Pettigrew. There was quite some confusion and crowd, and someone managed to blow the roof off in a fit of anger and spontaneous magic.
The Ministry of Magic paid Miss Pettigrew for the inconvenience, first paying for the damage and then a settlement of one hundred Galleons.
Gryffindor won the match that Lord Thaddeus Higgs attended, 370-180. Peter graciously praised the Slytherin Beaters in his father's hearing. Thad made a point of talking with the fifth-year Gryffindor Chaser.
Peter and Thad kept in touch for some time and grew very close. The only thing Thad was unaware of was the Animagi project. Otherwise he might have known even more details about Hallowe'en of 1980 than he already did. As it was, he knew, at the very least, that Peter had always been quite dysfunctional with his Unforgivable Curses.
No, Lord Thaddeus Higgs wasn't a surprised wizard, to hear of the street's wrecking explosion. He mourned, however, with some heart. He had truly liked Peter, even though by that point he had another son. If only the boy had plodded a bit more when learning how to do those curses properly.
The only packages Sirius Black, the young boy 'with even more detentions than James', received while in Azkaban were anonymous. But someone with quite some influence had interfered to make sure he did get them. They were quite full to bursting, too - the Higgses had a good house-elf. And Aequinna contributed; bad-tempered she might be, but most definitely a brilliant cook. Not that Thad had a guilty conscience by any means, but he had always liked the boy in some twisted sort of way.
Remus Lupin wasn't often pestered by owls. He couldn't afford the Daily Prophet, for one, and Peter's father had stopped owling him long ago. But he suspected, rightly, that it was Thad Higgs who had sent the issue with Albus Dumbledore's ad circled in red ink. Thad was determined that this son would learn something of the Dark Arts properly, and if the werewolf refused to become a Death Eater, he could at least do him the favour of teaching Terrence a thing or two.
Lord Thaddeus Higgs is allergic to rats.