Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter and all who normally reside therein belong to the woman whose name is on the side of the books: J.K. Rowling. And certainly not to me.
Title: Yours Better
Author: Aeryn Alexander
Summary: What do a birthday in 1979 and a battle in 1998 have in common?
Rating: PG-13 (violence, emotional thematic material)
Genre: General/Angst


Yours Better


Late Summer, 1979


The birthday party wasn't bad, he decided, leaning back in his chair and watching everyone milling around the backyard of the small house located in a decidedly muggle neighborhood. He sipped his cup of punch, which Sirius had been thoughtful enough to sweeten up for him with some sort of liquor from a flask. No, this wasn't bad at all. He watched Sirius do the same favor for James, hopefully without attracting Lily's attention. Doing something like that at a five-year-old's birthday party. She would have been horrified.

He chortled to himself and enjoyed his punch, which hit the spot on the muggy summer afternoon. It was nice to be able to do something like this; even in the middle of a war, they could still enjoy these few precious moments of normality. He couldn't imagine how many wards there were around that small patch of garden, but he knew more than just a clapboard fence protected the party-goers from the war raging outside their little sanctuary.

"Uncle Peter!" called the piping voice of the guest of honour.

A little girl with wild hair that was sometimes black and sometimes brown came racing across the garden toward him. She was rather skinny, most of the time, and very energetic. Her blue and yellow party dress, which looked as though it had been purchased at a muggle clothing shop, flew around her as she ran, darting around grown-ups as she made her way to the aging deck chair where her 'uncle' quickly downed the rest of his drink and held out his arms to her.

Peter Pettigrew grinned as the girl gave him an enthusiastic hug. She wasn't his niece, certainly, but she had taken to calling him uncle at an early age. Sirius, who was legitimately her cousin, Remus, and James had received much the same treatment. She was a very friendly child and had inherited a goodly portion of her mother Andromeda's even temperament and her father Ted's affable manner. Quite frankly, Peter thought she was the most adorable kid he had ever seen.

"How is the birthday girl?" he asked as she let go of him.

Her brown eyes changed color a little as she spoke, reminding Peter of her special ability, her talent. She was a Metamorphmagus.

"I've learnt to do another one. Watch!" she said, furrowing her brow in concentration and crossing her eyes.

Peter watched her nose change from the one he was used to seeing, which was cute as a button in its own right, to one that looked ... an awfully lot like his. He blushed as she un-crossed her eyes and grinned up at him.

"Like it?" she asked him.

"Dora, I think I like your own nose better," he stammered.

She stuck out her lower lip, pouting, and said, "I thought you'd like it. I tried real hard to do it."

"I'm sorry," he said as Nymphadora changed it back.

"S'all right," she said with a shrug. "Can you do any tricks, Uncle Peter?" she asked with an expectant look.

"Um ... no, not really," Peter answered, scratching his head and realizing that he was going to have sunburn where his hair was beginning to thin. One more thing for James and Sirius to tease him about. "I don't know any good ones," he amended.

Peter didn't think it would be safe to turn into a rat in front of Dora. That might scare her. Or worse, she might want to keep him as a pet. And, needless to say, Andromeda would be quite upset.

"Uncle James can pull a sickle out of people's ears," she said before leaning toward Peter and saying, "but everyone knows that isn't a real magic trick; the coin's just in his hand."

He smirked just a bit at this. James Potter couldn't fool everyone, it seemed, with the odd little muggle tricks he had learned from their friend Remus' father, who was a muggle and liked to do those sorts of things to fit in better with his wife's friends. Peter thought it was rather ridiculous.

"Really? I never knew that!" said Peter in mock-surprise.

"Silly!" giggled Dora, scrunching up her nose. "It's all right that you can't do anything. Uncle Remus can't either," she informed him.

"If you only knew ..." Peter thought to himself, trying not to let the implication that he couldn't 'do anything' bother him. How often had people, especially his fellow member of the Order of the Phoenix, reminded him of that? Too often, by his estimation.

"Don't frown!" Dora admonished.

"I'm sorry," said Peter, trying to smile again. He thought he would need another cup of punch and some help from Sirius' flask for that. Not that he blamed Dora. She was only a little girl. How was she supposed to understand these things?

Two little fingers pushed up the corners of his mouth, trying to make him smile.

"There!" said Dora with another nose-wrinkling laugh. "Perfect!" she told him.

And Peter did smile at that. He couldn't help himself.

"Who's your favorite uncle?" he asked Nymphadora, picking her up, with quite some effort, sitting her on his knee.

"You are!" she laughed, throwing her arms around his chubby neck.

That was the answer she always gave though Peter never understood why. He didn't give her sweets like Remus did. He didn't even spoil her with toys and things like James and Sirius tried to do. He didn't do much of anything.

Peter laughed too and hugged her back until a nearby voice said, "Stop hogging Dora! I want a turn."

Peter looked up see Sirius standing over them. The other wizard reached down and scooped Nymphadora up with a roguish look, complete with a wink to Peter, and swung her onto his back for a piggy-back ride.

"But I was talking to Uncle Peter!" she protested, looking over her shoulder as Sirius walked away with her.

Peter sat on the edge of the faded deck chair and watched them go. He felt a twinge of sadness.

"Well, Sirius Black always gets whatever he wants," he told himself with a shrug, picking up his cup to get a refill from the punch bowl.

~

Mid-June, 1998


There was smoke everywhere. She had no idea where it was coming from unless the Forbidden Forest was on fire. That seemed as likely as anything. She fanned the smoke out of her face with one hand and gripped her wand harder with the other. The battle was nearly over. She could hear only hear the sound of a few shouted curses coming from the direction of the castle. Nymphadora Tonks looked down at the Death Eater at her feet where he lay Stunned and bound with magical cords. He was almost certainly bound for Azkaban. If a Dementor could be found for the task, he might even get the Kiss. She couldn't say she was too upset by this.

Looking around again, Tonks wondered where she should go and what she should do now that hexes and curses were no longer flying through the air. Now that the battle was nearly over. She was about to start toward Hogwarts when she heard the sound of a pained cry from somewhere within the billowing smoke to her left, which was vaguely in the direction of the forest eaves. She thought she knew that voice for a moment. But she couldn't quite put a name to it. Tonks frowned and raised her wand just slightly, assuming it was someone on their side, either from the Order or from the Ministry. Since she couldn't place the voice, the latter seemed more likely. In either case, she was obligated to help them.

Several minutes spent straining her ears and scouring the ground were required before she spotted a figure in tattered black robes lying upon the earth. For a moment, because of the person's size, she thought they were a student in Hogwarts robes. Her heart pounded in her ears.

"Too many kids in this fight," she thought, rushing toward the fallen figure, which was moving slightly, not quite writhing, but certainly in distress.

The she saw a white mask, cracked down its center, lying in the trampled grass. This was no student; this was a Death Eater. And, because of his petite stature, he could only be one particular member of that dark band: Peter Pettigrew.

For the first time since the battle had begun, Tonks was unsure of herself. She would have rather taken on Lucius Malfoy in combat. Or even crossed wands with her aunt, Bellatrix Lestrange. Or dueled with any other, more fearsome member of Voldemort's crew than face this one small wizard who didn't even appear to have a wand. Charred splinters in the grass told the tale of its demise.

Tonks blinked as she stepped closer. He was missing his right hand too. There was only a stump where it should have been. When had that happened? She realized that somewhere along the way, his silver hand had been taken from him. Or possibly Harry had already defeated Voldemort and the magical appendage and disappeared with its creator. She brushed those thoughts from her mind. It was too much to contemplate as she stared at the figure on the ground.

"Poor Uncle Peter," she thought before she could stop herself.

She bit her lower lip as he moaned again, but this time words were formed out of the sounds of pain and anguish.

"Help me," he begged of any who could hear him.

Tonks wasn't sure if he knew she was there. She wasn't even sure he would recognize her if he did know. And more than anything, she wasn't entirely sure what she expected to do in this situation. She didn't often deal with opponents who were already unarmed and flat on their backs.

She anxiously chewed her lower lip as she took a step closer so that she could see his face, needing to know if he looked like how she remembered him as a child.

Her throat constricted as she remembered that evening in November when her mum came home from work -- Nymphadora had been seven-years-old -- and sat her down on the settee in the den and told her that her brave Uncle Peter was dead. She had cried then. Tonks remembered crying a lot that day. About Uncle James and Auntie Lily. But mostly for Uncle Peter, because he really was her favorite.

He had had bright blue eyes like she thought she would never be able to have, no matter how hard she tried.

And now, though much of him had aged and changed almost beyond recognition, those same blue eyes, though no longer so bright, were staring up at her from the ground where he lay.

That day, Tonks had been prepared for anything. She thought she would have been prepared for this too. But her stomach-clenched, and Tonks knew that she just wasn't.

She had, of course, reconciled herself with the fact that the man who had inspired her to be an Auror -- so that she could fight Dark Wizards -- had become a Dark Wizard himself. She had been given that knowledge when she had been recruited for the Order. At first she had denied it, if not aloud, then silently. She had not wanted to believe that her choice of paths in life had been partially based on a terrible lie perpetrated by someone she had consider a part of her family and whose memory she had venerated for so long. Then gradually the truth had sunk in, and she had cried again in an empty room in Grimmauld Place.

But this was different. Seeing him for herself made it different.

"Please, make it stop," Peter begged her, shuddering from the pain.

She could not guess what afflicted him. The number of curses and hexes that could induce pain, both lingering and severe, were beyond count. And there was also, she noted, blood. His face and exposed throat were flecked with it. If there were more blood, then his black robes concealed it.

Tonks forced herself not think about what might have happened to him. What good would that have done? Him or her.

"Uncle Peter," she said in a less-than-sure voice. She may as well have been seven years old again and just got the bad news from her mum. She hadn't meant to call him uncle. It just tumbled out with his first name. "I have to put you under arrest," she informed him, though the words clung to her throat.

He looked at her and recognition made his watery blue eyes widen.

"Dora? Is ... is that you?" Peter asked.

She didn't know how he recognized her. She retained only so much of her own face whenever she was in the field. Maybe it was her nose. Maybe no one else had ever called him uncle.

"Yes, it's me," she said with a nod before continuing with her duty. "You are hereby taken into the custody of the Ministry of Magic for crimes against the wizarding community ..."

"Please, help me, Dora."

She closed her eyes for just a moment. Alastor Moody would have had her hide for it, but she couldn't let Peter see the tears. She mentally cursed herself for being so silly, childish, and sentimental as that. For still thinking of this Dark Wizard, and not a very good excuse for one, as the same man who had been her uncle all those years ago.

"... including, but not limited to the murder of Cedric Diggory, two specific counts of using Unforgivable Curses on other human beings, and aiding and abetting the Dark Wizard known as Lord Voldemort," she continued after opening her eyes.

Peter whimpered and said, "Dora, please make it stop. It hurts."

She could see it in his eyes; it was the truth. He was in pain. But she wasn't sure what to do. Help him? When there were others on the battlefield in front of Hogwarts who were in many ways more deserving. Or bind him like all the others and leave him until someone from the Ministry came to take him to Azkaban. They would probably take the curses off then. Wouldn't they?

Tonks looked around them, peering into the smoke, hoping to see someone who could advise her, tell her what to do in this situation. There was no one. Why should there be? The battle was almost over. Even the shouted curses had faded to naught. She breathed in the acrid smoke and looked down at Peter.

He was staring at her and shivering from the agony of whatever he had endured was continuing to endure. She didn't want to know who had caused it. They had probably been justified. She knew it hadn't been Harry. He was certainly otherwise occupied. Remus perhaps? No, he would have been merciful and quick, no matter what grudges he held against his former friend. He would never have tortured anyone. She tried not to think about who really might have done it as she vacillated.

"Finite Incantatum!" she finally said, pointing her wand at him.

That would end almost any curse that was still at work. Why not? Wasn't it compassion that separated them from their enemies? That was the very least that she could do for him.

His breathing grew easier, less labored. The almost convulsive shuddering stopped too. Tonks had a strong stomach. Some had called her fearless. But she did not want to know what spells had been at work because she could think of some terrible ones that would cause just the same reactions. She could see that Peter was still in pain, but knew that it was not so severe as before.

"Thank you," Peter murmured, but he never took his eyes off of her. He blinked slowly as though trying to process that the hardened young woman standing before him in Auror's robes was the same little girl from so long ago.

She couldn't answer. She just nodded and kept her wand trained on him. It made her feel more in control of the situation than she felt deep down inside. It reminded her that she was an Auror, and not a child anymore.

"Dora ..." he said in a whisper.

She had already called him uncle, but she wasn't sure that she wanted to do it again.

"Just call him Pettigrew; it's more than he deserves," her brain, the part that was a damn good Auror, told her as she opened her mouth. "Uncle Peter?" was what came out in spite of that insistent voice.

"I want you to do something for me, Dora," he said softly. So softly in fact that Tonks had to strain to hear him. She crouched in the grass next to him.

"I can't let you go," she said in firm voice.

And Tonks meant it; she could not allow him to escape. It was her duty as an Auror to see that he was brought to justice. She had taken an oath, and it was one that she intended to keep.

"I know, Dora," he said.

Her eyes darted around again, still seeking someone to tell her what must be done. They were still alone and silence was settling over the grounds of the school. They were the last two combatants: a wounded Dark Wizard and a reluctant young Auror.

"What then?" she asked.

"Don't let them take me to Azkaban ..." he said with quiet pleading in his voice.

"I said I can't ..." she began to tell him. Then her stomach twisted again, and she thought she knew what he was asking of her.

But Tonks wasn't sure until Peter told her, "I know. End this for me. Please, Dora, just finish this."

She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. Tonks knew what he wanted. After all this time he had supposedly spent running from death, cheating friends and his own fate, and selling his soul piecemeal to the side of darkness, Peter Pettigrew was finally ready to die.

"Uncle ..."

"Sshhh..." he said before she could refuse and tell himself the thousand reasons why she couldn't do as he had asked. "Dora, if I ever was your favorite uncle ..." he began to say.

"You were," she interrupted. She was unable to keep the tears from her eyes.

"Then do this for me. I'm afraid ... that if I still have a soul, they'll take it from me."

She understood. If the Dementors of Azkaban were only cold, darkness, and bad memories, then no one would have truly feared them. Tonks knew just how terrible they were. She had seen enough of their victims, their soulless handiwork, over the previous two years to know everything she needed to know about the creatures.

She considered what he was asking of her. Would it really be so terribly unjust if Peter Pettigrew were allowed to keep his soul? Who would be harmed? Who would profit by the loss, for that matter? Tonks couldn't think of an answer to those questions. Truthfully, she hoped that there was none. And looking at Peter, it was quite possible, given the blood and the pallor that had come to his skin, that he was going to die anyway. What did any of it matter now?

"Dora?" he asked, struggling to reach toward her, yet not having the strength.

She touched his hand, but did not take it. But that touch seemed to satisfy him. It only left her feeling cold and still so confused.

"Just one spell ..." he said in a gently coaxing tone. His voice remained soft as though he had only a bit energy left in him, and only a bit of life too.

Tonks grimaced. She couldn't help it. No matter how little the Dark Wizard lying before her resembled the man she had known as a child and not even if it were the right the thing do, and she wasn't entirely sure that it was, Tonks was not certain that she could cast the spell he was asking for. Only the Killing Curse, an Unforgivable, would provide the quick and painless death he would surely prefer. Anything else would be torturously slow and every bit as bitter as the agony he had already experienced. She wouldn't do it any other way.

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, taking a better grip on her wand, as she tried to work out what she should do.

"You're the reason I became an Auror, you know," she told Peter as she struggled not to sniffle. She wasn't a child who wanted to be an Auror; she was one and expected to behave in a certain way. This, she imagined, was not it.

"To hunt me down?" he asked.

"No," she said with a shake of her head, "to ... I always wanted to avenge your death somehow."

"I'm sorry," was all that Peter could say.

"Are you really?" asked Tonks.

He seemed to consider her question for a long time. She hoped that he had thought about it before, and that whether or not he should have betrayed the Potters to the Dark Lord wasn't a novel question for him.

Peter took a shuddering breath before he answered her:

"Back then ... I did the only thing I could've done. I'm sorry that I wasn't as strong as James or as good Remus or as smart as Sirius. I was only ... me. And I couldn't have done any better, Dora."

That wasn't the answer Tonks was hoping to receive. She wasn't sure she would have believed him if he had said that he did regret what he had done ... any of it. But she thought it would have been nice to hear. Maybe his answer was better. It was an honest one, she thought, even though she couldn't be entirely sure. True or not, she took the statement for what it was worth: precious little, but better than nothing.

"All right," she said softly, wiping at her eyes a second time.

"Dora?" he asked.

"I'll ... I'll do what you've ... what you want, Uncle Peter," said Tonks as she reached her decision.

"Thank you," he murmured.

"I managed to learn to do your eyes," she said to him, taking a deep breath and still trying to steel herself for what she had just agreed to do.

It had required years of staring at a photograph of him taken at one of her birthday parties, and she never thought they were quite right, but she needed to do something, anything while she got her nerve up. She closed her eyes and opened them again only when they were the same piercing light blue as Peter's eyes. And this time, thanks to her tears, they were just watery enough.

A ghost of a smile touched his lips as he said, "I like yours better."

Changing her eyes back to their ordinary brown hue, she looked into the smoke one last time, half-hoping that someone would come and stop her and half-hoping that no one would see what she was about to do. They were alone, and a strange sort of silence had settled over the grounds that had been a battlefield not many minutes ago.

There were rules, Tonks remind herself, about using the Unforgivable Curses during wartime, special regulations for Aurors who were doing dangerous work in the field that allowed them to perform the curses in extreme need. If she were caught, there was a chance that she would go to Azkaban and an even better chance that the Ministry would snap her wand. A nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach warned her over and again about the risk and made her wonder if it were worth it.

Then she looked into the pain-filled blue eyes of a wizard she had loved as a child, and Tonks decided that she was indeed willing to take that chance.

"Are you ready? Should I do it now?" she asked him, wiping her eyes again and struggling not to cry anymore.

"Yes," he replied, closing his eyes.

She was glad of that. She could never have done what she was about to do otherwise.

"Hate the darkness, not the wizard," Tonks reminded herself as she prepared to cast the curse.

"Avada Kedavra!"

She swallowed hard as she looked down at Peter. His eyes were still closed, but he wasn't moving anymore. His chest didn't rise and fall with painful, labored breaths. He was still. And his expression was an almost neutral one, neither particularly happy nor sad. Just ... resigned and nothing more than that. She touched his cheek, running her knuckles over the traces of blond stubble found there, and found that he was already cold to the touch.

"Tonks!" yelled a voice from within the slowly dissipating smoke.

She raised her eyes to see Remus Lupin standing not so far away. She watched his eyes drop to the figure on the ground at her knees. There was an expression of incredulity on his face.

"Remus," she acknowledged just loud enough for him to hear. She considered getting up, but she didn't want to just yet. It was too soon.

"Is he ...?" asked Remus, taking a few steps closer.

She was surprised to see that there was no discernible hatred in his eyes. She was glad of that.

"Dead? Yeah, he is," she answered.

Remus laughed. It was a short and bitter sound.

He shook his head and said, "I thought ... after Sirius died ... I thought Peter would be last of us. He was so good at ... surviving. I was certain that he would outlive me. Now ..." Remus just shook his head again and rubbed his eyes. There were no words.

Tonks couldn't hope to understand the multitude of emotions that Remus was feeling at that particular moment. But a few of them, she understood quite easily. If any shred of the man they had known, Remus in school and her when she was very young, had remained in Peter, then something had truly been lost. She wanted to believe that something of that wizard had passed on ... had continued somewhere after she said the spell.

"We should go back to the castle, Tonks. There's still a lot to be done," said Remus after a few moments.

She knew that he was right as she clumsily clambered to her feet and looked at Peter one last time. Someone from the Ministry would most likely collect the body with those of the other Death Eaters who had been killed.

"Right," she agreed.

"Lupin! Tonks!" called a rough voice from somewhere away to their left. They both turned, knowing Mad-Eye Moody's voice instantly. "We're to be rounding up the live ones. The Ministry is sending reinforcements to help pack them off to Azkaban," he told them.

The formerly retired Auror had a Death Eater, whose arms were bound behind him with magical cords, walking in front of him at wand point. Tonks thought it was the same one she had dispatched earlier, but she couldn't sure; he had had his mask then, but it was gone now, replaced with a sour look. In her opinion, he didn't look nearly as afraid as he should have given the circumstances.

"So soon?" asked Remus.

Moody just shrugged and said, "That's what a competent Minister of Magic can do." He looked over at where Tonks stood beside Peter's corpse and eyed the dead Dark Wizard with suspicion. "Get him?" he asked with a growl.

Tonks just nodded and tried very hard not to look as though she had been crying. She was doing a very good job of it too.

"Give him a kick, lass, just to be sure," he advised.

What she would have said to this suggestion must remain a mystery, possibly for the better, because the Death Eater spoke first.

"Worthless maggot," he said, spitting toward the body of his fellow Dark Wizard, "always slowing us down with his clumsiness and stupidity. Nott and I learned him good this time though."

Moody cuffed him hard for daring to speak and said something threatening that Tonks didn't quite catch as she turned her attention to Peter again.

"He had a debt to repay, you know," said Remus in a soft voice. "You don't suppose he was ...?"

"Not likely," said Moody with snort and a hard look at both Lupin and Tonks. "Dark Wizards don't care much for such things. Like as not he didn't even recognize that he had one."

But Tonks wasn't so sure. She longed to ask the still-insolently-staring Death Eater what they had done to Peter and, what was more important, why they had done it. But at that moment Moody prodded the Dark Wizard forward with his wand.

"Come along, Tonks," said Remus, following after Moody. His eyes, she noticed, bore in them an expression that was both sad and thoughtful.

"Right," she answered with an absent nod, casting one last glance at her Uncle Peter before falling in line behind Remus and Moody.