THICK

This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and situations elaborated herein.

A/N: Spoilers

Returning close at Padfoot's heels with his arms loaded with cakes, Peter hesitated just inside the door of his dorm. It was still quiet but now it was the tranquil peace of a quarrel resolved not the uncomfortable brooding silence they'd left. Peter glanced grinning around the room. The others didn't notice the stiff-muscled pasted-on quality of his smile. They never did.

There was a queer hollow ache in his chest. A thought popped into his head, "How thick do they think I am?" but he pushed it firmly back under. These were his friends, right? They liked him, shared with him, understood him – only they didn't. He was just ratty little Wormtail, cheerleader and hanger-on. They thought he didn't even notice when they were having secrets from him. Like now.

He'd seen the signals between Padfoot and Prongs earlier, he wasn't blind! He'd known they were scheming to get him out of the room so Prongs could get Moony talking. He'd watched their eyes meet and their chins jerk as he dealt out his cards to himself, red on black, black on red. He'd heard their silent conversation as loud as if they'd shouted it. But he'd been left out. They thought he was too thick to notice the undercurrents so he pretended not to.

"Your cake, Master Moony," he presented one tasty burden to Remus with a grand flourish, "and yours, Master Prongs." He turned to James with a tray of tarts.

"Dinty and Raggy send their compliments and regrets at having missed you," he added, unloading a plate of cream buns on his own bed and plopping down next to it.

The house elves liked James best. Everyone did. There was something about those open eyes and that crooked grin that told the whole world he was their friend. Except Stinking Snivelly of course and who cared about him?

That had been grand today, watching Snivelly get his comeuppance. He'd nearly laughed himself sick at those flailing spindly legs, long and thin and jerky like a spider hit with a Jellylegs Jinx. Except it had turned Moony all quiet and frowning again. And when Snivelly had edged in late and scowling to the Great Hall an hour later to wait his turn for the DADA Practical, Moony had warned everyone away with a few grim words.

Not that Snivelly appreciated his help. He'd cursed him out so loudly that McGonagall had come in to take off twenty points and threaten him with missing his turn entirely. That had shut him up. His eyes had blazed as black as his heart but he'd hidden behind his curtain of stringy hair and his lips had clamped shut. And after the Practical he'd sloped off, who-knew-where-and-who-cared, and they hadn't seen him since. Good riddance!

"O wise and wonderful Wormtail, we thank you from our heart's bottom for your good service," James grinned. "You are indeed a prince of friends." He picked up a lemon tart and demolished it in two bites.

"O noble bearer of chocolate cake and cheer," Remus added, "most loyal companion."

"Here, what about me?" grumbled Sirius, unhooking and distributing four goblets of pumpkin juice. He'd already put down his own plateful of jam scones. "Don't I get any thanks?"

"All hail Captain Padfoot for his daring dashing exploits!" James saluted then let his hand fall into a flourish of salaams.

Sirius sat down on his best friend's bed and put one menacing hand on his tray.

"Shall I take this hostage for your good behaviour?" He cocked his head. His straight smooth black hair fell back revealing grey eyes sparkling with mischief. "If you ever want to see any of these tarts again-"

"Give Prongs five minutes with those tarts and nobody will see any of them again," Remus laughed.

"Eurgh, I hope not." James had put his goblet on the small chest of drawers next to his bed. Now his hands were hooking around the tray. Hazel eyes met grey in laughing challenge.

"Tell you what, I'll toss you for them," James offered.

"What'll you toss?" Sirius leaned forward then flung back his head with laughter at the answer.

"You."

"Not likely!" he said when he could speak. "Toss Moony, he's not very heavy."

Peter's hand slipped and a smear of cream striped his cheek. He wiped it off. This old joke again. It just wasn't funny, it wasn't. Three pairs of eyes turned to him, hazel, grey and amber.

"You're small," James coaxed. "Most trusty and well-beloved Wormtail -"

"Specially once a month -" Sirius added.

"And we've plenty of cake to break your fall, it's almost as soft as pie -"

"Give it a rest," Remus cut in. "There's been enough tossing for one day."

James and Sirius looked at him then at each other and shrugged. They didn't want to risk him going back into his silent mood. Sirius got up, swiping a raspberry tart as he let go the tray, and sauntered over to his own bed.

Peter bent to his plate of buns so they couldn't see his face. Just in case they were looking which of course they weren't. His hand trembled as he chose another squashy bun. Two and a half years since that time Snivelly had flipendoed him at the Halloween Feast, sending him into the pumpkin pies that had just materialised on the Gryffindor table. Two and a half years since the whole school had roared with laughter at him but he hadn't forgotten. No one had let him forget not even his friends. Them least of all.

Snivellus had spent three days in detention for that. Even better, they'd got him back good the next weekend, showered him with cow-pats just as he was about to enter Honeydukes and he'd had to slink back empty-handed to clean himself up. Probably the only bath he'd had all year, everyone had agreed. Yet Peter still writhed at the memory that for his best friends was now just a joke.

Just one of many jokes, like the night they'd spent locked in a classroom Snivelly had sealed with a Colloportus Maxima after they'd transfigured him into a quaffle just in time for a Slytherin Quidditch practice – or was that before? Yes because it was after the exploding slug pellet in his cauldron, which in turn was payback for the banishing curse around their favourite tree - What did it matter anyway which was before and which after?

"All studied out?" James said, halfway into his third raspberry tart. He always polished off the yellow ones before starting on the red. "Think you'll do better tomorrow than you did this morning, Wormtail?" They still had Transfiguration exams the next day.

Peter swallowed a mouthful of bun that didn't want to go down. He kept his voice light.

"Should do. You know it's my best subject." He'd worked so hard with the other two learning to be animagi so they could join Moony in his werewolf form every month that he knew it backwards and forwards.

"Werewolves should be your best subject too but you didn't remember it in the test," James pointed out.

"Let's not talk about anything so boring as studying," Sirius interposed. "Summer holidays in a week. What're you doing first?"

Peter picked up another bun and stared at it. They thought he was thick. Prongs had even asked him that after the exam, "How thick are you?"

"I'm not thick," he told himself fiercely. "Maybe I don't think very fast. Maybe I'm not as good at schoolwork and maybe I get nervous and forget things in exams but I'm not thick. I see everything hiding in the shadows like the rat I transform into. I see everything and you see nothing."

He hated the name Wormtail. He'd wanted to be called "Shadow" but they'd laughed and Padfoot had told him he'd need to eat less for that. Then he'd suggested "Sharptooth" or "Cruncher" because rats' teeth can chew through almost anything or "Sniffer" because rats are so good at sniffing out danger. They'd considered that last one – "Your nose is the right shape," Prongs had allowed – but somehow Wormtail was the name that stuck.

"I'm the sniffer," Sirius had joked. His animagus form was very like a black Labrador and they were famous as hunters and sniffers.

Sirius could smell trouble at fifty paces but danger? Only the small and weak can smell danger. Sirius was too self-assured, too confident. He'd run headlong into it and fight his way out again. He was oblivious. James too, even Remus; they were too strong to need to sniff out danger.

"You're all oblivious," he told them silently.

They didn't know him at all. They never had. If they could see into his head, if they could see how often he boiled with dark thoughts, would they think he was as black-hearted as Snivelly? If he was silly enough to let his inner self show on the outside like Snivelly did would they hex him just for "the fact of his existence" as James had put it today?

He wasn't hungry now. He put the bun back on the half-full plate and dumped it on his chest of drawers next to the goblet. He looked around for his cards. They didn't seem to be on the bed.

"On the floor," Remus said helpfully.

Peter picked them up, counting to make sure they were all there. He started dealing them out again. Eight cards down, turn up the last, seven cards down, turn up the last, six cards down – Bang! The pack exploded in his hands. He wrung his aching hands to cool them. Merlin, that hurt.

"Here's your chance to practise," James laughed. "Show us how you transfigure a bun into burn cream."

"Shame to waste the buns, he'll want them after," Sirius said. "Besides a cream bun into burn cream is just too easy. A first year could do it without even a wand."

Peter glanced at Remus to see a reluctant half-grin on his face. He bent his head so they couldn't see his damp eyes.

"I thought I'd always be in the thick of things with you three." Peter swallowed down the words that wanted to burst out. They burnt his throat but at least no one but he could hear them. "Thought we'd be together through thick and thin, always be thick as thieves. But sometimes I can't help thinking that maybe one day when your careless self-confidence trips you up once too often, maybe someone will laugh in your face just before they smash it in and ask, 'How thick are you?' "

He blew on his hot red hands trying not to think the next thought.

"Maybe, maybe, it might even be me."

A/N Flipendo is not canon according to the HP Lexicon; it's in the games but not the books. Colloportus is canon butI combined it with Maxima (as used in PoA with Lumos as a word that strengthens a spell).