(A/N: I disclaim the characters and ideas and other things that J.K. Rowling came up with, they're not mine... though it might be nice if they were, because then I'd be rich...)
He came awake slowly, feeling vaguely disquieted, though he couldn't pinpoint why.
He wasn't in pain, like the time when Fred and George had tried to pull out all his whiskers, or Charlie's blundering girlfriend had stepped on his tail. He didn't feel ill the way he had after he'd eaten most of a Chocolate Frog, which was a lot for someone his size. He didn't even feel hung over.
I almost wish I did. It would be nice to get drunk again. There are disadvantages to being the pet of a young child – and I'm going to a younger one still this fall, so I won't get near alcohol for years.
After all, when he got drunk, the dreams stopped.
They weren't quite as frequent as they had once been, but they were still unpleasant when they came. He had stayed awake most of his first few years in hiding, with the result that he almost always seemed to feel sleepy now. Which, of course, meant that a dream could ambush him at any hour of the day or night.
They were never quite the same. Some featured James and Lily, alive and happy, playing with Harry, while others had the same couple cast as restless dead, looking for the one who had betrayed them, or even as avenging angels. He had grown more accustomed to these over the years – after all, they were frightening, but they couldn't really happen.
What scared him most were the dreams that he knew were possible.
He'd barely slept or eaten at all for several very tense months in the middle of 1982. Percy had worried about him, since he was losing weight and shedding like crazy, and had dosed him with a really foul rat tonic. But gradually, he'd begun to realize that as long as he stayed where he was, he was safe enough. At least, he'd realized that in his waking hours.
His nighttimes were another story.
Sometimes the Sirius of his dreams was Hogwarts-age, the grinning boy he'd played pranks with and on for seven years. Sometimes he was the man that boy had become, still reckless and brash, but loyal and brave to a fault. Sometimes he was the man in the newspaper photograph, gaunt, bearded, scowling. But whatever he looked like, there was no escaping him. "I'll kill you," Sirius would snarl at him, wand ready. "I'll kill you like I should have done that day. And then the world will know the truth."
The dreams had begun to ease off as months turned into years, with no sign of Sirius anywhere in the waking world, except that one sighting in Diagon Alley, which confirmed everyone's suspicions about Harry Potter. That had triggered a rash of dreams with Harry, not the child he remembered but the boy he now would be, a sturdy three-year-old (and four, and five, and so on as the years passed), looking at him pleadingly and asking unanswerable questions. "Where my mum?" the boy would query. "Where my dad?"
Very occasionally, he dreamed of Remus, alone and mourning for the friends who were dead (or so he thought) and the ones who were lost to him. "Peter," Remus would call to him, tears streaking his face. "Peter, why couldn't you have been smart? Why couldn't you have left Sirius alone? Then at least we'd have each other."
Those were the dreams from which he awoke weeping. Or he would have, if he were human.
Dreams of Sirius awakened him screaming.
But he hadn't dreamed at all in this sleep. Why was that, he wondered, and his mind (amazing things, minds) came up with the answer; it was because he'd been drugged.
Ron and the little neighbor girl, a few years younger than he was, had taken him by Floo to Hogwarts, and claimed to Hagrid (who had called the child Meghan, he recalled) that their pet rat wasn't sleeping well and needed something to help him. Which was utter nonsense, of course, since he was sleeping just fine. And even if he hadn't been, he was still Percy's pet. If anyone was going to take him away for treatment, it should be Percy.
But the drug had been mixed with honey, and he had always had a sweet tooth.
And besides, what harm could sleeping for a while do him?
He stretched and yawned, and realized that part of his disquiet was that he felt wrong, subtly, all over his body. As if something was missing that should be there...
He shivered a little and opened his eyes.
The world looked far too small. And very white. White walls, white ceiling, white bars, white sheets on the bed he was lying on...
He sat bolt upright.
He could sit upright.
He was in human form.
He was behind bars.
And these were not the friendly, keeping-the-world-out bars of his cage. No, these bars were very obviously there to keep him in.
I have to get out of here!
He began his transformation –
And squeaked in dismay. Nothing was happening.
He tried again. Nothing again.
Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.
Someone was coming down the hall.
Oh no, oh no, oh no, something's happened, something's gone terribly wrong, they must know who I am, they must know what's going on...
"Three o'clock, the boy said," growled a voice, and Alastor Moody limped into view in the corridor beyond the bars. "And three o'clock it is. You missed a lot while you were napping, Pettigrew." He threw something into the cell. It hit the floor with a papery smack. "Have a look."
Peter Pettigrew bent slowly down to retrieve the item.
It was a special edition of the Daily Prophet, with a headline larger than any he had ever seen, so large that the three lines of text took up the entire top half of the front page.
Daily Prophet Special Edition, Monday 24 December 1990
SIRIUS BLACK INNOCENT!
True criminal Peter Pettigrew
Family declines comment until after Christmas
His hands shaking, he unfolded the paper to see what was on the rest of it.
Two photographs and a paragraph or so of text occupied the bottom half of the page. The text resided below the smaller of the photographs, which was of him, in human form, asleep and quite obviously snoring.
The saga of Sirius Black ended today, in a totally different fashion than anyone expected. Before a packed courtroom and the entire Wizengamot, Black proved his innocence in the murders of thirteen people and the betrayal of James and Lily Potter to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named by producing the true criminal, Peter Pettigrew, supposedly one of the dead, who is an illegal Animagus and has been hiding in rat form for the last nine years.
During the course of the trial, Black's legal right to the guardianship of Harry Potter was codified, as was his heretofore unknown custodianship of Draco Malfoy. Black is shown in an emotional reunion with the two boys, an unidentified girl, and his daughter Meghan. Also cleared of charges were Black's wife, Aletha Freeman-Black, and his friends Remus Lupin and Gertrude Granger-Lupin...
Movement in the larger picture caught Peter's eye. He looked at it almost unwillingly, and found that he couldn't stop looking.
That's Harry – it must be. He looks so incredibly like James – we always knew he would...
The boy in question was embracing a kneeling man, a man who was smiling and crying at the same time, a man who was, without a doubt, Sirius Black.
"Got anything to say about it?" Moody asked from beyond the bars.
"They... they look happy," Peter faltered out.
"They are happy. 'Cause you've been caught. Peter Arnold Pettigrew, you're under arrest for twelve counts of murder, treason by way of serving Voldemort – " Moody laughed shortly at Peter's flinch. "Two counts of accessory to murder, and a few other things we'll sort out later. You'll be tried in a court of law at some point. In the meantime, you'll do your waiting in Azkaban. We'll be transferring you there as soon as your escort arrives. Which should be any time now. Got anything to say before you go?"
Peter's mind seemed to have frozen.
It was a word to frighten gullible children with, a harsh necessity of wizarding life, not a real, tangible place where one might conceivably go.
But Sirius went there. And you were glad of it. Because it meant he could never tell the world the truth.
I wonder if he's glad I'm going there...
"Does Sirius know?"
"About you going to Azkaban? You can bet he does. Why do you want to know, traitor?"
Peter flinched again. "I thought he might want to see me," he said very quietly.
Moody laughed harshly. "He's got better things to do. Told me so himself. 'I'd rather be with my family,' he said. 'Wormtail doesn't matter now. The truth's out.' "
Peter stared at the photograph again. I don't matter?
After all I did to him, I don't matter?
"He'll testify at your trial for sure. Jury might even listen to him if he asks for your life. Otherwise you're more than likely to get the Kiss."
Peter whimpered in sheer terror.
"Ah, grow up," Moody said disgustedly. "Merlin's beard, evil's got no standards these days."
He looked down the hall and made a small noise of satisfaction. "Here they are."
Who? Peter wanted to ask. But before he could, he felt it.
The creeping chill across his limbs, and in the pit of his stomach.
Then the sinking sensation in his chest, as if he'd never be happy again...
And now he could hear the long, rattling breaths, and he shrank back against the wall of his cell as the horrid things came into view, two of them, with their long, flowing black cloaks, and their gliding movements, as if they did not walk but floated...
"Yeah, this one," Moody said, pointing grimly to Peter. "Take him."
A wave of his wand opened the cell door, and the dementors glided in and took Peter by the arms. He thought he might faint at the slimy feeling of their flesh against his own.
He stumbled as he tried to walk – it had been a long time since he had tried to move on two feet, and he kept expecting to have his tail available for balance – but the dementors' grip kept him upright. He suspected that it was all that was, and that if they let him go unexpectedly, he would fall on his face.
Another Auror waited at the end of the hallway, this one with a length of rope, which each dementor took in its free hand and wrapped twice around Peter's wrists. Before he could wonder what it was for, a jerk behind his navel made him realize that it must be a Portkey.
They landed in a dark, forbidding hallway, with horrible howling sounds echoing everywhere. His escorts half-dragged him along it and stopped in front of a cell like any of the others. One of them released him long enough to push the door open, the other one pushed him inside, and the door closed seemingly of its own volition. He almost screamed as he heard the definite thud of a bolt shooting home.
Then the reality of his situation began to set in, and he did scream.
I've been caught.
I'll never get out. Never.
I'll have a trial, and they'll convict me, and they'll put me back in here – if they don't sentence me to the Dementor's Kiss –
He screamed again, the sound mingling with the other shouts and screams he could hear and losing itself, losing its meaning...
Everything loses its meaning here. The prisoners all go mad.
I'll go mad. I'll go mad in here, I'll never get my reward from my master, I'll never get anything I was promised... respect, prestige, power, I'll never get any of it...
He realized suddenly that he was still gripping the newspaper in one hand.
He stared again at the photograph of Sirius hugging Harry, with other people circulating around them – several, he realized with a shock, that he could name – Remus was there, grinning his head off, his face looking almost younger than Peter remembered him, not older – Aletha Freeman with a child in her arms, looking radiantly joyful through her tears –
Sirius' child. The article said they were married, and that Sirius had a daughter.
And a boy with a face almost as familiar as Harry's, though in a very different way. And instead of his expression reminding Peter of his father, as Harry's did, it divorced the child from his parent, so much so that Peter had to look twice and reread the article before he was convinced.
Lucius would never smile like that. Or cry at all, for any reason. And Draco is doing both.
A woman and a girl, who looked very much alike, rounded out the photographic family. From the way Remus was kissing the woman, Peter thought, she must be his wife. And the girl was probably her daughter by someone else, since Remus couldn't have children himself...
Photographic Sirius and Harry pulled apart suddenly, looking indignantly at the large wet blotch that had just landed in the middle of their space. They grinned at each other across it, then maneuvered around it to embrace once more.
Peter held the newspaper out of the way of more tears and wiped his face on his sleeve.
This is stupid. I shouldn't be crying. I shouldn't care about these people. I gave them up when I took the Mark. They mean nothing to me, nothing at all.
And I mean less than nothing to them...
I used to mean their freedom. But now that they have that, they're more than willing to forget me forever.
And they're happy now. Now that I've been caught. Now that I'm here.
He summoned anger at the thought, anger and a thirst for revenge. But it wouldn't come.
All that surfaced in his mind was the one thought he had been trying to avoid, in one form or another, for more than ten years.
If I'd never changed sides – that could have been me.
He gave up and began to sob brokenly.
They hate me. And they should hate me. I'm on the wrong side, I did such awful things, I lied, I betrayed, I killed – and for what? For the chance to live as a rat for nine years, and now this?
But he knew it was too late for repentance now.
He cried for a long time anyway.
When he was done, he looked around his cell. There was a pile of rather musty straw in one corner, which he assumed he was supposed to sleep on, and a hole in another, for excretory purposes, judging by the smell. The light coming in was very weak, just barely enough to let him read by if he sat in the strongest of it, directly by the door, which was solid wood and had one barred window, just above his eye level. He could see out if he stood on his toes.
He felt a vague urge to giggle, but it wasn't strong enough to produce any actual reaction. Yes, out. To the hallway lined with other barred doors.
And it's all I'll ever see again.
His questing hand discovered a sizable chunk of rock sitting by the door. He picked it up and looked at it dully. Then, very slowly, he began to strike the wall with it, chipping away tiny pieces of the hard stone.
Maybe, in thirty years or so, I can make a speaking hole into the next cell.
It would at least be something to do.
(A/N: So, we won't get rat POV in the main story now, because here it is... hope you enjoyed it... the main story being entitled "Living with Danger" if you happen to be a new reader... please don't forget to review!)