The Last Supper

The Last Supper

Look at all my trials and tribulations

Sinking in a gentle pool of wine

Don't disturb me now I can see the answers

Till this evening is this morning life is fine

James smiled around at his friends as he poured the wine. "Let's toast."

"To what?" Lily asked him, returning the smile, and for an instant the current of love between them was nearly visible.

He was tempted to toast to her. It would be easy, a salute to his precious wife, and everyone knew that he was hopelessly in love with her, so they would accept it. But no. "I'd like to toast our friendship. No matter what, we've stayed together, and even in the face of this evil, we'll still be the fastest of friends."

Lily lifted her glass immediately. "To friendship – you're the best friends I could ever have."

Sirius and Remus raised their own glasses as one. "If this is the last dinner I ever eat with you, I want to say that I couldn't imagine a life without all of you."

Remus gave him a chastising look for the pessimistic statement, but did not comment. They all knew so well that Sirius could be captured by Voldemort, tortured . . . killed. Instead, he agreed, "I couldn't have made it through all those years without everyone here. Thank you for being my friends through thick and thin."

Peter simply brought his long, thin champagne flute up to clink against the four glasses that were held poised above the table. "Friendship," he whispered.

They brought the wine to their lips, sipping through good-humored grins. Except for Pettigrew, who drained the slender glass in a swift gulp. He frowned, pouring himself another.

"Something wrong, Wormtail?" asked Sirius.

"Well . . ." Peter began, but trailed off. His expression, worried and furtive by nature, gave the impression that he teetered on the edge of some horrible secret that begged to be revealed. "It's just that I'm so worried for you!" he finally blurted out. "I'm not strong . . . not like you, Sirius! What if I break?"

"It doesn't matter; they'll never come after you, Peter. You'll be safe, and anyway, you're not the Secret-Keeper," Remus reassured him, patting the other man's shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. The truth was, he had never really known how to treat 'Wormtail.' Especially not in a state of distress.

Again, the perilous look crossed the ratlike face. Peter toyed with the left sleeve of his robe. He said nothing, though.

"Let's not talk about that," Lily suggested. She hated concealing things from Remus Lupin, hated it especially because he was the only one at the table who did not know their weighty secret. "This was supposed to be a night for relaxation."

"Oh, for to tarry with me one night, and go home in the morning early," laughed Sirius, quoting the Celtic folk-tune that he had heard earlier and had not been able to get out of his head. "We'll make merry tonight and scurry home before dawn so no one catches us."

"Drown our troubles in wine," agreed Peter, who was doing just that. He probably wouldn't be able to make it home that night, if he drank much more.

And that had been their last night together, really together. Even with Peter. Remus shook his head, remembering wistfully. Everything had seemed so simple and perfect . . . why had he not seen what was really wrong?

Always hoped that I'd be an apostle

Knew that I would make it if I tried

Then when we retire we can write the gospels

So they'll still talk about us when we've died

Peter was the kind of boy who needed someone bigger to latch onto. There were boys like that in every school, and as a general rule they were despised. The lackeys and toadies of the world were seldom pitied, and never respected. But Peter was one of the luckiest. He had attached himself to James Potter and Sirius Black, who were good people to their core, and bestowed on him a friendship that would have been denied in any other situation. Even though he had never really been as close to them as the girl Lily, or Lupin, the werewolf, he had at least been treated as an equal, and perhaps that should have meant something to him.

But the sad truth about all boys like him is that they don't know when they're well off. True, Potter and Black were hailed as the most powerful boys at Hogwarts, loved by most and even feared by a few. Voldemort, however, represented power on a whole new level. Even being under the Dark Lord was surely higher than being the equal of James and Sirius, wasn't it?

The truth was, as Peter was coming to learn, it wasn't. He might have more power, certainly, than they would have, but he lacked the one thing he had craved in all his time with Voldemort, and in the time he had spent as a pet rat, of all things! He would never be respected, never be more than an underling. Peter felt a sick certainty that there was nothing to be had as a servant of the Dark Lord but a life of groveling and fear, a life as an apostle to some psycho's nightmare of Jesus.

Of course everything had blown up in his face. That was how things tended to turn out when he tried to change the course of history. His new 'benefactor' had died, or as good as, and after such a betrayal, his true friends would never take him back. So he had muddled along, burying himself in lies that everyone believed, honored with awards he had never deserved for a death he had never died.

That was the worst part, in his mind: everyone thought he was a hero.

The end

Is just a little harder when brought about by friends

For all you care this wine could be my blood

For all you care this bread could be my body

The end!

This is my blood you drink

This is my body you eat

If you would remember me when you eat and drink

I must be mad thinking I'll be remembered yes

I must be out of my head!

Look at your blank faces! My name will mean nothing

Ten minutes after I'm dead!

One of you denies me

One of you betrays me

Sirius ran under the light of the full moon in his canine form, remembering in the sickened way that a survivor recalls a plane crash. Everything seemed so chaotic when taken as a whole, a lot of screaming and suspicions and fear, all wrapped up in the dead, dry sound of a Dementor's breathing. But if he looked at the events individually, there was a kind of shameful logic to the . . . crash of their happy lives.

Though there were many more important events that came before and after it, his mind kept returning to the last meal they had shared. James and Lily, side by side, holding hands under the table like teenagers all over again, and then Pettigrew sitting alone at the foot of the table, with himself and Remus across from the married couple. That was how it had always been, with James and Lily together, Remus together with him, and Peter all alone, relegated to the far end.

In retrospect, it should have been so obvious. The constant tugging on the left sleeve – to keep the Dark Mark covered. His steady drinking – guilt.

And, despite the hatred that ran through him like blood, like the wine had on that last night, Sirius had to believe that Peter felt guilt or shame in some forgotten part of his heart. Hadn't they befriended him when no one else would, and at James' behest? Hadn't they protected him from the likes of Snape or that evil boy, Macnair? Didn't that mean something, even to a Judas like Wormtail?

Or had he even cared? When he had told He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named exactly where the Potters were hiding, had he been thinking solely of how his fellow Death Eaters would praise him?

Had he simply betrayed the friends who had trusted him with their lives and then went on with his life? That was, somehow, the worst answer. To think that it could mean so little to him, after everything, was more painful than even imagining an eager Wormtail contemplating the deaths as a way to advance.

Had the names 'James and Lily Potter' meant anything to him as the corpses that bore those names slowly stiffened? "James and Lily Potter? No, don't care a thing for them."

The thought of that denial seared in his very veins, boiling through his taut muscles, and he gave in to a primal urge to howl. That sound, a desperate cry to the world that I AM HERE, cold comfort to canines since time out of mind, was returned almost immediately.

The reply, though, was a feral sound, unsoftened by civilization, mournful and angry and so perfectly fitting what he felt. A wolf. A wolf . . . full moon . . ..

Not I! Who would? Impossible!

Peter felt the brand – like a cattle brand, to identify members of Voldemort's herd – on his arm burn. He toyed with the idea of refusing the call, giving up this Death Eater business once and for all. But he knew he wouldn't. There was no going back anymore, and he was. . . .

Loyalty was like an addiction. You thought you were free of it, but then you found a new loyalty, a new drug. He had long since given up the thought of running away. You could drop one addiction in favor of another, but you had to keep at least one of them. For better or worse, he was stuck with a loyalty to Voldemort.

Peter will deny me in just a few hours

Three times will deny me and that's not all I see

One of you here dining, one of my twelve chosen

Will leave to betray me

Memories came as Sirius ran toward the wolf. Memories . . . they were streaming through him, a current, a river of the past.

Sirius looked around the staff meeting table at Hogwarts, where Dumbledore had called a kind of eleventh-hour council. The wizened – an apt word; Dumbledore was perhaps the wisest man alive – wizard sat at the head of the table, with James and Lily to his right and Minerva McGonagall, recently promoted to Deputy Headmistress, at his left. Nine other people, including Sirius and Peter, and even Snape (but not Lupin, which the other members found quite odd), had taken the remainder of the chairs. They gathered around a table that had been brought into this world for the sole purpose of being dined upon. There was a coffee stain on the light maple wood, directly under Sirius' elbow.

Sirius, James, Lily, and Peter had come here directly after the dinner. The lateness of the hour – the meeting began at midnight – only served to convey the urgency of the meeting, but the issues they had dealt with in the time between midnight and three in the morning had all been the same old news: mass murder of Muggles, entire wizarding families either being wiped out or converted to Voldemort's side . . . it was such grim stuff. However, it seemed that Dumbledore was building to the announcement he wished to make.

Finally, Dumbledore stated, "I don't mean to falsely alarm you, but sources have indicated that one of you is an agent for Voldemort."

Severus Snape had to see how all eyes turned toward him at the statement, but to his credit, he bore the implied insult with a stoic face. His eyes roved around the table; he was the only one without a target to fix his gaze on. This situation reminded Sirius very much of a game he had played when he was young: Penny, Penny. A group of people gathered together, and one left the room, while the others passed a penny around. Then the person who had left returned, and tried to guess who had the penny. Even though they tried to hide it, everyone looked at the person they knew was the penny-holder.

"I do not have any evidence as to who this traitor is, or even if he or she exists. But I chose you all because I trusted you, or because you were indispensable to my cause. I trusted you."

A chill silence fell over the council. For a moment, all eyes left Snape, to rest on the Potters. It was an unspoken truth that whoever the traitor was, the first target would be the young couple.

In the manner of unspoken truths, no outsiders knew why Voldemort's interest focused so sharply on those two, or why he sought, not to use them for his own ends, but to kill them. What was it that made them so important? What power did the Dark Lord fear so much that he wanted it destroyed?

"One of you will betray me. And possibly very soon." Dumbledore glared around the room, and if he could have found the traitor by virtue of trying, it would have taken less than a second. "Meeting adjourned. Remember to strengthen the wards around your homes; it is not a suggestion, it is an order."

Cut out the dramatics! You know very well who

Wolf and dog met in a field, and sniffed noses briefly. It took little time to verify the scents that had become so familiar in their years together. A shudder ran through the wolf, and then he was off, tail pluming behind, breath steaming before him in the autumn air. The dog gave chase, and his companion led them into the forest.

A personal encounter between cousins of the wild and the home; natural, perhaps. But the dog gave no happy bark at the pursuit, and the wolf seemed so congenial, for a territorial animal that had been invaded.

Fallen, frosted leaves creaked and crunched minutely under their light steps, and the frozen streams they crossed snapped as the thin ice over them broke. Panting, they broke from the wilderness, leaping a fence into a barren cow pasture. They cavorted nimbly across the slightly hilly terrain, distracted every so often by the sudden flight of a hithero-concealed bird.

Both sank into the animals they were, even though they both knew all too well who the other was, and why they needed the solace of a brief interim as a simpler being.

Why don't you go do it?

Why did he resist? Why not rush eagerly ahead to become a minion again? Peter touched the brand that was so hateful to him, and felt the pain of the summons flare. Why resist, and delay the inevitable?

You want me to do it!

Voldemort expected him, was waiting for him, and he still held back? What was wrong with him? As the pain rose to a new level, he bit back a scream. The only pain he had felt like this was when he had cut his own hand off, and even that pain had abated!

He tried to whisper a prayer or plea, begging for strength to withstand the evil call, but he could not unclench his lips enough for more than a sickening hiss. Please, let me hold out long enough to be free. . . .

Which was, of course, merely a cruel joke. There was no freedom under Voldemort, and no chance of escape.

Why not give in, when he was wanted?

Hurry they are waiting

He had broken at last. Now, result of his defiance, Peter's left arm throbbed, and no curing spells or Muggle ointments and pills could dull the ache. His will had been set, even to the point where he had rolled across the floor, shrieking that his arm would burn off, God, Mother, help me, my ARM IS BURNING!!!!! But no merciless God or dead mother would stop the pain; only one thing would even ease it. He gave in, and Apparated to the lonely, abandoned barn where the meeting had been held.

Voldemort had punished him, but he had expected that. Taken away the ghostly silver hand, which he had also anticipated. What he had not predicted was the fact that there were no jeering, masked, hooded Death Eaters to witness his humiliation – which was perhaps the cruelest part. Always, before, it had been a show to them, for them, like in school, when people had terrified and ridiculed him for the sake of a crowd. That was, at least, familiar ground, and something he could bear. But he had not expected Voldemort to take pleasure in that sort of thing. Demons didn't laugh like schoolboys at a show, did they?

His orders that night were simple enough, but no more bearable for their lack of complexity. First, avoid Severus Snape at all costs. Snape did not know how intensely aware Voldemort was of his status as a double agent, and it would be his ultimate downfall. In the meantime, though, it could not get back to Dumbledore through any reliable sources that Peter was still alive. That would leave Sirius Black in the clear, and that would undermine the Ministry. If the Ministry fell into disrepute, more wizards and witches would go over to Dumbledore's forces. And any numbskull, even those hulking idiots Goyle and Crabbe, knew what that meant.

Unlike many Death Eaters, Peter had not required an explanation of this chain of events. While he was not magically capable, he had always possessed a fantastic sequential intelligence, which had won him many chess games in his youth. Ironic; the ability to foresee the moves of opponents had allowed him to beat James at chess, but James had won the larger battle against him with an unforeseeable move.

The second and last order had been as uncomplicated in theory as the first, but was ultimately more difficult in the execution. Wait.

If you knew why I do it . . .

The sun began to rise over the farming community, over two forms that curled together in a circle of grey and black. With the break of red light across the gently rolling fields, the grey form began to shift, lengthening, the dense fur retracting as bones rearranged. Eventually, a pallid human woke beside a great black dog, and smiled ruefully at the memory of the night before.

It had been catharsis for him, as his wolf-nights had not been for so long that the memory had almost been lost. Memories didn't disappear, though; they just got filed away behind more recent or urgent memories, like books in a library.

Almost as if he had subliminally sensed the change in his friend, the sleeping form of Sirius became human. Suddenly subject to the discomfort humans felt, he shifted restlessly, rolling over and cracking his head against a rock. "Ouch!"

"Morning. Mind the stones."

Sirius glared. "A cow pasture, that's where I spent the night."

"You were the one who was too tired to go to my house," Remus reminded him. "Ready to go now?"

"Sure."

Remus Lupin drained his cup of tea in an instant. Chamomile and cinnamon seemed to help with the headache he always got after a night in lupine form. He glanced at the clock hanging over the door, which reminded him that it was seven in the morning.

"Moony?"

"Hmm?" The use of the nickname was so unexpected that he almost didn't recognize that the remark was addressed to him.

"Have you been remembering that last night? The dinner we ate as a group, when we were still . . . all together, and happy?" Sirius had never before been one to indulge in nostalgia – but that was before he had spent thirteen years with nothing but the past for company, Remus hastily reminded himself. How many times had his friend gone over those last days in his mind, wondering what he could have done then to change things?

"Yes. It's a painful memory."

"That's why I bring it up. We need those painful memories to drive us on, now."

"Why not fight for the sake of the good memories? If we fight out of a desire for revenge, we'll only inflict an age of revenge-based justice. But if our goal is to restore what we lost, maybe we will achieve it."

I don't care why you do it!

What was lost. Easy enough to contemplate, but impossible to restore.

"Get home safely, Remus! And Sirius, remember that . . . errand for Dumbledore!" Lily called, a voice to warm the darkness and make it seem less of an enemy. Remus turned back to wave, but she was already closing the door. His last glimpse of Lily was of her silhouette, dark and at the same time curved and friendly, against the strong light of a blazing fire.

"And now we scurry back to our homes," Sirius stated, still full of good humor – and more than a little wine. "I'll have to go into hiding. Or get better wards, or some tiresome chore like that."

"Don't treat it like a joke! This is deadly serious!" Remus exclaimed, shocked by his friend's flippant tone.

"Oh, it is, Moony. More serious than you know, and I'm having second thoughts . . . but what can I do? It's all in his hands now." He strode over to his beloved motorcycle, ready to depart for home, or some hiding-place that would offer at least the illusion of asylum, or on that errand Lily had mentioned, or wherever.

Remus rolled his eyes at the religious reference. "Yes, it's in God's hands now," he replied, looking up at the waxing moon. Three more nights, he reminded himself. Three nights until the full moon.

Just before the explosive sound of the motor revving superceded all other noises, he heard Sirius mutter, "That's not what I meant."

That was the last he saw of any of the others for a very long time.

Three days later, early in the morning, the phone rang. Dead tired after a night of running through fields and forests as a wolf, Lupin nevertheless roused himself enough to pick it up on the third ring. "Hello, Remus Lupin speaking," he greeted the caller.

"Remus . . . James and Lily are dead, and now Peter, too. Sirius Black is in Ministry custody for their deaths, as well as for causing an explosion that killed twelve Muggles. He will receive a life sentence in Azkaban without trial or possibility of parole." The voice that came through the phone was so altered by grief that it was barely recognizable as Dumbledore's.

'Lily and James are dead, and now Peter, too.'

But that hadn't been true, had it? Peter was alive. And he had been the one who had taken the lives of two best friends and of twelve strangers.

Which was worse, when you came down to it? Was it worse to kill someone who had trusted you all his life, but whom you might have been motivated to kill, or to destroy complete strangers who had done nothing to you, but had never been fooled into trusting you?

It didn't matter, Remus realized. Regardless, lives had been lost, and faith in a friend had been betrayed. Regardless, these two lost things could not be restored.

To think I admired you

For now I despise you

"I will – I must – go to Dumbledore now and turn myself in," Peter whispered. "It's the only way to get out of this rat trap." Ironic choice of wording, but accurate. He was trapped between a life that offered power and a death sentence that offered freedom.

"I will go to him, I will, I will . . .." Those words became a refrain, as he found his wand and the disguising potion that he used often to go among the people of his small town. He only ceased his muttered mantra to gulp the potion.

The burning taste of it seared down his throat and settled in his stomach, where it smoldered resentfully. It was pain, yes, pain, but after the pain of last night, it was almost intangible. This was, rather, a clean feeling of change and reshaping – does the metal in the fire of the forge resent the pain that scorches away the slag, and shapes it into something beautiful?

He experimentally held his remaining hand out before him, and was gratified to see that it appeared as a woman's hand. More tentatively – last time, the potion had not repaired this – he held out the stump of his other hand. It was whole, and feminine; he breathed a sigh of relief, and then left his house.

Everybody in town knew 'Charity Adams,' the somewhat eccentric but kindhearted woman who seldom ventured out of her house. She was well-liked in town, and occasionally submitted stories to the local paper. While she wasn't pretty, Charity was good-looking in a wholesome way that Peter had never been.

"Good morning, Miss Charity," called the newspaperman, seeing 'her' step out of the house. "Care to take your paper now?"

"Yes, thank you," Peter replied, in the falsetto voice he had created for 'Charity Adams.' "And a good day to you."

There was a kind of power in being able to walk the streets with impunity. As far as he was aware, none of these friendly citizens knew that a murderer and Death Eater lurked behind the guileless brown eyes. He was gloriously free in this false body, free most of all from the loathing that dogged him everywhere he had been Peter.

Everyone loved Charity; even Peter couldn't help but admire what he had created, which made him despise what he truly was all the more. How could he feel anything but hatred toward an evil man who hid behind an angel?

You liar you Judas

After a moment's pause, Remus said quietly, "I suppose . . . there are some things we can't restore. Lost lives . . . lost trust."

Sirius peered into his teacup, where only fragments of the chamomile plant remained. If he could have divined a course of action through intense study of the dregs, reading tea leaves like Sibyll Trelawney, he'd have found something to tell his friend. Despite his efforts, the chamomile remained mute.

Another silent moment passed between them; the relentless ticking of the clock continued.

"You are right. Even if we can't bring everything back, it won't make things better to destroy what we have."

Remus refilled their cups. "I suppose that it's really better this way, isn't it? If James and Lily hadn't died that night, Voldemort – I'm not afraid of saying that name anymore – would have stayed in power. And we had no choice but to face it; we would have lost. Dumbledore's elite team, the one you were on, wasn't enough by a long shot, and we were losing allies fast." He looked up suddenly. "When it comes to sink or swim, most of us are like Pettigrew. Rats who would jump ship if it starts burning around them. Those who don't . . . we wait for some happy accident. Last time, we had one. This time, we have an opportunity to stop the blaze before it starts."

"You're really saying that most people would join Voldemort? How could they? He's EVIL!" Sirius slammed his teacup down on the table hard enough to shatter it. Shards of porcelain danced onto the floor as warm, honey-colored liquid spread. Neither made any move to clean it.

"I am merely saying that most people have a keen notion of self-preservation. To save themselves, many men will do far worse than to join the side of evil; some have no idea that it's evil they serve. Far worse than these are the people who betray the side of good – these are the people who are so self-centered that they don't care how many their deeds condemn." The implication was readily apparent.

"So I suppose that the other extreme is true? People like that loathsome Snape are the best people, because they betray the side of evil?"

"No. Those are merely the people who have learned from their mistakes." At last, signifying the end of the ethical dispute, he went about the domestic task of cleaning up the remnants of the broken cup.

Sirius, however, was unwilling to let it rest. "Who are the best people, then?"

"The ones who have never made any mistakes to learn from." As he cast a melding spell on the cup fragments, Remus continued, "Peter once gave me a copy of the Bible. He told me that, even if I didn't accept it all as the gospel truth, I would at least like the stories. And I did, especially after the . . . incident. The part that stuck most was the scene where Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Betrayed with a kiss; that line kept coming back to me. Was Judas any less evil for realizing his error?" It took Sirius a moment to realize that the question was not merely rhetorical.

"Yes, I suppose."

"No. That's the beauty of the Bible: good and evil are all a matter of choice. Good is following the correct path. The heroes never stray, or make mistakes and suffer. Evil men are not the ones who are inherently bad; they are the ones who make bad choices. And the one thing that is consistent is that, good choice or bad, the choice is irreversible, and so is the fact of the good or evil. Lies told, deceptions and betrayals, have no chance at recompense. There are some things you can't bring back. That's the simple truth, and that's why I'm a Christian. I don't believe that the Bible is true, I don't believe that God exists. But the way the writers had of looking at the world was accurate. Life is a choice, and there's no second-guessing."

"So it's better that way? It's better that things took their course because of stupid choices on the part of everyone, including me?"

"I won't tell you that it's better; it's just how things ended up being. They were stupid choices, true, but would you make them again?"

The conundrum settled. Surprised by his own answer and what it meant, Sirius replied, "I . . . I guess I would." And then the rest of the question, unasked but implied, was voiced. "Would Wormtail take it all back, if he could?"

You wanted me to do it!

What if I just stayed here

And ruined your ambition?

Christ you deserve it!

Peter, still in the guise of Charity, boarded the Knight Bus. Stan Shunpike, the conductor, grinned appreciatively.

"Luverly lady, you are," he commented. "Where you goin', ma'am?"

"As close to Hogwarts as you can get me, sir."

"'Choo sirrin' me 'bout? I ain't 'sir.' Call m'Stan. Wot's your name?"

"Charity Adams."

Seeing that the 'lady' was not interested in him, he dropped the conversational manner in favor of business. "Eleven sickles'll get you t'the moors, ma'am."

"Thank you; I'll walk from there. Here." Peter handed over the money, and moved to the passenger compartment.

He almost stopped dead still at the sight of Lucius Malfoy, seated on one of the beds near the entrance. Luckily, though, Peter had the presence of mind to act as though nothing had disturbed him. He moved on to the accommodations at the back of the bus.

"Ma'am, you are going to Hogwarts?"

Peter did stop suddenly at the voice. "Y-yes, sir," he replied shakily, needing little effort to make his voice higher. Fright was doing it for him.

"Then we have a similar destination. Come, sit with me." The compulsion in the voice was unmistakable, though it was hidden under congeniality. Reluctantly, Peter moved to comply.

"What takes you to Hogwarts, sir?" ventured Peter as the bus lurched into motion, attempting to conceal his terror under pointless bus-ride small talk.

Lucius waved his hand irritably. "My son's in a bit of trouble, clearly not his fault, but the headmaster's so incompetent that he can't see it . . . well, suffice to say that I found it necessary to get involved."

"Ah. I, um, Dumbledore always seemed a good enough man, but then I don't know much of him. The media says he's brave and loyal and all that. Um, wasn't he a Gryffindor?"

"Yes. While those of his house have their points" – this was said reluctantly; Lucius was ever the devoted Slytherin – "I don't believe that they are very capable or intelligent. Look at the people that house has turned out! Sirius Black the traitor, Harry Potter, who by all counts is said to be disturbed, and, as a climax that surely illustrates my point, Albus Dumbledore!" Though Lucius ranted more, Peter was no longer listening.

What if I didn't go to Dumbledore? It's surely dangerous, especially with Lucius here; I can't know if he recognizes me already. What if I stayed put, kept living my miserable life?

"'Ogwarts stop! Malfoy and Adams!"

Acting the part of a woman surprised, Peter asked, "Malfoy?! You can't be . . . Lucius Malfoy? But you're so friendly! I was expecting some . . . dunno, someone colder. At least, someone who wouldn't talk to the likes of me."

Lucius favored his conversational companion with a paternal smile. "I'm more personable than I'm portrayed as being."

As the trek across the moors was somewhat arduous at best, they spoke no more. Even when the castle was in sight, nothing passed between them. Only at the entrance gate did they exchange one last pleasantry.

"Goodbye, Miss Adams. I hope to see you again."

"The same to you, sir."

They parted ways, to the great relief of Peter. While Lucius was presumably headed to the Deputy Headmistress (McGonagall, as he recalled), Pettigrew headed straight for the dungeons, and Snape. This chain of ambitions and revenges ended here. He would be getting what he deserved.

Hurry you fool, hurry and go,

Save me your speeches

I don't want to know Go! Go!

Sirius examined the room before stepping out onto the stoop. He wanted to remember how comfortable it had been, and the new ideas that had been put into his head by Moony, of all people.

"This is goodbye, Moony. I'll see you later, maybe."

Remus Lupin shook his head indulgently. "Always the fatalist, aren't you?"

"Fatalism or optimism – both kill."

"Spare me your theatrics. Dumbledore needs you, so you may as well go now. In fact, you should have been at Hogwarts yesterday. Lucky for you it's only a few miles away."

Sirius changed form almost casually, shifting with ease into his canine self. With a last flicker of his tail, like a wave goodbye, he ran into the light of brilliant day.

"Goodbye, Padfoot. I'll see you soon," Lupin whispered. Then he began the walk on foot – he would not be left out again.

Look at all my trials and tribulations

Sinking in a gentle pool of wine

What's that in the bread it's gone to my head

Till this morning is this evening life is fine

Severus Snape gazed into a wine-red potion, adding two portions of sweet yam. It sunk beneath the liquid, and the color subtly shifted to another hue of wine – this time, a deep violet. It was beautiful. Nothing in the world could be as beautiful as the innumerable, shifting colors of potions. Even this one, a draught of slumber, which served the mundane purpose of sedation, was magnificent in its own right.

Other wizards preferred the simplicity of charms and curses, or the certain ways of transfiguration, but the complex and infinitely varied world of potions was what drew him. If the recipe was changed by the slightest increment, the entire result would be changed, and the ramifications could continue to manifest for a lifetime. Unlike all other forms of magic, potion-brewing was an art.

Satisfied with his work, Snape leaned back against the wall to watch his creation simmer. It went through various shades of purple before settling into a shade that precisely matched the color of a crocus. Perfect.

And then the woman entered the dungeon classroom.

He supposed she was pretty, but in a rather unkempt way. Her straight brown hair was wind-tossed, and her eyes were desperate, both factors contributing to the impression of a madwoman.

"Severus Snape?" she asked breathlessly . . . and her voice was a man's voice.

"Who are you?!" Snape demanded, backing away.

"Peter Pettigrew. I've come to turn myself in to Dumbledore."

He had not expected that. A woman calling herself Peter Pettigrew demanded to see Dumbledore? His first thought was that this must be some kind of trick, or a figment of the imagination, brought on by tainted bread or meat.

"Please, brew me an antidote to the Feminus potion. I'll prove it to you," begged the woman . . . man . . . whatever he or she was. "I need to see Dumbledore, and confess to him. Please."

Knowing of nothing better to do in this situation, Severus followed the instructions he had been given. He began to mix the required antidote, finding equilibrium in the familiarity of brewing a potion.

Always hoped that I'd be an apostle

Knew that I would make it if I tried

Then when we retire we can write the gospels

So they'll all talk about us when we've died

Peter didn't know whether to cry or laugh. It didn't feel as though his burdens had been lifted, as he had always thought – hoped – it would, but it felt better. At last, here was a step in the right direction! He watched his old enemy set a cauldron full of water over a fire, and search briefly through a book for the recipe, and it was all he could do to keep the emotion from spilling out through every pore of him.

The ingredients were fetched from various places around the room, added with a precision that was so like Snape. Everything had to be perfect for the man to be satisfied; nothing could be out of place. The water changed colors slowly, the blue of butterfly wings to the shade called China-blue, then more swiftly, to the deep hue of the sky just after sunrise, and the consistency thickened to that of mud. Suddenly, with the addition of a drop of some clear liquid, the potion shifted to a shrieking red, and began to sizzle and spit.

"It's ready," Snape asserted, dipping a cup in it and barely avoiding the flying droplets. He proffered the cup, and Peter gulped it down.

He had never taken the antidote before; always, he had waited for the potion to run its course and wear off. But now the stuff moved through him like a venomous glacier, cracking against his bones and grinding through him as every part froze into a separate agony. And, unlike the Feminus potion (which remained warm in the body even after it had worked its transformation), this icy pain ceased abruptly.

"My God! You are Pettigrew!" gasped Snape, taken aback.

The smile he received was grim. "Dumbledore's prodigal, returned from Voldemort for judgement. I didn't want to die the way I've been living. Will you take me to Dumbledore?"

"Yes. By all means."

You sad pathetic man see where you've brought us to

Our ideals die around us and all because of you

But the saddest cut of all

Someone has to turn you in

Like a common criminal, like a wounded animal

A jaded mandarin

A jaded mandarin

Like a jaded, faded, faded, jaded, jaded mandarin

When Pettigrew entered the office of Albus Dumbledore, he had lost the desperate urgency that had driven him this far. Now, he could die. Now he could rest assured that, if he wasn't forgiven, he had at least made one good choice in all this time.

Dumbledore was there, of course; he had to be. But so was the person Peter had not wanted to face again. Sirius Black.

"YOU RAT!!!" Sirius stood and transformed and lunged in one motion, toward the man who had caused him so much suffering.

"Stop! Sirius!" cried Dumbledore, but his frantic words could not halt the man-turned-beast.

And then an unlikely savior came through the door: Remus Lupin. Peter took his rat form in a heartbeat and scurried into the pocket of the man's robes, finding sanctuary there. Thwarted and angry, Sirius growled at them both and reclaimed his humanity.

"Peter Pettigrew has come here to see you, Dumbledore," Snape announced, and all eyes focused on him. "Let him speak his peace."

Trembling, Peter crawled from the pocket and onto the floor, where he changed into a man again. "I've come to c-confess, Dumbledore. I've caused too much harm to be forgiven; I'm only here to accept whatever judgement you give me."

"Judgement for what, exactly?" Dumbledore asked, in as gentle a voice as he could muster when faced with a situation as impossible as this.

So Peter told him. The story of his betrayal of Lily and James, his murders of innocents and feigned suicide, the years spent as a rat living in this very school . . . and though these were dark tales, they were nothing when held up to the evil and despair in the ones that followed. Murder upon murder, death upon death, aiding the Dark Lord when all else had given up . . . because he had no other hope! Spiriting Harry away, using him to give Voldemort the body he now inhabited . . . and worst of all, more horrible than any other experience, the reason why he had turned away from evil. He had realized that, despite every attempt he had made to disillusion himself, he had never had hope.

Sirius and Remus exchanged glances as the monologue wound down. Their shared hatred of Peter was not quenched even to a minor degree, but an understanding had overtaken them both. Finally, they realized what it had been like to live all those years so wretchedly. Merely half an hour ago, they would have given their once-friend the death sentence without thinking anything of it. But how could they, now?

Snape, too, had found a new level of appreciation for misery. He had been a double agent, hated in both circles alike, but he had never hated himself. Pettigrew despised who he was with his entire being.

Dumbledore was perhaps the only one who was prepared for the entirety of the narrative. Yes, he understood. In the blackest days of his life, times he would not let another soul know that he had lived through, he had been in such a state of suffering as the man before him was. And he was ready to pass a judgement.

"I know that I've done so much against you . . . you trusted me, and I let your ideals and hopes die, I betrayed every one of you . . . but I will not go on like that. I'm tired of this life. I thought I was happy, for a little while – I was living in a Muggle town, as 'Charity Adams,' and I knew what it was like to have someone like me. But Charity was just another lie. I don't want to live a lie anymore." Peter was sitting, hunched against the wall, hands pressed to his face. "I don't know if I want to live anymore."

Get out! They're waiting! Get out! They're waiting!

Oh! They're waiting for you!

The scene was interrupted by a shout that carried from the hall outside. "Dumbledore?" inquired the voice of Lucius Malfoy.

"He can't see me here," hissed Pettigrew, eyes darting around for a place to hide. His eyes lit on the desk, with one open drawer; he became a rat and ran into the drawer. Dumbledore slid it shut.

Sirius darted into the standing cabinet against the wall and closed the door. Presumably, he had transformed, too.

At last, Snape went to answer the door. Not only Lucius but also Professor McGonagall, Harry, and Draco all came into the room, the former two indignantly, the latter with recalcitrant faces and angry glares between them.

"Headmaster, this man has come to our school demanding that his son be removed from all classes with Potter in them because Harry is 'assaulting his son with a wand.' However, I can testify for myself that not only was Potter wandless at the times of the altercations, but that Draco initiated them. I have had all I can take of Lucius' interfering with how we run our school!" McGonagall declared.

Snape looked over both of them. "I think it's a good idea. Never mind who started the fight; they will fight if they are given the chance. Separation is the solution."

Lucius frowned. "I have lodged complaints against Potter because of the matter of assault. My son clearly stated who was at fault – are you calling him a liar?"

"You will have to drop your complaints, then. Your son is a liar." McGonagall stood firm.

Both Malfoys muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'Gryffindor favoritism.'

Dumbledore smiled pleasantly. "I don't see any cause for formal complaints. Both are students in good standing at Hogwarts, and will continue to be so. If you find it necessary, we can enforce a policy of separation. Do you think it will be necessary?" he asked Draco and Harry.

They glared malevolently at each other, and mouthed words that might have been 'tonight, outside,' before saying in unison, "No, Professor Dumbledore."

"Good! Then I suppose we're done with this issue." Inwardly, he thought, schoolyard rivalries . . . is this the beginning of something worse? Does it always start like this? If so, this is a beginning, but I have an end to deal with now. "Why don't you leave now? I'm sure your teachers are waiting for you." With that, the four reluctantly left the office, none of them satisfied.

Dumbledore took Peter from the drawer, and Lupin opened the closet to let Sirius out. The scene began anew.

Every time I look at you I don't understand

Why you let the things you did get so out of hand

You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned

Ah - - - ah

"Peter . . . I don't think we can really understand what you did or why you did it. None of us has the right to judge you. But you've passed a judgement on yourself, I see. Tell us what it is."

"I . . . I deserve to die. I deserve to die because I caused so much death, even the deaths of my best friends. Shouldn't I be killed for it?" The look on his face, tension and terror and longing, was almost physically painful to see.

"Do you really believe that?"

Peter had no answer.

Suddenly, Sirius asked, "If you could make all your choices again, would you make the same ones?"

The question shocked Peter. Choices made, all revoked; James and Lily, alive, giving up, allowing Sirius to go free instead of serving a prison sentence in his stead, and not helping Voldemort come back to power . . . would he have made those choices? "No, I wouldn't. If I could, I'd change it all . . . I hate this life, I hate everything I did to get where I am! I would change the past . . . but I can't."

"You can't. Life is a choice, and there's no second-guessing." Remus didn't allow himself to dwell in the world of might-have-been. "For better or worse, you've created the life you live now. And I think there's no punishment you so justly deserve as the life you now lead."

"Not even he deserves that punishment," Dumbledore disagreed.

"What are the alternatives? For crimes like his, death or the Dementor's Kiss are the only punishments the law would accept." Snape listed these in a monotone, the lack of emotion in the words only emphasizing the emotion he truly felt.

"I would take them."

Look at all my trials and tribulations

Sinking in a gentle pool of wine

What's that in the bread it's gone to my head

Till this evening is this morning life is fine

Over a glass of Chardonnay, Lucius Malfoy read the paper. The headline alone took up more than half the page, reading 'PETTIGREW'S CONFESSION: After Fourteen Years, a Convict's Name is Cleared.'

It had to happen sometime, Lucius supposed, turning the page. Peter – Wormtail – had always been a coward, volatile and unwilling to commit fully to the cause. But to go back to the wizarding world at large and confess, knowing the penalties . . . how could he truly be called a coward?

Thought dead for years and honored with the Order of Merlin, First Class, Peter Pettigrew has passed into the history of the war against the Dark Lord as a hero and casualty. However, after startling testimony from the man himself and from the reemerged convict Sirius Black, we are led to conclude that he was actually neither.

"Two of our notions about Peter were wrong, too," whispered Lucius. "We thought he was too weak to leave us. We thought he cared about his life." Am I too weak to abandon my Lord, too frightened of retribution? Is his cause worth more than my life, and the lives of my wife and son? " . . . Perhaps he did care about his life."

Lucius shook away these treasonous thoughts. Better not to doubt for a moment; a moment's doubt could become a lifetime's punishment. Voldemort was unforgiving of betrayal. With the brand of 'Death Eater' on his family, what kind of life could they lead? The thought of Draco penniless, forced to wander Muggle streets begging – a Malfoy, begging – for food, money, and shelter was enough to drive all thoughts of defection out of his mind.

Perhaps, when the victor of this conflict was more obvious, he would choose a permanent side and accept the consequences. But until then . . . he was trapped between his loyalties and his conscience.

Always hoped that I'd be an apostle

Knew that I would make it if I tried (If I tried)

Then when we retire we can write the gospels

So they'll still talk about us when we've died

"Sirius, I want you to know that I never hated you. I never wanted you to be hurt because of my mistakes, but . . . I think I had to. It was wrong, everything I did. I'd like to make amends of some kind, to you and to everyone I've hurt. Tell Harry that I . . . never mind, Dumbledore. I can't put it into words." The old man stopped writing Peter's words, and looked up at him.

"It's hard to make amends. Harder still when they're for something like this."

"I'm glad you've never had to. How can I just apologize? Words are so weak! I've killed people! How can words do anything but reopen the wounds?" demanded Peter from his position, chained to the wall.

"Words are all you have. They'll have to be enough."

"Then . . . tell Remus I hope he remembers me when he reads the Bible. Tell Sirius that I want him to live for Lily and James, for their memory and how wonderful those people were. I don't want him to live for me, because that would just be a hollow revenge. And Harry . . . what can I tell him?"

Despite the impending sentence, loss of his soul by Dementor's Kiss and then death, the despair he felt was for his inability to articulate an apology heartfelt enough.

"What do you think needs to be said?"

Peter took a deep breath. "He needs to know why I betrayed his father and mother. Tell Harry that I did it because I didn't care enough about anything more than myself; I wanted a life of power more than I wanted friendship. I've paid for my mistake. Tell him that I don't want him to make the same one."

"Is that everything you want me to tell them?"

"Yes. Except . . . when I'm dead, I want them to continue the fight against Voldemort, but to take pity on the Death Eaters. I want for them to try and draw as many as possible away from the Dark Lord. Most of the others are like me – they're too scared to do anything but stay put, too afraid of reprisal."

Dumbledore looked over the man before him: no longer what he had been, and now with no chance to become. Was it enough to pen his last words for the others to understand?

It would never be enough.

Will no one stay awake with me?

Peter? John? James?

Will none of you wait with me?

Peter? John? James?

At a solitary dinner, at the head of the long table with a coffee-stain halfway down its length, Dumbledore looked over the messages he had written down almost a week ago.

Tell Remus to think of me when he reads the Bible.

Tell Sirius to live for Lily and James, in their memory. I don't want him to live for me; that would just be a hollow revenge.

Tell Harry why I betrayed his parents.

What reason did anyone have to kill anyone else? That was the ultimate question. Understanding that was finding the key to understanding why Voldemort's power was so tempting to wizards and witches . . . and to understanding himself.

There were secrets in Dumbledore's past that he would never speak of, not even to a condemned man who needed comfort. This truth would not bring comfort, just despair that his intended savior, hero, idol was as base as he was. The past was something Dumbledore tried not to dwell on, but the eerie parallels drew him into the memories . . ..

Peter was now dead, and his secrets with him. James and Lily were long dead, and the unstable powers they had shared were gone with them. What would Albus Dumbledore take to his grave, unspoken or too terrifying to be used?

"I'm alone now," he murmured, not to himself but to the spirits of his friends and enemies alike. "Will you wait for me, Peter? James? Lily? Will you forgive me when your waiting is over, John?"