An exploration of a wildly AU idea. Please don't kill me.
The war was ended with a bang on October the thirty-first, 1985, by a ring which was destroyed, a cup which was melted down, a snapped locket, a mirror cracked from side to side, a small black notebook confiscated from the home of Lucius Malfoy by the Department for Misuse of Muggle Artefacts and pierced through the middle by Albus Dumbledore, a snake which was beheaded, and Sirius Black, who led the final strike with the broken locket dangling from his hand.
("A fool's quest, Black. Immortality is insurmountable."
But the locket swings and dazzles and sparkles in Voldemort's eyes, and there is fear behind the red, fear glinting off the gold.
And, with a lurch and a spin and a shout and a fleeting flash of light, the war fell to the ground and crumpled, once and for all, in a dark, man-shaped sprawl of inelegant limbs and robes, before a team of Aurors with the wind at their backs and shock on their faces.)
There are four of them to sit in the five seats at the dinner table; the untidy man with the glasses perched on the tip of his crooked nose is at the head, because it is his dinner and his table and his house. He has his arm around the red-haired woman in the green dress and is murmuring sweet nothings into her ear; she is smiling, laughing, she turns her head to answer him better and her hair swings like a streak of fire.
(They are alive. Still, somehow, inexplicably, they are alive. They are alive and so they rejoice.)
The Saviour of the Wizarding World is exchanging wry, commiserating glances with the shabby, greying werewolf and the cutlery at the fifth place gleams, and the napkin is spotlessly white, and the seat itself is empty.
Words are said. Laughs are laughed. Smiles are smiled.
A glass of wine is raised. "A toast," says Lily. "To the end of the war."
"To no more bloody hiding."
James has never been one to hide. He hid only for Lily, and for Harry, Harry who will now grow up in a real home, with real friends, with no more secrets and no more running.
Sirius laughs. It is one of the first real laughs he has been able to laugh in a long time. (Sirius always laughs, but his laughs are bitter, and he laughs at himself.)
"To no more tin-pot dictators."
"To Peter," Remus says, gently, and throws stillness across the table. 'To the bravest one of us all."
(No one knew, and no one guessed
What little Peter kept suppressed.)
One second, two seconds, three, the lack of movement stretches across the room, until Sirius picks up his glass of wine again and tosses it down sharply.
"To Peter." Peter who, despite foolish hope, they all know will never speak to them again
(Upstairs, in a little room off the hall where the walls are covered in red and gold and Quidditch and lions, Harry Potter is fast asleep.
His untidy black hair falls over his forehead to cover a scar that has never been there and that now never will be.)
Nobody is ever the same after a war. They can pretend to sparkle, and others can pretend not to notice, but there is always something gone, or something new.
Lily pretends not to notice the way James has stopped rumpling his hair, and the fact that he laughs less and is silent more; the mannerisms of old have been replaced by a sort of watchful awareness, a tense jerk when something moves unexpectedly, or a sudden turn of the head at a harmless noise behind him. (She pretends not to notice that James has grown up.)
Remus pretends not to notice the way Sirius limps up the driveway; he has been told that it will heal in time, but until then he grimaces and he growls, and he limps.
James pretends not to notice how Lily fusses over Harry, refusing to leave him alone for more than a few minutes; he understands maternal affection, but this strikes him as maternal madness.
(Remus has not lost, Remus has not gained. Remus has simply grown older and tireder and greyer and his smile has grown rarer.
All of them have grown up.)
There is a memorial, in the Atrium of the Ministry, - Sacred to the memory of those who sacrificed all in the victory against Voldemort. November 1, 1985 - and the name of Peter Pettigrew heads the list.
(The others are dead. That is their tragedy.
Peter is not. That is his.)
There had been amused Ministry-worker gossip of putting up a memorial for Voldemort, 'to prevent any other egomaniacs on insane power-trips from getting any ideas', as one man put it. 'Or maybe to give them some.'
"How about just an epitaph?" Remus had suggested to Sirius, laughingly. "Crucio, ergo sum."
Almost as soon as he said it he knew it was a stupid thing to say. Stupid. There ought to be some distinction between being slightly reckless on occasion, and being a complete idiot.
(Crucio. Peter. Of course.)
There was a long pause.
"Descartes," Sirius said finally, "Would be horrified."
Remus let out a long, shaky laugh.
(The worst was over. Now healing could begin. )
It is Halloween on the closed ward, and so four of them (for Lily does not want Harry to come until he is old enough to understand, and she is calm enough to explain) stand quietly outside, looking in at the man at the far end. He is small, and plump, and balding, and he cowers on his iron bed as though the rest of the world is too far away for his mind to understand.
(Perhaps his mind is too far away for the world to understand.)
They stand in silence, watching; Lily looks like she might cry. James' arm tightens around her shoulders; she gives him a weak smile.
"The best of us all," he says, softly. "To Peter."
In the room the man, trembling, scuttles underneath his bed; and his mind (or the part of it that thinks human thoughts) is caught five years ago in 1981.
(Where are the Potters?)
(Do you really believe you can resist?)
(Crucio, and crucio, and crucio.)
"To Peter." Lily's lip trembles. "He never broke."
(If you do not answer, I will break you slowly.)
(He never answered.)
"Peter." Sirius is oddly hoarse. "May he be blessed with the finest Frogs Honeydukes' has to offer."
They laugh, but they know it is a fool's hope. The man in the room will never understand words again, and certainly will never enjoy chocolate, fine or otherwise.
(Peter was tortured into insanity by Lord Voldemort.)
One by one, they quietly leave. There is a woman from the Prophet outside, but she takes one look at the grief on Remus' face, and sees the vicious anger on James' and Sirius', ready to blast her into oblivion should she so much as dare to ask one single question, and she leaves.
(No one knew, and no one guessed
What little Peter kept suppressed.)
Every year five people visit the closed ward on Halloween.
The tallest man is always late, hurrying in (he no longer limps) with complaints about his superiors, a brief, apologetic glance for the red-haired wife of the man in glasses, and a small, thin attempt at a smile for their son.
The brown-haired, tired, greying man is always the earliest (and every year his robes grow shabbier), and he waits outside for the other four to arrive. It has a feeling of ritual, of desperate remembrance, but it also has a feeling of grasping at feeble hopes like people drowning.
The boy has known nothing but gratitude for the man inside (he saved us all, Harry) ever since he was old enough to understand what gratitude meant, but he wishes sometimes that they didn't have to come here every Halloween, because this place is cold and grey and damp and makes him sad, and he watches the man in the room cower from invisible torturers and unseen shadows and it chills him.
(He was tortured into madness.)
But then he thinks that next year he will be starting school, and he will never have to come here again, and his mind fills with thoughts of racing brooms and Quidditch and red and gold, and he forgets the man who gave his mind for him.
(Peter was the greatest one of them all)
But his parents are silent, and the two others are silent, and they look as though they might never be happy again.
(Nine years. Nine years, it's been.)
The man in the room crawls under the bed.
(Mother, why are you crying?)
And Peter, Peter, Petersaved them all.
(Because no one ever, ever guessed