Disclaimer: Harry Potter characters and situations belong to JKR, her publishers, and Warner Brothers.Much of the dialogue in part 3 is quoted directly from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I repeat: I did not write the Shrieking Shack scene. I just changed the point of view.
Summary: Peter spends twelve years as Scabbers Weasley. Remus gets dragged back into the magical world by Harry. And Sirius searches for his long-missing sanity.
Note: This is a sequel to my story Darkness Dying. It ought to stand alone, however.
Warning: For plotlessness. Lack of originality. And twisting timelines. Also, this story is not canon-compliant with OotP, HBP, or DH as it was written before their publication.
December 12, 1981 - September 1, 1993
Wormtail staggered awkwardly out of the sewer. He knew that he would never get over the degrading, debasing experience of being deprived of his meal by a pack of rats. They were more vicious than usual last night, he reflected as he scampered through the sunlight to a damp, shadowed corner behind a staircase. Perhaps because it was a full moon? Are non-magical animals affected by the full moon?
I wish they were magical. They'd recognize me as a wizard. They wouldn't dare take my pathetic excuse for breakfast! They'd know that I could dispose of them with a flick of my wand!
Wormtail rested his weary head on one front paw. The other front paw still rather sore, though perhaps six weeks had passed since the… accident.
You have a gift for understatement, Wormtail. You didn't know how to cast the spell and you killed twelve people instead of just giving yourself enough space to disappear. Some mistake.
On the other hand, getting Sirius framed for the whole mess had been a stroke of genius.
Wormtail regretted that he had, in a manner of speaking, ended the lives of twelve Muggles. He did not, however, regret that Sirius Black had taken the blame. A lifetime ago, when Wormtail had still called himself Peter (a human name he had since renounced), he had joined forces with a powerful wizard in the hopes that by doing so he would be able to protect his friends. But Sirius, bloody Sirius, thinking himself smarter than the rest of the world combined, had insisted that Peter be Lily and James' Secret-Keeper. The plan had backfired in more ways than Wormtail would have thought possible, and here he was, unable to resume his human form.
Perhaps, now that Sirius is safe in Azkaban…
No. That was nothing but wishful thinking. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had told his followers that Wormtail had the information that would lead to the Potters' downfall. And when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had died, or at least vanished, along with Lily and James, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's followers had placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the informant.
No. No matter how glad Remus might be to see Wormtail alive again, he would not be able to protect him from the many followers of the Dark Lord who had evaded capture. An army of wizards trained in Dark Magic was in no way comparable to a handful of smart-mouthed Slytherins who thought it would be fun to hex a Gryffindor.
Wormtail would become human again only if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named returned to power and told his followers that his inability to kill Harry Potter had had nothing to do with a certain young spy.
Harry. I always knew that kid wasn't normal. I tried to fuss over him because everyone else did, but I never liked him.
His thoughts were not entirely true. He had liked Harry. Everyone had liked Harry. But it would be much simpler to adjust to life as a rat if he did not think of the few people he would miss. Harry. Remus. Mother.
Shaking himself slightly, Wormtail returned to the matter at hand: he needed food. He also needed news of the wizarding world. He had been lucky enough to overhear a Muggle explaining that "the man who caused the explosion on November first was sent to jail," but he had heard no real reports of the intricacies of the situation. There was no question: he had to get to a wizarding region.
He stared at the sewer in disgust. He did not want to go back there, with the Muggle rats and the stench and the darkness.
As he stared, though, a tattered scrap of paper caught his eye. He attempted to study it without looking too obvious. Rats can't read, after all. A bus schedule! It was a bus schedule, and nearby was a bus stop.
Several uncomfortable fume-filled stowaway hours later, Wormtail arrived at the entrance to Diagon Alley. He had to wait until two busily chatting wizards opened the entrance to scamper inside, but once there he breathed as much of a sigh of relief as a rat could produce.
The rest of the day passed pleasantly in large part because Wormtail was able to eat his fill when a young witch's summoning charm went wrong and scattered a pile of wares from the bakery along the length of the street. Savoring the sensation of a full stomach, Wormtail found an out-of-the-way nook in which to relax until he felt ready to tackle his other problems.
Just when he decided to put off his quest for information, though, opportunity presented itself. As a tall, thin wizard walked past so hurriedly that the small boy by his side had to trot to keep up, a voice from further down the alley hollered "ARTHUR!" The thin wizard looked annoyed, but returned the greeting. Wormtail noted that both men wore Ministry robes. In a past life, he, too, had been involved in the Ministry, but thankfully he had not known these two. "Are you trying to get away from me, Arthur? You seem to be in an awful hurry."
Arthur shook his head. "Percy and I have plans today. Don't we, Percy?"
The boy nodded firmly. "We're going to get ice cream."
The other wizard smiled benignly. "I'll try not to let Ministry business get in the way of ice cream."
"It's all right," the boy-- Percy-- said a little too quickly. "The Ministry is important. I want to join the Ministry when I grow up."
"Do you!" The other wizard was clearly taken by the child, who, while he looked little more than five years old, spoke clearly and precociously.
"This will only take a moment, Percy," Arthur interrupted. Wormtail crept forward to listen more closely and was gravely disappointed to learn that Arthur and his colleague only meant to discuss a shipment of nose-biting teacups which had found their way into a Muggle department store. Percy, too, seemed to lose interest rather swiftly. He shifted boredly on his feet. Apparently, even precocious children with parents in the Ministry had short attention spans.
Wormtail thought it best to retreat before Percy saw him. There was no telling how the odd little boy would react to a dirty, grungy, lame rat.
Unfortunately, his movements caught Percy's eye. Percy looked at his father and then, as if he dared not disturb him, looked back at Wormtail. Wormtail returned the boy's steady gaze and then, as a show of good faith, gathered his energy to skip over his tail as magical rats sometimes did. Each time his weight landed on his sore front paw he winced, but he continued the show.
Percy giggled and squatted down to get a closer look. "Hullo, rat," he said in his childish voice.
Hullo, meal ticket, Wormtail thought.
"Can you do other tricks?" Wormtail stood on his hind feet and waved his front feet in the air. The boy's brown eyes widened. "You understand me!" Wormtail bobbed his head up and down in a rat's approximation of a nod.
"Percy!" Arthur reached down to pull his son to his feet, but Percy slipped out of his father's grasp. "Look, Daddy. A rat."
"Yes, a rat. Don't you want ice cream?" Again, he tried to pull his son away, but the boy shook his head empathetically.
"Can I keep him? You said maybe I could have a pet, since the war is over and I'm the oldest with Bill and Charlie at Hogwarts."
Arthur's face paled, and Wormtail was instantly able to place the expression. It was the same look Frank Longbottom had worn every time he had seen James and Lily playing with Harry and lamented that he was unable to spend time with his own son, Neville. Arthur obviously felt that he was a virtual stranger to young Percy, and, as a result, he was likely to give the child most anything he asked for. The end of the war may mean a great many spoiled children.
"I don't think you want a mangy rat like that," Arthur said slowly.
Percy was not to be dissuaded. "Yes, I do." Then he turned his head quizzically. "What's 'mangy?'"
"It's, well, look at his fur. Grungy. Scabby."
"Scabby," Percy repeated. "Scabby." Evidently, he liked the sound of the word. "Can I call you 'Scabbers?'"
You can't do any better than that? wondered Wormtail, but he bobbed his head once more.
"You see?" asked Percy delightedly. "He knows his name. He wants to be my pet. He did tricks before." Without being prompted, Wormtail launched into his repertoire once more.
"Are you certain?" Arthur asked at last, and both Percy and Wormtail smiled. "Having a pet can be a lot of work."
"I can do it, Daddy."
"I believe you can," agreed Arthur, and he aimed his wand at Wormtail. A few cleaning spells did wonders for the coat which had given him his new name, and for the first time since the first of November, Wormtail's paw did not hurt. I wonder what this would look like in my human form, he thought briefly before reminding himself that he was not likely to have a human form ever again. Damn Sirius and his damn plans. "Are you ready for ice cream now?" Arthur continued when Percy had carefully picked up his new pet in both hands.
"But I have a rat," said Percy confusedly.
"I think you can have both."
"Really?" Even Wormtail had to admit that Percy's delight was relatively cute, but his affection for his new "master" lessened somewhat when the boy refused to share his ice cream cone on the grounds that rats should eat rat food, or at least something healthier than ice cream. Arthur agreed that it might be best if Scabbers shared the feed Percy's mother conjured for the chickens.
Chicken feed. Wonderful. I should have been more careful when I chose a family. Though beggars can't be choosers… In addition, Wormtail was beginning to suspect that Percy and Arthur were not only wizards, but Weasleys. And the Weasley family was something of a prominent pureblood family. Any news of the Dark Lord would surely reach Wormtail's ears if he became the pet of Percy Weasley. I might even find out what happened when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named tried to kill Harry.
Arthur took Wormtail from Percy's arms so that Percy could use the whole of his concentration to operate the Floo Powder he took from the jar next to the ice cream shop's fireplace. "The Burrow!" Percy yelled.
"The Burrow!" Arthur repeated a second later.
Percy, Arthur, and Wormtail were greeted by a short, round woman with a head full of bright red hair and an arm full of months-old infant. "Arthur, Percy-- what's that!"
"It's my new pet, Mummy," Percy explained with a slight tremor in his voice. "His name is Scabbers." Percy's mother sent a blazing look at Arthur, which was not lost on Percy. "You said I could have a pet," he whispered.
Wormtail watched as the woman's heart melted. "So we did," she agreed. "So we did."
"He's very smart," added Percy, stepping forward to allow his mother to see his new acquisition.
"I'm sure he is, but keep him away from Ginny until she's a bit older." The mother shifted Percy's younger sister in her arms. "Let your father put him out with the chickens for now, and go wash your hands. And can you bring the twins down here to eat?"
"Yes, Mummy," said Percy obediently, and as soon as he had gone out of sight up a crooked staircase, the woman rounded on her husband.
"Arthur, I know we agreed that he could have a pet, but why pick one up off the street?"
Arthur shook his head. "It's what he wanted, Molly. I tried to talk him out of it, but he had his heart set on this one. I turned to talk to Minister Wimple, and when he'd gone, Percy was in love. I couldn't say no. Because of my politics, he's spent half his life in safehouses and running away from Dark wizards, and he barely knows me. I couldn't tell him--"
"All right." Molly's voice softened drastically. "It's not your fault, not any of it, you know. He came out of it all right. They all did. We were lucky."
"Nonetheless, Percy was the one born at exactly the wrong time and into exactly the wrong situation. If he'd been older he would have been at Hogwarts and if he'd been younger he would have been oblivious. And I've looked at the rat. He's perfectly safe. We'll just keep an eye on him for a few days."
The melancholy attitude abated. "Need I remind you that we have five children under the age of six to keep an eye on?" she asked in a challenging but teasing way.
Arthur nodded smartly. "Right. So how about we get started on Scabbers' probation right away by letting him stay in the kitchen instead of outside. I'm sure Percy will want him upstairs sooner rather than later."
Molly agreed, and Wormtail had no sooner been placed in a newly conjured box than Percy returned drawing two identical three-year-old boys by the hand. "Look!" yelled one. He pulled free of his brother's grip and scrambled over to the box. "Gnome?" he asked confusedly.
"Rat," corrected his father. "Come on, Fred. Sit down."
Both twins were wrestled, laughing, into their seats. This was obviously a routine occurrence. Meanwhile, Molly vanished and returned with yet another child, a baby who by Wormtail's estimate was about the same age as Harry. "Here's Ron," she announced as she placed the boy in a highchair. He wore a bib that matched the one Harry had been given by Dumbledore on his first Christmas: Hogwarts 1998.
Wormtail's head swam as he watched the family. Ginny. Ron. Fred. Percy. Arthur. Molly. What's the other twin's name? And there are two boys already at Hogwarts?
The next two weeks passed in a blend of routine and interest. Almost instantly, Wormtail grew to hate the tow-headed twins and their grabbing hands and loud play. Molly was constantly reprimanding Fred and George, George and Fred, that's Percy's rat, don't touch, but the boys were unwilling to listen. Arthur had no ability to discipline them whatsoever because the two were natural born comedians who never failed to make their father laugh. Their alleged games reminded Wormtail of the stories that had always been told of young James and Sirius.
Sirius' voice bounded into Wormtail's mind. " . . . .So, James' Mum had told him he couldn't touch the cake, and he asked if I could come over to play. His Mum said yes, hoping I'd keep his mind off the cake he couldn't have, but then he pretended to push me down the stairs and when his Mum came over to make sure I was all right, he ran into the kitchen and cut the middle part out of the cake and covered it up with frosting. We hid under the covers of his bed and ate the cake, and it was the best cake I've ever had, but I thought we'd be punished for the rest of our lives. But his Mum just laughed . . . ."
George pinned Wormtail's legs to his side while Fred pulled his tail. I wish You-Know-Who had gotten to them. I hope they keep following in James and Sirius' footsteps. He squawked in pain. Hate Fred and George. Hate James and Sirius. At last, Percy overheard the twins and came pattering into the kitchen. He wrenched his pet from his brothers' grasps. "HE'S MINE!" Percy bellowed angrily. "MINE, MINE, MINE! STAY AWAY!" The twins, as always, only laughed as Percy stalked upstairs to his room with Wormtail under one arm.
"You should stay here," Percy informed Wormtail when he had made certain that the rat had not been too badly hurt. "Especially since I'm going to school after Christmas." Percy sighed pensively. "Mother said I didn't have to go because I only just turned six last week. I could start next year. But she really wanted me to go this year, I could tell. And I heard her talking to Father, and she said she was worried I didn't soc-- socialive, or something, enough because I lived in safehouses." A pout began to flower on the small face. "It's not like I asked to stay in safehouses. I didn't want to. They were always telling me to be quiet. Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet, or they'll come and kill the twins." You say that like it's a bad thing. "That must be what school is like, too."
Percy's monologue was interrupted by the cheerful greeting of a young teenager. "Talking to yourself, little brother?"
"Charlie!" Percy exclaimed, and jumped to his feet. "I thought you weren't coming until tomorrow."
Charlie looked Percy over, eyes twinkling. "Maybe it's good that you're going to school after Christmas. You need to work on the days of the week."
Percy suddenly tensed. "I know the days of the week," he protested as if Charlie had accused him of something very terrible. "Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday!"
Charlie chuckled. "I was just teasing, Perce. I know you'll be the smartest in your class. It's good that they're opening the schools again. You'll be ready when it's time for you to go to Hogwarts."
Percy again looked like he might pout. "You'll be gone by the time I have to go."
"That's true," Charlie agreed.
"So I'll have to go all by myself."
"It's a long time off. You'll be ready to get away from all your brothers by then."
"I'm ready to get away from the twins now," Percy said sullenly, causing Charlie to laugh once more.
"Then you'll like them better when you go away."
"I couldn't like them less."
"What did they do?"
"They pulled Scabbers' tail!" Percy pointed at Wormtail.
"He's my rat," Percy explained.
Charlie walked around his little brother to inspect the rat. "He's a good rat," Charlie said seriously.
"You're welcome. Now come downstairs and say hello to Bill." Percy fairly skipped from the room, and for the next several days Wormtail was blissfully freed from a six-year-old's ramblings and two almost-four-year-olds' tactics of torture. He was, however, dragged downstairs on Christmas morning, and he sat with Percy in a corner of the kitchen and watched as Molly set to work on a veritable feast that he knew he would not be allowed to share.
"Charlie! Bill!" Molly called as she magically shot a sack of potatoes out of their skins. "Come in here, please. Can you set the table?"
"Yes," they chorused, and ran to obey her command. They paused in the entrance, though, and stared at the piles of food.
"Mum, this much food would feed Dumbledore's whole army for a month," Bill announced. Wormtail nearly slipped from Percy's lap when he got his first real glimpse of Percy's oldest brother. Probably a Hogwarts sixth-year now, and would have been a first-year when Wormtail himself had been a sixth year. He had a vague memory of Sirius-- damn Sirius!-- convincing this Weasley, and his lot of friends, that if they collected one hundred suits of armor in the same room, the suits would be so happy at being reunited that they would give the group a book containing seven years' worth of exam answers. The first-years had spent a good many hours in detention.
"It's my first Christmas with all seven of my children," Molly lightly retorted. "And the first Christmas with You-Know-Who gone. I think that's worth celebrating. Don't you?"
"Merlin watch over Harry Potter," Charlie agreed.
"He certainly needs it," Molly said almost darkly. "The Daily Prophet says he's to be raised by Muggles."
"Yeah, I remember his mother was Muggle-born. It was a big deal when she was Head Girl," Bill agreed as he placed plates around the table.
"That was your second year?" Molly asked.
"The last year before Charlie came and made my life at Hogwarts a misery," said Bill with a grin.
Charlie swatted at his brother's head with a pile of napkins, but then raised his eyes to meet Bill's. "Could you tell? That she was that special?"
Bill nodded. "Yes, Charlie, it was perfectly obvious that she was going to marry the Head Boy and they were going to have a son who would defeat You-Know-Who."
"Bill! It's Christmas!" Molly reprimanded.
"Yes, you have 364 other days a year to make fun of me," added Charlie.
"Actually, it was obvious she was going to marry the Head Boy," Bill admitted. "They tried to keep it quiet, so naturally the whole school knew. They were so good at everything-- larger than life-- the day we got the news at school, I don't think anyone who remembered them was surprised that they'd been the ones to bring the Dark Lord down. The really weird thing was Sirius Black. He was James Potter's best friend. He and Pettigrew and Potter and another one, Lupin, were always together. Black being Dark-- it doesn't make any sense."
Molly shuddered. "I can't believe you went to school with that boy for two years."
"Went to school with him and idolized him," Bill agreed. "Those first two years, all any of us ever wanted to be was him."
"Don't say that!" Molly snapped.
"But it's true. He was smart and good at Quidditch and everyone liked him. All the girls in the school threw themselves at him. I mean, he'd walk into a room and girls would walk into walls."
"There's more to life than being handsome and popular," Molly growled. "I hope you understand that."
"He was more than handsome and popular. He looked out for all the younger Gryffindors. He was protective. He was funny. He was really, genuinely nice. He deserved to be popular."
Bill finished setting the table. "I'm just saying it doesn't make sense that he'd go out and murder thirteen--"
Molly turned sharply to look at her sons. "Bill!" she snapped, and gestured at Percy, who had been taking in the entire conversation with wide eyes.
Percy, sensing that he was the reason the conversation had been stopped, looked at his mother with eyes that seemed out-of-place on a six-year-old. "I know about Sirius Black, Mother," he said distinctly. "He murdered twelve Muggles and a wizard named Peter Pettigrew, who Bill just said was his friend at school, with one curse. They said he was You-Know-Who's second-in-command. And now he's in Azkaban. The wizard prison. Forever. With the dementors. He'll probably go mad. If he isn't already."
Charlie, Bill, and Molly stared at Percy, who was methodically stroking Wormtail with one hand. In the face of their stares, he spoke again. "Over the entrance to Azkaban, it says 'Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.' That's from the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri."
"Yes, Perce, you're definitely going to be at the top of your class when you start school," Charlie broke the silence. Then he gave his brother an especially odd look. "Since when do you call Mum 'Mother?'"
"Since I turned six," said Percy firmly. "I'm not a baby anymore."
Charlie and Bill were kind enough to refrain from bursting into laughter. Wormtail was not so generous, but because he was a rat no one could reprove him. My young master is most definitely certifiable. The whole lot of them need to be checked into Saint Mungo's. The twins are natural sadists, Charlie's just thick, Bill admired Sirius even after Sirius landed him in detention, and Percy . . . where to start . . . .
I hate Bill for liking Sirius. And James and Lily. He had no right to like them. They were mine. And I liked them and now I hate them because I'm stuck here pretending to be a rat and they aren't.
If James and Lily had just let Dumbledore be their Secret-Keeper, I wouldn't have to live on rat food.
If Sirius hadn't chickened out of being Secret-Keeper, I wouldn't have to let a six-year-old put his hands all over me and ramble about how he's nervous about school.
If they hadn't drawn so much attention to themselves, Bill wouldn't have known about them and I wouldn't have had to listen to that stupid tribute when I was trying to forget. If I have to spend the rest of my life as a rat, the least I deserve is to forget.
Wormtail sulked for the rest of the day. The lowest point came when the meal commenced with a toast to "Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived." The sole high point came when baby Ron, upon noticing the creature staring at the spread on the kitchen table, threw him most of the food within his reach.
Wormtail decided that Ron had potential.
When Percy marched off to school, Wormtail was allowed to spend most of his days sleeping undisturbed on or in Percy's bed. He was pleased to find that Percy was willing to let him sleep there at night as well, curled up against Percy's soft, warm, pliant body. It felt mildly like pedophilia, but Wormtail could not bring himself to care.
Having a pet rat that's actually a man sleep in your bed is hardly worse than being forced to pose as a rat because your allegedly brave alleged friend couldn't bring himself to be Secret-Keeper for his so-called best friend.
It was terribly annoying when Percy insisted on doing his homework aloud, and then insisted on checking it over and over until one of his parents took it away and ordered him to a meal or to bed.
It was even worse when Percy, deprived of schoolwork, began to play with the toy figures of dragons that Charlie had sent him from Hogwarts. The game and the narration were always the same: "Run, run, hide under the bed. Be quiet, be quiet, You-Know-Who will hear and he'll kill your brothers. He'll kill your brothers and it will be your fault and your parents will feed you to the big dragon because you killed your brothers. Even though they're twins and there's an extra one. Be quiet, be quiet, even though it's dark and you can't see what might be creeping around you and you don't know who's there and you don't know where Mother is, be quiet, be quiet, that's the rule and if you break the rule you die."
SHUT UP! Wormtail screamed mentally, but it never had any effect. I can't believe that once I felt sorry for little gits like you who were stuck in safehouses. I joined You-Know-Who because that was the winning side, because I could help people from the winning side, and now I'm stuck as a rat for my trouble.
Wormtail's loathing of Percy grew as days and years passed. He felt a surge of gratitude toward his young master just once, on the day that Fred used Ron's puffskein for Bludger practice and the little animal died of massive internal and external trauma. There but for the grace of Percy go I, Wormtail was forced to admit. Ron sat on the steps of the Burrow and cried all day long. Little Ginny, after vain attempts to comfort her youngest older brother and usual playmate, apparently decided that she could do nothing but cry with him, and the two of them gave Wormtail the worst headache he had ever had in rat form.
Percy grew ever more focused on his studies in anticipation of making the leap to Hogwarts, and he no longer demanded that Wormtail act the least bit magical. He left off playing with his model dragons, and he left off confiding to Wormtail all of his fears.
Wormtail slept all the more. I deserve it for putting up with Percy, he told himself.
And then one day, the inevitable happened. Percy came into his room and shut the door. In one hand, he held a letter. Even in his lethargic state, Wormtail recognized the seal. Hogwarts.
For the first time in a long time, Percy picked up his pet and sat down, stroking his fur. "I'm going to Hogwarts next month, Scabbers," he began. "We're going. The letter says I can bring an owl or a cat or a toad, but Father says they'll let me bring you instead. And I've always wanted to go, you know. As long as I can remember. I want to be Head Boy, like Bill was. Remember how happy Mother was when he got the badge?
"But I've also always worried. Bill and Charlie had each other, and the twins will go together, and Ron and Ginny are only a year apart. But I'm going alone. Charlie just graduated, and the twins aren't coming for two whole years. Not that I'm all that eager for them to come. Just imagine how much trouble they'll cause without Mother around. And the professors will probably blame me.
"Charlie says everyone will remember him and if anyone bothers me to say he'll beat them up. He says that since I'm starting the year after he leaves I'll get his old dormitory, and he can tell me all its secrets. All the dormitories are a little bit different he says, and he says his is the best, because he started the year after James Potter and his friends left, so they did things to the room even the professors couldn't figure out--"
Wormtail froze beneath Percy's hand.
"Are you all right, Scabbers?"
Wormtail made a concentrated effort to relax.
"Of course, that's assuming I get into Gryffindor at all. What if I don't? What if I'm the first Weasley who doesn't make it into Gryffindor?"
Gryffindor will take anybody. Believe me, Wormtail sneered to himself.
"Do I have to commit ritual suicide or something? Do I just go back home?"
Do you shut your mouth for once? No, no chance of that.
"And on the day the Express comes, Father will be at work and Mother can't handle Fred AND George AND Ron AND Ginny in a station full of Muggles. Who knows what they'd do. The Ministry would have to do a million memory charms. So Charlie's going to drop me off on his way to Romania. He's going to work with dragons. Did I tell you that? I wonder if I'll be the only one there without parents. Probably not. Loads of kids my age don't have parents at all because of You-Know-Who. And there might be people there whose parents worked for You-Know-Who. That's evil."
Hey, watch it, you sanctimonious little git! I hope they Sort you into Slytherin. You'd be eaten alive, or maybe not, what with that stupid plan you have to be Head Boy.
"I'm really scared."
Then die of fright already. What did I ever do to deserve to listen to this? Other than accidentally kill a few people. Wormtail cocked his head. It had been years since he had thought of that.
"I don't think I'm worthy of living in James Potter's old dormitory."
I don't think I am, either.
Neither Percy's doubts nor Wormtail's prevented the pair from going to meet the Hogwarts Express, escorted, as promised, by Charlie. As soon as they stepped through the barrier to Platform 9 ¾, a boy wearing Gryffindor colors and carrying an expensive broom hailed Charlie. "Weasley! Did you flunk out?"
"No, no. I'm here to drop off my brother." He pulled Percy forward. "This is Percy. It's his first year. You'll look out for him for me?"
"The whole team will," the boy promised. He turned to Percy. "You like Quidditch?"
"Of course," said Percy, clearly confounded that anyone would ever ask such a silly question.
"He's good, but don't count on him trying out," said Charlie. "He's got his heart set on being another Bill. Head Boy."
After a few more minutes of discussion, Percy, his trunk, and Wormtail were loaded onto the train. Percy's first day was smoothed by the Gryffindor Quidditch team, which made good on its promise to look after its former captain's little brother. Heads all around the Great Hall, which looked just as Wormtail had remembered, turned to see who was so important that the defending champion Quidditch team was swarming around him. In particular, Percy attracted the attention of another first-year, a dark-haired boy who was burly even at age eleven.
"Oliver Wood," he introduced himself. "Do you know all of the Quidditch players already?"
Percy nodded. "Percy Weasley." The boys shook hands. "My brother was captain last year, but he's graduated now."
Oliver's mouth fell open. "Charlie Weasley?" he asked. "I read about him. He was so good he could have played for England, but he wanted to go to Romania instead." The boy's face was a mix of disgust and confusion.
Percy shrugged. "Charlie likes dragons." Oliver looked at Percy as if he were speaking Swahili. "You're going to play Quidditch, then?" Percy added.
"Yes. Keeper," Oliver declared firmly. He lowered his voice. "And I want to be captain."
Percy lowered his voice as well. "I want to be Head Boy."
"Charlie Weasley's brother wants to be Head Boy, not Quidditch captain?"
"Our brother Bill was Head Boy," Percy explained.
Oliver briefly looked thoughtful. "That's a lot to live up to."
"Tell me about it," Percy agreed. But his ego must have been inflated by the attention Charlie's friends had shown him, for he added "I think I can do it."
"Gryffindor?" asked Oliver.
Percy smiled. "So we'll be Quidditch captain and Head Boy, and we'll win the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup and everyone will think that we were meant to live in James Potter's old dormitory."
Oliver looked floored. "Really?"
"Really. Charlie started the year after he left and left last year. He says it's full of secrets because James Potter and his friends were so clever that Filch and the professors and everyone else didn't realize what they'd done to it."
"Wow," Oliver whispered. "We have to win the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup. We have to."
The two had distracted each other (and nauseated Wormtail) so well that nearly all of their classmates had been Sorted before their faces became tinged with green as they anticipated their turns beneath the hat.
"WEASLEY, PERCY!" Percy, still clutching Wormtail, resolutely approached the hat. It barely grazed his brow before sending him off to Gryffindor. The Gryffindors, clearly remembering Charlie and Bill, screamed with delight.
Nothing at all like Wormtail's own Sorting.
He remembered hoping his luck would hold out. He had been lucky to run into James on Platform 9 ¾, and lucky that James remembered that they had met two years earlier at a Quidditch festival, and lucky that James' friend Sirius was not possessive to the point that he tried to keep James from making other friends, and lucky that they and Remus had ended up in a boat together as they journeyed to the castle. There was something deeply satisfying about a boat intended for four that was filled by four, with no one missing and no one left out.
He had been lucky that, though he had been nervous, he had managed not to stammer. He had been lucky not to trip getting on or off the Hogwarts Express. He had been lucky that it had not rained. He had been lucky that Remus, who was clearly a member of an old wizarding family and therefore mysterious in that no one had ever heard of him, had been the focus of Sirius' and James' attentions: too much attention placed on Wormtail might have led him into saying something stupid, and prevented him from ever making friends.
And when he half-stumbled up to the Sorting Hat-- so much for not tripping!-- he could only hope for Gryffindor, where Remus and Sirius had already been Sorted and where James was sure to go.
The Sorting Hat dropped down over his eyes, and an instant later an odd voice whispered in his ear. "I wasn't expecting you! I didn't even know Roberta Pettigrew had a younger brother-- but of course, you hadn't been born when I Sorted her. She was in Ravenclaw, and she did quite well there. You're smart, but you seem to work for what you get, not coast on your natural intellect like so many Ravenclaws do. I don't think you'd quite fit. You're loyal enough for Hufflepuff, but that's Ravenclaw's rival house. Will that be a problem?"
No, thought Wormtail half-heartedly.
"You can't lie to me, you know," said the hat smartly. "I can see inside your mind. Now, Helga would have loved to have you, but she never would have placed you in her house if it made you unhappy. A sweet, kind woman. All of the four agreed that a wizard's finer qualities were more likely to come out if he was happy, mind you. Would you relax so I can get a better look?"
This is taking too long, Wormtail thought frantically.
"Nonsense. We have at least two that last a minute every year. And the record was over an hour. Now relax."
HOW CAN IT TELL ME TO RELAX? RELAX, RELAX, IT'LL NEVER THINK YOU'RE BRAVE IF YOU DON'T--
"Bravery! So that's it. You have friends in Godric's house? Well, I think that would be fine." The hat chuckled. "I know you've had some trouble making friends. And it's quite brave of you to keep trying. This isn't a perfect match, but is it what you want?"
"You might have to work extra-hard, but I think Godric would be pleased. We'll go with GRYFFINDOR!"
In the present, the Sorting Hat had suggested that Oliver Wood join Percy and Wormtail at the Gryffindor table. Both Oliver and Percy were relieved and excited. Wormtail, for his part, was annoyed that Percy was not about to share the opening feast with his pet.
I hope one of you obnoxious little brats tried to trick the Sorting Hat like I did, he thought. Nothing good comes from being raised outside your true house. If I'd been in Hufflepuff, I'd've had friends as loyal as I was. I was so damn loyal that I went over to the Dark Side thinking I could protect Sirius and Remus and James from there. And I ended up as a rat because Sirius was so far from loyal he wanted to kill me for my trouble. James was so far from loyal he put his friends in danger by making a big deal out of himself. And Remus was so far from loyal Sirius couldn't see he wasn't the spy! Damn them all! Damn Percy for bringing me back here.
Percy and Oliver trudged upstairs with two other boys-- both Muggle-born and of only marginal magical talent-- to the room that had once belonged to Wormtail. He shuddered when he caught a glimpse of the ceiling and saw that the boldly written MWPP was still visible. Sirius had reinforced the spells protecting it every day in the hopes that no amount of cleaning would ever remove them.
But that was a thing of the past. After his initial shock, Wormtail realized that he could eat and sleep as easily here as anywhere else. And eat and sleep he did. The four boys did little to disturb him. Percy was determined to be a prefect and spent his time with those from other houses who wanted the same. Oliver ate, breathed, and slept Quidditch. The other boys had so little magical ability that they spent most of their time trying to keep their grades up or gawking at their surroundings. They would never have been admitted to Hogwarts before the war had gutted the wizarding population. It was rare for all four boys to be present in the room at the same time; it was even rarer for all to be present and awake (or asleep) at the same time. None of the four were close friends, though they liked each other well enough, and the chance that a party or game would break out in the room was slim.
When Wormtail looked forward to the end of each school year, then, it was not because he was bothered by the room and certainly not because he wanted to go home to the dreadful Burrow and the dreadful twins. No, he looked forward to the end of each school year because he enjoyed few things quite so much as watching Oliver's and Percy's reactions to the news that, once again, Slytherin had taken possession of both the Quidditch Cup and the House Cup. The two always wore matching hang-dog looks as they packed their trunks and prepared to catch the Hogwarts Express.
"I can't believe it," Percy said as the two looked around their room for the last time as fourth-years. "When my older brothers were here, Gryffindor always won. When I came, it started losing."
"It's not your fault," said Oliver tightly. "It's mine. You haven't been made a prefect yet, but I was Quidditch captain-- and--" His voice broke off as if Gryffindor's failure had been too horrible to contemplate.
"You had injuries," Percy broke in bracingly. "Bad luck. And the twins! That's a lot to deal with." Wormtail silently agreed. Even he could hardly wish the twin terrors on Oliver.
"Good beaters, they are. Exceptional. Good friends, too. But sometimes I wish I could get them to take Quidditch seriously!"
Percy laughed humorlessly. "You'll never get them to take anything seriously." He sighed. "McGonagall will never make me a prefect, not with the way they break every rule and lose all the points we get."
Oliver rolled his eyes. "Even if you weren't the most obvious choice for a prefect for our whole year, she'd give you a shot. If anyone can control them, you can."
"Next year," said Percy firmly. "Next year, we'll be more than halfway through, and we'll be expected to be leaders. We'll have more authority and WE'LL WIN THE CUPS!"
"The Express is coming soon, you know," called a voice from the corridor.
"Thanks," called Percy and Oliver as one. "See you next year," they added to each other before seeking out their separate traveling partners.
As always, Wormtail found it easy to fall asleep in the presence of Percy's dull, obedient, intelligent friends. He slept most of the summer away, and was most displeased when he was jarringly snatched from his resting place one sunny afternoon.
"Guess what, Scabbers?" asked Percy. Wormtail looked at him, annoyed. Percy had not spoken to him since before starting Hogwarts, and Wormtail had not missed the chatter. "You're getting a new owner. I have a new pet. A real pet. An owl!"
Wormtail had to admit that it was slightly humiliating to be exchanged for an owl. Then he fell back to sleep, pondering his fate. If this 'new owner' thinks I'm going to do tricks or play games or do anything but eat and sleep, he ought to think again!
And then Wormtail was shaken awake for the second time within five minutes. "Scabbers? Are you alive?" That's Ron.
"Be careful, will you, Ron? I've had him for a long time. He's old and he needs to sleep a lot."
"I guess," said Ron in a dejected tone. "The letter says an owl or a cat or a toad," he added after a moment.
"I know it does," agreed Percy. "But I always had Scabbers with me before this year, and it was never a problem. I'm a prefect. Would I ever give you something that was against the rules?"
"No," said Ron.
"No. Shouldn't you get ready? We'll be leaving in a few days and it's always hardest to pack well your first time."
"I'll remember that," said Ron with some sarcasm in his voice.
"Good," said Percy, and he left.
Ron glanced down at the rat on his bed. "So, Scabbers, you're mine now." He sighed. "Everyone else in my class is going to Diagon Alley to buy supplies, but I'm just sitting here in my room while my brothers give me their old wands and robes and rats. The other first-years are going to see me and laugh. I wish we had more money--" He interrupted himself as if he'd said something horrible. "Did that sound ambitious? I really don't want to sound ambitious! You end up in Slytherin if they think you're ambitious, and I am from an old family-- what would I do if I ended up in Slytherin?" Where have I heard this before? If Wormtail had not been so tired of hearing his young "owners" explain their feelings to him as if he were a stupid animal who did not understand but somehow cared, he would have rolled his eyes.
"Fred and George said something about wrestling a troll to get into the house you want. How do you not look ambitious when you're trying to wrestle a troll? Isn't it ambitious just to try to live through wrestling a troll before you've learned any spells at all?"
He thinks the Sorting is about wrestling trolls? That sounds like something Sirius-- damn Sirius! He ought to be the one stuck here listening to this garbage. At least he's safely rotting in Azkaban. Wonder is he's mad yet? Merlin, that's morbid. He must be mad. He was most of the way along before the Hit Wizards ever caught up with him.
Presently, the twins' voices drifted up the stairs of the Burrow. "Fred? George?" called Ron.
Two identical faces appeared in the doorway. "Yes, ickle Ronniekins?" two identical voices asked.
"About the troll--"
"Ronniekins," said one twin in a very superior voice, "You can't keep asking us questions. You'll have an unfair advantage over everyone else."
"And we don't want that," the other twin agreed. "Besides, we're very busy with school staring next week. Essays to write--"
"You told Mum you wrote them the first week you came home," Ron interrupted.
Both twins burst out laughing. "Good one, Ron," one added through his giggles.
"We're just saying you should make it worth our while if we're going to baby-sit you."
Ron reluctantly reached beneath his Chudley Cannons bedspread and removed a handful of chocolate frogs. "I get the cards," he said warningly.
"Yeah, yeah, the cards. We're too old and wise and mature to care about the cards."
Ron muttered something derisive under his breath and unwrapped a frog himself, which he shoved underneath Wormtail's nose. Wormtail gobbled it up greedily. At least Ron isn't all bad.
"You're feeding chocolate to Percy's rat? You know he won't like that."
"Scabbers is mine now. And about the troll, how do you not seem ambitious when you're trying to fight something you have no idea how to fight that's much bigger than you?"
The twins shook their heads in mock-sad unity. "You can't get Sorted into the wrong house. It's impossible. No use trying to trick things," one explained.
"How come you get a pet and we never did?" added the other.
"Because you'd kill any animal you owned," said Ron bluntly.
The twins laughed. "We're about to fly over toward the Diggory place to see if Cedric's out practicing. Wood told us last year that he thinks Hufflepuff wants to make him their new Seeker, and we need a spy report. Want to come?"
"For a small favor."
Ron looked at them warily. "What?"
"How did you hide those chocolate frogs? We've looked in here dozens of times this summer."
Ron smirked. "That's between Charlie and me."
The twins looked at each other and held a silent conversation. "All right," said one. "Grab a broom and meet us in the back." Fred and George left, and Ron scrambled after them with Wormtail in one hand.
What does he think he's doing? He's not going to take me up on a broom?
But it seemed that he was. The three brothers had flown a short distance before Fred noticed that Ron had brought along a passenger. "What've you got him along for?" demanded Fred, poking at Ron to make him pay attention. For once, something reasonable out of Fred's mouth. Wormtail looked down grouchily. Should Ron let go, it would be a very long fall, and Wormtail could not seem to get to sleep while being lugged around like a bag of sweets. Sweets. Maybe Ron will give me some more sweets.
"The last pet I left alone got used for Bludger practice," said Ron.
"Don't hold a grudge, Ronniekins. It's not attractive."
They suddenly grew silent and pointed their brooms downward. Apparently, they had reached their destination. They abandoned the brooms beneath a bush and crept cautiously toward a pretty, and obviously wizarding, home. A few shouts reached Wormtail's ears, and if he had bothered to crane his neck, he would have seen two boys tossing about a marble obviously meant to simulate a Snitch.
"Looks like Wood was right," George muttered out of the corner of his mouth. He nudged Ron. "That prat with Diggory is the Hufflepuff Quidditch captain. He's a sixth year."
"It looks like they're doing a little pre-season training," agreed Fred. "Load of good it'll do them. It'll come down to Gryffindor and Slytherin."
"Unless we can't find a Seeker. Then it'll just be Slytherin. Again." George scowled.
"There has to be someone. There's got to be."
"Unless you want to de-age Charlie, I don't think there is."
"Maybe one of the second-years. Who knows how good they are? Since first-years don't make house teams," Fred companionably swatted Ron's shoulder, "sometimes you can't tell who's good and who's not. Our first year you and me and Alicia and Angelina were all there, but we weren't on the team. And then last year, we all made the team at least as reserves."
"Maybe all the Quidditch talent Gryffindor will have for the next decade got concentrated into our class . . ." Wormtail at last managed to fall asleep, and did not awaken until Ron was readying himself for bed. He noted that he had had an odd dream in which he had turned yellow. Daisies and butter? He shook his head, and realized that Ron was speaking to him.
"I dunno, Scabbers . . . you could sleep in the old frog tank . . . I'll put some sweatshirts in there for you . . ."
Wormtail squawked out loud and scrambled to Ron's bed, burrowing beneath the covers. If he's going to carry me on a broomstick, he's at LEAST going to give me a decent place to sleep.
"Scabbers, you can't sleep in my bed."
"Well, I guess you can."
Told you so.
"Good night." Ron climbed into bed with his new pet, and Wormtail curled against the warm body. Ron was going to be tall, was already about as tall as Wormtail had been as a human, but he was much younger and more gangly than Percy. He smelled of chocolate frogs and the sunny grass in which he and the twins had lain all afternoon. It was an oddly comforting scent to Wormtail.
It was a scent to which he grew endlessly accustomed in the next few days. Ron, it seemed, lived in terror that Fred would decide to use his rat as he had used his puffskein, and was therefore unwilling to leave Wormtail alone for more than a moment. Ron was cautious, though, and Wormtail found that he could sleep through the majority of the boy's antics. He trained himself to wake up at mealtimes, because unlike Percy, Ron believed that a rat should eat whatever he liked.
And to Wormtail's delight, he learned that Molly Weasley was a truly talented cook. It's almost too bad we have to leave. It might have been nice to stay in the house with just Ron and Ginny and enjoy Molly's cooking. But it was not to be. One evening, Wormtail received rather fewer table scraps than was his wont.
"You're enjoying it, Ron? I know it's your favorite," Molly asked anxiously.
"It's great, Mum," Ron replied obediently. His brothers chorused that yes, the food was excellent, and Arthur added that everything his wife cooked was wonderful.
"I just want Ron to enjoy his last night at home--"
"Before Hogwarts eats him alive!" interrupted Fred, or it might have been George.
"Hush," said Molly firmly. "Hogwarts does not eat anyone alive. I think it's rather a wonder that it's survived you two."
"Then why can't I go?" whined Ginny, who had been silent throughout the evening and had pushed her food about her plate. From his position next to Ron, Wormtail eyed the little girl's share of the meal.
"We've been through this before," Arthur took over for his wife. "Next year."
"But I do really well in school and I've been around magic my whole life. I'd do fine! I'll go right to the top of the class if you only let me go this year instead of next!"
"I'm not hungry."
"Ginny, your mother worked very hard--"
"Scabbers can have it." Wormtail could hardly contain his delight as Ginny, before her parents could stop her, grabbed Wormtail in one hand and her plate in the other. The door slammed behind her with a bang.
Outside, Ginny unceremoniously dumped the contents of her plate to the ground near the front door and set Wormtail on top of it. Wormtail began eating ravenously. After a few minutes, the door slammed again and Ron appeared next to Ginny.
"Don't you feed him anything?" Ginny asked accusingly. "He's eating like you've starved him."
"He eats everything I give him," Ron protested. "Look how fat he's getting. Even fatter than he was when Percy had him."
"I guess," admitted Ginny.
"You have to say you're sorry to Mum."
Ginny's eyes flashed. "I don't want to! I want to go to Hogwarts!"
"It'll be your turn next year."
"I want to go now! Won't you help me? We'll tell them we're twins!"
"We can't be twins. You're too short."
"I'm not short. You're tall," Ginny argued petulantly. "And I want to go! You get to go! We've always gone to the same school before!"
"I know that," said Ron, sounding very awkward.
"You aren't going to miss me at all," Ginny accused.
"Er, yes I am." Wormtail nearly choked. He didn't even try to make her believe him. Rather ungrateful after all the years they spent playing together like best friends-- ungrateful like Sirius!
"Right. You get to go off and have adventures and learn magic and have a pet and I get to stay here all by myself."
"It might be fun to be an only child."
"I don't think so. I don't want to be an only child. I want--"
"To go to Hogwarts."
"And have adventures and learn magic and have a pet."
Ron looked at Ginny, whose eyes were round with tears, and then at Wormtail. "I guess you could have Scabbers," he said dubiously.
Food disposed of, Wormtail looked up at them. No! I couldn't sleep in the little girl's bed! Or could I…? For a few years…. She's going to be so pretty when she grows a bit more… Furious with himself for thinking such a thing, Wormtail nosed around, searching for crumbs that he might have missed.
Ginny was shaking her head. "No. You're going away, and there'll be all those other people there, and their parents will have just gotten them cats and owls… and, well, you need Scabbers to go with you."
"Right." Ron sounded relieved. "Gin?"
"I am going to miss you."
"Really. I don't know anyone there, really. I might've met some of them a few times, but that's it."
"Percy and Fred and George?"
"Percy's a prefect. I don't think prefects talk to anyone but other prefects. And he'd spend half his time telling me off, anyway. The twins… it'd be like tagging along. They were a set and we were a set, you know?" Ginny began to cry. "DON'T CRY!" Ron shouted, horrified, and Ginny went back into the house carrying her empty plate.
Wormtail decided it was time to sleep.
He awoke when he nearly fell to the floor of the Hogwarts Express. Ron had just jumped to his feet; Wormtail must have been on his lap.
"Oh, you're going to fight us, are you?" asked a voice. Young. A boy whose voice had not yet broken; probably Ron's age.
"Unless you get out now," responded another voice.
"But we don't feel like leaving, do we, boys? We've eaten all of our food and you still seem to have some."
Wormtail opened his eyes in time to see a fat, dirty hand approaching the pile of sweets in which he seemed to be lying. Ron would have given me some if I'd been awake! They're mine! And with that, Wormtail bit the boy's finger.
He yelled loudly, and swung Wormtail in a circle. Wormtail clung on. Same as the Slytherins when I was here, trying to take what isn't theirs-- at, last, when his mouth filled with repulsive, bitter blood, he let go, and felt himself hit first a window and then the floor. Ouch. May as well go back to sleep. And he did.
To his horror, he next awoke in a dormitory. I missed the feast! The Opening Feast! Ron could have woken me up! To reprimand Ron, Wormtail began chewing the boy's sheets. You could have given me beef and chicken and pork and lamb and sausage and bacon and steak and six kinds of potatoes and-- "Great food, isn't it?" Ron asked one of his roommates, as if to mock Wormtail further. "Get off, Scabbers! He's chewing my sheets."
The boys were asleep in no time, and Wormtail had no choice but to join them-- after noticing that the hangings of the bed in which he lay were a deep red in color, and that Ron, like his brothers before him, had indeed been Sorted into Gryffindor.
Living as Ron's pet at Hogwarts became an easy routine for Wormtail. Ron still insisted on taking his rat most everywhere, but he had given him a comfortable section of his bag in which to sleep the day away, and the bag was infinitely preferable to a jacket pocket or a hand. The Hogwarts food was as good as Wormtail had remembered it. Food and sleep, sleep and food, made for a not unhappy life.
One day perhaps a week into Ron's Hogwarts career, though, Wormtail was plagued by a troubling dream:
Sirius was bouncing on his toes as if he were physically incapable of controlling his excitement. "I've got it! I've got it, I know what we have to do this time!"
James' mouth curled impishly upward as he tugged at his Gryffindor tie. "We're waiting."
"We steal his homework and blot out the right answers! Then we write in something ridiculous. For the question about blocking the leg-locker, we'll write 'It doesn't matter to me, I'm so uncoordinated the leg-locker wouldn't make a difference. Have you ever seen me play Quidditch? Or rather, pretend that I can play Quidditch? Besides, I think my time would be better spent learning to wash my hair than answering this question.' Well?"
James was laughing, perhaps more at Sirius' exuberance and sheer delight in his own ideas than at the words themselves. Wormtail laughed, too, because it was good to have a friend like Sirius who could formulate impossible schemes and make life endlessly entertaining. But the fourth member of the quartet was shaking his head.
"That's a terrible idea, Sirius. It would be horrible to make someone miss his first Hogsmeade weekend ever. Downright mean, and not something I want to do. Can you imagine how disappointing it would be?" Remus glared at Sirius, and Sirius, James, and Wormtail exchanged confused looks. Since when was Remus so protective of Slytherins? In particular, since when was he so protective of a Slytherin who never missed an opportunity to sneer at his pallor and apparent fragility? "Everyone knows," Remus ranted, "That he's one of the best students in our year. And everyone knows that the Defense Against the Dark Arts professors watch him because of all the obscure hexes he's supposed to be able to do. And everyone knows that he would never put his grades or his reputation in danger by doing something like that, especially right before the first Hogsmeade weekend. And everyone knows that if someone was going to set him up that way, that someone would be us. And we'd miss going to Hogsmeade."
The other three reluctantly exchanged glances admitting that Remus had a point. But Remus had not finished speaking. "So we get a sample of his handwriting so we can cast a forger's charm. Then we re-write the essay with the answers just a bit off-- or better yet, we write on the wrong topic, but a brilliant essay. So it looks like he thought he was so smart he didn't have to pay attention and didn't hear the assignment. We swap our parchment for his. He could still get punished for not doing his homework." A slow smile spread across Remus' face, and Sirius brightened once more.
"That's brilliant! Brilliant! Oh, you had me going for a minute, but…"
The rest of the day was spent planning the trick, and the next afternoon, as the students sat in their final class for the week, Wormtail watched as Sirius carefully but assertively filtered through the pile of parchment that happened to sit next to his desk. James and Remus were trying to be subtle as they looked around the room. All of the third-years in the school were taking a special lecture of Defense Against the Dark Arts together in addition to their regular lessons, and with so many students in one place, it seemed certain that someone would notice Sirius' behavior.
But Sirius had clever fingers and he had had thirteen years of practice pulling pranks. The switch occurred smoothly, and the four friends had only to count down the moments until freedom. Twenty minutes. Fifteen. Ten. Seven. Five. Four.
Wormtail's head shot up. Students almost never spoke in this class.
"Yes, Mr. Snape?"
"Professor, this is a little bit off your topic, but could a forger's charm be traced that way?"
The professor looked slightly startled by the question. "It's possible, yes."
"In that case," Snape rose from his seat as he spoke, prompting gasps from many of the other students, "Would you mind looking at my essay?" He had sauntered across the room and easily pulled his homework from the pile.
"Mr. Snape, this is hardly an appropriate use of class time. I will look at your essay when--"
"You should look at it now." The room grew silent as death. No one ever interrupted professors so brazenly.
"Mr. Snape." The professor's voice was cold and clipped, but Snape did not flinch. "Your essay--"
"It isn't my essay. My essay is in Black's bag." He pointed accusingly at Sirius. "This is a forgery. Look at it. Would I ever write this?"
Casting a wary glance at an offended-looking Sirius, the professor unrolled the parchment. "This is a perfectly fine essay, but not on the correct topic. I distinctly told you--"
Snape lunged for Sirius' bag, and Sirius leapt to his feet. "Keep your slimy hand off of my bag!"
"You and your friends keep away from my work! I saw you going through the assignments when class started!"
"Don't ever accuse me of that again!" Sirius lunged at Snape, and half a dozen students, Remus among them, leapt to their feet to pull the two apart. The entire class was focused on the battle, or so Wormtail thought.
"LOOK AT POTTER, LOOK AT POTTER!" bellowed a Slytherin named Avery. "HE'S TAKING THE ESSAY OUT OF BLACK'S BAG, SNAPE IS TELLING THE TRUTH!"
James had been caught red-handed, and Snape, sensing victory, voluntarily removed his hands from Sirius' throat. Slowly, the professor approached James and removed the parchment from his hand. "Mr. Potter."
"This is a misunderstanding," James began.
"This was a set-up," Snape put in. "James Potter. Sirius Black. Remus Lupin. And--"
"Harry Potter. Our new celebrity."
Wormtail blinked more fully awake inside Ron's bag. Harry Potter? That's right, the same age as Ron . . . Why haven't I seen him yet? Cautiously, Wormtail stood on his hind feet, and nearly toppled over in surprise at what he saw. James' doppelganger was seated right next to Ron. Predictably, the colors of Godric Gryffindor stood out at his throat.
His shock was doubled when he realized that Snape's voice had not been a part of his dream. He was still calling out names. In fact, he was calling out a roll. He was a professor!
And he had not washed his hair since Wormtail had last seen him.
When Snape had established that all students were present and accounted for, he began. "You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making." But certainly not how to brew shampoo. "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic." You being allowed to teach at the finest school for the Light in the world is magic enough. "I don't expect you will really understand the beauty . . ." Still full of yourself.
Snape finished his recitation and promptly began to bully Harry. Nothing like holding a grudge. Slimeball.
But in retrospect, Wormtail became aware that Snape's bullying Harry was not such a bad thing. If Harry hadn't lived… If Harry hadn't lived, I wouldn't be a rat.
And I wouldn't get the small pleasure of SLEEPING THROUGH SEVERUS SNAPE'S CLASS!
Wormtail returned to his habit of eating and sleeping, sleeping and eating. Ron's first year passed much as Percy's had, and Wormtail sometimes envisioned himself trapped in a never-ending cycle, handed from Weasley to Weasley as a pet, living in one Hogwarts dormitory after another. It mattered very little. He had gone to school with Percy for four years and never known that Percy was taking lessons from a former rival. Nothing would matter until word came that the Dark Lord was gaining power once more.
He had no fears of sleeping through the announcement. Unlike Percy's quiet roommates, Ron's roommates were friendly and active.
Wormtail's sleep was sometimes disturbed by Dean, a Muggle-born who insisted on expounding on the greatness of West Ham, whatever that might have been. (Many of his roommates wondered loudly.)
More frequently, it was disturbed by Seamus, who jumped out of his bed on Saint Patrick's Day yelling "Up the long ladder and down the short rope, to hell with King Billy and God bless the Pope, if that doesn't do, we'll tear him in two, and send him to hell with his red, white, and blue!" (His roommates had all rolled their eyes loudly.)
Then there was Harry. While he seemed to be slightly on the shy side, he had predictably become a Quidditch star, and this was cause for celebration each time Gryffindor won a match. (His roommates congratulated him loudly.)
And Wormtail's dear owner Ron was capable of shouting a diatribe on any subject. (His roommates argued or agreed loudly.)
The fifth roommate was blessedly quiet, and it was months before Wormtail realized that he was Neville Longbottom, Frank Longbottom's son.
And then one evening, Ron for the first time voluntarily left Wormtail alone in the dormitory. Wormtail found it disturbingly difficult to fall asleep. The bed was cold without the heat of Ron's body, and besides, Wormtail was hungry. He had to admit that he had become slightly spoiled by Ron's generosity with regard to food. Disgusted, Wormtail crawled across the bed and found that Harry was missing as well.
The Dark Lord? No, more than likely Harry and Ron had simply gotten detention yet again, or were off causing trouble as James had once done. Yet, their roommates knew nothing of their whereabouts, and as the hours wore on Neville vanished as well.
Ron did not return until late the next evening. He was, predictably, bearing a pocketful of snacks for Wormtail, but Seamus, Dean, and Neville demanded his attention as soon as they saw him.
"RON!" they shouted in unison, and Wormtail could barely separate the wave of words that followed into separate questions and exclamations.
"Is it true what they're saying?"
"Did you see the Stone? Was it really there?"
"Is Harry all right?"
"Where is Harry?"
"Hermione! What about Hermione? Is she back?"
"I heard you fought a living chess set!"
"I heard they tried to poison you!"
"Was Quirrell really working for You-Know-Who?" Wormtail froze in mid-chew. Did I hear what I think I heard?
"Is Dumbledore angry?"
"Have you been expelled?"
"Did you talk to the Minster of Magic?"
"Are you getting an Order of Merlin?"
Eventually, sitting on his bed in a position that indicated that he was more exhausted than any twelve-year-old had a right to be, Ron spoke. "Dumbledore says I'm not to tell you anything about what happened. But Hermione just went up to her dormitory and Harry's still in the hospital wing. He hasn't woken up yet, but Dumbledore says he will. But not in time to play against Ravenclaw. Wood asked McGonagall as I was coming up here and she said there was no way Harry could play and he oughtn't've asked."
"Come on, Ron," urged Seamus. "You could just nod. You could at least tell us whether Quirrell was really--" Yes, you could! Wormtail added.
"You know as much as I do. Probably more since you weren't stuck in the hospital wing. I didn't see anything after the chess set because I had to sacrifice myself."
"Wow," said the other three boys in awed unison.
"Are you all right now?" asked Neville softly.
"Yes. Just tired… and I'm really, really sorry about the body-bind. So's Hermione. She was so upset about it-- she'll probably tell you she's sorry about twelve times at breakfast tomorrow. And she might be crying when she does. So be prepared."
Neville squirmed. "You don't need to be sorry. I was wrong…"
"You did the right thing," said Ron bracingly. "Just at the wrong time." Ron yawned.
"You should go to sleep," said Dean unnecessarily, and Ron smiled.
"Reckon? But one thing."
"What is everyone saying around the school?"
Dean, Seamus, and Neville held a silent conversation while Ron waited in tired patience. Seamus, at last, spoke. "Well, the basic story is that you three knew that Quirrell was working for You-Know-Who, and you didn't have time to tell Dumbledore because he wasn't here. So you went to that forbidden corridor yourselves, and you chased him past that massive dog with three heads Neville was going on about a few months ago, and a plant that tried to eat you, and poison, and that chess set-- does it really knock you over the head when it captures you?"
"Yes," said Ron, drawing his hand unconsciously to his head and wincing.
"Does it hurt?"
"A little," Ron admitted reluctantly, and in spite of the dire situation Wormtail laughed to himself.
"Anyway," Seamus continued, "There was something about poison, and winged keys, and Harry throwing himself over the Stone to keep You-Know-Who off of it, and there are a lot of variations. That's most of them. Sure you don't care to confirm or deny?"
"Confirm," said Ron.
Seamus and Dean whooped with joy.
"I hope Hermione's all right," Ron said pensively as he crawled further onto his bed and set about arranging it for sleep.
"Was she badly hurt?" asked Neville, who sounded a bit frightened.
"No. Not really hurt at all. You know she's too smart to get hurt."
"But she was in the hospital wing all day," Neville protested.
"Madam Pomfrey never wants to let anyone leave, but Dumbledore decided we should leave together, tonight. Harry's got all kinds of people watching over him, but Hermione's all by herself." He looked toward the girls' half of the dormitory as if it were many miles away.
"Parvati and Lavender are cool," Dean defended, and Ron seemed to relax slightly.
Within minutes, the boys had called their sleepy goodnights to one another, and Ron, his red curtains pulled closely around his bed, sank to his pillow with a soft sigh. But instead of blinking into unconsciousness, he clutched Wormtail to his chest and breathed raggedly throughout most of the night.
Oh yes . . . You-Know-Who may rise again yet! And You-Know-Who will have a better use for me than a frightened child's security blanket!
Wormtail was elated. Ron's growth showed that he had been a rat for more than ten years, and the situation was getting old. He gasped for breath as Ron squeezed him even more tightly.
During the ensuing days, Wormtail was never out of Ron's pocket, and Ron was never away from his second-best-friend's side except when he was forced to go up to his dormitory at night. The Girl-- Wormtail had heard her named many times, but preferred to refer to her as the Girl simply because she annoyed him so thoroughly with her claims to cleverness and her bossy voice-- babbled as much as she always did, and several times let loose half-screams when Ron strayed too far from her line of sight. Ron was equally annoying; he had become as obsessed with her safety as she had become with his.
Ron's brothers spent more time with him than they had all year. Percy claimed to be doing his prefectorial duty, and the twins claimed to be testing their practical jokes, but their ruses were thin. Everyone, including Ron and the Girl, seemed to be convinced that the three friends had nearly died. Then my Lord has nearly risen again.
Ron and the Girl settled down a bit after they were allowed to gush embarrassingly over Harry in the hospital wing for several minutes. And things began to look up even more when the day of the final feast arrived.
As usual, the Great Hall was decorated in the colors of Slytherin. Ron and the Girl were disappointed, but they did not seem to feel the wound as deeply as Wormtail's obsessive-compulsive-anal-retentive-full-of-his-own-importance former owner and his Quidditch-loving roommate always had. No, Ron and the Girl were lamenting Harry's absence, and when Harry appeared, they were delighted despite the green and silver décor. Harry himself was blushing because most of the students in the room were staring at him. Not at all like James. James just loved attention. Damn James. Just one more who helped condemn me to eternity as a rat.
Wormtail felt almost cheerful when Albus Dumbledore rose to speak.
Blah, blah, blah, fifty points to Gryffindor. Blah, blah, blah, fifty points to Gryffindor. Blah, blah, blah, sixty points to Gryffindor.
Wait a moment. That's rather a lot of points, isn't it?
Oh, bother, where's the food?
And then the world exploded. The students among whom Wormtail had lived for five years were screaming, shouting, laughing, crying, hugging, pounding tables, slapping backs, and shaking hands. Wormtail was squeezed against Ron's side as Ron accepted congratulations and gleefully pointed out the Slytherins who looked particularly miserable. Just as Percy and Oliver always had. Percy and Oliver were now hugging each other; it seemed that Oliver had accepted this as a temporary substitute for his coveted Quidditch Cup.
Wormtail lost his appetite, which was a shame, considering the feast that lay before him.
However, Molly Weasley cooked as well as she ever had. That was the sole benefit in returning to the Burrow. Even when Wormtail had been Percy's pet, he had not loathed the Burrow to this degree. Now, though, the news of the Dark Lord's impending return rested securely in his brain. Ginny's incessant prattle about meeting Harry Potter (she had gotten over missing Ron, Wormtail could not help but note) and at last beginning Hogwarts was more annoying than Wormtail would have thought possible. The twins were as violent as ever, and Ron had taken to moping about and wondering why Harry didn't write him. Ron sounded almost like a jilted lover until he realized that Harry had also failed to write the Girl.
Eventually, Ron was allowed to have Harry come and visit. Harry's arrival had the happy effects of cheering Ron and shutting up the smitten Ginny, who was auditioning without much success to be the next red-haired girl to die beside a Potter.
Time passed. Harry and Ron returned to Hogwarts. Luckily, the Girl was subjected to some kind of curse and Wormtail did not have to put up with her spontaneous dissertations. Besides, a series of attacks on Muggle-borns could only be a good sign.
But Lily is in danger! he thought spontaneously one day before remembering that it had been a long time since Lily had been in danger. And it had been a long time since he had liked Lily. He vaguely recalled loving them-- Lily and James and Sirius and Remus-- and he recalled feeling confused and betrayed with slightly more clarity. Now, though, they were only objects from his past who were the cause of his present torment. Too many years spent living as an animal had taken a toll on his compassion.
He vowed to stop thinking of those that his human self-- his human self who he had forsaken, his human self whose name he could barely recall-- had befriended. He needed only think of the potential rise of the Dark Lord, not of those who had brought him to his current position. Dwelling on the past had never aided anyone. James and Lily were dead. Sirius was probably dead as well. And Remus might well have died by a sliver bullet. If he had not, he was likely far away, on the fringes of wizarding society.
But history, albeit recent history, did repeat itself. One night, Wormtail was left alone in the dormitory, and this time, no students remained. He did not learn until the next morning that Harry, who had inherited James' inclination toward heroism, and followed little Ginny into the legendary Chamber of Secrets. It seemed that Ginny had been tricked into doing the bidding of the Dark Lord by an enchanted diary he had written as a student. And I thought the Marauder's Map was impressive!
Wormtail was furious both that he had missed the celebratory feast and that the Dark Lord had not gained power in his present form. The summer began quietly, with all of the Weasleys fussing over Ginny, who had, at least superficially, recovered rather well. Molly and Arthur looked at their unexpected victory in the Daily Prophet's Grand Prize Galleon Draw as a heaven-sent blessing and promptly packed the entire family off to Egypt.
Ron, of course, would not have dreamed of touring Egypt without his loyal pet rat. Wormtail was even included in the official photograph of the happy winners; Ron placed him on his shoulder so that his arm would be free to wrap protectively around Ginny. Once the trip began, Wormtail saw curses and hexes that only served to remind him that the Dark Lord would one day rise again. There is nothing to be gained from resistance. These educational journeys were interspersed with less serious pursuits because Molly felt that Ginny was still too shaken by her ordeal to be allowed to go inside the more famous and dangerous tombs. In addition, the tour guides grew progressively more wary of the distinctive family when word got around that the twins had tried to shut Percy in a pyramid.
One day, as the family was traipsing through a pretty wizarding town, Arthur stopped dead in his tracks. Fred nearly plowed into his father from behind. "Dad?" Arthur seemed not to hear.
"Arthur?" Molly let go of Ginny's hand and pushed through her unruly gang of children, for all seven were present, and stood at her husband's side. "Arthur, what's wrong?"
"I ought to contact the Ministry," he muttered as if to himself. "How this could happen-- without my knowing--" Arthur gestured vaguely with a copy of the Daily Prophet.
"Are you going to buy that?" asked the proprietor of the newsstand.
"Here!" snapped Bill, and he tossed a coin in the man's direction. "Dad, what is it?" Bill was tall enough to read over Arthur's shoulder, and he did so.
"Well?" cried six younger siblings.
"Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban," Bill said.
Wormtail saw their reactions with numbed clarity.
Ginny stumbled, and grasped Ron for support. Ron looked struck dumb. The twins looked worried, but fascinated, and Percy and Charlie looked simply horrified.
"Escaped?" demanded Charlie. "No one escapes from Azkaban!"
"Someone forgot to tell Black that," said Bill. "Not that Black was ever much for listening to what he was told."
"Wait-- did you know him?" put in Ron.
"They went to school together for two years. Same house," Percy answered in a typical know-it-all tone.
"But I thought that every Dark wizard ever-- at least the powerful ones-- came out of Slytherin!"
"It's polite to forget about Black," explained Bill with a shrug. "He was a Gryffindor, all the way."
Ginny moaned slightly under her breath, and this was enough to break her parents' trance. "We'll go back to our rooms," ordered Molly as she seized her daughter's hand once more. "Your father will contact the Ministry and see what he can find out. Well? NOW!"
The younger Weasleys obeyed, though Charlie hung back for a moment to collect a few extra copies of the newspaper.
The rest of the day, and indeed the rest of the vacation, passed in a blur for Wormtail. For the first time, he was glad for Ron's habit of holding him just a bit too tightly. It reminded him that he was, at least, alive.
He grew nauseated and found himself unable to eat. Ron responded by bribing him with all of the foods which he had learned were his favorites. Wormtail nearly cried (not that rats could) when he became aware of how much time and effort Ron had put into his pet. He loves me… I'm a good pet… he'd never let Sirius… Sirius must be mad… stop worrying… Sirius is coming… Sirius knows I forgot about him and he'll make me pay…
Such thoughts filled Womtail's days and nights until the family returned to England. Once there, Ron became determined to find a rat tonic. Just what I need.
Ron got his chance on the day that he was reunited with Harry and the Girl. They found an appropriate store in good time.
"It's my rat," Ron announced as soon as the trio had reached the front of the store. "He's been a bit off-color since I brought him back from Egypt."
"Bang him on the counter." Thankfully, Ron did not take the caretaker's words literally. "How old is this rat?" In his thirties. What? You don't remember thirties, you old hag?
"Dunno. Quite old. He used to belong to my brother."
"What powers does he have?" I once killed twelve people with one curse. But that was pretty much an accident.
Ron was unable to answer.
"He's been through the mill, this one," the caretaker continued.
"He was like that when Percy gave him to me!" Sure. Blame it on Percy.
The witch attempted to sell Ron a new rat, a truly magical rat, but as Percy had so many years before, Ron refused. He was just about to purchase a bottle of rat tonic when a cat, obviously part kneazle, snarled out of nowhere.
Great! Sirius escaped and a kneazle that knows I'm an animagus after me! The sensible thing to do was run. When Ron at last caught him, Wormtail decided to go to sleep secure in the knowledge that things could not get worse.
He awoke the next day to the sound of the Girl's voice and the gentle rocking of the Hogwarts Express. "Professor R. J. Lupin," she said.