-all this, and love too, will ruin us

How can it be, Peter thinks, How can it be that Peter is the only one to look at the world around them, the world blackening around the edges like a world that's on fire, how can it be that he is the only one that looks at it and feels afraid.

(And that is all that growing up is.

Fear.)

Not for JamesSiriusRemus – not for them, no. Not when bright-eyed Lily is here, to love them and make them happy, not while James and Lily can buy a house and forget James' hands haven't stopped twitching since his mum died, and Sirius can ride his motorbike and pretend he hates his family, and Remus can come for cups of tea as though everybody else in the world doesn't flinch when they touch him.

Peter is afraid, but they just live their lives as though nobody or the Order or the – the – You-Know-Who – can touch them, like they're still children, like they can afford to have dreams edged with lace and love and smile and be happy when this is madness, this is craziness, this is a bloody war and none of them can fight it.

And somewhere, perhaps Peter is feeling betrayed, is feeling cheated, because what were they thinking sending them into a war like this? How could they say, Dumbledore say, You have my deepest gratitude and We will do our utmost to protect the innocent, but never even realize they were innocent, that they were children, and that all of them were already so fragile, already so battered and broken that they'd never be strong enough to keep fighting?

Perhaps Peter is feeling betrayed, because what kind of monster would send children, would allow children who could still shatter to fight his battles for him?

But Peter stopped being a child a long time ago, the day his father walked out and he found Mum sitting in the middle of the smashed china with tears tracking like heartbreak down her face. Peter stopped being a child the day he ran to her and said It's all right Mum, it's all right, and he was never really worth it, he was a … a bad person, Mum, don't you worry about it, it'll be just fine, Mum even when he knew the words were all wrong.

Peter isn't a child like Marlene McKinnon was a child when she ran home to a house that was filled with twenty of her family members, and even twenty people was not enough to ward off six Death Eaters – and why, why is that? Why is that DumbledoreSiriusJamesRemus? Why is that?

Peter isn't a child like Benjy Fenwick was a child, smiling dopily up at everyone until they blew him to bits under his stairs, like Sirius is a child when he laughs like death and pretends no one sees him breaking, like James who can't make his eyes look anything but bewildered, anything but wide and confused and hurt, like Remus who acts like he did when he was eleven and reads and reads and reads and never speaks to anyone, even to Peter.

And now, all of a sudden, Peter isn't a child like Sirius is as he kills himself, bit by bit, day by day, as he drags home a new girl every night (and they say it in whispers like he doesn't know what it means), and like James is when he clutches Lily as though the smell of her will ward off everything.

And Remus, even Remus, even clever, practical Remus who purses his lips too tight and sends hard-eyed looks at the ground, even he is more of a child than Peter because even he won't let himself see anything, won't allow himself to step between James and Sirius, won't let himself ruin this pretty dream.

And all of it, all of it rises over him like a red-rimmed wave of disgust, of pure hatred, because why can't you say it, why can't you just admit that this isn't all right, that it's too much that you can't handle it?

And one day Peter wakes up and looks in the mirror and realizes that if he stays with them he will die.

And that makes him angry and furious, and he realizes he does not want to - he will not – not like this, not like a stupid child who didn't know what he was getting into, who walked in with his eyes closed and never opened them until – until –

And Peter realizes that death, that dying, is more terrifying than fighting, than losing, than almost anything else.

So Peter walks into the bathroom and peers again at his wide, terrified eyes, and his pale face, skinnier than he's ever seen it, and he says

I will not die

Like that is enough to save him.

I will not die

As though that is a promise he can keep, he can force to be true – and he can't, he can't he can't he can't, unless he – he – he –

And so, then, Peter waits.

One day, he knows, someone will notice it, someone will realize what a perfect position little Peter is in, how much he knows, how much he can reveal – someone may even realize that little Peter never fought back in school, that he never got the highest marks, that little Peter was not strong like SiriusJamesRemus were strong, were powerful. He watches and he waits with his eyes wide open, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, because

I will not die

says Peter, and he has never been stronger than he is right now.

And to while away the days, Peter watches James and Sirius dance around Lily's pregnant belly and little Harry (or little Iris) in there, and tells himself

I am not afraid and

I can do this I am capable

and when Lucius Malfoy walks into his flat (with the mask on as though Peter has not watched him walk for years, as if Peter cannot recognize the footsteps of the first one to torment him) Peter says

I know where Dorcas Meadowes lives, and then Edgar Bones and then Caradoc Dearborn.

And through it all Peter tells himself

I am not afraid

and

I will not die.

When Harry is born, Peter thinks

I was hoping it was an Iris

And

I will not die

and holds him in St. Mungo's (Remus isn't here – not after Peter told him W-well, I think Sirius saw Doc last, Remus, but we both know he wouldn't hurt anyone -) and thinks

I will not die

as he cares for him and learns to change his nappies

I will not die

and almost feels sorry watching JamesSiriusLily (And Remus sending his hard-eyed looks at Sirius' back) love the little baby but then Peter remembers

They did this to us, so don't you blame me,

and

I am going to stay alive

and

I am not afraid

and

IwillnotdieIwillnotdie-

until it becomes – he makes it – true.