Note: Thank you all so much for your overwhelming support and encouragement! I'm awed and humbled, to say nothing of delighted. Thank you, thank you!
And a huge shout-out to PhilosopherStone909, without whom I would never have learned about Remus's biography on Pottermore! I have since read it, and very lovely it is, too! I won't be changing anything that has already been written. Nevertheless it will be absolutely invaluable as I proceed.
Chapter One Hundred Three: The Mystery of Mr Pettigrew
The tinkling of a bicycle bell woke Remus from his foggy dreams. He might have slipped back at once, but the bed above him shuddered and squeaked as Peter sat hurriedly up and then scrambled to stand on the protesting mattress. Remus scrubbed at his eyes and got himself up onto one elbow in time to see his friend, one arm holding aside the curtain lace while the other waved eagerly at someone outdoors. The bell sounded again and Peter grinned enormously. Nose pressed against the glass, he watched intently for another minute and a half. Then he jumped a little and sat back on his bed with a crash that awoke James with a start.
'Merlin's pants, what's wrong?' he hollered. 'Are we being invaded?'
'It's only me,' Peter said, looking rather abashed. 'I was saying goodbye to Mary.'
'By jumping on the bloody bed?' James grumbled.
'No, I was… that is… I…' Peter gestured back and forth between his pillow and the window.
'Where has she gone?' Remus asked, anxious to rescue Peter from his awkward gesticulating.
'Only the next village over,' James said, rolling over and tugging his sleeping bag over his head. 'And she'll be back for tea, too. You'd think she sets off every morning for Leningrad, to hear him saying goodbye.'
'She's my sister,' Peter said indignantly; 'and I only get to see her at the holidays, and as we've overslept and missed her at breakfast I wanted to—'
'I think it's very thoughtful of you, Peter, and I'm sure she appreciates it,' Remus said firmly. 'And if you had an older sister, James, I'm sure you'd feel the same.'
'But I don't, do I?' groused James from somewhere within the depths of his bedding. 'And it's all very well for her to be abroad at this hour: she went off to bed forty minutes before you even arrived. Even if Peter might have forgotten that I might need my sleep he ought to be more considerate of you, especially this time of the month.'
Peter went white and stared at Remus in horror. 'Oh, dear, I never thought…' he gasped.
'No,' Remus said hastily. 'No, please don't feel badly on my account. I'm quite rested, I promise.' He sat up properly, fiddling instinctively with the too-short cuffs of his nightshirt. 'What does she do in the next village?'
'It's not a village, it's Thrapston,' Peter said. 'She works there, in a solicitor's office. Mary doesn't… she can't… she's… well…' He was beginning to turn quite pink, but this time it was James who cut short his agony.
'She's a Squib,' he said, flinging off his covers and sitting up at last. 'There's no use mincing words, you know. Certainly it's a mite embarrassing but at least she's not a Death Eater.'
'Oh, no, Mary would never do that,' Peter said. 'She's ever so sweet. And she's quite clever, really. Much cleverer than me. It's just she can't do magic.'
'Neither can my mother,' Remus said; 'and she's one of the cleverest people I know.'
Peter gave him a wide, grateful smile. 'You'll get to meet her at teatime,' he said, sliding off the edge of the bed and picking his way to the door. 'I know she'll like you.'
Remus smiled in return, and Peter left the room. Moments later they heard the door to the lavatory closing behind him.
'Silly goose,' James said, not unkindly. 'Wouldn't even admit it the first night: kept making up stories about her being privately educated abroad, or not fancying Hogwarts after her first year, or catching the Dragonpox or something. It's one of those things that can't be helped, Squibs. They will crop up even in the best families, and it's not as if she's stupid or wicked or even that bad looking. It could be a lot worse.'
'You mustn't tease him about it, James,' Remus said earnestly. 'He's trusted us both with an important secret.'
'And we haven't trusted him?' countered James. 'Is his secret even half as important as yours? We're friends. It's what friends do: they share secrets, and they tease each other about them now and then, and they don't ever, ever tell anyone else. Simple as that. Besides, when Sirius finds out that Peter's sister has her very own Thing That Goes Ping we'll not be able to keep him away from here.'
Remus could not help but laugh at the thought of Sirius with another typewriter to play with. As he sobered down again he rested his chin on one knee. 'I wish he were here,' he said.
'Oh, don't worry,' James said. 'The lot of us will be together at my place, and in the meantime we ought to be able to find something to do. Peter's been wanting to take us down to the village, but for some reason he seems to think it takes three of us to buy a few sweets and poke 'round the war memorial. Anyhow the food's first-rate. Small wonder our little mate's a bit on the stout side.'
This didn't seem the kindest of observations, but Remus merely smiled wanly. He wasn't certain how James would take to being scolded, however gently, twice in one conversation. He didn't feel able to risk it.
Mrs Pettigrew laid out an enormous breakfast for the boys: bacon and sausage, scones, toast and waffles, eggs both poached and scrambled, berries and peaches and coddled cream, and even a plate of the ginger biscuits. They all ate heartily, and then James and Peter sat back to enjoy tall glasses of home-squeezed pumpkin juice while Mrs Pettigrew set about clearing the table, Levitating the waffle platter ahead of her into the kitchen.
Remus got up and started to gather the plates into a neat little pile, silverware on top. The dishes were of charming, homey china with a pattern of dainty yellow daisies. He carried them carefully into the kitchen and set them next to the sink.
'What do you think you're doing, lovey?' Peter's mother asked in some surprise.
Remus looked down anxiously, wondering how he had erred. 'I only… I meant to help…' he stammered apologetically.
Before he knew what was happening, Mrs Pettigrew had a hand on each of his shoulders as she planted a kiss on his forehead. 'Aren't you a dear boy,' she said. 'But you must go and sit down with your friends and enjoy your holiday. I'll see to this lot.'
Remus's quiet protest that he really felt more comfortable helping when he could was drowned out in the witch's cheery bustling as she led him back to the table and sat him down in front of his own pumpkin juice. James had clearly come to the end of some sort of amusing anecdote, for he was grinning and Peter was giggling. Remus settled next to them, slipping into the comfortable camaraderie of the moment almost without realizing it.
Peter's home was set on a tidy little parcel of land about half a mile from the village of Titchmarsh. There was a henhouse, occupied, and a venerable stone barn, vacant, and two broad fields that had long ago been overtaken by wildflowers. Peter proudly led a tour over the property, while James bemoaned the fact that it was ringed by a low stone wall instead of a proper windbreak of oak or elm that might have provided enough cover for a game of pick-up Quidditch. He was decidedly more enthusiastic about the barn, where there was a knotted rope dangling from one of the rafters so that the boys could swing down from the hayloft into a sweet-smelling heap of straw on the floor below.
They spent most of the morning thus engaged, scrambling up the ladder only to fling themselves down again. Remus wanted very much to join in the fun, but he had promised his father to take care and so restrained himself. He sat in the loft, feet dangling over the edge, and cheered James and Peter on until Mrs Pettigrew called them in for lunch at half past twelve.'
By the time they were finished eating dark clouds were hanging low over the land, and they had not even finished changing into their Muggle things when a heavy rain began to fall. The excursion into the village was called off in favour of an Exploding Snap tournament in front of the parlour fire. James's mind did not appear to be on the game and after losing the third match running he got up and began to wander the room, studying the contents of the shells.
'How many china hogs does one woman need?' he asked absentmindedly, just as Remus took the pile again.
'Mary's collected them ever since she was a little girl,' Peter said. 'I bought her that one wearing the bowler hat with my pocket money last Christmas. She says it's her favourite.'
His chest puffed out a little as he said this, but James merely shrugged and meandered on towards the next shelf. He leaned in to examine a photograph of Mrs Pettigrew with a curly-haired blonde child beside her and a tremendously plump baby squirming in her arms. 'Who's Max?' he asked.
Peter stiffened and the cards beneath his hands exploded. He hardly even seemed to notice: both small, wary eyes were fixed on James. 'Who?' he said.
'The bottom of the picture's signed Max,' said James. 'So who's Max, and why's he signing family snaps?'
Peter's face contorted miserably as he appeared to weigh his options. At last he sighed, deflating into an unhappy slouch. 'It's my dad,' he mumbled with the resigned air of one long prepared for a catastrophe that had finally arrived. 'Maximillian, really, though Mum calls him Max. He fancied himself a bit of a photographer. Ought to have kept with it, too, instead of… well…'
James appeared not to hear the way Peter's voice trailed off uneasily. He was poking the picture to see if he could get the little girl to move. 'Is she really standing that still, or do Squibs not turn up moving in photographs?'
'She's blinking,' Remus pointed out quietly. He leaned forward towards his other friend. 'Are you all right, Peter?' he asked gently.
'I'm fine,' Peter said sharply. His eyes were very bright and his lower lip trembled as he spoke. 'I'm just fine. It's only… it's only… I don't want to talk about it!'
He sprung to his feet, moving in that peculiarly graceful way that he sometimes could when he wasn't trying, and scurried out of the room. On the far side of the house his bedroom door closed with a bang.
'What d'you suppose got into him?' James asked, standing perplexedly with one knee on the seat of an armchair.
'I don't quite know,' Remus confessed, staring at the doorway.
'Well, go after him, would you?' demanded the bespectacled boy. 'I'll only make a mess of it if I do, and somebody's got to. Can't have a bloke in a state like that while his mother's about.'
Remus nodded and got to his feet. His lately-healed wounds scarcely even twinged, and he might have been glad of it had not his concern for Peter overwhelmed all other considerations. James gave him a small, encouraging smile as he left the room.
He hesitated at Peter's door, torn between his reluctance to intrude on another's pain and his duty to a friend who stood by him in his own. Finally he rapped quietly just above the latch. When there was no reply he knocked again.
'Peter?' he said softly. 'Peter, it's Remus. I'm… I'm going to come in.'
Taking the silence that followed as assent, he opened the door just wide enough to slip inside, closing it at one behind him. Peter was lying on his bed, having apparently flung himself upon it and frozen where he landed. His face was buried against the pillow and his fists were clenched. Remus approached timidly.
'James is worried that he said something to hurt you,' he said. 'He didn't mean to; he's just a little… he doesn't always know what he's saying.'
Peter did not move, and had it not been for the sharp, shallow breaths that heaved his back Remus might have thought him asleep. He drew nearer, wanting to put a comforting hand on the other boy's shoulder but not quite daring to do it.
'I know it's your father you're upset about,' he went on gently. 'I know that you said you didn't want to talk about him. If he's run away or he's dead you only have to say, and James will understand why he's got to keep his mouth sh—'
'He's not dead,' Peter said, his voice harsh and sharp. 'He's not dead. Be better if he was, though; that's what all the uncles and aunties say when they think I'm not listening.'
He lifted his head a little and shifted his arms, crossing them so that he could hide his face within. Before he realized what he was doing Remus was sitting on the edge of the bed, twisted at the waist so that he could rest his palm between Peter's shoulder blades. They were quivering with the effort of reigning in tremendous emotion.
'It's all right,' Remus whispered, not knowing what else he could possibly say. 'It's all right: you needn't talk about it if you don't want to.'
'They d-don't understand,' Peter said. 'None of 'em understand, none of 'em but Mary. H-he's my dad. I love him. It doesn't matter what else… it doesn't matter about anything else; he's my dad and I love him and I want him to come home.'
Remus's mouth went dry. He remembered the terror he had felt last summer when he had feared his own father might leave the family. He could not imagine the brokenhearted hurt his friend was feeling; his friend who had surely never done anything to deserve such a crippling lose.
'Of course you do,' he murmured, running his hand in a soothing circle. 'That's only natural.'
'Why don't they understand, then?' sobbed Peter. 'Why don't they let him come home?'
This did not quite make sense. 'He wants to come home, but they won't let him?' he asked. 'Your aunts and uncles?'
'No! N-n-no…' Peter's whole chest shuddered and he began to cry in earnest. 'I don't want to talk about it,' he choked out between paroxysms of pain. 'I d-don't want to talk about it!'
'It's all right,' Remus said again, helpless to do anything but sit there, rubbing Peter's back as if he could draw away some of his torment. 'You don't need to talk about it. You don't need to say a word, not one word.'
'Y-you're a good friend to me,' Peter blubbered, scrubbing at his eyes with his forearm. 'You… you'd probably understand. But James… J-J-James would think… he'd think…'
Whatever it was that he feared James might think was drowned in a fresh flood of tears. Remus stayed stalwartly where he was, tracing loops across Peter's spine with his palm while his other hand settled gently on the crown of his head. Slowly the sobs died away and Peter's breath levelled, then deepened. At last he was asleep, exhausted by his exertions.
When he was certain that Peter was too far gone in slumber to know the difference Remus withdrew his hands and retreated to the corner of the room. He would have liked to run away, but he stayed, cross-legged on the floor, and watched over Peter while he slept.
He woke up a little after four, just as the clouds were breaking amid the now lightly falling rain, yawning enormously and scrubbing at tearstained cheeks. He seemed startled and yet comforted to see Remus sitting in the corner, and he managed a shaky smile.
'You stayed,' he said in a small voice.
Remus nodded. 'I thought you might need somebody,' he said. He got to his feet, gripping the wall for support. He was stiff from sitting on the stones for so long and he felt a bit lightheaded. He took care that neither should show as he smiled. 'I'm your friend, after all.'
'My friend,' Peter echoed in that softly wondering tone that spoke of a habit of loneliness only lately broken. Then he looked up, suddenly worried. 'You won't tell James I was crying, will you?'
'Of course not,' Remus promised. 'You go and wash your face and I'll find him and we can all go outdoors and look for a rainbow.'
James was in the parlour, whether still or again Remus could not tell.
'You took your time,' he said as the pale boy entered. 'Is he all right?'
'I think so,' said Remus. 'But you mustn't ask any more awkward questions, James: he doesn't want to talk about it.'
'About Squibs and photographs?' asked James, clearly put off.
Remus had to bite down on his tongue as Peter came into the room, smiling cheerfully and full of good-natured suggestions about going out to tramp through the puddles.
They were still in the yard with the rain quite forgotten, when Mary Pettigrew's bicycle appeared at the end of the lane. Peter went running to greet her as she rolled on towards home. Mary was a curvaceous girl of about seven or eighteen, her blonde hair still as curly as it was in the controversial photograph in the sitting room. She wore a blue tartan skirt and a cream-coloured blouse, white socks rolled low over carefully-polished Oxford shoes. She pulled her bike up near the gate and planted one foot in the gravel so that she could hug her brother. James sniggered softly and Remus shot him a small reproving look.
'Come and meet him!' Peter was saying, tugging at Mary's hand so that she was obliged to make a hurried dismount and to leave her vehicle leaning up against the gatepost. 'Remus! Remus, this is my sister Mary.'
'Good afternoon,' Remus said politely, offering his hand to the young lady. 'How do you do?'
Mary laughed delightedly. She had her mother's round and rosy cheeks, and Peter's small eyes – though the latter was well disguised by careful application of blue makeup that seemed to make them sparkle. 'How do you do,' she said with merrily affected gravity. 'I'm Mary.'
'Remus,' he said, then remembered his manners. 'Remus Lupin, at your service, Miss.'
She clapped her hands. 'Isn't he polite?' she exclaimed happily. 'Much more polite than you are, anyroad,' she added with a playful toss of the head in James's direction.
'Ah,' he said, with a devilish grin that he could only have learned from Sirius; 'but he's not as charming, is he?'
Mary laughed and wrapped her right arm around Peter's shoulder, coming forward to curl the left around James. She wiggled her fingers at Remus. 'Grab hold,' she said. 'It isn't every day I have three handsome young men to see me home!'
They strolled rather awkwardly across the dooryard, and as Mary was saying something laughingly effervescent to her brother James leaned over to address Remus out of the side of his mouth.
'You say a word to Sirius about this and I'll hex your underpants,' he muttered. Remus nodded solemnly and winked, sending James into a fit of laughter.
Tea with Mary Pettigrew could not help but be a cheerful affair. She kept the conversation constantly alight, and regaled them all with a story about a farmer who had come in to see her employer that morning about a case of suspected sheep worrying.
'And Mr Balmoral says, "But Mr Needham, you don't own any sheep!". And what does Mr Needham say? "No, but if I'd come about rooster worrying you'd never 'ave let me through the door!",' she concluded, causing Peter to snort a quantity of milk out of his nostrils and into his mashed potatoes.
While Mary and her mother cleared the table and saw to the washing-up, the boys went out to resume their romping in the puddles. Peter was sidetracked briefly when he went to fetch Mary's bicycle in safely off the lane, tucking it behind the house where it would be ready for her morning ride. They played hard for an hour or more, until the sun began to set and Remus began to run out of energy. Then he sat on a stile about three hundred yards from the house and watched as Peter chased James around the lower field. The stars were just beginning to show when a rectangle of golden firelight broke through the dusk and Mary came strolling out from the house.
At first Remus thought she was going to run after the other boys: she certainly had the energy and a sufficiently playful nature. But presently she veered a little to the left and he realized that she was coming after him.
'Don't get up,' she said as he shifted to greet her properly. 'Mind if I join you, then?'
'Not at all,' said Remus politely. He was never much use around girls his own age, much less those old enough to be out working. He slid a little to the side, expecting her to sit next to him. Instead she planted her foot on the stile and perched on the wall. There was a clicking sound and a flame appeared between finger and thumb. For a moment startled by the thought that she might not be a Squib after all, Remus realized that she had a Muggle lighter in her hand. There was a flare from the flame and an orange glow of embers was accompanied by a whiff of tobacco smoke as she puffed delicately at a slender cigarette.
'You don't mind, do you?' she asked. 'I've been told time and again that wizards smoke pipes, but that's considered quite unladylike among Muggles, you know. And as I work among Muggles, and all my friends are Muggles, and generally wizards haven't got much use for me so I expect I'm bound to marry a Muggle, I think I'd best stick with Muggle habits, don't you?'
'It seems sensible,' Remus said. James's silhouette, lanky and swift against the fading indigo of the sky, vanished among the tall grasses with a gleeful yelp as he tripped over something. Peter charged forward, catching his quarry at last.
'Remus,' Mary said, rolling the name around her tongue with a fresh puff of smoke. 'You're the one who helps Peter with his schoolwork, aren't you?'
'Sometimes,' answered Remus. He did not want to exaggerate his own importance, nor to make Peter look like he might be lacking in his studies. 'He knows more than he thinks he does. More than other people think he does too, really.'
'Do you know, I always thought the same thing,' Mary mused. 'I used to help him with maths and spelling now and again, when he was going to the village school. They thought he was like me at first, you know. Mum and Dad, I mean. He was nine when he finally made a whole custard tart fly clear across the kitchen. Never seen them so happy.'
Remus squinted up into the gathering dark, trying to read her expression. He wondered whether it would be ill-mannered to ask her whether she had been happy to learn that her brother was a wizard instead of a Squib just like her. He decided that he did not know her well enough to broach such a delicate subject. After all, if she suddenly asked him whether he liked being a werewolf…
'Is it any better this year?' Mary asked. Apparently bored of her cigarette she stubbed it out carefully on the stone beside her and tucked it back into its packet.
'Beg pardon?' Remus asked.
'Is it any better this year?' she repeated. 'Last year it seemed like every other letter Peter was writing how you looked ill again, or you'd gone off home for a few days, or your mother wasn't well. This year it seemed he hadn't one word to say on the matter. Is life any better this year?'
The question came as a shock, and with it the disturbing realization that of course his friends must have written home in first year, noting his frequent unexplained absences. Yet Remus realized that he could give a truthful answer and at the same time make the first-year letters seem transient and unimportant.
'Oh, yes,' he said earnestly, even as the delighted laughter of his loyal friends came shimmering through the night. 'Oh, yes, life is much better for me this year.'
'I'm glad,' said Mary gracefully. 'Life's hard enough when you're older without having troubles and worries when you're just a little boy.' She clapped her fingers to her lips and laughed softly. 'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I mean "just a young gentleman". Peter hates to be called a little boy. You'll have to forgive me, but I remember when he was just a wee baby, you know. Have you any brothers or sisters? You might know what I mean then.'
'I haven't,' said Remus, unable to quite keep the regret from his voice. He was haunted again with wondering about the baby that had died when he was not yet five. He supposed if she had lived he'd feel the same way about her that Mary felt about Peter.
'That's a pity,' Mary said. 'I want to have lots of babies: a whole cottageful. Who knows: maybe one or two of them will be witches. They say sometimes Squibs can have magical babies. Dad always said he'd like to have a dozen, but after Peter he and Mum never had much luck.'
There was a silence during which the stars danced above. The waning moon peered out from behind a cloud, taunting: three weeks, three weeks, three fleeting weeks… Remus shivered. Desperate to think about something else, anything else, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
'Your father,' he said. 'Peter's dad… why did he go off?'
'Go off?' Mary parroted. 'Is that what Peter told you, that he "went off"?'
A hot flush crept up from Remus's collar. He had not meant to say a word about the matter. Peter had a right to his secrets. He had said that he didn't need to talk about it, had promised…
'N-not precisely,' he said; 'but…'
Mary didn't seem to hear him. She sighed heavily. 'I suppose maybe it's easier for him to say that, maybe even to think that.' One hand chafed against her forehead. 'Poor Peter. It's wizarding business, so I'm not meant to understand it. Perhaps I don't understand it, not really. I mean, a five stretch isn't easy, of course, but we've had clients sent down for plenty more than that. What's hardest on Mum is that he never writes, not a single letter.'
She shook her curls and hopped down from the stile.
'I'd let Peter be about it, if you're really his friend,' she said. 'He doesn't like to talk about it and I can't really blame him. I think he lives in terror of those other boys at school finding out: the slithery ones.'
'Of… of course,' Remus said helplessly. He wished fervently that he had not even let the question slip to her. Certainly her answers had done little to slake his curiosity, and Peter had a right to his secrets…
'Ta,' Mary said, squeezing his arm briefly. She began to walk away, then clapped her hands and let out a playful whoop. 'Can't catch me, Master Potter!' she cried, tearing into a run before James could turn from his pursuit of Peter to come bounding fleetly after her.
In the end they did not manage to find time to visit the village of Titchmarsh. It rained again on Wednesday, and on Thursday the visit came to its predetermined end. Mrs Potter came to fetch James and to present her thanks for the hospitality shown her son in person. Remus was not expected home until suppertime, so he and Peter went out to watch the chickens poking around their little yard. Peter tossed out a handful of corn and the birds went pecking after it, but something seemed to be weighing heavily on his mind. After about half an hour of this he finally seemed to screw his courage to the sticking place, as Mrs Lupin would have said. Feet planted firmly apart and hands on his hips he looked at Remus.
'Go to the barn,' he said. 'I'll meet you there in a few minutes: I just need to fetch something.'
Remus obeyed unquestioningly, but the six minutes he spent sitting on the fourth rung of the hayloft ladder were the longest six minutes he had endured in months. Finally the barn door shifted a little and Peter came in, carrying a leather-bound scrapbook in his arms.
'Up there,' he said, nodding at the loft. Remus scaled the ladder quickly and Peter followed, hampered somewhat by the volume he carried.
'Mary told me,' he said. 'She told me she let it slip the other night but you'd promised not to tell anyone.'
'I promised,' Remus admitted, unable to meet his friend's eyes. 'But I didn't understand what she was saying, exactly. Something about five stretches…'
'A five stretch,' Peter said hoarsely. Remus dared a glance at the other boy. His face was very pale, save for two brilliant carmine spots, one on each cheekbone. The knuckles gripping the book were white with the strain. 'It means five years… five years in p-prison.'
Shock overcame shame and Remus stared at his friend. Peter's blue eyes were hard, making them seem even tinier in his round face. He held the book before him like a buckler, as if he could shield himself from hurt or rejection or ridicule. 'Prison,' Remus whispered. 'Your father's in prison.'
'Yes,' Peter said, almost defiantly. Then suddenly he crumpled, sinking to his knees in the straw and letting the book fall open on his lap as he bowed over it. He turned a page plastered with a birth announcement from The Daily Prophet, and then past two or three articles that seemed to be about knitting competitions. Finally he found the page he wanted and smoothed the newsprint clipping pasted to it.
Market Clairvoyant Bound Over For Trial, the headline read. It was difficult to make out the smaller print upside-down, but Remus could see the photograph: a pair of grim and official-looking wizards flanking a portly, bookish man wearing a top hat and a pince-nez.
'What's a Market Clairvoyant?' Remus asked.
Peter closed his eyes tightly, though his hand still rested resolutely on the bottom of the newspaper photograph. 'He advised people on investments,' he said. 'Stocks and shares and things. He… he would do up a table of numbers for them, find the auspicious stocks, tell people what they should buy,' he said. He turned the page over, revealing a series of shorter articles, cut from various editions of the Prophet over the course of several months and detailing the trial.
'He'd tell them he could see the future, which ones would do well and which ones wouldn't. Then people would give him money to invest for them. They said, at his trial they said that he stole the money: gave people the names of stocks that he could foresee were going to fail, not the ones that were going to do well. Then he'd only pretend to invest the money and when the stocks failed he'd pay back Knuts on the Galleon and tell them the rest had been lost.'
Peter drew in a long, shuddering breath. 'When Uncle Norbert explained, I thought it was a mistake: that he was just bad at Arithmancy and didn't know the difference, and he picked the bad stocks accidentally. That was what his barrister said at the trial, that it was just a mistake. I thought… I though he was maybe a bit slow, like me. But then…'
His next breath hitched, suspiciously like a sob, and all at once Remus understood.
'Then you saw his plaque when we were searching the trophy room for Meyrigg's Quidditch Cup,' he said. 'His award for top mark in the Arithmancy NEWT.'
Peter nodded, and a fat tear squeezed out of his eye and tumbled down his cheek. 'He was good at Arithmancy. He was the best in his year. He knew which stocks were going to fail. He did what they said he did: he stole all that money. Nearly two hundred thousand Galleons, they said, in twenty-five years. They sent him to… to Azkaban.'
The thought of that much money made Remus feel ill, but the word Azkaban chilled his very blood. He had heard less than many wizarding children of the Ministry's prison island in the North Sea, but he did not need whispered rumours to fill him with dread. The cold truths he had read were terrifying enough. Azkaban, guarded by Dementors – soulless creatures of darkness that preyed upon every happy thought, every treasured memory, until all that was left was misery and despair. Azkaban, the fortress of living nightmares.
Peter turned the page again; this time the headline proclaimed M. Pettigrew's conviction. 'Mary says a Muggle judge would've given him twice that, maybe even twelve or fifteen years, for that sort of a crime,' Peter said. 'So p'raps he's l-lucky…'
Remus could not bear it any longer. He shuffled on his knees to sit next to his friend, and he put an arm around Peter's shoulder. The other boy stiffened, and then leaned into the embrace. 'I'm sorry,' Remus said. 'How long ago?'
'November,' mumbled Peter. 'November the year before I started school. He'll be locked away 'til I'm studying for my OWLs. I'm not going to see him again until I'm f-fifteen!'
He was weeping now, quietly and wretchedly. 'Everyone says he won't be the same, that I won't even recognize him when he comes back. But I will recognize him. I will.'
'Of course you will,' Remus said. 'He's your father: of course you will. Whatever anyone says, whatever he might have done, of course you love him, and he loves you.'
'Then why did he do it?' Peter asked despairingly.
For that, Remus had no answer.
The shadows were growing long outside, and Remus and Peter sat shoulder to shoulder. The album of clippings lay closed and forgotten in the straw.
'You mustn't tell anyone,' Peter said, breaking a long silence that had passed almost unnoticed between the two friends. 'Not Sirius, not James, not anyone.'
'I won't. I promise I won't,' Remus said.
'He… he did a terrible thing,' murmured Peter; 'but he's braver than I am. I couldn't bear to go to prison. I'd rather… I'd rather die than go to prison. I couldn't face it. I'd do anything, anything to keep from going to prison.'
'There's no worry about that,' said Remus, a small smile surprising its way across his lips. 'All you need to do is keep from breaking any laws.'
Peter laughed a little, a tiny and tremulous laugh. 'You're right,' he said. 'I suppose you're right. But you won't tell anyone. You promise?'
'I promise,' said Remus.
A last quiet moment of understanding, of trusting conspiracy, passed between them before Mary's bell sounded at the top of the lane.