ESPRIT DE CORPS
~ kittykittyhunter ~
Torrents of ashen mist swirled around his feet. The short man gazed left then right, nose twitching, trying to identify a scent. He could see nothing past the hazy fog. His watery eyes were too weak.
He sat on the pale ground, so smooth that it could have been flooring. The sky was white. The world was white.
And he was alone.
Minutes oozed into hours, and still, the man stayed where he was. He had always lived for the ambitions of others and even in his final moments had served a master. Yet, he was stinging with an acute bitterness – after everything he had been through, he had wanted…
His embarrassing feebleness made him howl. Who was he, to beg sympathy? After what he had made of his life! After all whom he had betrayed!
The sobs stopped. He had not heard approaching footsteps… slowly, Peter Pettigrew looked up.
The name escaped as a whimper. James' hair was black and untidy and his hazel eyes were framed by glasses. He wore a knitted scarf of red and gold, and above its twists, Peter could see the taller man's controlled expression. Anguish welled up within Peter once more – was this the real James? Or would Peter be forced to relive his greatest mistake?
The figure said, "Stand up, Peter."
Shivering, Peter obeyed. He had not appreciated how cold it was here. Tendrils of ice were wrapping around his wrists, his ankles, his throat.
"How are you?"
His voice was so calm.
"I'm fine," Peter murmured. He blinked, wishing that the ghost would evaporate. Trembling, he enquired, "Is that… you?"
A single nod.
Peter stepped away. He was painfully aware of the difference in their ages. James was little older than twenty, and he, Peter, was a balding man with shrunken skin. The extinguished years presented themselves so clearly now. "I – I'm sorry James!" Every syllable was a splutter. "Please leave me alone!"
"Leave you alone?" James tugged on his scarf. "That's the last thing I want."
"NO!" screamed Peter. He fell down, cowering, encasing his head in his arms. "NO – DON'T!"
But he knew it; he knew the curse was coming – it was all over –
There was a shuffling sound. Quietly, James said, "No one will hurt you here."
With a great effort, Peter lowered his shaking arms. James was sitting down, cross-legged. His expression was again composed. Between breaths that were heavy, Peter asked, "What's going on?"
James smiled. "You helped him. I wanted to thank you."
"I realise, now," continued James, "that there were many things we never thanked you for. You put yourself in danger for our games so many times, and we expected those things because you were our friend." James sighed. "But I never considered how hard it was for you.
"I've had a while to think and… I'm not angry, Peter. Things happened this way for reasons I won't ever fully understand. What I do know is that you, too, must have had reasons for your actions."
Peter shook his head. He was being given a way out… a coward's way out. "No James," he disagreed, "I won't let you make excuses for me. Not again."
There was a pause.
"You three, and Lily, took care of me," Peter's voice was no longer quivering, and his words were laced with youth, innocence that he had trampled more than two decades ago. "What I did was terrible. I don't deserve to be forgiven by you."
"Maybe," shrugged James, "but I want to be forgiven by you."
Peter gave a strangled cry. "Don't, James!"
James said, "Peter, back there – you answered Harry's need, even though the consequences were fatal. You know what that tells me? Two things, actually. One, that I have a son my friends love, enough to always protect him. And two, that I have friends I need to protect."
Standing, James went on, "You were our Wormtail." Peter stared; James' tone had changed and his eyes were frosty. "They took that name from you and made it an enemy. But if you want, you can be Peter again."
Peter gave a half-smile. "I solemnly swear… I will try to do good."
James chuckled and held out a hand.
Taking James' fingers, Peter scrambled to his feet. The mists slipped into nothingness and Peter felt different – some of his plumpness was back and his scalp was warm… he followed the profile of his friend as they began walking towards an unknown destination.
He was still the person they had proudly rallied around in those sunlit days. Noble. Kind.
He was James, after all.