I took another step, and like the thousands of other steps before I had no idea how I was able to do it. But the step came still, and almost right away the heel of my other foot lifted from the ground again and I moved forward. The dark hallway I walked through offered little comfort for what I was about to do. The paintings of austere old witches and wizards stared down at me, their expressions locked in an indistinguishable space between approval and judgment. But why should the dead judge? They were already gone, out of reach and out of the sphere of worldly significance. All of my friends, those who have fought and died; we mourned them, yes, but they were useless now. I let out a ragged sigh at my own thoughts; the word useless panged inside me, stabbing and scratching like a chord of thorns around my heart. Such is my life, the useless one, never good enough, never worth anything compared to the others. But here I was now, and I knew with every fiber of my being that this action I was about to commit would affect what was to come for the rest of the world, wizarding and not.
Memories flashed across my mind, and I faltered a step. How had I found myself in this situation? Should I have started with my childhood? Was it that far back that all of this should be traced? Probably not, and there was little about my childhood except a fatherless home and a mother whom I was never truly sure loved me. She was a Ravenclaw, straight-backed, clipped, and didn't suffer idiocy very well. An excellent healer by nature, she was often called when terrible ailments were rushed through the ward rooms of St. Mungo's. At times when she was far enough lost into a glass of wine, she would talk about my father. He was a wizard as well, and he and my mother were together long enough to have made me, but she always said that my father walked away on us because he was a coward. I always suspected that the thing that he feared the most was my mother, a terrible woman – not evil, but terrible. And so she was stuck with me. I could only imagine what it was like for her to have me for a son, a living disappointment, a pureblood who couldn't even properly stand a cauldron. Her criticism came often enough, and with me finally entering Hogwarts and getting sorted into Gryffindor she could only express how sure she was that I wouldn't have been comfortable in Ravenclaw anyway. It was her own way of saying I was stupid, hidden underneath a phrasing that would not make her out as the worst mother in the world.
I had no idea where to start then, I knew the bare bones about the house I was sorted in. Unfortunately, the more I thought about it the more I felt that the hat made a mistake. Was it possible that I could go through my seven years of schooling on shuffling feet and downcast eyes? But then, they happened. Just three other boys entering Hogwarts as Gryffindors, but they were worlds apart from me. James was naturally a leader, the purest essence of what a Gryffindor was supposed to be. Sirius' story was exhilarating, dramatic, and volatile just like the rest of him. Even Remus, sickly as he was, showed such promising talent. Together they were like the sun, blinding in their glory and painfully magnetizing in their presence. I longed to be them; even just a trickle of their sunlight to keep for myself would have already made me so much more than measly, disgusting, nothing me.
Then the universe played me a hand – a good hand which I always thought I was fool to hope for. The three of them became my friends. At first I thought it was some elaborate joke, but through time I learned to trust them. "A Gryffindor's a Gryffindor, you're one of us. Simple as that." James said those words to me, and back then just being caught in his presence I found that I was able to say Yes. That same yes sounded hollow now, schoolboy fantasies that could never hope to survive the real world. The Marauders, we called ourselves, and we stuck together the entire time. The three of them were always basking in their glory, and I was happy to feed off the scraps they threw my way. I heard all the whispers, all the snide comments from our peers and how the teachers always silently compared me to them. It didn't make anything better at home, because through the corners of my mother's eyes I saw her questioning look on how I could make such friends. I dreaded the summers and Christmases when I had to go home and once again just be myself. I didn't have my friends to make me feel special.
Like with all addictions, it felt good at the beginning. However, I slowly began to feel the pain that came with being best friends with three suns. They were all so perfect, and as I continually fed from their radiance I was slowly burned from the inside. We were always together, even when we found out that Remus was what he was. In all honesty, I was happy when I found out that Remus was a werewolf. I never admitted it to them of course, but the fact that I found out that I wasn't the only misshapen and deformed member of the pack put me at a certain kind of peace. At first, I even thought that I was superior to Remus. No matter how much handsomer, smarter, and more talented he was than me, he was still diseased. But those feelings died almost instantaneously because nothing really changed. Our attempts at turning into Animagi proved to me the extents that James and Sirius would go through for Remus, and I wondered if they would do the same for me. I struggled with the task, and even though the others seemed to be patient with me I could hear their silent laughter. I remember times when I would be so frustrated at my inadequacy that I'd grit my teeth and claw at my face. Tears would stream down my cheeks and I would hate myself even more for crying. In a way, my pain was what managed to push me to complete the training. It would have been something to be proud of if I wasn't suddenly slapped in the face by the fact that my character was represented most accurately as a rat. The others were quick to reassure me how my rat form was nothing to be ashamed of, and how useful it would be in situations like getting past the Whomping Willow. They were patronizing reasons which I was forced to swallow merely because I could not do anything about it.
And so school finished, and we proceeded with our lives still together as friends. The three of them were off on brilliant starts while I, it seemed, would be saddled with a future of taking care of a mother who had slowly begun to deteriorate. Something had affected her mind, and slowly she was losing that part of herself which was the superb, miracle-working healer. However, her overly critical and demanding disposition remained, and now it was tempered by a vicious honesty. And every day as I was forced to tend to her, I was bombarded with how inadequate I was. When the Wizarding War started, and I received an invite from Dumbledore to join the Order, I didn't hesitate in the slightest to join. I wasn't too keen on risking my life and fighting a band of dangerous dark wizards, but I would have given anything to get out of that situation. Also, I had nowhere else to go.
A sharp pain below my chin woke me from my meanderings and I suddenly find myself back in the dark hallway. I realize that the pain is the tip of my wand, and that I am pointing it at my own neck. When did I even draw it, and what did I intend to do with it? Of course the answer was obvious, and with the recent choices I made, this was the only way out. I knew the curse; all I needed to do was speak it. I tried, but my tongue twisted in my mouth and I was unable to do so. I slowly lowered my wand, and tears began to well up in my eyes. I quickly wiped them away, feeling once again as the schoolboy who was never brave enough or strong enough to do what needed to be done. My wand disappeared back up my sleeve and I resumed my walk to the end of the hall, where a closed door stood waiting for me.
Was I really on the path of delivering my friends and their son to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Was I so ready to throw away seven years of camaraderie, even more years of loyalty? But none of them could see that this was a losing battle, and that we were all stubbornly beating our skulls against an impregnable wall, hoping that our actions hurt the enemy but failing to notice our own blood running down our faces. Dark emotions churned at the pit of my chest, and like bubbles of poison gas from a bog full of dead things, they rose to the surface and birthed troubling thoughts. When was it the right time to forsake one's allegiance? Why hold back from joining the winning side? I could practically hear James and Sirius berating me, disgusted that I would even entertain such Slytherin notions. But I couldn't wrap my resolve around the ideals of Gryffindor anymore. And not for the first time, I questioned why the Hat had sorted me into crimson and gold, when I so obviously had none of the qualities that made my friends as great as they were. Too much time spent in the company of people so brave and righteous fooled me into thinking that I was made from the same mettle as them. I am no lion, I know that now, and in a way I've always known. I had just pushed the thought away, refused to even entertain it for I lacked the bravery to face the truth. I am a rat, a creature run by its survivor instinct. Now that we were all forced to hide in our holes, cornered and just waiting to die, everything was much clearer. I realize that the lion's courage isn't even laughable in this situation anymore; it was just sad.
People would judge me for my choice – there was no doubt about that. But they would fail to see that it wasn't an easy choice for me, but one I had to make for myself nonetheless. I didn't want to die and become even more useless. I finally reached the door, and I moved to open it, but the knob turned by itself and the door slowly creaked open. He was standing there, a bald and pallid head rising from a form robed in black. He turned around and at once his serpent gaze rooted me on the spot and turned my blood into something thick and slow-moving. Naturally, I was afraid. But at the same time, I felt a certain sense of awe. I couldn't place it right away, but then it slowly dawned on me where I had once felt this sensation before. I was eleven, and I was sorted into Gryffindor.
"A Gryffindor's a Gryffindor, you're one of us. Simple as that."
"… you're one of us. Simple as that."
"…simple as that."