A million thanks to my brilliant snuggly penguin wifey Allie, who beta-ed this for me to a spectacular standard. Thanks, love!
Written for Ash's Fanfiction Tournaments: May. Write something Marauder's Era.
They approach you in the darkness as you walk from the closest Apparation point to your apartment — you hate the necessity of this walk, because it always makes you feel jumpy and uneasy in your skin, but your apartment is Apparation-blocked and in a Muggle neighborhood, so you don't have much of a choice.
They materialise from the shadows, silent as ghosts.
You jump, and your wand slips out of your sleeve and into your hand but you fumble: you've never been coordinated at the best of times and nerves have never made it better. Your wand clatters as it hits the pavement and you freeze, absolutely still as their wands are directed at your face. Your hands go up in the silent signal, I'm unarmed! but you suspect it doesn't matter; your vulnerability won't placate them.
You are ashamed of the squeak of fear that escapes your mouth.
"Peter Pettigrew," one of them rasps from behind his mask. You want to deny it, you want to say, Nope, not me, don't know who you're talking about, sorry, but you suspect that won't do you any good.
They take your silence as a confirmation, taking a step forward. You edge backward and you hit the cement wall of a building behind you. It's only then that you notice you are trembling. The thought flitters through your mind that you may not live through tonight.
"We have a few questions for you," the other figure says, and his voice is slippery smooth, like silk.
And you try to be strong, you try to be brave like the Gryffindor the Sorting Hat believes you are — but you aren't, it was wrong, because you've never been like Sirius, who defied everything he was supposed to believe in; like James, who stood up for what he loved no matter the consequences; like even quiet Remus who was brave when it mattered. You are you, Peter Pettigrew, and most days you aren't sure what the Sorting Hat saw in you. You aren't brave, you just aren't.
It told you, that day so very long ago, that you had the potential to be whatever you wanted to be, and you, you replied that you wanted to be brave and strong and good, because you did, you do. But every time a test of strength arises you come up short and you are slipping further and further away from who you want to be, and you hate yourself for it but it doesn't seem to matter because you can't change it, not on your own. There is no one there to see you slip away, no one there to catch you or pull you back up, because James has Lily and Remus and Sirius have each other and you, you are always the one left alone.
And you are so weak, you are so alone, you are so sick and tired of all of it, and you are so damn scared that when they ask you questions, questions about the Order and your friends and everything you hold dear, it takes so little prodding — only a few curses and the threat of more — for you to answer. It all comes spilling out your mouth and you force yourself not to think about it, not to think about what you are doing because you do not need another reason to hate yourself.
And when they leave you standing in that alley shaking like a leaf, grateful and surprised beyond belief to be alive, you think that's the end of it.
Stupidly, you think that because they leave, it is over.
Later, you curse yourself for being so damn naïve.
Two weeks after the first time, they are back and you are once again spilling things you shouldn't be talking about to people you definitely shouldn't be talking to.
And then a week and a half after that, when you don't think it is possible to loathe yourself any more than you already do, they come again. You are the scum of the Earth, a traitor, a coward.
You withdraw into yourself, you start making excuses to your friends, you claim your mother is ill, you only attend half the Auror meetings anymore and that makes them so furious you spend the next three weeks limping. You tell everyone you fell down a flight of stairs and they believe you.
Of course they believe you; you've never lied to them before. You're a terrible liar. But everyone is so wrapped up in their own tragedies that they don't even notice you.
You lose weight. You move from overweight to gaunt too quickly, and still no one comments. You don't talk anymore — where you used to chatter on until they yelled at you to shut up, now you don't speak unless spoken too.
You are falling apart and you can't even bring yourself to care.
Then comes the whole thing with baby Harry and the Prophecy and the Fidelius Charm and they pick you. They trust you.
You actually try to turn it down. You try to tell them to pick someone else, you stutter and stumble out some line about being weak and afraid, but James just grins and says all you lack is confidence, says that he believes in you, says that you aren't weak, you just haven't been tested yet.
But you have, and you've come up lacking.
You know that. He doesn't.
And his words, untrue as they are, fill you with a sense of warmth and you cannot help but smile your first true smile in a very long time and James takes it as an acceptance and it all sort of spirals out of control from there.
And you betray them. Though your heart is heavy with guilt, you betray them almost without a second thought. You tear them apart, you ensure that James will never grin that happy grin ever again, that Lily will never find her first gray hair, that baby Harry will never grow up.
Because that is what you do.
Because you are weak, you are a coward.
And you loathe yourself for it.