— silencio —
Written for TQLFC Round 13.
Position: Chaser 1 for Kenmare Kestrels
Prompts: Knight (include word in entry): Write about a normally timid character going into battle.
#1 (word) checkmate
#12 (word) strategy
#15 (quote) 'Chess: the game where a pawn can become a queen.'—unknown.
Word-count: excluding these notes and the title — 2,681 words
(That 'you should have died ... ' section from Sirius is a quote from HP & the Prisoner of Azkaban.)
His father is cooking. His father cooks like a Muggle, with a spoon and a pot and sweat on his brow. Tonight he's making chicken soup, for the soul.
Peter wonders if souls exist. He sets the table. His mother is drinking liquorice liqueur — just a small glass, just enough to whet her appetite. She drinks it on the porch, overlooking the wild garden.
When it's dinnertime, they sit down together. His father doesn't look at his mother. It's a tense silence.
"It's delicious," his mother says, eating delicately.
His father looks up. There's something snide in his face. "You don't look like you're enjoying it," he says.
"I am," she insists.
Peter eats faster. He feels ill. His stomach is too full of stress, and it's like he doesn't have space for dinner. He doesn't take a sip of water. It's a form of punishment not to — it makes eating more difficult. He doesn't know why he refuses the glass of water. All he knows is that he doesn't want to be in the kitchen.
He finishes and quickly sorts out his dishes. He escapes to his room, away from his parents' snide looks and tense postures.
He's sleeping until he wakes. Except he doesn't wake — he is awoken. There's a difference.
He lies quietly for a bit. His stomach is full again, even though he ate hours ago.
He doesn't know what to do, but then he hears a noise and anything is better than nothing, so he gets up and creeps down the hall, silent as a rat in an alley.
" — because I'm not a Pureblood," his mother is saying.
"For the last bloody time, Allie, my mother doesn't think that — "
"What lies," his mother sneers.
Peter halts by the staircase. His heart is beating too fast and there's a roar in his ears, and he thinks that he'll never be sorted into Gryffindor if he's so frightened when it's just his parents —
"I don't lie," his father says tersely.
Peter's hands are trembling. He stops listening for a while because of that roar in his ears, and the snideness in his memories, and the scent of licorice lacquer. When he shakes his head and grounds himself in the present again, he hears: "Shut up. If you don't shut up right now, I swear to Merlin I will hit you, Allie. I will hit you — "
Why is he so scared?
For a moment, he wishes he were deaf.
Then he wouldn't have to listen to this anymore.
"A sensitive soul," the Sorting Hat says.
Peter presses his lips together.
"Ah," the Hat says, "what's this?"
It's found his memories of his parents. It watches how they argue when they think Peter isn't listening; and how they throw snide barbs at each other as if they think Peter's too stupid to understand them.
The Hat sounds sad when it says, "You know, Peter, you're quite brave."
Bitterness so strong that he can almost taste it curls up inside of him. If he were brave, he wouldn't have cried himself to sleep that night, would he? He would've eaten his dinner with a glass of water. He would've marched into the kitchen and said, "Don't threaten Mum." He would've done so much in place of so little.
"Gryffindor!" the Hat shouts. It's a sad shout — if sad shouts are even possible.
He makes friends with James, Sirius and Remus because they're everything he wants to be. It's not a strategy, befriending them. He does it because they're the epitome of all that is Gryffindor. They're happy, best of all. Too often he thinks of his parents and how love can't be real and that souls don't exist. But they laugh and play pranks. They pour him Pumpkin Juice at dinner. It's almost as if they don't know of stress so strong that it fills up your stomach. Either that or they know how to ignore it.
He wants to be brave like them.
Everyone knows Peter is useless at spells. Everyone knows he's too talentless to be friends with the likes of Potter and Black. But there is one spell he knows better than anyone. It's a spell he can cast as easily as breathing. It takes him hours and hours of studying it. It takes him weeks to perfect it. He pesters older peers and his professor to tutor him in it.
And then he masters it and the stress ball in his stomach is soothed a little.
For a moment, he's deaf.
He doesn't have to listen anymore.
"Look, it's the useless Fat Rat," the Slytherin says.
Peter stiffens. He looks like a rat, and he's fat, yes. But it's not fair.
At home, he can't enjoy his food. So when he comes to Hogwarts, and it's just him and his mates, he eats gustily. Main meals and desserts and Pumpkin Juice and snacks.
What does it matter? Can't he have this?
"Look, it's a slimy Slytherin," he says. Fine shivers wrack his body. His fingers ache to reach for his wand. He knows he can't, though. He's not fast enough. Not good enough.
The Slytherin sneers. "Where are your friends, Fat Rat? Did they finally realize how worthless you are?"
Peter presses his tongue to the roof of his mouth. His stomach feels too full. It's the snideness in the Slytherin's voice.
The Slytherin lifts his wand and Peter blurts, "If I'm useless, what does it make you if you want to attack me?"
The wand is steady. "I'm cleaning up the trash."
Saliva pools in Peter's mouth. "Don't," he rasps.
The Slytherin raises an eyebrow. "Don't what, Fat Rat?"
"Please don't," Peter says. It feels like all his blood has pooled into his legs. There are needle-like pinpricks in his hands and feet. His lips are dry and so are his eyes.
The Slytherin stares at him. Peter doesn't understand the emotion in his brown eyes. He doesn't understand the excited flush on the other boy's cheeks.
"You're really pathetic, aren't you, Fat Rat?" the Slytherin says, gliding closer.
The wand is pressed to his nose. "Aren't you, Fat Rat?" The other boy's voice has gone low and cruel.
Nausea churns in his stomach and he takes puffed breaths. He licks his lips. "Yes."
The wand slides from his nose and inches towards his left eye.
Peter's mouth turns down and his throat burns with repressed tears. "Please don't," he says again, like a useless little parrot, because that's what he is, isn't he? He feels dizzy.
It's because of his heart — it's beating too fast and unevenly.
The wand presses deeper into that soft piece of skin just below his eye — that place where shadows gather when he's tired —
A pulse of pain from the digging wand has him bodily stumbling back, and then the Slytherin's eyes flash with anger and his wand flashes with a spell and then Peter is unconscious — the useless Fat Rat is unconscious —
He's sleeping until he wakes. Except he doesn't wake — he is awoken. There's a difference.
It's his mates, talking loudly above him.
They're quarreling over Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.
"Hnng," he says as he tries to pry his eyes open fully. They feel sticky and gritty and the left one aches.
"Peter," James crows. "How are you feeling?"
Sirius sticks his head over James' shoulder and grins widely.
"Peter?" Remus asks quietly, gently touching his shoulder.
"Wher'm I?" he slurs out.
"You're in the infirmary. You're okay, Peter. A Ravenclaw saw what was happening and ran for help." Remus is still speaking softly.
"Yeah," Sirius interjects, "and they got their arse handed to them."
James nods solemnly. "Thank Merlin for your knight in shining armor."
"Your Ravenclaw in robes!" Sirius giggles.
Peter says nothing and then suddenly he's crying. Big, rolling tears slide down his cheeks.
"Oh," Sirius says awkwardly. James looks unsure.
It's Remus that tightens his hand on Peter's shoulder. "You're okay, Peter. You were brave."
Peter wishes Remus had used any word other than that.
He's not bloody brave.
And now he knows — like he's always known, really — that he will never be brave.
Of course his Animagus form is a rat.
At dinner that night, he doesn't drink anything with his food.
They graduate and James gets the girl and Sirius gets a godson and Remus gets scars. And Peter … well … Peter doesn't 'get' anything. He keeps something. He keeps his friends.
He keeps his cowardliness.
Harry is cute. He has big green eyes and a tuft of black hair. He makes strange noises and grasps at Peter's hair.
The little boy drools all over his hand and he smiles, shifting the mini Potter to a more comfortable position. Harry doesn't think he's ugly or worthless. Harry doesn't think much of anything, really.
"Alright?" Sirius says.
Peter's head jerks up. He hasn't been paying attention. "What?"
Sirius' face oozes exasperation. "You'll be the Secret Keeper, not me. Voldemort will never expect it."
His throat closes up. "What? No." His stomach feels too full.
"Sirius is right," Remus says. "No-one will suspect you."
Why is it Remus that supports Sirius? Why is it Remus that thinks Peter is brave?
"No," he says blankly. A part of him burns with anger — of course no-one would expect weak, worthless, talentless Peter, would they? That's what his so-called friends are saying. They're saying he's nothing, for all that they're entrusting him with everything.
"Yes," James says. James always wins.
A wand is pressed to his eye. It's the same Slytherin. He knows this better than he knows Silencio. The boy — man, now — is wearing a Death Eater mask but the position of his body is the same.
The wand is the same.
The pain … is not.
"Tell us where the Potters are," the Death Eater growls out, digging the wand in deeper — so deep that Peter gargles on his own spit.
"No," he rasps out. Has the wand pierced his skin? He can't even tell. It's humiliating that he's being broken without the use of a single spell. He's being broken like Muggles break each other — with words and their hands or their tools.
He's being broken like his parents were broken.
"Tell us, Fat Rat," the Slytherin says cruelly. There's a smile in his voice, as if he's hoping Peter will resist just so he can continue hurting him. They're just playing with him. Things will get worse.
He's so scared. He feels warmth flood his trousers as he pisses himself and then laughter floods his ears.
He can't do this. He's already broken. There's nothing to break.
The Hat was wrong. Remus was wrong.
He's a coward. A parrot and a rat and worthless, too.
He tells them. Some Secret Keeper he is.
I'm so sorry, James, Lily, he thinks. Mostly —
I'm sorry, Harry.
The agony of Harry is abruptly more painful than the wand pressed to his eye or the laughter in his ears or Crucio arching through him as Death Eaters decide he's free game.
Momentarily, he regrets his betrayal, but the feeling washes away.
What's a little more pain, a little more anger, a little more hate in a world that drinks betrayal with its meals?
"Crucio," another Death Eater casts.
No Silencios here.
Part of Peter blames Sirius. If Sirius had only been the Secret Keeper … if Sirius hadn't suggested Peter …
So that's why it's so easy for him to blame Sirius. It's easy, in a sense, to yell out his horror at Sirius.
Easy to kill the Muggles and rush off, sans a finger and his dignity.
He's just a rat. Just another Death Eater, now.
He spends years as Scabbers, the Weasleys' pet rat. Life in Animagus form is muffled. More instinct; less thought. He's not happy, but he's more content than he ever remembers being. As a rat, betraying his friends is less a personal thing and more about survival. Rats understand survival.
"Here, Scabbers," the youngest Weasley boy says, and hands him a little treat.
He takes it and nibbles it.
The boy is playing chess with his friend. He's good at it, Scabber supposes — he knows this because the Weasley boy says checkmate far too often.
"Checkmate," the redhead says, fulfilling expectations. "That's why I love this game," he muses. "It's 'Chess: the game where a pawn can become a queen,' as I once read."
"Pfftt. You read?" the other boy sniggers, and then adds, "Your rat is a sorry-looking thing," as he eyes Scabbers.
"I know," the redhead says, "but he's all I've got."
Ron is all Scabbers has, too.
He's been turned back into a man, physically, but on the inside he'll always be a rat.
They're in the Shrieking Shack and everyone is shouting. The past and its truths have gathered in a single room. Peter can't hide anymore. Sirius got out of Azkaban — because of course Sirius Black is the first one to escape the Wizarding Prison — and Remus knows the truth and so does the Potters' son.
Harry looks like James.
Sirius looks like madness.
Remus looks like shock.
"Then you should have died!" Sirius thunders at Peter. "Died rather than betray your friends, as we would have done for you!"
But Peter knows, doesn't he?
None of them would have died for him.
(He wouldn't die for himself.)
The years pass. The war goes on. People fall like old leaves.
The Potter boy learns of grief. Sirius of death. Remus of prejudice. And people learn to hide from Snatchers, who dart around like dangerous hunters, stealing mudbloods and traitors and everything that doesn't cower.
Peter … Peter learns of service so absolute that it rips pieces of himself away, to be boiled in a cauldron steaming of sacrifice. Peter learns that he'll never be free — from Life Debts or the Dark Lord.
Peter learns of a different sort of battle —
Because … because … Potter is Snatched.
(Maybe — for Harry … maybe.)
"I saved you," Harry growls at him with angry eyes. "I showed you mercy. You owe me. There's a Life Debt."
The Weasley boy — Ron — nods frantically. "Yeah. Let us go, Pettigrew."
The boys are defiant in the face of their imprisonment, as if somehow bravery will save them.
Peter hesitates. This is Harry. The little boy who used to giggle on his lap and who never saw a rat or a coward.
Harry saved his life.
So Peter hesitates.
For a moment, he is deaf to the world, like he's fifteen again and casting Silencio. In this moment of hesitation, he thinks of betraying Voldemort. He thinks of freeing the boys, and doing right by Harry and his parents. He imagines he's brave. He fights a battle against himself — the coward versus the brave.
His silver hand closes around his own throat, sensing his treachery against the Dark Lord.
He is fighting himself. Losing against himself.
He can't breathe.
Harry and Ron claw at the silver hand, and he is flooded with gratitude.
It's like James and Lily are saving him, because all he can see is black and red.
It's like they're saving him even after he killed them.
Instead of timidity, or cowardice, or treachery, he is — for a single moment — brave. His mind is brave (his soul?). He betrays Voldemort in his thoughts — and that's where it matters, right? That's where the battle is, right?
And then he dies.
Peter dies — at his own hand, for all that Voldemort gifted it to him.
Everything is Silencio-ed. At last.
(He wouldn't die for himself. But for Harry — just maybe. Just this once.)
So the rat dies a lion.