The fall had come like fate's whisper in his ear.
That high, cold voice from the ether had set Peter's course the moment it slithered over his shoulder like icy calamity manifest. There was no question, no suggestion of resistance; the Dark Lord would have what he desired without exception—so much the better for Peter to make himself truly useful, at last, and secure his place in the new order soon to be.
Peter had landed and broken before he knew he'd slipped. With heart trembling like that of a cornered rat, he spilled secrets under slit-pupiled scarlet eyes that gleamed with the patient expectance of death itself, an inexorable force of nature with desires the world was made to fulfill.
Peter gave Voldemort all that he was, all he could've been, until nothing was left but fear and shame and shaking breath.
To the final gasp he was afraid.
And then, white eternity. He rose from the inscrutable surface he'd woken upon and peered around at a pale void veined with barren trees rising from nothing in the distance. The ashen branches swayed in a breeze he didn't feel. It was a vision reminiscent of the forested backyard of Peter's youth, but when he turned around, there was no modest home with the crooked weathervane—only more mummified trunks.
His heart would've stopped in life. Nothing was worse than what he knew came next, but he turned around anyway; just as surely as he was dead, he knew there was no escape. No longer.
Of course they were there, all of them, and he stood before them like a shepherd of death come to join his flock at long last.
Lily, James, Sirius, Remus. There was a brief impression of uncountable pairs of eyes behind them, eyes he knew and eyes that knew him, all with the same weight of condemnation—they faded when Peter blinked.
"Were they worth it?" Remus said quietly, as if he were genuinely curious, though his eyes were dark as the rest. He looked younger than Peter could remember. "The years you bought . . . were they worth the price?"
"I . . ." Peter couldn't think for the despair sinking through him—couldn't they understand, couldn't they try? "Don't—don't look at me like that! You know, you know we were doomed from the start—the Dark Lord—!"
"Dead," James said, voice filled with pride and satisfaction. Then his tone sank like an anchor, each despiteful word a strike in the gut. "Though you did your best to see it otherwise. Lucky for us your best isn't much."
"Oh, he did well enough." Sirius was hale again, substantial, but the shadow of Azkaban seemed to return as he examined Peter with utmost contempt. "Had me nailed to the wall nice and proper. How long did it take you to plan it all out, Peter? How long did it take for you to decide what our lives were worth?"
They waited as if expecting an answer, and their eyes, their hateful and heartbroken eyes, wouldn't leave him. Peter turned around and ran and stopped; they were there. He cried out his despair and shut his eyes and willed himself away, anywhere but here, anyplace but here.
Brilliant green eyes seized upon his own when they opened again and wouldn't let go.
"You robbed us of Harry," Lily said with a voice like glass. Her glossy eyes begged for reasons they couldn't perceive. "Robbed Harry of us. How could you, Peter? How could you ever?"
It was too much, all of it, too much to bear—Peter burst into shuddering sobs that carried into the pale void, swallowed by indifferent infinity until he caught his breath.
"I was afraid . . . I was afraid . . ." Peter moaned. He hated his being, his powerless self, with everything he had left. "We were dying . . . we were all dying, don't you understand? Sooner or later . . ."
"Are you afraid now, Peter?" Remus asked.
"I'm miserable, Remus . . . I'm miserable, but not—not scared . . . not any more."
"It seems to me," Remus said, "that this is what you should've been afraid of; this thing you've become."
Peter sank to his knees as the will to stand left him, and he received their looks of disgust, pity, hatred, sorrow, like a bleak waterfall pressing him down and drowning him in his own misdeeds.
"You're right," Peter whispered, turmoil twisting in him like a burning serpent. "I'm sorry—I'm so sorry."
The words stumbled inadequately into the space between them, and James's eyes hardened while Lily's softened, ever so slightly. Of a sudden there was a sense of rightness, a feeling so foreign Peter looked around for the source in dazed confusion, and when he turned his head back round, their backs were to him. They stepped away shoulder to shoulder into emptiness.
"Wait—where are you going?" Peter called after them. It felt as though his heart were retreating with them; he tried to stand, to follow, but hadn't the strength. "Please—don't leave me here! Don't leave me!"
"Don't worry, Peter." James alone turned for a brief glance over his shoulder as they were enveloped in stark, blinding light. "You'll have all that ever mattered to you here."