Fic: In Rats' Alley
Author: Sullen Siren
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: None, but vague references to Sirius/Remus
Why this one: I didn't specify a story. My criticizer picked this one.
Edited by: bad_elizabeth
"I've loved so many times and I've drowned them all,
from their coral graves, they rise up when darkness falls.
With their bones they'll scratch the window, I hear them call."
-- Jeff Buckley, "Nightmares by the Sea"
Remus Lupin watched rats. He did other things for the Order, of course, guarding Harry, hunting for stray Death Eaters and information about them; but mainly he spent his days watching rats mill about. He watched to see if one stood separate when he stumbled into dark, dank places where they milled in number, beady eyes flashing as they scurried away, the wave of their tails and minute scatterings of their feet making the wolf in him crack its jaws and long for the hunt. In the sunlight he watched for them, he watched for one alone and separate, scarred and old. Even in his dreams, when he wished for solace, for comfort, for memory; even then he watched rats.
It made sense, he'd agreed, three years ago when it was first proposed. Remus knew him best, after all. Well, save one, and that one could hardly have been asked to do it. And it would be important, helpful, perhaps even the edge needed to win the war. He knew Peter. They could break Peter. Peter was careless and slow, too reliant on luck and his no-longer-anonymous disguise. Peter could be made to talk. Peter was less dangerous than the others, more predictable.
Wormtail was their best way in - so Remus watched rats, searching for a pudgy one with patchy fur and a missing toe. He ran errands for the Ministry and hid from the moon once a month, each time sure that THIS was the night Peter could have been caught, if he hadn't been locked inside. If he'd been watching the rats.
He'd forgotten where he'd gone the day before Sirius died. It hadn't been important - that much he knew. It hadn't been vital. No one had lived or died for what he did or did not do that day. A note passed, a whispered meeting in a bar, a silent foray into a place where the Order would not likely be welcomed: he'd done those things and others like them so many times by then it was impossible to remember what he did on which day. He remembered the rats though. He'd seen three - a long skinny one with a missing foot, a small dark one with a gnawed ear, and an old brown one that moved too slowly to keep up as the others of his kind fled.
They hadn't been what he wanted. They never were. And the next day Sirius had been gone. And he remembered the rats; hundreds of rats - a squirming, nervous litany that ran through his mind when he thought of the man he'd been these last bleak years.
Remus Lupin watched rats. This time, the rat watched back. It held its paw - missing toe obvious despite its pathetic attempts to hide it - near its side and stared up at him with watery eyes. Remus just watched. He was good at it. The doors and windows were sealed shut, the tiny room lit only by the light from Remus' wand. Watery eyes blinked and darted, but had no where left to go. He saw the moment the rat realized. Saw the eyes look down as the body grew and changed.
"Accio, wand!" Peter's wand flew from his back pocket and into Remus' hands. He snapped in ruthlessly in half, watching his one-time friend wince as he did so. He stood quietly, the wand shards gripped in one hand, his own wand in the other. He watched.
Peter spoke first, voice nervous and hurried. The tone he'd used when called on in class, as James shook his head and rolled his eyes fondly and Sirius whispered wrong answers that Peter had long since learned to ignore. Sometimes, Remus had told him. Most of the time he hadn't. The voice was the same; frantically whiny and desperately harried. The man was not. Time had been cruel to Peter. Never an attractive boy, he had grown into an utterly uninteresting looking man. Pudgy rolls loitered around his middle and stubby fingered hands fingered his rapidly receding hairline - a habit he'd never outgrown, apparently. His face was gray, lined, and strangely shapeless, watery pink-tinged eyes staring entreatingly and helplessly at Remus. "Remus! I - I was looking for you. I left him, Moony. I'm so-"
"Stop." It was an order, and Peter obeyed.
Peter's voice was small and afraid when he spoke again. "Are they coming?" He nodded silently. "What will happen to me?"
Remus watched him, unmoving and unmoved. "You'll answer their questions."
Logic told him to placate him. To make promises to make the questions more easily answered. He was a creature of logic. "You'll die." Well, not today it seemed.
He sniffled loudly, the sound pathetic and echoing. "But I can tell them things! I know things! I know what He wants to do. I know what He plans! I can help."
"You'll do that anyway."
Silence came again. Peter shifted uncomfortably beneath its weight, shoulders slumped and defeated. He was beaten. Remus wished that it was he who'd beaten him, but Peter had been born that way. "Moony . . ."
"Don't call me that."
"But . . . I mean . . . it's-"
"Don't call me that. I'm not Moony anymore." And he wasn't Wormtail. They were Peter and Remus. A traitor and a werewolf. Wormtail had died with Prongs, and Moony had gone with Padfoot. It was simpler that way.
That soft sniffling again. It itched along his nerves. An irritant. "Remus. I didn't. I mean . . . I didn't know. Sirius . . . they didn't tell me."
There was honesty in his tone. The logical, orderly part of his brain filed that away, made a note. ("They don't tell him everything.") Sirius' name sparked something in him. He'd expected righteous anger. He had none. Instead, there was loss. Now, it seemed foolish not to have expected it. They were all that was left, after all. "Don't. Don't bother lying." He'd never been any good at it. Lies came so easily to James and Sirius - they never stumbled and stuttered over them the way Remus and Peter had.
The silence came again, save the soft sniffling and an occasional barely-choked off sob. When Remus spoke, it startled them both. "Did you hate him?"
Peter blinked, forgetting to sniffle. He'd long since sunk to the floor, sitting in the corner furthest from Remus, his knees drawn in, arms crossed over his chest. He looked like a sad overgrown child. Ineffectual and harmless, a pathetic figure - it would be so easy to forget how many had died because of him. "W-who?"
Peter shook his head emphatically, dull hair and chubby chin flopping with the movement. "N-no. Of course not. I was just . . . I mean . . .You-Know-Who was so strong, and I was so weak and afraid - you know me Moony."
"Stop. It's over. I'm not Moony, you're not Wormtail, and most of this stopped mattering a long time ago. Tell me, or just don't say anything. But don't lie. And I haven't known you for a long time." Remus shrugged. "Apparently, I never did."
"That's not true! Y-you knew! You used to, I mean we were. I couldn't hate them, or you -"
"I would have." It was, Remus reflected as Peter's eyes went wide and strange, fairly true. "They helped you, taught you, befriended you - but they always made sure you knew you weren't as good as them. Me too, probably. I think I would have hated them - us - for that. Is that why? Did Voldemort make you believe you were his equal, Peter? I doubt it. Was he just a loftier subject to abuse you, then?"
"I had no choice! You would have done the same -"
Peter looked at him, and the weak, near-sighted eyes shifted. A veil dropped away, and Remus suddenly remembered why Peter had ever managed to fit with them. Determination. James had seen that early second year, remarking on it with a strange mix of admiration and irritation that led to Peter's gradual acceptance among their small circle. Peter didn't use it often, but when he set his mind to something he never quit. It was how he'd finally mastered his animangus form, how he'd passed his Owls, how he'd finally won a place beside them. Peter smiled faintly, bitterly. "No. I suppose you wouldn't have, would you Moony?" He shook his head. "Everything I did, I did because you all taught me, told me, got me through it. He told me he could make me powerful on my own. No - not even powerful. Competent. Capable. Normal. I wanted that. It started small. A few messages run, a few small acts. I didn't see how far it had gone for so long."
"How could you not have?" He wanted to understand. He wanted it to make sense, because so little did now. He wanted to be able to say he knew why something happened. He didn't know why Sirius or Cedric had died; he didn't know why the Ministry let things get that far. He didn't know anything, but he wanted to know this. He wanted to be able to look at Harry and explain, at last, why this had happened.
A small smile twisted across the man's face. It was repulsive. This man - this former friend - repulsed him now. He wanted to be angry enough to attack. He wanted violence and a cleansing, earned rage. He wanted revenge. But this wasn't the man he wanted revenge on. Not really. He watched instead as Peter shrugged. "I didn't want to. I ran his messages and played his lackey. And then one day I realized I wasn't anymore than I had been to you. I was still nothing. Then Sirius asked me to be Promise Keeper." He stopped and looked at Remus. "It made me someone. It made me someone awful, something traitorous - but someone. And I was so clever. I planned it all out. He told me it was good. He never complimented me. But he did then. And it worked. Or it almost did. I was so close. I was almost there - seated next to him. The favored subject who got him what he wanted. And then . . ." He shrugged again. "I regret it now."
"Do you regret it because it was wrong, or because it didn't work?"
He sighed and rubbed at his face, pudgy fingers moving rapidly and gracelessly - like a rat's. "Does it matter?"
"Both, then." Peter looked at him, and Remus was startled by accusation in his eyes. "You don't know what it's like to be nothing."
He laughed. "You always were an idiot." Peter looked affronted and Remus leaned casually against the wall. "Out there - to everyone else - I'm worse than nothing. I'm a beast, a monster, a cautionary tale mothers whisper to their children to keep them tucked safely in their beds."
"That's not worse. You're noticed."
"What did Sirius ask you to do?"
Peter frowned in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"When he asked you to help, what did he say?"
"He said he they needed my help."
Peter shrugged. "Never understood it really."
"Then let me clarify. Because he thought it was me. The spy, the traitor - he thought it was ME. He thought you were loyal. He thought you would protect them. He wanted to be the bait, the distraction, and let them be safe because of you." He grinned humorlessly. "You were SOMEBODY to him, Peter. You were his friend. All that he said and did - in the end, he trusted you more."
Peter went pale, face twitching faintly, watery eyes looking away. "He just didn't have any other option."
"Dumbledore wanted to do it. I offered. Hell, James didn't want anyone to do it. Wanted to do it himself and send Harry and Lily away somewhere safe while he held their secret. But Sirius wouldn't let him. He wouldn't let me, or Dumbledore - he let you."
There was a noise from outside the walls. Peter started and Remus smiled again. "And look at you now, Voldemort's lap dog - worthless even to him. And now, since Sirius' name is clear, you're Someone to them. How's it feel, Wormtail? You're Someone - you're the traitor who brought back the Dark Lord. The whole world knows your name." He took pleasure at the sudden comprehension on Peter's face, the look of horror and realization.
Peter trembled, weak and worthless. "Remus - werewolves gather to him in dozens. Th-they follow him. He can cure them! I heard him! If they serve him, he can cure them. If you let me go, I can find out - I can ask him."
"I know what I am. Unlike you, I never wanted to be something I'm not." The days when he'd wanted to be normal, human, and loved were long since gone. He'd been loved when he was none of that. He didn't want anything but what he'd already had, and could never have again.
Sounds outside. The distinctive pops of repeated apparation, the low rumble of Moody's voice. "Remus . . . please."
Remus grinned hollowly. "Go on Peter. You're the center of attention - and they all want to talk to you."
Peter started to sob as Remus released the spells on the door and Moody strode in, Tonks close on his heels and a half dozen other members just behind, each clutching a broomstick and looking grimly pleased. They gathered him, encasing him in spell after spell and a magical net they'd made especially - its netting too small to allow a rat to slip through. In moments, no words exchanged, it was done, and they were gone, taken to the skies with Peter slung, sobbing and pleading, between their brooms. Remus didn't follow.
Weeks later he went to the old house he'd worked so hard to avoid since Sirius had fallen through an endless gray. He found him where he expected to. Peter had broken. Remus had known he would. The small man was thinner now, and there was a vacancy behind his eyes. Once, long ago, it would have disturbed Remus to see how the line between the right and wrong side thinned and turned gray and translucent when they broke open a prisoner's head to see what was inside. But he was no longer young and righteous, and it didn't occur to him to find horror in the blank look in Peter's eyes, or sudden thinness of his face.
Peter smiled up at him, wide, guileless, and adoring. The smile of the boy who'd watched James show him - for the hundredth time - how to make a quick right turn on his broomstick without sliding off. "Hi Moony."
The watery, vacant gaze focused for a moment, and Remus thought he saw realization there as the eyes focused on the wand Remus carried at his side. "Moony?"
Remus looked away. "Yes?"
"Why did he think it was you?"
It wasn't the question he'd been expecting. "I don't know."
"I do." Wormtail smiled, the proud look of a child who'd spelled a word correctly.
"Because he wanted to." Remus scowled, but Peter went on without noticing. "After the . . . you know, the Shrieking Shack and Severus . . . you were so angry. And-and you wouldn't speak to him. And then you finally forgave him, and you were friends again. But it was always you who forgave him, you know? It wasn't . . . even."
Remus shook his head. "He didn't-"
"You forgave him. But he made you have to, so he couldn't forgive himself. He wanted to have to forgive you something, too. Because then you would be even again." Peter shook his head sadly. "I was never even. Never equal. 'Course I wouldn't betray James. Someone like me wouldn't dare." He giggled mindlessly. "Bastard." He sighed mournfully, mood shifting suddenly. "He made me laugh though. And he showed me how to do things . . . good things."
Wormtail looked up, and there was awareness in his gaze. "Moony?"
"Yes?" He'd watched rats. Somehow, he'd forgotten the way the rat used to watch them. He'd forgotten how much Wormtail could see.
"I missed you. I-" The lined brow furrowed as Peter tried to remember what he was saying. He did after a moment, smiling proudly at his own cleverness. "I miss us, I mean. All of us. Being an us."
Remus raised his wand. "So do I."
No one stopped him as he left. He hadn't expected them to. They'd all known, after all. No one had dared tell him it wasn't his right. He wasn't sure if he was grateful for that, or if he'd wanted to be stopped.
He didn't know what he'd do now. He was alone and crippled by the ever-turning moon. And there were no more rats to watch, no more dark haired men who held his future behind their eyes, nor more black dogs to share the moon-caged nights. Without that, what was he? For thirteen years he'd asked that question, and then he hadn't had to anymore. He was too far gone to start again.
Remus Lupin was all that was left.
"I think we are in rats' alley,
where dead men lost their bones"
-- T.S. Eliot, "The Wasteland"