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Thirteen Steps to the End of the World by Hourglass nomineePaid AccountHourglass winnerScrivenshaft Winnerthirty2flavors

Rating: PG-13. Created: January 10th, 2008. Updated: January 10th, 2008. Read Reviews (25)
Disclaimer: Characters, the magical world, etc, is property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros, not the owner of this fic.

one

 

“Oi, Dumbledore again.” James tosses the card to the pile that lies at Peter’s feet. He bites the head off the Chocolate Frog and speaks with chocolate in his teeth. “’S’practically the only card they make.”

 

Peter only nods. He hasn’t even opened his chocolate frogs because it feels like there are frogs hopping around in his stomach. In three days it will be September first and he’ll begin his first year at Hogwarts. Peter’s excited, but he’s frightened, too.

 

James isn’t, but then James isn’t scared of much of anything.

 

“Just think, Pete,” James continues, “three days and we’ll be at Hogwarts. We’ll be able to do real magic, no more of this stupid kid stuff.” He licks chocolate from his fingers like going to a brand new school with brand new people away from home and his parents is something he does every day. The strange thing is that Peter knows James isn’t just pretending, not at all.

 

Peter nods half-heartedly again, flipping the Dumbledore card in his hands over and over. “Yeah. Neat.”

 

“Hope you’re in Gryffindor with me,” James says absently, not bothering to glance up as he tears open another Chocolate Frog package.

 

For the third time, Peter nods dumbly. He looks at their shared collection of Chocolate Frog cards and wonders what will happen if he doesn’t belong in red and gold.

 

two

 

Whatever the professors might say about house unity, Remus knows early on there is no such thing at Hogwarts. It doesn’t take long at all to notice the way Ravenclaws are friends with Ravenclaws, the way Hufflepuffs keep to themselves, or the way Gryffindor and Slytherin seem to loathe each other on principle alone. You are friends with those in your dorm, those in your house, those with the same scarves and dominant traits as you.

 

For that reason, Remus always thinks that perhaps being Sorted into Gryffindor was the luckiest thing to ever happen in his rather unlucky life.

 

three

 

Peter is James’ longest friend, but Sirius is his best.

 

It’s a fine distinction, maybe, but it’s one that everyone makes. It’s Sirius and James who sometimes say the same thing at the same time, who sometimes finish each other’s sentences, who set the school record for double detentions, whose names are usually spoken in the same breath. Peter knows lots of things about James that Sirius mustn’t, things that can only be learned through a shared childhood, but over the years everyone seems to forget that once-upon-a-time it was Potter and Pettigrew, not Potter and Black.

 

By third year, Peter is pretty sure that James has forgotten that, too.

 

four

 

By fourth year, in Sirius’ mind, there’s his family, and then there’s his family.

 

His family are the ones he spends summers with, the ones he shares a surname with, the ones with the same gray eyes or strong jaws or dark hair as he’s got. They’re family and they’re blood, but after four years at Hogwarts he’s realized blood doesn’t count for as much as people say it does. It doesn’t make a difference in your magical talent, it doesn’t make one person better than another, and – perhaps most shocking of all – it doesn’t make you care for the people you share it with.

 

His family is just three people, and he doesn’t like to think about what would happen if he fell out with them, too.

 

five

 

“It’s really quite something, the four of you.” Lily’s voice is almost grudging as she says it, and she looks up to see James grinning at her cockily.

 

“What can I say? We’re brilliant.”

 

Lily rolls her eyes. “Actually, you’re all idiots, but you’re idiots who get along very well.” James opens his mouth but she cuts him off with a wave of her hand. “I mean it. It’s – it used to make me jealous, if you must know.”

 

He tilts his head and stares at her, intrigued. “Jealous? Of what?”

 

“Oh, just the way the lot of you – you’re very – I don’t know – exclusive. You’re all four in your own little world and while most of the time I’m convinced it’s a world of utter chaos and madness and stupidity, at times it seems like a much better alternative to a world of war and doom and gloom.”

 

He grins at her at her again, but her smile has faded to something more somber.

 

“Besides,” she continues, “I don’t have any friendships like that, the read-your-mind-at-a-glance sort.” She worries her lip for a second and glances down at her parchment. “At least not anymore.”

 

He can think of nothing to say to that, so he envelopes her fingers in his and kisses her temple.

 

six

 

People say things to Peter sometimes, people like Avery and Mulciber and Snape, and even though Peter knows he ought not to listen to them, it’s difficult. He’s never been like James, who laughs off insults without a thought, or Sirius, who’s not afraid to retaliate, or even Remus, who calmly ignores them. When people say things, Peter listens, even if he shouldn’t.

 

They say things about how he’s not as talented as his friends – that the only reason he’s made it to seventh year at all is because they help him so much, and do they cut his meat for him, too? They say things about how short he is, ask if sometimes the others forget about him completely because they forget to look down, or ask what the world looks like from a thirteen-year-old girl’s perspective. They ask if he’s in Gryffindor because of how much bravery it must take to look like that every day. They say the only reason he’s allowed to be friends with them at all is so he can act as James’ personal fan club and to make the other three look better.

 

Peter tries not to listen to them, he really does. Actually, he tries to avoid the situations at all – they never say things like that if Sirius or James or Remus is in earshot, and so Peter sticks close by them so that the insults don’t have a chance to reach him.

 

The thing is, he thinks, it would be so much easier to ignore them if only James and Sirius and Remus didn’t joke about those very same things. They’re just jokes, he knows, and he tells himself that, but sometimes –

 

Sometimes, well, he supposes he must have a pretty bad sense of humour.

 

seven

 

One of the most frustrating things about being friends with people like Sirius Black, James Potter and Peter Pettigrew is that the score’s never even. There is simply no way that Remus can compete; it’s hard to even stay on the scoreboard.

 

In school he exercises restraint, reigning in his reason and allowing them to get away with more than he should. He does it partially out of fear, unsure how they’d react if he’d told them off for their more mean-spirited pranks, and partially because he doesn’t have the slightest idea what else he can do. They’ve done a lot for him, defied prejudice and studied hard and broken laws and risked permanent disfiguration, and all he seems to do is spare them a few detentions.

 

After Hogwarts, it’s even worse. James insists he doesn’t mind – insists he won’t miss the money – insists that “something good’s got to come out of being an eighteen-year-old orphan, right?” – but Remus can’t shake the notion that he’s sinking further and further in debt.

 

It’s not as though James is charging interest. It’s not even as though it’s some sort of loan that Remus has to repay; James has made that clear. Still, a bit of guilt gnaws away at him with every Galleon, and against his better judgement he keeps a mental tab he knows he’ll never pay off.

 

eight

 

The first seeds of doubt come after a battle with the Death Eaters.

 

Like many battles – every battle, it seems – they’d been out-numbered. The Order had only been able to send seven members at last-minute notice, while the Death Eaters had upwards of a dozen. It had been a hard, brutal duel and in the end the Order, vastly outnumbered, had been forced to retreat.

 

In itself, it wasn’t anything unusual.

 

What was unusual was the focus the Death Eaters seemed to have on Lily Potter.

 

--

 

James is shaking.

 

He keeps one arm locked around Lily’s waist, as though if he lets go she might disappear, and the other hand keeps tracing up and down her side – her arm, her shoulder, her cheek, her hair. Lily keeps her hands clutched on his shoulders; her cheeks are flushed and her eyes locked in a far-away gaze.

 

Peter leans against the doorframe, staring at the ground, face pale. Remus perches on the windowsill like a vulture, gripping the ledge so tightly his knuckles turn white. Sirius paces the room, unable to stand still, raking a hand through his hair and wiping blood from his lip.

 

James’ voice is frantic. “You’re all right? You’re okay? You’re sure? You didn’t get hit with anything? Any – curse or jinx or hex or –”

 

“I’m sure, I’m fine,” Lily mumbles, dropping her forehead to his sternum. Her voice is thick with something like tears. “I just – they – too many –”

 

“Four on one,” Sirius mutters darkly, a jagged edge like a snarl in his voice. “As though that’s a fair duel.”

 

“There were more of them,” Remus notes, bitter. Something like a burn, the remnants of a hex, runs along his neck. “There’s always more of them than there are of us –”

 

“No one else had odds like that,” Sirius snaps instantly. “No one had more than two, some of us were only dueling one –”

 

Lily murmurs something that gets lots in the folds of James’ robes as he wraps his other arm around her and pulls her tight.

 

“Maybe they wanted to force a retreat,” Peter suggests, looking up for only half a second.

 

“Well, worked if they did, didn’t it? It’s not as though we had much of a choice but to pull her out of there before sheer probability –”

 

“Do you suppose they were just planning to finish us off one by one that way?”

 

“I don’t think they –”

 

“They knew,” Lily says finally, lifting her head from James’ chest, her whole voice wavering.

 

Instantly, they’re silent. James’ face drains of its colour and Sirius halts in his pacing to look at her.

 

“Knew what?” he asks.

 

“They – they knew –“ Lily repeats, “they – they kept aiming at – at my stomach.”

 

For a moment, the silence spreads like a tumor. And then –

 

“But they can’t,” James reasons. “It’s … they’ve… the only people we’ve told are in this room.”

 

James’ observation is met by a long silence.

 

--

 

Lily gives up fighting on the front lines after that. When Harry’s born, she finally convinces James to do the same.

 

The incident isn’t spoken of again, but it’s never quite forgotten.

 

nine

 

There’s an Order meeting the day before the full moon and Remus Lupin is weary.

 

He can already feel the moon in his bones. His joints ache and it’s nearly impossible for him to concentrate on the meeting at hand. There are distractions, smells and sounds he never seems to notice when the moon is slimmer, and when the meeting ends he hastens to make his retreat.

 

Sirius grabs him by the elbow and pulls him back.

 

“Listen, Moony,” he starts, casting a suspicious glance at the retreating backs of the other Order members, checking to see they’re out of earshot. “James can’t make it tomorrow, and I’ve told him I’ll take care of it, but I’m supposed to work with Hestia tomorrow to-“

 

Remus cuts him off with a hand. “It’s fine.”

 

Sirius frowns, unconvinced. Peter hangs back, looking over his shoulder to watch the two, and Remus sends him a slight smile.

 

“You sure?” asks Sirius. “I could get someone to cover for me, you know, make something up, or -”

 

“I’ll be fine. Work with Hestia.”

 

“Peter could do it, couldn’t you, Wormtail, and then –”

 

No.”

 

Remus says it harsher than he intends to. The last thing he wants is for everyone to rearrange their schedule because of him, so that Sirius can be there to stop Remus using his own leg as a chew-toy. It’s dangerous without Prongs – whatever Sirius may say, Padfoot is smaller than the wolf, and alone Padfoot will get hurt. They’ve never seemed to understand that what they brush aside as a couple of cuts and bruises are more than that – they’re solid, tangible symbols of the danger Remus poses even to those he loves, even to other animals with teeth and claws and antlers.

 

And anyway, he’s already far enough in debt.

 

Remus takes a deep breath to amend his statement with a smile. “It’s fine, Sirius. I can take care of myself.”

 

--

 

There are three werewolf attacks that full moon, one of which takes place only fifteen minutes from where Remus lives. The victims are strategic – one Muggle is killed and two children of Ministry officials are bitten. One of those children is Marlene McKinnon’s niece.

 

When Remus hears the news, he is nauseated. It brings forth long-dormant memories of yellow eyes and sickeningly warm blood. He cannot fathom how people like Fenrir Greyback exist, how they can willingly give in to the wolf without so much as a fight.

 

Worse than the flashbulb memory is the next Order meeting. The other members keep their distance and send him peripheral glances. When he offers Marlene his condolences, she never quite meets his eye.

 

The very worst of all is the subtle way Sirius switches his usual place at Remus’ side for the seat between Dorcas and Emmeline, and the way Peter’s voice shakes with nerves when he says no, he can’t go for a bite to eat, he’s got things to do.

 

ten

 

James takes poorly to the idea of there being a traitor, and even worse to the suggestion that it might be Remus.

 

It’s Lily and Sirius who suggest it to him – Lily and Sirius, he’s sure, because neither could do it alone and because they assume that between the two of them, his wife and his best friend, he’s bound to listen. When he rejects the idea they send each other this look that just screams “oh, poor naïve James doesn’t understand the ways of the world” and he wants to yell at them.

 

They’re the ones who don’t get it, he thinks bitterly. They’re the ones who don’t seem to see that if you’ve already lost faith in everyone, then what’s the point in fighting at all?

 

“I know you don’t like it, James,” Lily says that night, after Sirius has gone and they’ve put Harry to bed, “but it – well, we’ve got to be careful.”

 

James glowers out the window and ignores her hand on his arm.

 

“It’s Remus, Lily.”

 

That statement should be enough, he thinks.

 

“I know,” she says complacently, and he wants to yell no you don’t!

 

“We’ve been friends for ten years!”

 

“I know, James, but he – well – people change, sometimes.”

 

She sounds as though she’s talking to a child. He wonders if she thinks she’s talking to Harry.

 

“Not like that,” he snaps. “They don’t go from being… the most, the most selfless and kind to – to being a Death Eater, Lily, they just don’t.”

 

She drops her hand and he sees her fold her arms across her chest.

 

“Damn it, James,” she hisses, “sometimes they do, okay? Sometimes friends change even if you thought they wouldn’t – sometimes they let you down – sometimes they grow up to be completely different than the person you thought you knew. Sometimes they hurt you and sometimes you’ve got to just - just stop making excuses for them and open your eyes and accept that you’re wrong and they’re not who they’re supposed to be.”

 

He looks at her then, and she turns her back to him and presses a hand to her mouth. He almost says, don’t you dare compare Remus Lupin to Severus Snape, but her breath hitches just the tiniest bit and so he places a hand on her shoulder instead.

 

eleven

 

Sirius spends much of his life refusing to be afraid.

 

He supposes that must be the reason that he’s a Gryffindor, not a Slytherin. Fear is something that he learns early on to channel into other emotions – into amusement, into confidence, into recklessness, into anger. Fear is a waste of time, a waste of life, a show of weakness and vulnerability and it almost always gives the enemy the upper hand.

 

Still, when James asks him to be the Secret Keeper, something cold squirms inside Sirius when he finally realizes they might not all make it out of this one.

 

twelve

 

When they tell him about the plan, Peter can hardly believe it. It is ridiculous in so many ways: it’s ridiculous that they should choose him, him, ridiculous that they suspect Remus, ridiculous that without knowing it they’re signing their own lives away. It isn’t supposed to be like this, Peter thinks, it’s never supposed to be this easy ... not for the bad guys.

 

After everything’s been planned and the dates have been set, just as he’s about to follow Sirius and Lily to the door, James stops him.

 

“You all right, mate?” James asks, tilting his head with an infernal look of concern. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

 

Peter swallows and nods. “I’m fine,” he says, and he manages to sound somewhat convincing. “Just … surprised you trust me with something this big, I guess.”

 

There, Peter thinks. That way, it’s not a lie.

 

James just furrows his brow then shakes his head and leads Peter to the door with a hand on his shoulder.

 

“’Course I do, Pete.” James flashes Peter one of those Quidditch star grins, the same sort he’s worn all his life. “Known you longer than the rest of these bastards, haven’t I?”

 

“Right,” Peter says, and finds himself wondering why James couldn’t have said that just a year or two earlier.

 

thirteen

 

In all lives, there’s at least one moment of dark epiphany where the bottom of your stomach seems to vanish like steam into the air and your body goes numb and there’s something inside you whispering no no no as if it can’t bring itself to scream. It’s like watching the world explode, then rewinding - and getting stuck in the second just before it happens, unable to do anything at all.

 

For Peter, it’s when the Fidelius Charm is cast and he’s leaving the Potters’ cottage and James catches him by the arm to say, “Thanks again, Pete.”

 

For James, it’s as he hears Lily run up the stairs to the nursery and realizes that neither of them have their wands and he thinks Peter, Peter, Pete, what happened?

 

 For Sirius, it’s as he watches Hagrid take Harry from Godric’s Hollow on that damned motorbike and knows nothing will ever be right again.

 

For Remus, it’s when he hears Hestia’s gentle explanation and wonders why, why, why didn’t Sirius kill him, too?

 

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