It was always the simplest thing that was his downfall.
When he was struggling to be an animagus, it was the length of the whiskers.
When he was asking out Suzy Sullivan, it was remembering the color of her eyes.
When it was sneaking down to the kitchens, it was that trick step that locked your leg if you landed on it.
"Be careful not to be seen, Peter. That's the most important thing," whispered Fenwick. "If they catch you, goodness knows what they will do to you."
Indeed. All he had had to do was stay a rat. That was all that he had ever had to do. They wouldn't have noticed him and he could have sat quietly in a corner, waiting for them to say something vitally important—something he could bring back to headquarters.
But that was too easy.
And of course, it was always the simplest thing that was his downfall.
"So, Pettigrew," hissed the man sitting opposite him, the man with the snakelike face and the glistening eyes, "What brings you here, of all places? Surely you were not trying to spy on Lord Voldemort?"
The Death Eaters were laughing.
He could identify laughs. He remembered some of them from jeers at school. There was Travers. There was Rosier. There was Snape.
"Look at this quivering little man! Hardly more than a boy! And yet he has the gumption to face me, to bring my secrets back to the Order of the Phoenix, to Dumbledore, to Mudbloods, to my enemies. Look at me, Pettigrew." He did not want to look. He did not want to look into those eyes.
He had never been more scared in his life.
He was more scared than when he had first seen Remus in wolf form.
He was more scared than when James had really lost his temper and nearly set the room on fire.
He was more scared than when Sirius had laughed and threatened to tell Suzy the most embarrassing of his secrets.
He was more scared than when his father looked at him for the last time and said "It's you, now. You have to look after them."
But somehow, involuntarily, his eyes were dragged up and locked onto the ones that were probing into him from the seat by the fireplace.
"Bellatrix," said Voldemort lazily, "what should we do with this?"
A hooded figure stepped forward and a woman's voice came from beneath a mask. "My lord, he is hardly a threat, I think. But he has still crossed us. We should kill him."
Murmurs of assent filled the chamber and Peter broke into a cold sweat.
"Yes, I rather thought of that."
"My lord," came a voice that Peter wished he didn't recognize. "I wonder if it might be better if we did not kill him. I wonder if we mightn't use him."
"What do you mean Severus? Send him back as a spy? A puppet to bring us the words of Albus Dumbledore?"
"Yes, my lord. I think he could prove useful."
"But he is nothing," spat Bellatrix. "He cannot even lie to us. Look at him. He is terrified. There is no way that he could spy effectively."
"We could place him under the imperius curse," suggested a man with a thick eastern-European accent.
"That wouldn't work," said Snape. "His friends would see through it immediately. Even if we told Pettigrew to act normally, I am sure that the werewolf Lupin would figure out, if Potter or Black failed to stop their incessant preening to notice his…unfortunate situation."
"What's wrong with Peter today?" asked Sirius.
"His dad died. Hung himself in the bathroom," said Remus shortly and quietly, as if hoping that Peter wouldn't hear. Peter heard. He also heard the quick intake of breath, the gasp of pity that entered Sirius' lungs.
"No," Snape continued, "I think that, if he should choose to help us, he will be a most effective spy. He was always the best at lying during his school years."
"You are quite the expert, Severus," said Lord Voldemort.
"No. Not an expert. There is little to be an expert about," sneered Snape.
The Death Eaters were laughing again. They were nervous, although Peter couldn't tell that. Blood was pounding in his ears, almost loudly enough to drown out the quiet hiss from the man in the chair.
"Quiet, my friends. Quiet. Well, Pettigrew? What shall it be? I think it is time to pick your poison. Death now, among your enemies, your body turned into an inferi? The Imperius Curse? If you are discovered we shall kill you. Or a willing spy, a servant of the Dark Lord, branded with the Dark Mark, who would die before betraying his master. What shall it be?
It was always the simplest thing that was his downfall.
"No. It should be Peter. They won't think it's him. They'll go straight for me. I mean honestly, who doesn't know I'm your best friend, James. Peter's safe. And he's trustworthy. You'll live until your two-hundred if it's him."
Maybe he could have protected them, but he was not a skilled occlumens and learning that art would have probably betrayed him—as he was betraying them.
"Come on, Pete. You'll be an excellent secret keeper! When have you ever let us down? You're my friend, and I trust you with my life. I trust you with Lily's life. I trust you with Harry's life. Now, will you accept?"
"No, you couldn't lie to Lord Voldemort, Pettigrew. So what shall it be? We are waiting."
"What's wrong, Wormy? You are looking pale today. Is everything all right? James! He's hit the cat again! God, I will throttle Sirius if ever I get a-hold of him! Who gives a one-year-old a toy broomstick? Honestly…"
He wanted to scream. He wanted to run. But there was no escaping and they would only laugh at him. They were already laughing at him. They always had. They had never laughed at the others—just him. He was always their toy, always the rat that the cat played with before eating. Why was he always the weakest one?
"Yes, Minerva, I miss them terribly. More than you can possibly believe. They died too young. And Peter—he was a hero to have gone after Black that way. To sacrifice his own life. It was perhaps a stupid thing to have done, but I would have done the same if I hadn't been recovering from my transformation that Halloween. It was a particularly bad one that year."
"THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED! DIED RATHER THAN BETRAY YOUR FRIENDS, AS WE WOULD HAVE DONE FOR YOU!"
He hung his head and silently extended his left forearm.