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Flight of the Guilty

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At first, he just ran. The explosion still rang in his ears, echoing along pipe after pipe. Everything was always quick-darting-sharp, his small heart beating fast-fast-fast as he passed by others, twisted and turned and backtracked before finally tucking his exhausted, trembling body into a small corner of the sewer and resting. His paw stung, but everything was simple right now. Rest, stay alert then run, run, run some more.

Cleverest of rats, it was simple enough to find food in muggle London, where half the restaurants left bin bags outside their shop fronts the night before, regardless of council penalties. He didn’t even need to scavenge that far, knowing better than any when to stay still or the best hiding places that humans would not even think to look. But it was exhausting in its own way, running, scrapping, scavenging. The temptation to return to his human form ached at him but the wise, cautious part of him stopped him. They’d all be looking for him, Sirius, Remus, Dumbledore and then Bellatrix, Barty, Rabastan – no quarter to be given on either side if he were caught, it’d be foolish to risk it just to- what? Walk the streets for five minutes? Not worth it.
His body ached though, ached with a wish to stretch back. Six months on, he thought he’d risk it. Not go anywhere, just to feel his own hands and feet again. Holed up in the attic of a particularly high-falutin’ muggle house he waited for the family to leave for the Opera, found himself a relatively comfortable place and transformed.

It did not go well. His muscles trembled and wrenched in a way he had never known them to before. Even in the early days, when it had taken them all a bit of time to get to grips with the transition from human to animal and back again, it had never hurt but after aching minutes he found himself on his hands and knees, grubby fingers spread on the wooden floor in front of him- missing that sad forefinger that had been a necessary sacrifice in the end.
For a moment, he just breathed, feeling the arch of his neck, the trickle of sweat along his foreheard. He stretched a little and sat.

Emotions, in a rat, are animal emotions. It is not that they do not feel, but simply their brains are designed to dart quick-quick-quick to seek needs, avoid predators, find hiding spaces. In the rush of running, scurrying, leaping he hadn’t really had to think about anything.

 

Sirius’ face, wild and furious and so, so angry. Terrifying how much he looked like his cousin Bellatrix in that moment.

James, hair scattered with white plaster dust, eyes empty staring at the sky on the threshold.

Bellatrix’s sharp hands tight on his wrists.

Death Eater meetings, muggles ripped to pieces before his eyes. Lucius Malfoy laughing.

Lily and James looking at him, “We trust you, Peter”

Sirius clapping his hand on his shoulder, “You can do this, mate, I know you can.”

Unbidden, Remus’ tearstained face in his hospital wing bed, as they smuggled him sweets from the kitchens using James’ invisibility cloak.

That pale, hideous, face, “Well done, my little Wormtail.”

James laughing, “That’s us! Purveyors of Magical Mischief!”

James.

James didn’t have to die. HE only wanted the boy.

James’ face, twisted with noisy sobs in the back room of the pub at his parents’ wake.

 

Suddenly, this attic wasn’t safe anymore. Without his animal senses he would not hear if some curious servant came upstairs until it might be too late. He couldn’t smell any invisible enemies that might be waiting for him. The dark lord could find you by your thoughts if he wanted to.

With a wrenching twist, there was no longer a young man lying on the floorboards, only the skittering steps of a rat, running for cover once more.