The final battle had been raging for five days by the calendar. The sky was filled with a sickly green glow from the Dark Mark that was blazing over the battlefield; the air was filled with the stink of blood, the rotting flesh of Inferi, and the black smoke of a thousand thousand Incendio curses. The earth was strewn with severed limbs, curse-expelled entrails, corpses slashed to pieces by Sectumsempra, corpses unmarked save for the emerald tinge to their features. Those who were wise didn't look down; it was easier to walk when they didn't know what--or who--they were walking on.
Remus had been fighting by Harry's side for several days. They hadn't spoken for some time; all their spare energy had to go toward standing, breathing and fighting. Talking took more effort and more concentration than they were willing to expend. Occasionally a weak thought would flicker across Remus's mind, making him wonder how Moody or Tonks or McGonagall were doing. Once in a while, Harry would mutter a word that sounded vaguely like "Ron" or--one time--"Hermione."
The two were standing beneath a tree, half-asleep with their eyes open, when Voldemort appeared. And he was not alone. Wormtail was with him. Voldemort's left hand gripped the wrist of his silver right hand like a manacle.
Harry didn't spare the traitor a second glance. All of his attention was focused on Voldemort, and his eyes glittered with exhaustion and rage as he lifted his wand.
Good, Remus thought, gazing at the grey face of his former friend. I can take care of this, then.
But before he could do more than raise his wand to eye level, Voldemort waved his wand and spoke two words.
Remus and Harry fell to the ground, every muscle frozen.
"And now, Potter," said Voldemort in his high-pitched voice, "you will die. But first, you will watch your last protector die before your eyes. And nothing you can do will stop it."
He turned to the miserable, cowering man by his side. "Now, Wormtail. Use that silver hand as it is meant to be used." He pointed his wand at Remus. "Kill your mortal enemy. Kill the monster."
And he released Wormtail's wrist.
Hatred, revulsion and horror warred in Remus. Betraying James and Lily to their deaths wasn't enough. You had to bring him back--and because of that Sirius died as well. And now me.
He wanted desperately to be able to clench his fists, stammer some syllable of his rage, and then tear that foul, cowardly rat limb from limb. But all he could do was lie on the cold, damp ground and stare up at the man who had been brought here to murder him.
Wormtail didn't even deign to notice. He nodded at Voldemort's words, took a deep breath, turned slightly...
...and grabbed the wrist of Voldemort's wand hand with his silver one. And he began squeezing.
Remus stared in disbelief. He'd heard second-hand about Peter's hand; not only was it silver, but it could crush wood and stone to dust.
Voldemort sneered--though his face was twisting in ways that made Remus think that he was suffering considerable pain. "Fool. Fool and traitor. Did you really think that you could destroy me? Ava--"
"Silencio," said Wormtail--and Voldemort's words cut off.
Voldemort struggled to lift his wand--probably to cast a nonverbal spell, Remus realised.
"Expelliarmus!" And the Dark Lord's wand went flying, landing beneath the tree, merely inches from Remus's head. Wormtail smiled a cold, ugly smile and squeezed all the harder.
Blood and bone exploded from the wrist, splattering Wormtail. He didn't even seem to notice. Instead, he pulled on the shattered wrist...and ripped Voldemort's hand right off.
Voldemort collapsed to the ground, writhing in pain, his hideous face contorted in a silent scream. Wormtail walked over to the tree, picked up Voldemort's wand and stared at the maimed Dark Lord with unspeakable hatred in his pale blue eyes.
Then he spoke, enunciating every syllable very slowly, as if speaking to an idiot. "My name," he said calmly, "is Peter."
And then he turned to Harry and Remus. "Finite Incantatem!"
Harry and Remus staggered to their feet. Harry was staring incredulously; Remus was fairly certain that the same expression was sprawled across his own features.
"Why?" Harry demanded. "Why didn't you kill him?"
Wormtail-calling-himself-Peter shrugged. "The prophecy said only you could destroy him. But nothing was said about you being the only one who could hurt him.
"Go on, Harry. Kill him. Finish the fucking bastard off."
Harry did. It was very quick--almost anticlimactic, Remus thought.
Unless, of course, Wormtail was planning to kill Harry now that Voldemort was dead. He was armed with a wand now.
As if divining Remus's thoughts, Wormtail gave him a weary, sardonic look, gripped the wand in both hands and broke it over his knee. He dropped the pieces on the ground, then waved his silver hand in an intricate gesture--as if he were using an invisible wand. "Incendio!"
The pieces burst into flame.
Of course, thought Remus, wondering why it hadn't occurred to him. He spent years without a wand of his own--twelve years or more without a wand at all. If anyone should know about wandless magic, he should. Harry will never be safe until he's dead.
"It's better that it's gone," Wormtail said...and the tone made Remus pause, for the sniveling and groveling that he'd heard in the Shrieking Shack was gone. Loath as Remus was to admit it, he sounded like Peter again...strained and exhausted, as if he'd just completed a ghastly test in an incredibly difficult subject, but Peter nevertheless. "If it had remained, it might've become the Holy Grail of evil, an artifact that every future Dark Lord would try to get."
"Why?" he asked, not trusting himself to use the old name. "Just--why?"
"Because he left me a loophole," said Peter quietly. "He made it impossible for his slaves to commit suicide, and he didn't normally permit us to do anything that might hurt him, but when he said, "Kill your mortal enemy..." He shrugged. "There was just enough wiggle room. I figured I'd never get a chance like that again. So I took it."
"Did you think you'll have a better chance with us?"
"No. I don't think I've any chance at all with you lot, really." Peter gazed at Harry, who was crouched near Voldemort's body, pulling up clumps of grass as he sobbed.
"Then why?" Remus said in irritation. I should be comforting Harry, not talking to this creature.
Peter sounded as if he had just run a marathon. "Why? Because I used to take care of Harry. Because we were once friends. Because his world is hell. And no one deserves to live there for one minute, never mind forever." He hesitated for a moment. "And--though I know you're not going to believe them--because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life being Wormtail the Death Eater."
Arched eyebrows. "What kind of a life do you think you'll have now?"
Peter looked up, and, for the first time, his eyes met Remus's. "I wasn't expecting to have a life," he said softly. "I thought he'd kill me for maiming him--or that once I freed you, you'd kill me, for...well, for past crimes. Whoever did it, I'd be free."
"Death is the best option you can think of?" Remus asked, his tone dripping with scorn.
"Well," said Peter, a sardonic note in his voice, "my other options are a lifetime in Azkaban--exchanging one form of endless captivity for another, you might say--or the Dementor's Kiss. I'm not really enthralled by the prospect of having my soul devoured and destroyed for all time. It may be battered, torn and tarnished, but I'd like to hang onto it."
"Considering the level of your crimes, I'd think that losing your soul would be a blessing," Remus snapped. "Unless, of course, you're looking forward to an utterly hellish afterlife. Besides, you haven't used it for years. Name me one thing that you actually need a soul for. One thing."
Remus, feeling he'd said all that needed to be said, started to turn away.
"You're right," Peter said in a whisper. "I haven't behaved like a human being for most of my life. Most people would probably say that being Kissed is no more than I deserve.
"But if my soul gets devoured by the Dementors, then how can I ever go to James and Lily after I die and tell them that I'm sorry?"