The Sugar Quill
Author: Spartina (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Shame  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Shame Disclaimer:  This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J. K. Rowling and by various publishers including, but not limited to, Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, and Warner Brothers, Inc.  No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.

Some notes:  Two quotes from chapter 13 of GoF have been put, more or less intact, into Peter’s mouth.  The epithet “Sneerius,” and the character of Head Girl Gillian Birchett, are borrowed, with her permission, from Susan at iVillage.  All other characters not recognizable as denizens of the Potterverse are mine.

For Susan at iVillage, whose "You Are There" Ficlet Challenge provided the germ for "Shame," and who first read and critiqued this story...and for Birgit, Katinka, Meg, Felina Black, and SilverAries at the Sugar Quill, who were generous with their time, feedback, and encouragement.  And for A. L. de Sauveterre, my SQ beta-reader, in gratitude for more things than I can find the words for.
 
 

Shame


 




There’s something exhilarating about retribution, provided it’s happening to someone else.

You’re used to the consequences of your mistakes falling on your head.  To being found out in the little lies you tell.  To people’s disgust and disbelief when they discover that some small but important matter, something you promised to take care of weeks ago, hasn’t been done because even to think about taking action sends you into a panic that freezes you in your tracks like a Petrifying Charm. You’re used to your continual, dull sense of being in the wrong; to the dread that ties your stomach in knots each time you walk into Potions class, each time Professor McGonagall announces a practical in Transfiguration, each time you open your mouth in Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Professor Tundish, the laziest man alive, seems to spend most of the double Potions period dozing behind this month’s Ars Alchemica with his feet up on his desk, but he has never failed to wake up for each one of your debacles, and the weary drawl in which he says “What is it now, Pettigrew?” is reserved for you alone.  And while old Samzelius spared no one the rough side of his tongue, Professor Skarp-Hedin, his successor both as Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor and Head of Slytherin, takes particular pleasure in reading extracts from your exam papers aloud, for the amusement of the class.

Even when you’re with your friends, if you aren’t careful you’re sure to say something that will elicit a frown or a sigh from Remus, or a tolerant roll of the eyes from James…or a “don’t be thick, Peter” from Sirius, in that tone that makes you think seriously about resigning forthwith from Hogwarts, becoming a Trappist monk, and taking a vow of perpetual silence—possibly as a solitary anchorite walled up in a cell.  I will never open my mouth again, you think, never again, I swear, not for the rest of my life.  But of course, sooner or later you will open your mouth, and there’s a fair probability that something stupid and embarrassing will come out.

Not that you’d give up your friends for anything in the world.  Where would you be without them?  Alone, everybody’s butt and laughingstock—maybe even sent down, for how would you pass Potions without Sirius’s help, or Defense without Remus’s, or Transfiguration without James’s?  And the Slytherins would use you for target practice.  How many times have you thanked every god, every fate, every lucky star in the sky, that the coolest boys at Hogwarts are your friends?  Their praise is air in your lungs, sun breaking through the thickest of clouds on a winter’s day, salve for the blows of fate’s slings and arrows—You’re amazing, Peter, how do you remember all this stuff?  You’ve saved our lives—honestly, you should teach History of Magic instead of old Binns, everybody would stay awake then.  You can live for days on the memory of things like that, turning the words over and over in your mind like a miser playing with his Galleons.  They include you in their exploits—trust you with their secrets—even their greatest, most dangerous secrets.  Because of them you can always remind yourself, whenever your classmates and even some of your professors amuse themselves at your expense, that only seven wizards in all this century—grown-up, fully qualified wizards at that—have done what you’ve done.  And every time you long to shout this aloud and don’t, you prove yourself worthy of their trust.

So you don’t ask for much.  All it would take to make you thoroughly happy would be to dispense—just once would be enough—a dose of the humiliation you swallow every day.  Not to someone like you—for you’re not interested in cruelty for its own sake, you’re not that sort of person—but to somebody who richly deserves it.  It’s only retribution you’re after, only justice, and only a little of that.  Just once you’d like to make the rest of Hogwarts laugh at someone who once made the rest of Hogwarts laugh at you.  Then you’d be content.  Just once you’d like to have the upper hand.

Okay…maybe more than just once.

You’d like to see tears—somebody else’s, for a change, instead of your own.  You admit it.  Is that so awful?  Does that make you a horrible person?

It was your bad luck that you weren’t on hand the day, last December, when Sirius and James investigated the odd noises coming from a broom cupboard down the Charms corridor and found old Snape in there blubbing, sitting on the floor among the mops and buckets.  You were in the hospital wing getting dosed for one of your ear infections, so you missed the sight of him dragged out into the corridor, his face a mess of tears and snot, for half your classmates to see.  He’s been Snivellus to most of your year ever since, though why he was sniveling is a mystery to which you wish you had the answer.  Unfortunately Sirius and James don’t have your curiosity when it comes to things like this.

Maybe it was bad news from home—or maybe it had something to do with Professor Samzelius, though he’s been dead for more than a year now.  Or else it might have been some trouble with his housemates.  Nearly all of the crowd of Slytherins Snape went around with—Rodolphus Lestrange and Sidonia von Bork, Osbie Wilkes and Sirius’s awful cousin (whom only Sirius would have the gall to call Trixibelle) and Nan Wolde and the rest of them—have finished, leaving only Clement Avery and Evan Rosier still at Hogwarts.  To all intents and purposes Snape has no friends left, for Rosier is absorbed in Quidditch, and Avery isn’t exactly what you would call a very present help in time of trouble.  The balance of power in Slytherin house has altered, and Snape’s position is weak.  He has never bothered to cultivate the Slytherins of his own year, a mistake you would have thought him too clever to make. You wouldn’t like to be in his shoes just now.  The Snakes are merciless when they encounter weakness, which they can smell a mile away.

It might have been any of these things, really--Snape's trouble--or all of them at once, or none of them; you've resigned yourself to never knowing for certain.  A pity, as you've something of a personal interest in the reason.  You’re intimately acquainted with the interiors of broom cupboards yourself—so much so that you’ll always associate pails and mops and the smell of Mrs. Skower’s Magical Mess Remover with tears and misery.  More than once it was Snape himself who sent you scuttling there to hide.

But this, now.  This day’s business made up for everything.  The only thing that might have made it better is if you had been the one to inflict Snape’s comeuppance.

The Great Hall has been rearranged for supper, and the four long House tables are abuzz with talk of today’s O.W.L.s.  There’s the Transfiguration exam left for tomorrow, which will have to be got through somehow, but just now you mentally put it out of sight—you have pleasanter things to think of, and there’s roast chicken going, and lamb chops and crisply fried fish cakes and a fine succulent ham, and tender young vegetables and little potatoes in cream.  Just as you’ve filled your plate and are about to tuck in, everybody at your end of the Gryffindor table shifts their place to let four more diners take their seats.

By now, half the House—maybe half the school—has heard some version of what happened out by the lake, and there’s a little explosion of excited talk and laughter, even applause, as they arrive.  James, wearing that half-smile—like a rueful sprite, Remus says—that everyone thinks is charming except the one person he’d like to charm with it, the cut on his cheekbone ugly and inflamed.  Sirius, carrying himself like a prince on the scaffold, about to lay his handsome head on a block; Remus, looking tired and hangdog—you make room for him to sit down, and he takes the place beside you.  And Lily, pink as a flamingo, her lips pressed together with rage—she dumps her bag of books under the bench, and digs the serving spoon into a gratin someone’s passed her as if she’d like to stab it to the heart.

“Don’t talk to me,” you say to Remus.  To your surprise he only nods, looking down at his plate so that his hair falls forward to hide his face.

“I mean,” you say, “I want to fix that scene in my memory for the rest of my life.”  And you do.

Snape’s wand sailing out of his hand.  Snape sprawled on the ground, staring up at James and Sirius in impotent loathing, floundering in the toils of the Impediment Curse, which (as you have cause to know yourself) feels precisely like the times in dreams when you have to run and your limbs won’t work and you can barely manage, with a massive effort, a sort of crippled lurch—if it’s terrifying in dreams, when you sometimes know you’re dreaming, it’s even more so in real life, when part of the curse is the awful conviction, fleeting but absolute while it lasts, that you’re going to stay like this forever.  Snape heaving and gagging on pink soap bubbles…Snape, for one glorious moment, suspended helpless in midair, upside-down and debagged, exhibiting skinny legs and bare backside the color of mutton fat….Only a moment, before someone gave a shout and you looked round to see Her Head Girlship, Gillian Birchett, charging up the slight rise from the lake shore at a run, wand in hand, and looking as if she ought to be carrying a Muggle gun instead—the kind with a bayonet.

Only a moment:  then James released his hover charm and spilled Snape onto the ground again, and the people who were cheering James on a moment before started edging away, and Gillian arrived, all righteous Hufflepuff indignation—“All of you, stay where you are!”  By then old Snivellus was scrabbling frantically to cover himself and get hold of his wand and his books, his normally tallow-white face scarlet and his eyes watering with pain and humiliation.  Gillian took one look, handed him back his wand, and sent him back to the castle.  Then she started on James and Sirius, and on Remus too—so much for that famous Hufflepuff fairness.  (“Correct me if I’m wrong, Lupin, but I thought you were a prefect.”)  You, she ignored; there's something to be said for being the sort of bloke people just don't see.  It's spared you from being carpeted, more times than you can count.  But James, Sirius, and Remus have never had that dubious grace.  The last you saw of them, they were trudging up the hill, with Gillian striding along in front, her robes billowing like a badman’s black linen duster in one of those Muggle picture shows that James and Sirius were wild about last summer.

Bit of an anticlimax, actually.  But you’ll treasure that one moment, while Snape will be living it down for the rest of his Hogwarts career.

When Remus turns to you, you expect to see a grin on his lips that’s the twin of your own.  Instead, he looks as if he’s been slapped. “Let it alone, Wormtail,” is all he says, and his voice is mild enough, but there’s a dangerous glitter in his light eyes, that you’ve seen in Moony the wolf but never in the friend who vets your Defense Against the Dark Arts essays and sleeps in your dormitory…something that reminds you that the wolf isn’t just an unfortunate affliction and that Remus isn’t simply a gentle, clever, perfectly normal bloke who has the bad luck to turn into a monster once a month…

There’s a chorus of voices on all sides calling on James and Sirius for a blow-by-blow (or rather a hex-by-hex) account, and one clear hard voice cutting through all of them:

“Before you deafen us all, why don’t you ask the conquering heroes how many points they lost for Gryffindor with that little display?”

“Oh, draw it mild, Lily—”

One hundred and fifty, that’s how many—that puts us in last place again—”

“—it’s not as if the greasy bullying git didn’t deserve—”

“Excuse me?  Excuse me?  You’re a bullying git, Sirius, but I don’t think even you deserve to be humiliated like that.”  Lily returns her attention to her plate, forking a morsel of chicken as if it were her mortal enemy.  “Although it might do you some good, come to that.”

The figure of one hundred and fifty has had a chance to sink in by this time, and now you can hear gasps of dismay in the midst of the excited babble.  “One hundred and fifty?  For—”

“Fifty points each for Sirius and James,” says Remus, more to his plate than to anyone at the table.  “And another fifty points because of me.”

You can’t believe this—why doesn’t Remus share your indignation—yours, and everyone else’s?  Whose idea of justice is this?  “Why? You didn’t do anything—”

“Exactly,” says Lily.  “He’s a prefect, they didn’t give him that badge so he could sit there with his nose in a book while James and Sneerius wreak mayhem—”

“It’s not as if Snape doesn’t give as good as he gets,” says Margery Paternoster, on Lily’s other side.  “He knew more hexes when he was a first-year than most seventh-years do—he was cursing people from the day he got here.  What about that toad thing he did to you?”  Your first night at Hogwarts, Snape decided to take umbrage at something Lily said, and cast a curse on her that had her dropping toads from her mouth every time she tried to speak.  “He’s the one who drew his wand first—he’s the one who hurt James—really hurt him—and James didn’t hurt him really, just embarrassed him a little—”

You can see Jancis Butterworth, further down the table, nodding her head, about to agree, but “There are ways and ways of hurting people!” snaps Lily, as if Snape doesn’t know and hasn’t tried most of them.

“Another inch or so and James could’ve lost his eye,” says Sirius grimly.  “He’s still bleeding, look—”

“He called you a—a Mudblood, Lily!”  James’s voice is plangent with outrage.

“What about it?  I don’t need a stupid, arrogant berk like you to fight my battles for me.  If I don’t feel compelled to turn him upside down and strip his pants off for saying the M-word, why should you?  It was horrible, what you did, it was foul—”

You hear your own voice, loud and a bit shrill, as if you were hearing someone else talking:  “Oh, stop it, Lily, you’re ruining the finest moment of my life.”

For one moment you have everybody’s attention.  You were hoping that they’d laugh, and Margery does giggle nervously, but no one else.  Remus, James, and Lily are all looking at you, in a way that makes the smile die on your lips.  Your heart has begun to race, and you can’t breathe.

If only they would laugh at you, it would be all right.  If only they would laugh at you, you’d know where you were.
 

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