The Sugar Quill
Author: DarkWitch (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Dutch Courage  Chapter: Default
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Dutch Courage

DUTCH COURAGE

 

This is the bravest thing I will ever do.

 

The hell of it is, I had to get drunk to do it. Not just tipsy, not just pissed. I'm so drunk right now that if I drop my quill I'll fall over trying to pick it up. That's what it took to get me the point where I was willing to relive it all. So you'll have to forgive me if I sound a bit odd at times. It's the best I can do.

 

The best I can do. That's a funny phrase for me to use. Me, of all people. I betrayed my friends and everything I had been brought up to believe in, ignored every example that had ever been set for me, took the friendships that had been given to me and destroyed them, one by one. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I should start at the beginning.

 

The beginning, for me, was the first of September, 1971. It was the day of my first trip on the Hogwarts Express, and the day I met my best friends.

 

My best friends, and my worst enemies. Funny how similar the two can be.

 

James came first. He was tall even then, at least in my eyes. Tall and skinny but not awkward James was never awkward he had bright hazel eyes and round wire-rimmed glasses. He had a thick mane of black hair that stood out in every direction as if it was affected, like everything around James was affected, by his boundless energy. His energy was like a magnetic field, drawing everyone to him. He was the center of our little universe.

 

Sirius came next. Tall like James, thin like James, with dark hair already longish, and brown eyes that held an excitement and relief so intense it was intimidating. Unlike James, he was endlessly energetic but not at all self-contained. If something went by in the corridor outside our compartment, Sirius had to know what it was. If someone went by, Sirius had to meet them. He had half the first year girls in love with him before we'd made it halfway to Hogwarts. He wasn't the center of our little universe, but he was the star closest to it.

 

Remus was the third arrival in our little group. Shorter than the other two, skinny in a way that was vaguely unhealthy, brown-haired and amber-eyed, he was reserved where the others were outgoing. He was solemn where the others were constantly laughing and cheerful. He seemed wise beyond his years. Where Sirius and James formed the center of our universe, Remus was the force that kept it together. He was, to us, gravity. Gravity. What an apt word for the polite, somber boy Remus was. Even in his rather shabby-looking robes, he had a dignity that the rest of us were sorely lacking.

 

I came last. I hadn't been able to find an empty compartment on the train, and I knew no one. Too shy to ask if I could sit in their compartment, I watched them through the window while trying to manage my heavy trunk, which was nearly as tall as I was. It was when the sixth-years came through the train and began to taunt me that Sirius bounded out of the compartment, followed by James and Remus. They ushered me into the compartment, Remus lugging my trunk behind them, as though I were a long-lost friend they had been waiting for. The sixth-year boys, stunned by the sheer effusive rush of their strategy, lost their moment when the compartment door shut in their faces. So I was in, and even though I was the last one in, I was happy enough. Far shorter than even Remus, blond, pale, and chubby, I became one of them before I was even entirely sure what had happened.

 

I was in awe of all of them. I'm sure they never realized how I saw them; I never told them, and it wouldn't have occurred to them to ask. I'd spent a lifetime being picked on by taller, stronger boys. No one had ever stood up for me. I'd been taught that if I couldn't learn to stick up for myself, I'd get bullied around. I couldn't learn. So I got bullied. Then, out of nowhere, three complete strangers, the kind of boys I'd wanted to be like all my life, plucked me out of danger and made me their friend. Made me think I could be like them. For a while, I even believed it.

 

We were all so very wrong about that.

 

It was the happiest time of my life, that first train ride. Even now, nothing really compares to it. For the first time ever, I had friends, who laughed with me instead of at me, who joked and argued about Quidditch and compared our small bit of knowledge about Hogwarts. James and Sirius had older cousins who had gone to Hogwarts, and had loaded them down with stories about the school in the weeks leading up to our first journey on the Hogwarts Express.

 

We talked about the Sorting, decided with more hope than certainty that it couldn't really have anything to do with dueling another first year to see who came out best, and ate so much we were all half-sick when we arrived at Hogsmeade Station. This, combined with the boat ride across a stormy lake and our anxiety about the Sorting, had us feeling decidedly queasy as we climbed the stairs and entered the Great Hall. But we suffered it together, grinning nervously at each other as we stood waiting.

 

We were relieved to see the stool and the Sorting Hat brought out. Even Sirius and James, who already knew quite a few spells compared to the rest of the first years, were grinning as though they had just won a hundred galleons in a Daily Prophet draw. Sirius was among the first to be called. He walked up to the stool, his longish hair shining in the candlelight, showing no fear, although he later confessed he'd thought he was going to be horribly sick in front of the entire school. Still, he walked up confidently and sat down on the stool, and I thought he was the bravest person I'd ever known. The hat was put on his head, and within a few seconds it shouted, "GRYFFINDOR!" Sirius ran down to the Gryffindor table, grinning widely, showing every bit of his relief.

 

Remus came halfway through the Sorting, and the hat had barely touched his head before he, too, was Sorted into Gryffindor. James and I grinned at him and waved, and Sirius, clowning around, gave Remus a big hug that made the table laugh as Remus slid into a chair near Sirius.

 

All too soon, it was my turn. I was sure I wouldn't make it into Gryffindor. You had to be brave for that, and I wasn't. I walked up to the stool. James told me later I looked like a condemned prisoner going to Azkaban. That sounded about right to me, given my dread of the process. I sat on the stool, and the hat was placed on my head. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard it speaking to me, inside my head.

 

"Here's something new for a change. Pettigrew, hmmm . . . let's see. Could be Slytherin,

there's quite a bit of cunning here. A bit of ambition, but only a touch. Perhaps Hufflepuff

. . . but you want Gryffindor? Hmmm. . . Gryffindor. Well, you might fit there after all.

Seems you've found some Gryffindor friends already. They certainly seem to think you're

Gryffindor material. You're a tough one, no doubt of that. Oh, well, if you're sure you

want it, better be. . . GRYFFINDOR!"

 

With more relief than I've ever felt in my life, I jumped down off the chair, then ran over to the Gryffindor table. Then had to run back, red-faced and completely embarrassed, when I realized I still had the Sorting Hat in my hands. As I passed James, still waiting in line, he gave me a grin, and he clapped me on the back when I passed him again, heading for the table. I don't think my feet touched the ground for the rest of the day. Especially when we made friends with Lily Evans, a pretty red-headed girl with the greenest eyes I'd ever seen.

 

James, who walked up to the chair even more coolly than Sirius had, seeming now that the time had come to enjoy the whole thing, was Sorted into Gryffindor almost before the Hat touched his head. That didn't surprise me. If anyone had seemed likely to be sorted into Gryffindor among the four of us, that person had been James. To me, Gryffindor seemed like the best House there was. And if it was the best, James belonged there before any of us did.

 

It wasn't until we were all in bed that night that I began to think about what the Hat had said. The Hat had thought I was cunning, but not ambitious, and had readily passed Hufflepuff.

 

Didn't it think I was loyal, then?

 

It hadn't seemed to particularly want to sort me into Gryffindor.

 

What did that mean?

 

I thought about how long it had taken to Sort me into a House. My friends had gone quickly, within seconds of the Hat being set on their heads. When I'd finally sat down at the Gryffindor table, Sirius had asked me, laughing, whether I was having a conversation with it. So it must have taken longer than I'd remembered. Long enough, certainly, for people to notice.

 

Was there something wrong with me? Had the Hat made a mistake?

 

I began to think so.

 

My friends, however, didn't seem to think the Hat had been wrong. I clung to that desperately, through our first week at Hogwarts. It quickly became clear that I was a disaster at Potions, and little better at Charms or Defence Against the Dark Arts. Transfiguration wasn't so bad, but Herbology was awful. History of Magic was fine but then, the most difficult part of the class was staying awake. Sirius and James never seemed to pay attention or study too much, but their homework marks were far better than mine. Remus was the one who studied too much, according to James and Sirius and his grades were excellent. Mine were below average. Pretty far below it, if I'm going to be honest with myself.

 

And that's what this little exercise is all about, isn't it?

 

Those first few weeks set the course for our years at Hogwarts. The others seemed to breeze through, while I was always scrambling to try and keep up. James and Sirius made the House Quidditch team our second year. Remus made top marks. I struggled, but at least I had my friends. And they helped me become more than the marginally competent Wizard I otherwise would have been. We found out Remus' secret. We worked hard in all our years at Hogwarts I've never known James and Sirius to work as hard at anything that wasn't making trouble to become Animagi, so we could keep Remus company during the full moons.

 

It was one more thing that I couldn't keep up with them at. If it hadn't been for James and Sirius I couldn't have managed it. Still, they did help me. They kept the four of us together. I was important enough to them that they made sure we wouldn't be parted in this new adventure.

 

It was only at night that I felt the scales tipping further. Only in the troubled moments before I slept that I knew, deep in my heart, that I would never be as good as the three of them. Not if I worked desperately hard for years and years.

 

It was hard not to hate them for that.

 

Then I would remember that I had my friends, and that they cared enough to make sure I could keep up, and sleep would come.

 

Seventh year. James was Head Boy, and our lead Chaser, and he was dating Lily. Remus was a Prefect, and had top marks in our year. Sirius had girls following him everywhere. He used to joke that he had to go to the bathroom to get a moment's peace. None of us took him seriously. He loved every moment of it.

 

And what of me?

 

I was their friend.

 

Friend, in that context, was beginning to feel like a synonym for 'sidekick.'

 

I loved them all.

 

I was starting to hate them as well.

 

They were so effortlessly good. I don't mean that they didn't get into trouble, or that they didn't make trouble, or that they were unusually mature and responsible for their age. They weren't. Not by a long shot. You only have to remember how James and Sirius used to taunt Snape and make his life a misery. How Remus, a Prefect, had stood by and watched them do it. How Sirius endangered Snape's life, and Remus' as well when he lured Snape into the tunnel leading to the Shrieking Shack, Remus' hideout during the days of the full moon.

 

They were no better, at times, than the bullies who had tormented me before I had come to Hogwarts.

 

Yet they were so much better.

 

I suppose the best way to describe it is that they seemed to shine with a light like the sun, a light no one else had. Perhaps it's the alcohol buzzing in my brain, but to me, despite all their faults, they seemed to be better than it was possible to be. They seemed like young men the gods had favored above everyone else.

 

And if they had been favored specially, if they shone brighter than the stars, what of me?

 

Friend.

 

Sidekick.

 

Did they pity me?

 

Would I ever find my own place, out of their shadow?

 

I wanted my own place so badly.

 

What is it that Muggles say?

 

Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.

 

Fancy that, Muggles being right.

 

***

 

For me, my wish was granted not long before end of our seventh year. In a darkened hallway on my way to Potions, I was offered the chance to leave the shadow for a deeper Darkness. Seven years of waiting to find my place evaporated into mist. Someone wanted me for myself. Not James, not Sirius, not Remus. Me.

 

More fool I for believing it.

 

I would love to call it a moment of weakness.

 

That would sound so much better than what it really was.

 

But sitting here alone in the dark, after it's all said and done, I can't lie to myself. In vino veritas.

 

In Firewhiskey veritas.

 

Even if I wanted to lie to myself and I do, so badly I can taste it the Firewhiskey won't allow it.

 

It wasn't a moment of weakness. It was a single moment in a lifetime of weakness.

 

There's a big difference.

 

I knew they were lying to me when they recruited me.

 

It didn't seem to matter then. What mattered was that finally someone had come to me first. Finally, someone wanted me. Even if it was no more than words, sometimes words were enough. Had anyone ever really needed me before? To be needed--that would be enough.

 

Or so I told myself.

 

After that, it all seemed to happen so very quickly. The mark, cut deeply into the skin of my left forearm. The Order of the Phoenix. Information gained from the Order, passed along to the Others. Passed along to Him.

 

At first the information was trivial. What did they know? Who did they suspect? The demands grew, so gradually that I barely noticed while it was happening.

 

Would that have mattered? I doubt it.

 

James and Lily married. They had a son. The information He wanted became more and more detailed, more and more crucial.

 

Did the Order suspect that there was a spy in its midst?

 

Certainly.

 

Did they suspect me?

 

Never.

 

One advantage of being the sidekick is that no one expects much of you either way. They don't think of you as someone who can do things on their own. You don't have your own place. You're just part of a group, and they just want you to be there.

 

When the Order found out that Lily and James were being targeted by Voldemort, I nearly gave it up.

 

He hadn't told me. Someone else had discovered the plan in time to warn the Order.

 

Lily and James were my friends. They had been my friends for ten years now. I had danced at their wedding. I had held their child in my arms.

 

Even sidekicks have their good moments. When Lily and James were forced into hiding, I very nearly gave it all up. When they started discussing the Fidelius Charm, I knew I was very close to losing friends I'd had for half of my life. Losing them permanently. The idea of it terrified me so badly that I very nearly turned aside from my chosen path.

 

He would have killed me. He had told me so Himself. I would have let it happen, to save my friends. They had done so much for me. I owed it to them.

 

I was so close to making good on every promise friendship would have required of me.

 

I promise to protect you. I promise to protect your child. I promise to repay every loyalty you have ever shown me by keeping you safe.

 

I promise to be as good to you as you have always been to me.

 

They chose Sirius as their Secret-Keeper.

 

My path was chosen.

 

***

 

Sirius and I switched places at the last minute.

 

It was, as Sirius said, a ruse. I was a decoy.

 

I would never have been chosen otherwise.

 

Even as I knew it was a brilliant strategy, I knew what it said about me.

 

Willing to hide.

 

Afraid and unable to fight.

 

I hated him for his bravery. He would have died for them. He switched places with me knowing he was going to die for them. Knowing that Voldemort would come after him. Knowing he would be destroyed.

 

And he owed them nothing. He had always been their equal.

 

It brought my selfishness home to me. I would have died for them, but only to repay them for their friendship.

 

He would have died for them because he loved them.

 

No wonder I was only the sidekick.

 

My path was chosen.

 

***

 

The week after the Fidelius was performed is a blur in my mind. Hiding. Delivering the information to Voldemort. Hearing that the Potters were dead, and that Voldemort had disappeared, defeated by Lily and James' baby boy. Knowing that Sirius would be coming for me. He was the only one who knew about the switch. Now that Lily and James were dead, he would find me. Because only I could have given the Potters away.

 

He did come for me. He would have killed me. Should have killed me. But he was expecting the sidekick.

 

My sidekick days were over.

 

I took care of him instead, and Sirius was sent to Azkaban. The next twelve years are years I try to forget. Years I spent in my Animagus form, pet rat to a boy whose younger brother would become Harry Potter's best friend.

 

Ironic, isn't it?

 

James worked hard to help me learn the disguise that would allow me to escape punishment for his death. That same disguise would bring me back to Harry, James' son, twelve years later, and would allow me escape justice a second time.

 

When I found Him again and I was the one to find Him all that went before was forgotten. He needed me. Me. I was the only one He could rely on. I did what was necessary to get Him back to England. I did what he needed to give Him a body again.

 

Me.

 

I'm not ashamed to admit that I was terrified of Him. Stronger Wizards than I have been terrified of Him.

 

But He didn't need them to help Him.

 

He needed me.

 

So now I sit, almost asleep in my chair, my silver hand gleaming in the candlelight, as I write this. The bottle of Firewhiskey is empty. And I'm running out of courage.

 

So I'll just write this last little bit before my store of courage is as empty as the bottle beside me.

 

I can't justify what I've done.

 

I killed two of the best friends I ever had. In killing them, I set the stage for a third to die.

 

I am a supporter of the Dark Lord, who is trying to kill the son and godson of the friends I've destroyed.

 

There is no hell dark enough for me.

 

I am a supporter of the Dark Lord.

 

The Firewhiskey is kind.

 

I can admit it now.

 

I deserve no better.

 

***

Author's note: Original content 2004 by DarkWitch; story based on content and situations created by J.K. Rowling, and no infringement of any and all copyrights held by her is intended.

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