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And when this rioter, this devil's clay,
Had filled his bottles up with wine, all three,
Back to join his comrades sauntered he.
-Geoffrey Chaucer, The Pardoner's Tale

There is something to be said about clay. You can pinch it and roll it and make it into any kind of shape you want, flatten it out, and start again. But leave it out too long and it will grow hard, stuck in a shape forever.

Peter Pettigrew often changed himself, prodded and picked at his personality until he became what he thought others wanted to see. He was a person who needed to be accepted, needed to feel like he belonged.

And once he started school, he did belong.

Peter was one of the lucky. For once in his life people wished they could be in his place- wished they could be part of the Marauders. He heard the girls giggle and sigh as the four boys walked past, always in a pack. Deep in his mind he knew they weren't longing for him, but he could pretend and that was good enough.

The first time Peter Pettigrew got detention, he was ashamed. He thought only the worst kinds of kids got detention- what would his mother think? But then James laughed, and Sirius clapped him on the back with that dopey grin on his face, and Peter didn't feel so bad. He discovered only the right kinds of kids got detention. It was a right of passage, they told him. You weren't a real teenager unless you lost at least fifty house points a year, Sirius would remind Peter. But no matter how hard he tried to keep up, Peter could never get as many detentions as James or Sirius, never lose as many points as the dynamic duo. Remus assured him this was a good thing, but what did Remus know? He was smart, he had his books and the teachers' approval. What did Peter have?

Peter had his friends. They never let him brood for long, always coaxing him out of the library or away from his textbooks, urging him into the sun so they could do something "about that pasty complexion," as James so tastefully put it. They would cheer him as he flew into the air on a borrowed broom, and laugh (with him, he always reminded himself) when he would invariably fall off. He wasn't the most graceful Marauder, either.

Time passed and the boys grew up, safe inside the solid castle walls that offered protection from the hostile atmosphere outside. When it was time to leave, it was time to fight, and the Marauders hardly talked about the decision at all. They collectively decided to join the Order of the Phoenix. Something deep inside Peter was afraid. He didn't want to fight. He wanted to stay alive, he did not want to die, he was too young! But he couldn't lose his friends now, not when he needed them the most. He would have to pretend to be okay with it all. Besides, it was always other people that died. Other people that saw the Dark Mark floating eerily above their homes, glistening a sickly green in the night sky.

After their first battle, Peter came home and threw up. So much blood, so much pain. He didn't think he could take this. This kind of life, night after night after night? He considered backing out. He would just cheer on his friends from the sidelines, like he did in Quidditch, not really participating but being there all the same. But he knew they would never forgive him if he did. He couldn't back out, not now- it was join forever or lose it all.

Soon it wasn't other people who died, it was their people. Their friends, people from the Order Peter had known, had talked to, had liked. And Peter was always afraid he would be next. After all, he never showed mercy. He was like a demon, like the big scary monster that had hidden under Peter's bed as a child. But in those days, the monster would just go away if he turned on the light. Now, it would never go away.

Soon, Peter found he could not change so easily. It seemed his friends were wrapped up in their own problems. James had his wife to tend to, and some little baby that cooed and cried and spit up everywhere. Remus and Sirius were consumed in Order work, spending every waking hour trying to hunt down the terror that oozed around them all, their eyes always searching for some evil in the distance. And Peter felt second-best. He couldn't always run as fast as the others, and sometimes he would forget a spell or two. During school this wouldn't have mattered. Nowadays, it meant the difference between life and death. Peter didn't want to die. So he tried to change.

And then someone offered him a chance to live.

Suddenly, he was no longer Peter the tagalong, Peter the sidekick, Peter the just-not-quite good enough. He had power, and control. He was trusted. His new friends didn't doubt his abilities, they actually relied on him. The tables were turned, and Peter liked being a leader. He liked pretending to be the brave, strong one, like James and Sirius. And when he gave him information on the Order, he felt smart, like Remus. Always knowing the answers, and being rewarded for being right.

Slowly, he noticed a change around them all. The Marauders were inching away from each other, nowhere near as close as they once had been. There were accusing stares, suspicious whispers, secret missions. Peter smiled to himself, this was what he said would happen. Sometimes, when the Silencing Charms wouldn't work, he could hear the arguments, the best friends that never never ever fought yelling at each other and punching walls in frustration.

Once, Peter felt a stab of guilt, sharp and painful, and he realized what he was doing. He was betraying his own friends, his family in all but blood. How could he do such a thing? He would just have to change, he decided. He would change back into what he used to be, fit back into that snug, safe little mold. But somehow he couldn't. The lure of power was too strong, the curses that flew from the wands too painful, and he couldn't change himself anymore.

He was moldable, the devil's clay, squeezed and prodded and transformed into what they wanted him to become. And they wanted him to be a killer and a spy. He couldn't fight back as they finished the sculpture, pinched and punched until he was exactly what they had planned.

And then he hardened. His small eyes were cold, and that stab of guilt was no more than a dull throb now and then. When he heard those two words finally whispered, saw the life fall from those arrogant hazel eyes and the brilliant, filthy green ones, he could not feel remorse. By then he had already been cast.

There was no going back.

A/N: This was the result of trying to avoid a challenge piece I was working on. The quote is from The Pardoner's Tale, and the man it refers to poisons and kills his two closest friends. Peter is definitely not an easy character for me to write, so any comments are appreciated.

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