Peter Pettigrew transformed in one nameless Hogwarts corridor or another. Undoubtedly, he would remember where he was soon--his mind was better as a man than it was as a rat--but for the moment, he just let himself be lost, sinking as far back into the shadows as he could, ready to transform back at the first sign of movement.
But he had to get off his front paw. Now.
He hadn't meant to cut quite as deeply as he had, just to let enough blood out to mark Ron's sheets. But the damnable cat had come in while he'd had the knife, and it had startled him. Only twelve years of practice had kept him from crying out.
The cat--Crookshanks, they called it--had ducked his ill-tempered kick, which was probably a good thing. It would have caused quite a row if the cat ended up injured. Instead, it had just jumped up onto the Longbottom boy's nightstand, hissed at Peter, and grabbed a piece of scrap paper, for what purpose Peter could barely guess (and didn't want to). There was something wrong with that cat.
As a result, the cut in his hand was nearly bone deep and had gushed at a rather alarming rate. He'd wrapped the hand in one of Ron's socks before trying to mark the sheets--it wouldn't do to have them soaked. A cat wouldn't leave that much behind after eating a poor, sickly little rodent.
He'd waited for the bleeding to slow to a steady ooze, then unwrapped his hand and put the sock into a secret stash that James had made back when the four of them had shared this room. It looked like no one else had found it over the years, and Peter briefly considered transforming again and making it into a small nest, surrounded by the old bits of boys' life that were still there, growing more dated by the moment--a fossilized chocolate bar (certainly Remus's), risqué magazines nicked from Flourish and Blotts (his own), James's book of Quidditch bets (he'd had quite a business going seventh year, when the Canons had made an unlikely run at a title). There was also a pile of crumbling dog treats that they had often fed to Hagrid's puppy to keep him quiet when they went pranking. Sirius said they tasted awful even when he was transformed.
It was a good space, a nice smelling place full of good memories.
But it wasn't a very big space, and he knew he would make noise there. Sooner or later, Ron or Harry would hear him, find the nest, and find him. Since there was no way to get inside without an opposable thumb, that would be a bit too much of a mystery to risk.
So instead, he'd transformed, limping down the staircase on his injured paw, the pain driving him more and more mad with each step, making a great effort to hop through the portrait hole after little Ginny Weasley, who always fed him bits of cheese from her plate. He wished he could say goodbye to her, or to Ron and Percy, in some meaningful way--they had been kind to him--but that would defeat the purpose somewhat.
Blast the cat, and blast Sirius for deciding to come back to Hogwarts--to come after him--rather than doing what any sane man would, and running to the other side of the Earth.
His hand gave a twinge, and he blew on it lightly. This didn't do much good. It just awakened a network of small nerves around the wound, and made them sing arias. He needed a wand, quickly, and he hadn't thought to borrow one of the boys' before he left. That had been stupid. The cat had distracted him.
You were always stupid. A foolish little prat who did everything wrong. And now, you blame it on the cat?
The Dark Lord's voice in his mind was high and amused, and followed by sharp laughter.
Peter sniffed and shivered. Yes, it had been a stupid mistake, but then it might have called more attention to him if a wand had gone missing, or if, heaven forbid, someone practiced Priori Incantatem with a wand he'd borrowed and returned. No. He would have to find one to steal someplace. One of the teachers' wands. They would have more than one, a back-up someplace, in case of an emergency. One they wouldn't think to look for, perhaps.
He transformed back and limped down the hall, looking for a pool of light coming from under a doorway. There was only one here. The faint flicker of candlelight came out in a fan. The door was open.
Peter checked the hallway in both directions, then looked cautiously through the door. The room was filled with little cages, some carrying interesting creatures, most empty at the moment. The desk was too high for him to see over, but someone's feet, clad in badly scuffed shoes dangled to the floor.
Peter ran as quickly as he could, ignoring the pain in his paw, into the shadows under the bookcase, planning to just wait for whoever the teacher was to leave so he could search the office.
It wasn't until he was settled that he noticed how familiar the scent of the room was. It wasn't one of the smells of the Burrow, or of the Gryffindor Common Room or the dormitory, though he associated it with both of the latter. It was... older. Ancient, to his rat's mind. One of the first smells he had known. One of...
"'ay there, Professor Lupin!"
Peter looked toward the door. A huge, hulking form blocked the faint gray light of the corridor. Hagrid.
And had he said...?
"Hullo, Hagrid," Remus Lupin said.
Peter's heart sped up, and his nerves stood on end. He had jumped from a cat who might have been maniacally obsessed with him into the office of a man who would recognize him immediately, understand what his survival meant, and set the wheels of his damnation in motion.
Someone who had been part of his past.
Someone who was part of him.
He thought briefly of trying to get closer, to have a look at him, but sanity asserted itself in time, and he curled up, nursing his injured paw.
"Didja hear?" Hagrid asked. "Professor McGonagall gave the all-clear on Harry's new broomstick. Wasn't from Sirius Black after all, they reckon. Nothing wrong with it at all."
Peter perked up his ears. Of course the broom was from Sirius. Anyone who knew Sirius would know that. It was just his style--flamboyantly generous. When Peter had been in a good frame of mind as a boy, he'd thought of Sirius as Father Christmas's manic apprentice. In a less good frame of mind, he thought of Sirius as a spoiled nobleman, tossing trinkets from his fine carriage to the scrambling, filthy peasants in the road. Either way, there was no question in his mind that the obnoxiously up-to-date, state-of-the-art racing broom had been a gift from Sirius, and of course it hadn't been hexed.
I could have hexed it myself when they brought it back. They'd have just assumed that they missed one.
He shuddered. The Dark Lord wanted Harry dead. Peter had assumed that Lily and James would find a way to prevent that when he'd given the relevant information. He did not want the boy's blood on his head.
Somewhere high above him, Remus Lupin sighed. "I suppose not," he said, not sounding at all convinced. "It just seemed... so like him."
"He ain't who you thought he was," Hagrid growled.
"I know," Remus said quietly. "It just occurred to me that... I wondered."
There was a pause. Peter could imagine Remus's eyes going distant. He would have his arms crossed. Perhaps he was looking out the window. "Nothing," he said. "Thoughts that have crossed my mind now and then. Wishful thinking, I suppose."
"Yeh're not missing the ruddy traitor, are you?"
"I miss all my friends, Hagrid. James, Lily, Peter. And Sirius. I wish things were quite different than they are."
There was a great creak as Hagrid plopped himself down in a chair. A swirl of moleskin pooled on the floor not far from Peter.
"I know it's foolish," Remus said. "It always has been. Andromeda Tonks has chastised me more than once over the years."
"Yeh don't think he's clean of it, do yeh?"
"No. I simply... prefer to think of happier days. It's been a wrench not to tell Harry whatever good I can remember. I don't like to hear him hate as he does."
Peter's heart raced at this. If Remus believed Sirius shouldn't be hated, then perhaps... if he were to wait for Hagrid to leave...
"Begging your pardon, Professor, but no one deserves hatin' more than that murderin'"--Hagrid called Sirius a name that he never would have used around the boys when they were children visiting him--"and you shoudn' be takin' on so. Yer worth a hundred of 'im. Always were, I reckon."
There was a kind of soft, sniffing sound, Remus's non-laughing laugh. The corner of his mouth would be turned up. "I think there are differing opinions on that, Hagrid."
Peter twitched his tail nervously. It was possible. Would Remus protect him? Would he try to explain? Would he--?
"Load o' codswollop," Hagrid said. "An' anyone who knows yeh'll say so."
Peter took a step out from under the bookcase, but just then, Hagrid stood up, his thundering foot landing not six inches from Peter's nose.
Just in time. Were you about to do some new foolish thing?
He curled back into the shadows. He had been about to do that. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
"Well, I'll be getting back," Hagrid said. "Just figured yeh'd want to know about the Firebolt. Lessons to plan, yeh know."
"Yes. Something pleasant to do."
"I picked up a bit o' murtlap balm from Madam Pomfrey. My fourth years got a bit careless with some flobberworms. Gonna let 'em soak in it overnight, soothe 'em a bit. Yeh need anything fer yer lot here?"
"They seem to be well. But I'll keep you in mind. My second years are handling doxies tomorrow."
Beneath the bookcase, Peter was standing with is paw outstretched. If he stayed, he could at least try to talk to Remus. He could make up some story. Or he could stay until Remus left, and look for a wand. But murtlap balm... he could heal his foot while the flobberworms were soaking and Hagrid was sleeping, and no one would be the wiser.
Hagrid turned and headed for the door, his shoes making the floor tremble with each impact. Remus didn't move from his desk.
Peter stepped tentatively out into the room, standing between the door and the desk, looking back and forth.
The wooden chair behind the desk creaked, and there was a louder sniffing sound. "Is someone there?" Remus asked quietly. Peter looked up. Remus had stood up, and his eyes were focused on the bookcase where Peter had been hiding only a moment ago.
Just me, he thought. Just your old mate, Peter. Remember? The dead one? Wouldn't you be glad to see me, if you've been missing us all?
Remus went to the books, started to examine them, ran his hands through the air... looking for an invisibility cloak. Probably wondering if it was Sirius Black standing there, that notorious mass murderer, better remembered in happier times.
Before their world had been shattered.
By me. By little Peter, the one who's lied and cheated to keep Sirius in prison. The one who betrayed James and Lily. The one Remus Lupin will recognize in an instant.
And don't forget... the calm and controlled man standing there is a mask. There's a wolf inside. And what do you think it would take to bring it out?
Peter backed up slowly, trying not to draw Remus's attention away from the place his sense of smell had picked out. He reached the edge of the door and ran into the corridor, overtaking Hagrid, catching the hem of his moleskin coat, and hurling himself into an ample pocket.