You couldn't call your body your own, but he had more than one. Peter snuffled his way through into the house via the cracks and crannies, coming out into the murky, long, badly-lit hallway, and transforming back into human form unnoticed by anyone. The long line of people in black robes was silent enough to hear the murmuring from the front of the room. "Rosier, something to keep you warm at night. Malfoy – keep this on your person, it's valuable and the Dark Lord will ask you for it. Avery: drink it. It will counteract the effect of Veritaserum in your blood for four days, so move fast. Lestrange, if you have any sense at all, you won't ask stupid questions." It was Snape's voice.
They did this monthly. This was Peter's second time.
"Wormtail," Snape said, and Peter had given up correcting him. He had been the last; there were only two flasks left on the long table. Behind him, he could hear small, successive gusts of air as the Death Eaters Disapparated.
Perhaps it was disturbances in the air that did it, uneasy susurration at the edge of perception. Perhaps it was the recent change of time and space, the world turning back into colour before his eyes. Perhaps it was just panic. Peter reached out, blindly, stupidly, for the nearest flask, and drank.
"Wormtail, you snivelling cretin." Snape snatched at it, but it was too late. "I am sure the Dark Lord will be delighted to hear his well-laid plans are going awry because you couldn't tell your left from your right."
"I'm sorry," Peter gasped, still choking slightly with the burn of the liquid. "What was..."
"This" – Snape held the remaining flask up to the light – "was Alertness Potion, your pressing need for which has just been spectacularly proven. If the Dark Lord asks me why I am wasting time brewing another dose of the draught I meant for myself, I shall refer him to you."
"But what," Peter began, but Snape had disappeared. The room was suddenly empty, eerily lit – the sun had come out far above, and was diffusing through the dust-motes rising from the floor. After a moment a rat scurried across the room and was gone.
You stopped feeling anything after a while, other than constant, low-grade anxiety, interspersed with fear. The liquid sat in his stomach, for a while, choking, heavy, and he was already thinking about it eating its way outwards, through organs and skin and fur, when he burrowed his way into the open air and remembered Snape had been going to drink it, too. The relief was palpable and dizzying and then only momentary; perhaps you breathed it in, or bathed in it, rather than drinking it; perhaps it had been made for Snape's body, safe only within particular flesh, and that feeling of acid burning might just be his own stomach and it might not.
He transformed into human form on a park bench outside a pub. It was summer, early evening, but quiet. The heavy stone wall behind him was warm from the day's sunshine, and he rested his hands on it, breathing in, breathing out, listening to the sound of water below, lapping gently on the shingle. The Thames made a great curve in its course at this point, as wide as it ever got in the last sweep towards the sea. Peter liked this spot, ordinarily. He breathed, in, out, in, out, and was calm.
"You all right?" called a girl, suddenly. She had a red bandana around her head, swinging on the timber beam buttressing the doorway of the pub.
Peter lifted his head from his hands. "I'm fine," he said, and his voice was steady. "Thanks."
"Bit early in the night to be pissed." She grinned and darted back inside. Peter blinked. For a moment, he'd seen something behind her – something bright blue, shining, like a ribbon. He blinked again, and the girl came out of the pub, followed by another girl, very like her with the same bright eyes. The ribbon holding them together was vivid blue against the sunlight as the two of them set off down the towpath.
Peter rubbed his eyes, and looked deliberately around him. As the evening drew in the parks and path were getting busier, and suddenly, it was clear: people connected with great strands of light, some pink, some green, some yellow, some orange. Mostly they bound pairs of people, but occasionally three or more – there were three boys walking arm in arm down the pavement, each connected to the others with a blue ribbon – and sometimes the connections were only beginning. Peter peered at a baby in a pram to see it surrounded by an amorphous green light. In the curious work of inspecting just what coloured threads connected what people, he was forgetting for a moment about the weight inside, and with the relaxing of the tension, the acidic feeling faded.
'Oh," he said aloud, and felt a dull surge of relief.
You used what resources you could. Peter took just a few moments to come to a decision. He took the Tube, rather than Apparating – these days it seemed prudent not to draw more attention to himself than was necessary – and by the time night was falling, he was walking down Turnpike Lane, past Greek grocers and Indian restaurants, up to the dingy little flat above a shop selling plastic bits and bobs and ironmongery.
Remus looked up as he came in. "Peter! Come in, sorry for the mess."
Peter shut the door behind him carefully, and looked around at the room, thinking as always how much nicer it was on the inside. Sirius had been very excited about living in a Muggle flat, and it had heating and a refrigerator and lightbulbs, though Sirius never could get the hang of how electricity worked and had used the plug sockets to hold daffodil stems. Remus had charmed the flowers to stay fresh and Peter rather liked the effect; they made for quirky splashes of colour in grey days.
Now, he turned to close the door behind him and took in Remus's face, drawn and pale, the rough blanket on the sofa, the array of books laid out on the table, mostly untouched.
"Bad night?" he asked, sitting down.
Remus moved to give him space. "You could say that," he said, tiredly. "Sirius was there, though. We managed. What brings you here?"
"To see how you are," Peter said, and that part was honest. "And to ask your help... something that happened at work."
"Oh?" Remus said, curiously. "Something I can help with? That sounds a little daunting."
Peter nodded. Remus was a Auror, like James; it was amazing how anti-werewolf prejudice failed to survive the werewolf in question saving your sorry arse from the Death Eaters, and with Frank Longbottom in charge of the outfit, Remus couldn’t lose his job, even if the whispers never did quite stop. "Not Dark Arts," Peter clarified. "No… there was an accident at the Ministry. Nothing serious, just some smashed potion flasks. I ended up..."
"You didn’t swallow something by accident, did you?" Remus asked, and Peter nodded, grateful to be spared further invention. "What was it?"
"That's the thing," Peter said. "I didn't realise until afterwards I'd swallowed any, and now I don't know what the potion actually was. I thought... well, you did Potions NEWT, didn't you?"
"Yes," Remus said, doubtfully, "but that doesn't qualify me to identify anything, you know. Have you had any actual effects of it, as yet?"
"It's odd." Peter leaned back. "Coloured ribbons connecting people. I mean, they aren't really there, but I can see them."
"Interesting," Remus said, tried to stand up, and sat back down with a thump. "Ah. Peter, up there on the top shelf - Potions Obscure, Oblique and Obtuse: for the Discerning Brewer. Yes, that's it, just hand it down, would you?"
Remus leafed through it, slowly. "Alaenaso Potion," he murmured, still turning pages. "Causes the drinker to grow wings from his nose, wish I could have brewed that when we were at school... Ashes to Ashes Draught, causes the drinker's food to taste like ashes if and only if he's going to die within the week, morbid, I've always thought... Bastardry Brew, causes the drinker's parents to deny he's their child, a cruel one, that. Aha, Connection Concoction, I knew it was in here. Perhaps you'd better read it for yourself."
Peter took the book, and read:
"In 1910, Wilhelm Wigworthy, intrigued by the work of contemporary Muggles calling themselves "sociologists", who studied societies and social interactions, founded the discipline of magiosociology, which has similar aims but uses magical methods. He personally invented many research spells and potions useful for this field. Foremost among the latter was the Connection Concoction, a relatively simple potion to brew, and one which allowed the drinker to perceive visually the connections between other people."
"Is that it?" Remus asked.
"Yes," Peter said, grinning. It didn't sound like it was going to kill him. He read on:
"Outside of the field of magiosociology, the Connection Concoction has limited applications; it has been used by spies with some success."
Spies. Peter looked up. Snape. Oh.
"Peter, are you all right?" Remus was saying, but the door opened and Sirius came in. He seemed unperturbed to see them both sitting there, and immediately went through to the little kitchen in the corner of the flat. "Hullo, Pete. Remus, how are you doing? Can I get you anything?"
"Tea," said Remus, and next to him on the sofa, Peter felt him relax. He looked back down at the book, and read:
"The Connection Concoction effects manifest as coloured beams of light connecting individuals. The colours are coded to represent different types of relationships: green is familial; blue stands for friendship; yellow for hostility; orange for enmity; pink indicates a romantic relationship."
Peter looked up at the pink thread in the room, from Remus to Sirius. Oh. Oh, God.
And in the end, you could only do what you could. Sirius made the tea and went on pottering around the kitchen, muttering something about sandwiches, and Remus yawned and laid his head down on the edge of the sofa, and Peter thought about getting out of here before the dropping of the penny, going home. Apparating to Snape's little house on Spinner's End, perhaps. Telling him that he was very sorry, but the Dark Lord's employ wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and could he maybe convey Peter's regrets.
Some voice inside Peter's head, that appreciated a good joke, gave a long, low chuckle. Peter shivered a little in the warm room, and thought of his mother up near Birmingham, in her old house, living alone.
Sirius was coming into the living room carrying a tray, with squashed-fly biscuits – Peter's favourite, and Sirius didn't like them, he knew – and setting it down on the table, and Remus was saying, "Peter had some sort of accident at work and ended up swallowing some Connection Concoction..."
Sirius nodded as he sat down. He looked at Remus; Remus gave the barest acknowledgement from under his lashes. "So," Sirius said, evenly. "You know, then."
It would be useless to deny it. Peter nodded and tried to take a mouthful of tea. It burned.
"What are you going to do about it, then?" Sirius said, still with that frightening evenness.
"Do?" Peter swallowed. "Nothing." With a burst of courage: "What did you expect, Sirius? Did you think I'd run out screaming?"
"He didn't do that," Remus said mildly, "when he discovered I was a werewolf."
Sirius nodded. "Is he going to now?"
Peter shook his head hard. "No, Sirius. I'm sorry," he paused, "I'm sorry I found out this way. Were you" – and this pause was more loaded – "were you going to tell me?"
Remus nodded, slowly. "We were. Maybe... when things were easier."
Peter took a deep breath. "I think you should tell James. He's going to get suspicious at some point."
Remus raised his eyebrows. "I live in Sirius's flat. James has been in this flat. He is aware of how many bedrooms it has. Sometimes I wonder about that boy."
Sirius grinned. "Never the brightest bulb in the box, our James."
"Lily will figure it out," Peter said, realising as he said it how true that was. Sirius laughed at that, gave Peter a knowing, amused look, and Peter had a moment of reminiscence: the three of them, plotting, sharing some joke in the back of some classroom somewhere in the back of his memory.
"I must be going," he said, suddenly.
Sirius nodded. "Shouldn't be out too long after sunset. Listen, Peter..." A pause. "Thank you for, well. You know for what."
Peter nodded, and Sirius got up to take the tray back into the kitchen. Peter stood up, went to the door, went through it, then turned around and came back to stand by Remus, sitting there looking up at him with his eyes too large against his pallor. "Remus," Peter said, quickly, quietly, "tell Lily and James, but please don't tell anyone else. There are people... well, there are people who could use this to hurt you."
Remus nodded, but Peter was gone before he could say anything, through the open door, down the dingy staircase, out into the dark.