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A Conspiracy of Cartographers: Year Two [+podfic]

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It was still raining the next morning when Sirius awoke. He had half expected an owl from his parents to arrive, demanding his immediate return, but either the expected owl had taken shelter from the weather, or his parents had decided they did not care where their son was. Sirius tried to tell himself that it didn't matter what they thought, but as Ellie Potter, still in her dressing gown, loaded up his breakfast plate with eggs, bacon, toast, fried tomatoes and sausage, he couldn't help wishing that they did care, if only a little.

He spent most of the day hiding out in James's room, playing games. In short order, Sirius became very good at Odin's Eye, beating his best friend at it twice in a row. Once they grew tired of that, they rotated through a few hands of Exploding Snap -- not much fun with only two players -- and Gobstones. They tried one of the Muggle games James owned, but Sirius didn't see much point in a game where nothing moved on its own or blew up or sprayed the players with noxious liquids.

By teatime, Sirius had grown so bored with games that he welcomed James's suggestion that they at least look at the schoolwork they had been assigned over the holidays. It was better to get it out of the way on rainy days, rather than having to do it when the weather was fine. But reading about charms and hexes without being able to try them out was maddening, and Sirius couldn't even look at his History of Magic text without hearing Professor Binns' droning voice in his head.

"Well, what would you be doing if you were home?" James said at last, exasperated, when Sirius complained of boredom for the third time in an hour.

Sirius shrugged. "Dunno. Be bored, I guess. Annoy the house-elf. Booby trap Regs's room. Why? What would you be doing if I wasn't here?"

"Reading. Helping Mum with stuff. Writing to you, probably."

That pulled a reluctant smile to Sirius's lips. "We could do that stuff, I guess."

James eyed him. "I've never seen you read anything you didn't have to, except to find new ways of annoying people, and you don't like my mum."

"I never said I didn't like her," Sirius objected. "I just -- don't get her. Or your dad."

"I don't get you," said James. "I've never seen you have such a hard time talking to anyone."

"They're parents," Sirius said, as if that explained everything.

"So?" said James. "They're just people. How're they any different from McGonagall or Hagrid or the Prewetts or Pete or Remus or me?"

When Sirius couldn't give him an answer, James sighed and pulled out a stack of glossy Quidditch magazines, handing two or three over to his friend.

"Here," he said. "I've been meaning to get caught up on these, if you really don't mind reading."

The Potters were easy enough to avoid, except for mealtimes. Mr Potter worked during the day, and frequently did not return until late in the evening, weekends meaning little in the Auror Office. Despite the rain and Sirius's growing boredom, he continued to spend most of each day in James's room or the guest room, playing games, reading Quidditch magazines, and doing schoolwork. Sometimes he and James would talk, but it was hard to do so without touching on the sore subjects of family or Remus, leaving Quidditch and school as their primary topics of discussion.

On the third morning after his arrival, Sirius's owl, Midnight, brought him a message from his brother.


Mother and Father are Fureous. Are you really staying with blood-traters? You have been acting so Strange ever sense you went to School and got Sorted into Griffindore. It's like you don't care about anything anymore. Father says if you keep discrasing the Family he might write you out of his Will. I don't know if he ment it, but I thout you shoud know. They put me in the Sellar for letting you go and made Kreacher slam his fingers in the door. You probly shoud not write me back. I was not sposed to write to you. Probly not getting Supper tonight when they see your Owl is gone. Hope it was worth it.


Sirius scowled and balled up the parchment, dropping it onto the floor of the guest room in disgust. He tried very hard to believe that his brother deserved everything he got for always siding with their parents and defending that little scab of a house-elf. And yet he could not deny that it had been Regulus who had made his getaway possible. It didn't matter. Sirius couldn't make things better for his brother even if he wanted to. Going home now wouldn't improve either of their situations. If anything, Regulus should be grateful for the chance to be their parents' favoured son after so many years of living in Sirius's shadow.

His brother's letter and the continuing bad weather put Sirius into a foul mood, causing him to snap at James over breakfast. He immediately winced, expecting barbed reproach from Mrs Potter, who had paused in summoning the toast.

Instead, she glanced back and forth between the two glowering boys, and said mildly, "I don't think it's good for you two, holing yourselves up in that dark room all day. The light's better for reading in the sitting room. And there's your father's chess table."

James's eyes lit up. "Can we use Dad's chessmen?"

His mother smiled indulgently. "I don't see why not, as long as you're careful with them."

Sirius didn't like the idea of spending the day in awkward proximity to Mrs Potter, but he didn't see a way out of it, so when they adjourned to the sitting room after breakfast, he went without complaint.

At first, it wasn't so bad. Mrs Potter remained in the kitchen to do the breakfast cleanup while James retrieved a small leather chest with a gilded clasp from a cupboard under the window. It contained a set of ivory chessmen, much-used but beautifully crafted.

"They belonged to my great-great-grandfather," James said softly, stroking a bishop's delicate crook with something like reverence. "They were a gift from a duke or a prince or something. I forget who. Someone important."

The chessmen had known one another for such a long time that they had developed a fraternal regard for their adversaries, and sent them off the board with no more than a genteel tap for form's sake. Sirius should have been bored. What excitement was there in chess if the pieces did not dispatch one another with the maximum amount of violence? He soon discovered, however, that without the distraction of carnage, he was able to focus more on the strategic aspects of the game, the reward for which was a deeper sense of satisfaction with each opposing piece he took.

So absorbed was he in planning his next few moves that he did not notice when his friend's mother joined them in the sitting room, donned her reading glasses, and opened a dog-eared paperback. He did, however, notice when the ginger Kneazle jumped onto his lap and bumped its head demandingly against his chin.

"Barbarossa loves a good scritch between the shoulderblades," commented Mrs Potter, making Sirius start. "Sorry; I didn't mean to break your concentration."

"No matter," mumbled Sirius, stroking the catlike creature as he tried to pull the threads of his strategy back together.

He had thought he was about to win, but in six moves, James had Sirius's king cornered and laying down his tiny ivory sword at the feet of his friend's knight.

James rose and stretched. "Just going to pop to the loo. Back in a minute." And Sirius was left alone with Mrs Potter.

The Kneazle, sensing his discomfort, jumped down from his lap in disgust, and Sirius brushed ineffectually at the whorls of ginger fur that clung to the black fabric of his robes.

"I've got a charm for that," said Mrs Potter.

"Oh," Sirius said eloquently. "Um."

"Come here."

Reluctantly, he approached her. She took out her wand and tapped him smartly on the belly.

"Pili declino." Instantly, every clinging hair dropped to the floor. "Thank you, Ma'am," Sirius said awkwardly. He knew it would be rude to turn away and go back to his seat, so rather than hover, he sat down on the sofa next to her chair.

"That one's a necessity when one has pets." She gave him a friendly smile. "The rain is annoying, isn't it?"


She glanced out the window at the grey sky. "There are things I should be doing with the garden, but I can't until it lets up. I didn't feel like cleaning today, and I finished the afghan I've been working on yesterday, so that leaves an afternoon with Miss Lovelace." She waggled the paperback in her hand. "They're a bit silly, but they're a pleasant way to pass the time."

"I've -- er -- never read her books," mumbled Sirius.

She chuckled. "I wouldn't think you had. Romance novels aren't exactly popular with boys of your age. Next thing, you'll be telling me you don't read Isabella Westwick either."

"The Prewetts said that's the name Professor Flitwick writes under," said Sirius without thinking.

Mrs Potter stared at him for a moment, and then burst out laughing. "Flitwick? Filius Flitwick, the two-foot Casanova? He's Isabella Westwick? Oh, my dear boy, that's the best thing I've heard in years! Please tell me it's true."

Sirius shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know, Ma'am. But the Prewetts say it is, and they're mostly right about things like that."

"I was at Hogwarts with Filius Flitwick," Mrs Potter giggled, wiping her eyes. "He had quite a reputation, but not as a writer. I can't wait to tell Joe. He'll be so tickled!"

"I'm pleased to hear it, Ma'am."

She patted his shoulder. "Oh, do unbend a little, Sirius. I've never been 'Ma'am' in my own home before."

"Sorry, Ma'am." Sirius couldn't help a small, hesitant smile when she laughed again at his slip.

"You can't possibly be like this all the time or Jamie wouldn't be so fond of you," she said, shaking her head. "Now, tell me what kind of biscuits you like best, seeing as the two of you have accounted for all the tarts. Anyone who can make me laugh like that deserves a reward."

The rain finally let up that afternoon, so Sirius was saved from Mrs Potter's suggestion that he assist in the baking of ginger biscuits. Instead, he found himself back in James's room with his friend looking him up and down.

"I've probably got some clothes that will fit you," James said doubtfully. "You can't wander around the village in robes."

Sirius was not so tall or skinny as his best friend was, so the clothing James found for him did not fit particularly well. They were Muggle clothes, though, which gave Sirius the delicious thrill that came from doing something especially wicked. His own clothes were all wandmade in the finest shops in Wizarding London, the cut and colour dictated by the top designers in Wizarding fashion. Denim had never been seen in his wardrobe. And shirts with short sleeves? Unheard of!

When he beheld his reflection in the mirror on the back of James's door, he barely recognised himself. The boy staring back at him with wide, grey eyes looked like he might belong in a house like this -- might have parents like the Potters. Sirius shared a grin with his reflection before turning to his friend.

"How're we going to get past your mum?"

James opened his mouth, then closed it again. "I'll show you."

As they tiptoed past the kitchen, James paused and stuck his head in. "Mum, we're going out."

Sirius stared.

Mrs Potter looked up from her mixing. "What are the rules, Jamie?"

"No wands," James recited dutifully. "No flying where Muggles might see. Be back in time for supper."

"Very good," said his mother approvingly. "It's Irish stew tonight. You boys won't want to miss that. Oh, and no swimming if Sirius doesn't know how."

"It's not warm enough for swimming today, Mum." James rolled his eyes.

"I can't believe she just let us go!" Sirius said as James retrieved his Nimbus 1000 broomstick from the cloak closet next to the front door. "My parents never let me out on my own."

James shrugged. "Well, my parents aren't exactly like your parents, are they? Although," he added fairly, "I don't know if they'd let me wander, either, if we lived in London."

They walked to the outskirts of the village until they reached a stretch of farmland separated from the last row of houses by a screen of trees. James looked around once, then mounted his broom and kicked off, feet skimming the tops of the still-green summer oats.

Sirius whooped and tried to follow at a run, but there was no possible way for him to keep up with his friend's dizzying speed. James swooped back and dived at him, wind whipping Sirius's hair as he passed. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, white ball, which he lobbed at Sirius, who caught it, frowning curiously at the tiny indentations that covered its surface.

"Throw it for me!" shouted James, high above him. "I want to practise!"

They spent an enjoyable half hour, Sirius throwing the ball as hard and as far as he could in every direction, and tearing off to retrieve it whenever James failed to catch it in the air. James was an excellent flier, and only missed his catch about one time in three.

"I'm going to be the best Seeker Gryffindor has ever had!" he boasted, touching down. "Merlin, I missed having my broom last year!"

Sirius's eyes lit up when James handed the broom over to him. He had flown before, many times, but never on a top-quality racing broom like this one. He leapt into the air, yelling his head off as he zoomed high over the field. The wind ruffled his hair, tugged at his clothes, stole his breath, and he felt free for the first time since school had ended. Something hit him between the shoulderblades as he careened wildly through the air. Looking down, he caught sight of James grinning up at him, the white ball in his hand once more.

"I can see you're not going to be much competition, Black," he teased.

"Throw it again and we'll see!" challenged Sirius.

But James was right. Even once he got the hang of handling the broom properly, Sirius managed to catch the ball not quite half the time. After a few dozen throws, he returned to earth breathless and frustrated and beginning to be hungry. He wished they had thought to bring snacks with them.

"Have you got anything to eat?" he asked James without much hope. He was not ready yet to return to the Potter residence, in spite of the easing of tension between himself and Ellie Potter that morning.

James shook his head. "But I know a place where there's almost always tea and cakes. That is, if you don't mind meeting an adult who isn't a parent."

Sirius scowled at his friend, but followed him back to the edge of the village where he stopped in front of a small, neat cottage with a riot of flowers growing in its garden.

"Who lives here?" Sirius asked, peering suspiciously up the walk.

"Batty Bagshot," James grinned. "Best lemon cakes in the West Country."

"Bagshot?" The name rang a bell faintly in Sirius's mind. He knew he had heard or read it somewhere recently. Then a horrible light dawned. "She didn't -- she's not the one who wrote our History of Magic text, is she?"

James's grin widened at Sirius's look of growing horror. "Yeah. But don't worry; she's not nearly as boring as Binns tries to make her."

"Why would I want to have tea with Binns's girlfriend?" asked Sirius, wrinkling his nose.

That made James laugh. "Lemon cakes," he repeated. "And she knows all kinds of stories about Dumbledore from when he was a kid."

"All right," said Sirius. "But if I fall asleep and starve to death, it's your fault."

Tea with Bathilda Bagshot was not nearly so dull as Sirius had feared. Yes, the tiny old woman had gone on a bit about Wizarding history, but the way she talked about it made it sound more like exciting stories and gossip than Professor Binns's dry, droning accounts of endless goblin rebellions and revisions of Wizarding law codes. She referred to Binns as "that old bore", saying that she had been promised the History of Magic post when he retired, but he had hated change too much to give up teaching, even after his own death. She had also regaled them with scandalous tales from the Wizengamot conclave of 1876, giggling and blushing like a girl, and leading Sirius to suspect she had been there in person.

As they departed the cottage, their bellies and pockets full of lemon cakes, Sirius asked, "How old is she, anyway?"

"Dunno," James shrugged. "Old. You saw that picture of Dumbledore with her great nephew. She's got to be at least forty years older than he is, right?"

Sirius had stared for a long time at the black and white photograph of the two laughing boys, not recognising the elderly headmaster of Hogwarts in the face of the wispy-bearded youth with his arm around Bathilda Bagshot's handsome, fair-haired nephew. It seemed like such an impossibly long time ago, and yet those boys had roamed this same village, and judging by the age of most of the houses, Godric's Hollow had perhaps not looked so different then.

As they wandered past an old church, James said, "There are Dumbledores in the graveyard, too. D'you want to see?"

Pushing open the old, rusty lychgate, James beckoned Sirius down the path to the left, into a section of the churchyard containing mostly older stones. The stone James pointed out was granite rather than the marble Sirius had been expecting, and not very large. It bore two names, both women, or rather -- Sirius glanced at the inscribed dates -- a woman and a girl, dead in the same year.

"Who were they?" Sirius asked in a hushed voice, as if anything louder might disturb the sleeping dead.

"Dunno for sure," James shrugged. "I can't remember how old Dumbledore is. I think maybe it's his mum and his sister."

"Are there any more?" asked Sirius, glancing around. "His dad or anyone?"

"No," said James. "This is it."

Sirius felt an odd hollowness in his chest as he looked at the stone and remembered again the laughing boy from the photograph. He wondered what Dumbledore's family had been like, and whether Dumbledore had liked them. Sirius supposed that he had. Tragedy was an alien concept to Sirius, and sympathy was something he had only learned since meeting Remus Lupin and discovering his secret. He found it difficult to imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one. It made him think about Mrs Potter and the relief with which she greeted her husband whenever he returned home.

He turned away from the stone, feeling uncomfortable. "Are there any other cool ones?"

There were several more with names of Wizarding families Sirius recognised, but the oldest stone in the graveyard was not one of them. He could tell it was the oldest by how worn it was. If it have ever bourne any dates, they had rubbed off long ago.

"Peverell?" he squinted to read the name.

"I'm related to him," James said, swelling with pride. "They were a really old Wizarding family, going back to the Hogwarts founders, and maybe even before. The name died out about two hundred years ago, I think, but there was an Ermentrude Peverell before that who married my umpty-great-Grandfather Potter or something."

Sirius, who had been made to stand in front of the drawing room wall and memorise his own family tree, reaching far back into the middle ages, was unimpressed by the ancientness of his friend's lineage. There had been a Potter or two on the Black family tree, which made James distant kin, but he recalled no Peverells. He was, however, surprised by how long James's family had lived in Godric's Hollow.

"Have your family been here all that time?" Sirius asked as they wandered over to an empty patch of grass a couple of rows behind the Dumbledore stone, and sat down to eat the rest of the slightly squashed cakes Bathilda Bagshot had given them.

"Yeah," said James comfortably, reclining on the grass with a cake and a contented sigh, one arm bent behind his head. "The Potters, at least. Mum's family come from the south originally."

Sirius stuffed the last cake into his mouth, envying his friend's sense of belonging. James was as much at ease here, among the graves of his ancestors, as he was in his own bedroom. The Black family mausoleum stood in some distant cemetery which Sirius had only visited once or twice, and the house in Grimmauld Place had been in the family for no more than a century. Sirius's parents might have a hundred valuable heirlooms to pass on to their sons, but they were only objects, devoid of meaning or sentiment in Sirius's eyes.

As the sun began to sink behind the line of trees that guarded the western edge of the village, Sirius shivered. Cakes were all well and good, but it was getting on for supper time, and his stomach growled at the thought of the Irish stew Mrs Potter had promised them.

The bells in the church steeple chimed loudly, making Sirius jump.

"Six o'clock!" cried James in dismay, leaping to his feet. "C'mon! We'll be late."

They dodged past gravestones, jumping the low gate -- James nearly tripping over his broomstick -- and ran flat out for the house, arriving moments later, out of breath, Sirius clutching at a stitch in his side.

"Sorry we're late," James gasped as they stumbled in the front door.

Mr Potter, who was seated on the sofa reading the Evening Prophet, glanced up. "Had a good day in the village, boys?"

"Yes, Sir," Sirius answered automatically. He found himself oddly disappointed that he had missed Mr and Mrs Potter's evening reunion.

Mrs Potter appeared in the sitting room doorway. "Supper's in five minutes," she announced, giving her son a stern look. "Go and wash up, Jamie. Sirius, would you mind giving me a hand in the kitchen?"

Sirius looked helplessly at his friend, who only raised his eyebrows and shrugged before heading to the bathroom. He followed Mrs Potter into the kitchen, but found the table already laid, bowls of stew steaming away under their warming charms. When he looked to Mrs Potter in confusion, she drew something out of her apron pocket and handed it to him.

"I must apologise to you, Sirius," she said earnestly. "I didn't mean to snoop, but I found that when I was tidying up your room today."

Sirius glanced down at the crumpled letter from his brother and swallowed. "It's nothing, Ma'am."

She pursed her lips, looking him over indecisively. "I never thought to ask, and perhaps that's my own fault, but I assumed when you came here that you did so with your parents' permission. But you didn't, did you?"

Sirius hung his head. "No, Ma'am," he said in a small voice. He hated the thought of James's mother being disappointed in him. Had she told her husband yet? Worse still, he was about to be sent home, possibly before he could taste any of the stew, which smelled divine.

"Sirius, dear," Mrs Potter said gently. A hand under his chin forced him to meet her eyes. "If you're having trouble at home, perhaps you should write to them."

He bit his lip. "They don't care where I am. They'd've written if they did." He had been aiming for defiance, but what came out sounded like misery even to his own ears.

Her hazel eyes regarded him with sympathy, and the hand under his chin moved to squeeze his shoulder. "I know things have been -- awkward -- for you here. Of course we've loved having you, but maybe you'd be happier going home and sorting things out with your family?"

Sirius set his jaw. "I'd rather stay here, Ma'am, if you and Mr Potter don't mind."

She gave him a kind smile. "Of course we don't, Sirius. Would you like me and Joe to write to your parents for you? We'll let them know you're safe, and that you're welcome to stay for as long as you like."

"Can I really?" Sirius stared at her in disbelief. His chest felt tight. He was not going to be sent home after all.

"Oh, you poor dear," she sighed, shaking her head. And then her arms were around him and Sirius's face was pressed against a shoulder that smelled of stew and baking and warmth.

Sirius stiffened in shock. Hugs were not entirely foreign to him. On occasion, he hugged James. He used to hug his brother. He had probably even hugged his parents when he was younger, though he could not recall a specific instance. Those embraces, though, had all been brief and perfunctory. Never in all of Sirius's memory had he been held.

"Careful, Mum," came an amused voice from the doorway. "The way he feels about parents, he probably thinks you're planning to smother him."

Sirius blushed crimson as Mrs Potter let him go with a laugh.

All throughout supper he sat with his eyes fixed on his plate, barely speaking, torn between embarrassment and gratitude, hardly tasting Mrs Potter's delicious stew. He only looked up when, over ginger biscuits, Mr Potter declared himself not too tired for a family game night.

Sirius swallowed his horror -- he had been desperately hoping to escape to bed for the night to sort out his feelings -- and took his dishes to the sink, before following James upstairs.

"I have to feed Midnight," he mumbled to his friend, and dashed into the frilly guest room.

Mrs Potter had made her presence felt in the room. The bed was made, the old teddy bear nestled peacefully on the pillows, Sirius's own freshly-laundered robes hung in the wardrobe, and the rest of his things were piled neatly on the bureau. Across the foot of the bed lay an enormous red and gold afghan with a note pinned to it.

Dear Sirius,

I was going to give this to Jamie, but I'd like you to have it. I hear these are your favourite colours.


Sirius blinked rapidly and his throat grew tight. Bundling the blanket in his arms, he hurried to James's room.

"Your mum put this on my room, but I think it's yours," he said hurriedly, dropping it onto the bed.

James just grinned and shook his head. "Keep it. Mum's always knitting something. She'll make me another, and then we'll have matching ones."

Sirius subsided onto the bed. "Do we really have to play games with your parents?" he asked plaintively.

"What're you so worried about?" said James, exasperated. "My parents love you."

"What if I make stupid mistakes and they think I'm an idiot?" Sirius moaned. "Or what if I win and they think I cheated?"

James knelt and pulled the Odin's Eye box from under his bed. "I'm your best mate, aren't I?" he said. "How about you try trusting me for once?"

Sirius wanted to trust James, but the first game was sheer torture. As he had predicted, he sent blind Hodr -- whom he had grown fond of playing -- on a number of foolish and useless moves, allowing both James's Baldr and Mr Potter's Odin to achieve their goals before he was half finished with his own. Sirius strongly suspected that the only reason he did not come in dead last was that Mrs Potter -- playing Odin's wife, the goddess Frigg -- let him beat her.

He was contemplating begging off sick as they set up the board for another round, when Mr Potter reached into the pocket of his robes, and said, "Oh, by the way," laying four silver tokens on the table with a grin.

James took one look at them and yelped, jumping up to throw his arms around his father.

"What --?" said Sirius, startled.

"Quidditch!" James whooped, grabbing Sirius's hands and sashaying him across the dining room. "Falcons v Wasps! Bagman's going to get his bum paddled and we're going to see it!"

Sirius glanced back and forth between the grinning Potters in disbelief. "You got me a ticket, too?"

"Of course he did, Black!" hooted James, performing a graceless little twirl under Sirius's hand. "I'd like to see you be all stiff and formal when there's Quidditch happening!"

"Th-thank you, Sir," Sirius stammered as they returned to their seats. Somehow, the thought of attending an ordinary Quidditch match with James and his parents seemed even better than the two times he had been to the Quidditch World Cup with his own family.

Mr Potter grinned, blue eyes dancing. "Think nothing of it. We're glad to have you along."

Excitement over seeing his beloved Falcons play against the former Slytherin Quidditch Captain wreaked havoc on James's concentration. He stumbled his way through the second game as blindly as Hodr himself, making even more mistakes than Sirius had in the first round. Sirius, on the other hand, made a couple of lucky dice rolls, and found a clever way of sneaking past the Odin counter, effectively blocking him from reaching Valhalla.

Sirius stared at the board in shock. He had just won. He had even beaten Mr Potter, an experienced Auror with a knack for strategy. Glancing up helplessly, he found that his friend's father's startled face mirrored his own.

"S-sorry, Sir," Sirius began. "I didn't mean to --"

Joe Potter threw back his head and shouted with laughter. "Well done, Sirius!" he declared, offering his hand for the boy to shake.

"It was just luck, Sir," insisted Sirius.

Mr Potter shook his head, still smiling. "It was good strategy and well-used luck. And I'm almost certain I've told you to call me Joe."

"I'm sorry, Sir," said Sirius, blushing. "I just -- can't."

"If that's too hard," suggested Mrs Potter with a gentle smile, "you could always just call us Mum and Dad."

Sirius stared at her, speechless. She couldn't possibly mean it. Not like that.

"Not that I'm suggesting we could ever replace your own parents," she went on, giving Sirius's fingers a squeeze. "But we could be a sort of alternative -- if you need it."

"You're a good boy, Sirius," added Mr Potter. "Bright and thoughtful. Jamie needs a brother like that. Ellie and I would be honoured if you'd consider this your second home."

Sirius looked back and forth helplessly between the two kind-faced adults, and his grinning best friend, sitting across from him.

"What do you say, Brother?" asked James.

It was too much. The blanket. The Quidditch tickets. The overwhelming kindness. Sirius opened his mouth -- and much to his horror, began to cry.

"You awake, mate?"

For a moment, Sirius contemplated pretending not to be. They had to be up early for the Quidditch, and he had almost been asleep, so it wouldn't be a complete lie. Instead, he sat up in bed, squinting at the shadowy form of his friend in the doorway.

"C'mon," James whispered.

Sirius didn't ask where they were going as they tiptoed past James's parents bedroom, down the stairs and through the kitchen. He could tell by the way his friend eased open the back door that his mother and father's permissiveness did not extend to late-night excursions, and he had a sudden qualm about breaking their trust. He had been family, after all, for no more than a day, and the open invitation could still be revoked. But James was outside, beckoning him to follow, and James was his best friend.

They padded, barefoot, into the back garden, where James sank cross-legged onto a patch of grass. Sirius sat down facing him, and the two boys regarded one another silently for a moment.

"You're my best mate," James said quietly, "and my brother now, too. If I ask you to do something, will you do it?"

Sirius nodded dumbly.

"Look up."

He did, and found himself staring into the face of the full moon.

"Have you written to him at all?"

Sirius did not have to ask who James meant. He shook his head.

"I have." James's eyes were dark in the moonlight. "I owled him tonight. Asked him to come over and stay for a few days. Pete, too. So you'd better figure out what you're going to say to him. It's up to you to fix it, Brother."