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A Conspiracy of Cartographers: Year Two [+podfic]

Chapter Text

"Shhh," muttered Remus. "I've almost got it."

He was lying on his belly on the floor of James's room, fiddling with the dial of an old radio, searching for something. After a moment, a loud and bouncy melody blared forth.

Sirius's brow furrowed. "What's that?"

"Pick of the Pops," Remus told him. When this provided no illumination, he explained, "It's Muggle music."

"Oh," said Sirius, leaning forwards, interested.

It wasn't that he hadn't known Muggles listened to music; he had just never given it much thought. The only thing Sirius had ever listened to on the radio was the Wizarding Wireless Network, and he hadn't heard much of that, since his parents believed that much of the Wizarding media had a pro-Muggle bias.

"How does it work?" he asked, picking the device up and turning it over in his hands. He had always assumed that radios were magical objects. It had never occurred to him that Muggles might know about them.

Remus tried to explain about waves that carried sound silently through the air, but in the end, it turned out he didn't really understand it either.

"So, Muggles have their own magic?" asked Peter.

Remus shrugged. "Sort of. Only they call it 'science'."

"And Muggles have their own music," Sirius mused, head cocked to listen. "It's better than ours."

Sirius's parents' music, when they listened to it at all, was boring and slow and hardly ever had words. By contrast, the music coming from the radio was light and fast and fun. It made Sirius want to dance.

Apparently James felt the same way. He hopped off the bed and began to move his feet and wave his hands in the air unselfconsciously. He looked so ridiculous that Sirius couldn't help laughing, but it wasn't long before he and even Peter had joined James in the middle of the room, stamping their feet and shaking their backsides to the beat of the music.

Remus sat with his back against the bed and watched them, chuckling.

"Aren't you going to dance with us?" Sirius called out.

The other boy shook his head. "I don't dance."

"But you're the one who likes this stuff," Sirius argued, swinging Peter around in a haphazard circle.

"It's all right," Remus admitted, "but it's not my favourite. Pick of the Pops only plays what's really popular right now. There's lots of other music I like better."

"Like what?" Sirius danced over to him. "Can we listen to it?"

Remus looked doubtful. "They play some of it on the radio sometimes, and I have a few records at home. You might not like it very much, though. It's not as fast as this."

"Don't care." Sirius collapsed into a sitting position on the floor beside his friend. "I want to learn all about Muggle music. Teach me, O wise Professor Lupin."

It was only with difficulty that the others managed to pry Sirius away from the radio, even for meals. Remus had given up trying to get him to do more than turn the thing down at night, and had fallen asleep to the quiet strains of some late-night jazz number. By the following morning, Sirius had formed strong opinions about a few musical genres, and had begun to throw around terms like "prog rock" and "psychedelic" as if he knew what they meant. Remus found his friend's new obsession equal parts amusing and irritating.

"C'mon," whined Peter. "It's boiling out and James's mum said we could go swimming."

"Just one more song," Sirius begged.

"We could take it with us," suggested Remus. "It's wireless, after all."

That possibility had clearly not occurred to Sirius. His face lit up. "We could?"

James rolled his eyes. "Now you've done it, Lupin. We'll never have a quiet moment again."

While James, Peter and Sirius changed into their swimming trunks, Remus returned to the guest room to retrieve the copy of The Three Musketeers that he had discovered in the drawer of the nightstand. He thought wistfully about what it would be like to join his friends in the water -- he had always enjoyed swimming when he was little -- but he didn't want to deal with the awkward questions that would arise from exposing his scar-riddled skin to the light of day. No matter how hot the weather, it was always going to be trousers and a long-sleeved shirt for Remus. He tried to ignore the odd looks his friends cast in his direction as they headed down the stairs.

James stuck his head out the kitchen door into the back garden. "Mum! We're going down to the swimming hole!"

"Have you got enough towels?" Ellie Potter asked, rising from her herb garden to come over and inspect them.

"Yes, Mum," said James with good-humoured impatience.

"And do you all know how to swim?" she inquired, eyeing each of them in turn.

James and Peter both nodded, but Sirius looked down at his shuffling feet.

"Sirius?" she asked pointedly.

"No, Mum," he whispered.

Mrs Potter turned a hard look on her son. "James Potter, don't you dare let him go into water that's more than waist deep. Am I understood?"

"Yes, Mum," James repeated dutifully.

"Remus, dear, do you need swimming trunks? I might have some old ones of Joe's lying around somewhere."

"No, thank you, Mrs Potter," Remus said politely, eyes downcast. His cheeks felt hot. "I'm just going to read."

"Well, if you change your mind, it's not far to come back," she told him kindly. "And no wands!" she called after them as they hurried out the front door.

"You really can't swim?" Peter asked Sirius, dancing along as the hot pavement burnt his feet.

Sirius scowled. "My parents didn't think it was a necessary skill for a well-bred gentleman, I guess."

"Well, don't worry; we won't let you drown," laughed James, slapping him on a bare shoulder.

"Might be some gold in it for you if you did," said Sirius darkly. "Mother and Father probably think I'm not worth the trouble anymore."

"They're still your parents," Remus reminded him uneasily. "Maybe they don't always act like it, but they must care."

Sirius opened his mouth, the expression on his face making Remus cringe in anticipation of harsh words, but he changed his mind and closed it again. "Yeah. Sure they do."

Sirius's dark mood was forgotten when they reached the swimming hole just outside the village. It was a wide pool, bubbling up from an underground spring, and a number of large oak and ash trees grew close to the water, a rope dangling from the thick branch of one, almost touching the surface.

"If it gets wet, it might stop working," said Remus, reaching for the radio clutched protectively in Sirius's arms. "I'll keep an eye on it."

Settling himself in the shade of a huge spreading oak tree, Remus opened the book he had brought to a favourite passage from the adventures of d'Artagnan. He was soon immersed in the romance and intrigue of seventeenth century France, while his friends yelled and splashed one another, shrieking at the initial chill of the water.

It was a hot day, even in the shade, and Remus paused between chapters to remove his socks and shoes. He even went so far as to unbutton the top two buttons of his shirt, and the cuffs as well, eyeing the other boys enviously. James and Peter were instructing Sirius in the rudiments of swimming, and he seemed to be gaining confidence, paddling around in circles, dark hair plastered to neck and forehead.

Sirius was so different here. Miles away from the priggish boy Remus had glimpsed in London, but different, too, from the way he was at school, where he tried so hard to seem cool and grown up. Here, away from the eyes of strangers and the expectations of his family, Sirius was a child. Remus wondered when he had last been permitted that freedom. Remus himself had not experienced it in more than six years -- not since the day he met the wolf.

He had drifted dreamily back into the world of Athos, Porthos and Aramis when Sirius flopped down beside him with a sigh, a thick blue towel wrapped around his shoulders.

"Having fun?" Remus asked, glancing up.

"Swimming is hard work," complained Sirius.

Remus smiled. "Handy, though. You never know when the Slytherins will get fed up with your pranks and decide to dump you in the lake."

"There is that." Sirius grinned, reclining against the tree's rough bark.

Remus looked at him for a long moment.


"Nothing. I was just thinking that the Slytherins probably wouldn't recognise you right now. You look almost like a Muggle."

Sirius looked pleased. "Do I?"

"I almost don't recognise you," said Remus, shaking his head. "I couldn't believe it when I first saw you in Muggle clothes."

"I'd be roasting if I was in robes right now," frowned Sirius, wiggling his muddy toes. "Merlin, I don't think I ever want to wear robes again! They're all tight around the collar and always dragging into things."

Remus snorted. "Good luck with that at school. I'm sure McGonagall would have something to say about it."

Sirius laughed. "Well, first I'd have to get some Muggle clothes. I don't guess I can keep wearing James's."

"Not when you're looking almost as well-fed as Pete these days," Remus teased.

"Oi!" Sirius looked indignant. "Just because I'm not a broom handle like you and James --"

"Anyway, you're a nightmare on clothes," Remus continued. "My favourite jumper hasn't been the same since you borrowed it last winter."

"I liked it," grumbled Sirius.

"Sirius Black likes one of my ratty old things?" grinned Remus. "What is the world coming to?"

Sirius couldn't help a smile at that. "Your things aren't so bad. At least your clothes are comfortable. Not like mine."


Remus plucked absently at his shirt as they watched James and Peter take turns on the rope swing. James kept trying to go higher and higher, swinging farther out over the water. Peter looked terrified, always clinging to the rope a second too long, and splashing back into the shallower water.

"You know you could swim if you wanted to," Sirius said quietly. "They won't say anything."

Remus tensed. He had almost forgotten that Sirius had seen his scars, it had been so long since the other boy had mentioned them.

"Did you tell them?" he asked stiffly. He drew his knees up to his chin, self-consciously tugging the cuffs of his trousers down to hide his feet.

Sirius hesitated. "I told James," he admitted. He must have seen the tightening of Remus's jaw, because he quickly added, "I was worried about you. If Pete knows, he hasn't mentioned it."

"So, when you said they wouldn't say anything --"

"James won't," Sirius insisted. "And if Pete opens his mouth, I'll drown him."

A reluctant smile tugged at the corner of Remus's lips. Sirius could be a loyal friend when he wanted to. "Thanks. I just don't think I'm ready for that."

As Remus watched his friend shrug off the towel and saunter back down to the water, skin glowing in the summer sunlight, he wished for the millionth time that he had never met the wolf.

Mrs Potter was no slouch at divining the needs of her foster son. "There are a few things I need to pick up in town today," she told them over breakfast. "I was wondering if you boys would like to come with me? Sirius, dear, I thought you might like some new clothes."

Remus saw Sirius's face light up, and quickly added his voice of assent to the outing, despite the fact that he had only a little pocket money with him. It would be worth the trip to see what sorts of Muggle clothes his friend picked out for himself.

The five of them took a coach from Godric's Hollow to the nearby town, arriving on the high street around midmorning. Remus could tell by the way Sirius stared at their surroundings that he had not spent much time in Muggle towns, nor traveled by Muggle means, but before his friend's eyes could get too big, James's mother commanded all their attention.

"I need to pick up a few things for the garden and visit the apothecary." Her tone brooked no nonsense. "You see that fountain in the square over there?"

They all nodded.

"I want you to meet me there at one o'clock, and not a minute later," she informed them. "Jamie, you have your watch?"

"Yes, Mum." James pulled back the cuff of his shirt to show her.

"Good. Now, spending money," she continued, retrieving her billfold from her handbag. "This is a Muggle place, so Galleons and Sickles won't do you any good, and I expect that's all you have."

Remus tried to give back the five pound note she handed him. "I've got Muggle pocket money with me."

"Nonsense," Mrs Potter waved away his protests. "It's only fair if I'm paying for the others. Besides, I've heard you're the responsible one, so consider it payment in advance for keeping everyone else out of trouble." She gave him a wink.

Remus smiled reluctantly and pocketed the note. It brought his total spending money up to nearly seven pounds, which was more than he'd had to spend all at once since he got his sister her own owl at Christmas.

There was something about shopping on the high street without adult supervision that made Remus feel grown up, and he unconsciously walked a little taller. He and his friends peered in at shop windows and debated the merits of the merchandise on display.

"What do you think?" James asked him as they stopped in front of a window whose mannequins wore shiny shirts and tight trousers.

Remus looked surprised. "Since when am I the one you lot ask about fashion?"

James grinned. "You've spent the most time in the Muggle world. Who else is going to tell us what stylish blokes are wearing these days?"

"If you want the latest fashions, it's going to cost you more," Remus said thoughtfully. "Do you know if there's an Oxfam around?"

"What's Oxfam?" asked Peter, looking up and down the street for clues.

"It's a charity shop," Remus explained. "People donate clothes they don't want anymore, and they sell them off cheap."

Sirius wrinkled his nose in disgust. "You want us to buy clothes some Muggle already wore?"

Remus blushed. Most of his own clothes had come from charity shops. It was all his parents could afford anymore, and he was well aware of the stigma attached to it.

But James laughed. "Your mum and dad would hate that, Black!"

Sirius hesitated, then a wide grin spread across his face. "Yeah, they would, wouldn't they? Probably throw them out the second I sent them down to the laundry."

They stopped to ask directions from a young mother with two small girls trailing behind her, and the four of them headed down the high street. Remus kept glancing at shop windows, touching the money in his pocket, and thinking about what he would like to buy. He knew the responsible thing to do would be to save the money and slip it into his mother's handbag when he got home, but he knew Mrs Potter had given it to him with the expectation that he would buy something for himself, and would probably ask him about it later. He gazed wistfully at a bookshop, but he knew exactly how his friends would react if he tried to drag them inside.

The Oxfam, when they found it hidden away down a side street, was small, but had a good selection of clothing that looked almost new. Remus browsed the racks while his friends grabbed armloads of clothes more or less at random and hauled them into the small changing cubicle. When Sirius came out in a pair of denim trousers and an orange satin shirt with rhinestone buttons and wide, diaphanous sleeves, Remus could not suppress a snort.

"What?" asked Sirius, defensive. "What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing," Remus told him, shaking his head and smiling. "It looks -- really great."

Peter cocked his head and gave Sirius's outfit a long look. "Is that -- isn't it a girl's shirt?"

Sirius's mouth dropped open, and he looked to Remus for confirmation. The laughter of his three friends followed him as he dove, red-faced, back into the changing cubicle.

"You could've said something," grumbled the muffled voice from behind the curtain.

"Well, if you really want to shock your parents --" laughed James, turning to admire himself in the shop's full-length mirror. He was wearing flared velvet trousers, a too-large shiny blue blazer, and a wide-brimmed hat.

"Not sure I'm ready to go that far," said Sirius testily, reemerging in a blue satin shirt. "Is this more manly, then?"

"A bit," Remus smiled.

"I don't see how we're supposed to tell the men's clothes from the ladies' anyway," said Peter, holding up a polka dot shirt critically. "They're all shiny fabrics and crazy colours. At least with robes, it's all the same."

After some deliberation, Sirius bought the denim trousers, a Rolling Stones tour shirt he had chanced upon -- "A shirt with pictures of Muggles on it!" he crowed, clearly imagining what his parents would think of that -- as well as a plain blue tee-shirt, and the boys toted their purchases back out into the sunlight.

"Didn't you want to get anything?" Peter asked.

Remus shook his head. "Didn't see anything I liked."

The Oxfam had been at the far end of the high street, so they doubled back, walking more slowly this time, and stopping for ice creams along the way. They were halfway back to the fountain when a loud rumble assaulted their ears. The four boys leapt out of the way as a motorbike growled past, its leather-clad rider heedless of the pedestrian traffic around him.

"What was that?" gasped Sirius, staring after the disappearing bike.

"Some git on a motorcycle," Remus scowled. "Thinks he bloody owns the road."

"I want one," said Sirius immediately. "Where d'you buy them?"

James laughed. "I don't think even you have enough for one of those, mate."

Sirius was still staring off into the distance, eyes shining. "Did you see how fast and shiny and loud and bloody gorgeous it was? My parents would hate it!"

"I'm pretty sure you have to be at least eighteen to even own one," said Remus

Sirius looked disappointed, but continued to wax rhapsodic over the vanished bike, ice cream forgotten. "Can you imagine zooming around on one of those things? So much better than a broom! Roaring along the street and up into the air!" He gave a little hop, then sighed, clasping his hands to his chest. "I think I'm in love."

"They don't fly, you know," Remus grinned.

"Yeah, but they could," said Sirius dreamily.

When it was clear that the motorbike would not be coming back, Sirius reluctantly allowed the others to continue on their way, but stopped them again outside a shop displaying a black leather jacket in its window.

"I'm going to try it on," he announced, quickly finishing his ice cream and wiping sticky fingers on his trousers before marching inside.

The shop was more upscale than Remus was used to, but he supposed it couldn't hurt to look. At least, he thought so until he saw the red blazer. It hung on a rack at the back of the shop, rich velvet the colour of a fine wine, with absurdly wide lapels. He hesitated a moment before allowing himself to touch the soft fabric. It probably cost more than he should spend, and wouldn't fit him in any case, but he couldn't remember the last time he had owned anything so fine.

I'll just try it on for a minute, he thought. No harm in it.

Remus shrugged into the jacket, twisting and turning in front of the shop's three angled mirrors, debating with himself. Five pounds, the tag said. He had the money -- might never have enough for something so fancy again -- but should he spend it? The garment was a touch too long, and wider across the shoulders than he was, but with luck, that meant he would be able to wear it for a few years at least. Lush colours and velvets were fashionable in both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds, which meant twice as many places he could wear it. Still, he really shouldn't.

Sirius appeared in the mirror behind him, grinning. "What d'you think?" he asked, spinning around to display the enormous leather jacket he wore. The sleeves hung down well past his fingertips.

"You look ridiculous," Remus told him. "Anyway, you haven't got enough for it."

"Would have if they took proper money," Sirius grumbled.

"We should probably go." Remus regretfully took off the blazer and returned it to the rack. The shopkeeper was eyeing them with dislike. Clearly twelve-year-old boys were not among her favourite customers.

"Aren't you getting that?" Sirius asked.

Remus shook his head. "I shouldn't."

"Why not? It suits you. I wish I'd found something that good."

"D'you really think so?" Remus stared at the jacket, conflicted.

Sirius nodded. "You should get it. I could lend you the money."

"No," said Remus, deciding.

He plucked the garment back off the rack and turned towards the till, wondering what effect prolonged acquaintance with Sirius Black was likely to have on his better judgment. But when they stepped out into the street once more and Sirius danced around him, urging him to, "Put it on! Put it on!" Remus could not bring himself to regret the purchase. He swirled the blazer across his shoulders to admiring noises from his friends, enjoying the rich, swishy feel of the fabric.

"Where to next?" he asked the others, feeling about ten feet tall.

Sirius, who had been separated from his precious radio for almost four hours and was clearly feeling the strain, immediately asked, "Where can we buy Muggle music?"

There was a record shop not far from the fountain in the square. Remus and his friends entered it with varying degrees of awe and reverence.

"A store just for music?" Sirius had voiced his disbelief when he saw it. There wasn't enough Wizarding music in the whole world to warrant its own store. The fact that there were thousands of times more Muggles than wizards in the world meant thousands of times more Muggle music, in almost infinite variety.

Remus briefly instructed his friends on the use of the listening booths, reminding them to take care not to scratch or otherwise damage the fragile vinyl discs, then wandered over to a display of new albums. Keeping one eye on his unruly friends, Remus leafed through the recent releases until he found one by an artist he liked, and took it into the second booth. The music had barely started when Sirius slipped in, closing the door behind him.

He stood listening for a moment before asking, "Is this what you like? This kind of music?"

Remus nodded.

Sirius picked up the cardboard square of the album cover and considered it. "Pink Floyd? That's a weird name."

"They're really good," Remus told him. "This is new, though. I haven't heard it before."

"Are you going to buy it?"

Remus shook his head regretfully.

He expected to have to once again brush off an offer from Sirius to lend him the money, but instead his friend said, "Then I will."

"You like it?" Remus asked, surprised.

Sirius shrugged. "It's all right. Anyway, you know more about music than I do."

They listened in silence for a while longer, but Sirius proved too fidgety a companion for Remus to pay proper attention to the music. He left Sirius to it, returning to the display of new records. He tried to ignore the unfriendly glare of the young man behind the till, so like the one the woman in the clothing store had given him, and picked up another album, turning it over.

At least I'll grow out of being what they don't like, he thought glumly. Not that they'd be pleased to find out they've got a werewolf in their shop.

"What's that?" Sirius was peering over his shoulder again, the Pink Floyd album still clutched between his hands. "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," he read off the cover of the record Remus was holding. He laughed. "What kind of a name is that?"

"A silly one," Remus mumbled, quickly putting it back. He didn't have enough money left for it, even if he had liked the bits of it he'd heard on the radio. It had been such a good day so far. He wasn't prepared to deal with Sirius's mockery.

Remus left the record store empty-handed, tugging on the cuff of his new jacket to remind himself that at least he had made one good purchase that day, and waited outside for his friends to finish their transactions.

"Find anything you liked?" Remus asked James and Peter when they rejoined him.

"It was all really good," said Peter, never one to venture an opinion of his own before hearing what his friends thought.

"I found some fast, dancy stuff by the blokes on that shirt Sirius bought," James told him, grinning and holding up the paper-wrapped square.

"Do you even have a way to play it?" Sirius asked.

"No," admitted James. "But your parents do, and so do Remus's. I'll bring it with me whenever I visit."

They were five minutes early to the fountain, and when Mrs Potter arrived, James and Sirius immediately offered to carry her bundled purchases. She professed herself delighted with their punctuality and thoughtfulness, and took them all out to lunch, followed by the cinema, which was a rare treat for Remus, and yet another new experience for both Peter and Sirius, who had to be reminded repeatedly by the others to be quiet.

"Motorcycles and music and films!" declared Sirius, practically dancing his way out of the cinema. "Muggles are brilliant!"

"Hush, you," Mrs Potter chided fondly as several curious glances were cast in their direction.

Remus grinned. Sirius's joy was irresistible. In fact, it was almost impossible to be near the other boy and not be affected by his moods and opinions. I should be more careful, Remus thought. Control, right? I shouldn't let him sway me. No good could come of allowing his capricious friend so much influence over him.

The coach ride back to Godric's Hollow was marked by laughter and lighthearted chatter, so much so that the driver told them rather irritably to settle down or they'd be walking home. Mrs Potter beamed as James and Sirius took turns recounting the adventures of the day, and made Remus flush almost the same colour as his new blazer when she complimented it.

By the time James's mother unlocked the front door of the old farmhouse, Sirius was describing for the third time, and with undiminished enthusiasm, their encounter with the Muggle on the motorcycle.

"It sounds very exciting," Mrs Potter assured him. "Why don't you boys go and put your things away, and then you can help me make a start on supper."

They pounded up the stairs, Sirius flinging himself through the guest room door ahead of Remus. When he stopped short, Remus almost ran into him.

A sleek, dark grey owl was perched on the windowsill. "That's Athenasius," said Sirius, excitement draining from him visibly. "My parents' owl."

Remus watched as Sirius, moving as if against his will, crossed the room, eyes locked on the bird, and detached the roll of parchment from its leg.

"What do they say?" asked Remus, feeling suddenly uneasy as Sirius's eyes moved over the short message.

His friend's mouth tightened. "They want me to come home. Aunt Druella's parents are having a party on Saturday, and they say I have to go."

"Oh." Remus sat down heavily on the bed, good mood shattered. Not -- he told himself firmly -- because Sirius's mood had been, but because Sirius was going back to that place and those people. The ones who in a matter of days had turned him from one of Remus's best friends into a proud and pitiless stranger. What would Sirius be like after spending the rest of the summer with them?

"You're doing it again," Sirius said irritably. "Stop it."

"Doing what?"

"Going all closed up, like you think I'm going to turn into one of them again. I'm not."

Remus sighed. "No, I get it. I do. They're your family. If you have to act a certain way around them --"

"No." Sirius sat down beside him, forcing Remus to look up into stormy grey eyes. "They're not my only family anymore. I've got James and his parents and you and Peter now, haven't I?"

Hesitantly, Remus nodded, hoping that the doubts he felt didn't show on his face.

During his last two days in Godric's Hollow, Sirius tried to keep himself busy. This might well be his last chance to have fun all summer, and he wasn't going to waste any more time than necessary brooding about going home. He was not uniformly successful; Mrs Potter had to call him out once for snapping at Peter. But aside from that, his days were filled with swimming and flying, both of which he was getting better at, and his evenings with playing games and listening to music with his friends.

Sirius knew he was not fooling anyone with his falsely cheerful attitude. While the Potters were kind and sympathetic, and James and Peter did their best to keep him distracted, Remus had grown even more subdued than usual, and had even begun to lose when they played Odin's Eye.

He thinks I just act however the people I'm around expect me to, Sirius thought moodily. It bothered him that Remus -- one of the cleverest and most thoughtful people he knew -- should think of him that way. Sirius didn't care what his family thought of him. The only people whose opinions mattered were the ones sharing the house in Godric's Hollow with him. But how could he prove that to Remus?

On his last evening in the village, the Potters surprised Sirius and his friends by taking them out for supper at the local pub. Sirius would be leaving later that night, and Remus and Peter were planning to return home the following day. The pub was a dimly-lit and smoky place, but James insisted that the food was almost as good as at Hogwarts. Mr Potter led the way, skirting tables of beer-drinking Muggles until they reached a smaller room at the rear of the pub filled with another sort of patron. Sirius noticed the difference immediately.

"They're all wizards!" he said with delight. "I thought it was just some old pub."

"No, it's some really old pub," James grinned. "Didn't you see the sign over the door?"

"Yeah." He had noticed the sign only because of its resemblance to the Gryffindor House crest, but instead of a rearing golden lion, the red field had displayed an indistinct yellow animal.

"The pub's called the Golden Griffin," his best friend told him. "It's where Godric Gryffindor was born."

"Really?" Sirius stared at his surroundings with wide-eyed interest. He had assumed the village was named for the Hogwarts founder, but had not imagined that the connection between the two reached so far back into the mists of time.

Mr Potter smiled. "Well, he was born at the first Golden Griffin," he informed the boys. "It was just a small inn at a crossroads then, owned by his family. This place has been rebuilt and added onto several times over the centuries. Not much more than the cellar is original anymore, I don't believe."

"No wonder so many wizards live here," said Sirius. He was about to ask if everyone who lived in the village had been in Gryffindor House at Hogwarts, but then he remembered Giles Ogilvie and Davy Gudgeon.

Mr Potter grabbed them a table while Mrs Potter went up to the bar to order the food.

"Make sure you get some of the Cornish pasties, Mum!" James called after her.

The food was excellent, as James had promised, but Sirius had a hard time enjoying it. In less than two hours, he would be back at home with his family, and Hogwarts felt like it was years away. Remus, sitting beside him, was also picking at his food.

"Did you know Gryffindor was born here?" Sirius asked him.

"Hmm? Oh. Yeah. It's in Hogwarts: A History. But he didn't come back here much after he went away to learn magic."

"Where did he go?" asked Peter. "I mean, there was no Hogwarts before he founded it."

Remus shook his head. "Nobody really knows. The stories say that the founders had a teacher who learned magic from Merlin himself, but no one knows who he was."

"Why can't we learn about stuff like that in History of Magic?" sighed Sirius. "Even Binns couldn't make the founders boring, could he?"

Mrs Potter laughed. "You'd be surprised. If he's still doing things the way he did in my day, then the founders are NEWT level history. There were only three of us from my year who continued to that level."

"Speaking of classes," said Mr Potter, "I've heard you're getting a new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor this year."

"Where'd you hear that, Dad?" asked James.

"I only know because it's someone from my department."

Sirius's eyes lit up. "We're getting an Auror to teach us Defence?"

The other three boys were also staring avidly at James's father.

Mr Potter frowned. "Perhaps it's unprofessional of me to say anything against my colleague, but I think it's only fair to warn you boys. Gand is a hell of an Auror, but he's not the friendliest bloke. He has a very low tolerance for foolishness of any kind. I want you boys to promise me you'll be careful not to get on his bad side."

The four boys nodded earnestly. It was clear from Mr Potter's words that he respected their new teacher, but it didn't sound as if he liked him very much. Sirius didn't understand how that could be possible. He was already halfway to liking the unknown man himself, imagining Defence classes filled with exciting new hexes and spells, and thrilling tales of narrow escapes. There was no way an Auror could be as boring a teacher as Professor Tynedale had been.

Sirius was so busy fantasising about the coming year at Hogwarts that he almost forgot he was going home until they returned to the Potters' house.

Remus did not come upstairs with him when he went to collect his things, though James followed, ducking into his own room. Sirius sat on the bed of the guest room, hugging the red and gold afghan to his chest. He was going to miss this place. He would miss having fun and being able to say and do as he liked. He would miss the Potters. But most of all, he would miss his friends.

James appeared in the doorway, the radio in his hands. "You can take this with you," he said. "To help you remember --"

"Not to be a prat. I know," said Sirius glumly. "Thanks."

He stuffed the device into his rucksack on top of his robes, then slung the strap over his shoulder. "Let's get this over with."

The others were waiting for him in the sitting room.

Mr Potter shook his hand. "We'll be seeing you soon, son."

"Wish you could be my real mum and dad," Sirius mumbled as Mrs Potter gave him a long hug.

"It won't be so bad," said Peter. "I'll come over sometime."

Sirius doubted the sentiment, but said, "Thanks, Pete," anyway.

James hugged him, too. "Owl me when your parents are taking you to Diagon Alley. We can all meet up there, yeah?"


"I'm going to miss you, Brother." James's hazel eyes were sincere for once.

A lump formed in Sirius's throat, and he swallowed. "I'll miss you, too."

Last of all, Sirius turned to Remus, hugging him every bit as fiercely as James had hugged him.

"I know what you're thinking," Sirius said, letting go at last, "but it's not going to happen. I promise. I'll write to you every week, and tomorrow night at the party, I'll wear my new shirt under my robes. And I'll have this with me."

He fished the brass-handled knife out of the pocket of his denims. He hadn't been without it since Remus had given it to him.

"If it's more unbearable than I think it's going to be, I can always slit my throat," he joked.

That brought a reluctant smile to Remus's lips. "If I haven't heard from you by next weekend, I guess I'll know what happened."