Summary: With no more fanfare than that, I'm away from home, from them. And when I'm out of hearing range I stop singing and my grin falls and, clearing my raw throat, I lunge into the future, though I don't know where that is yet. (Sirius/Lily)

Rating: R

Warnings: Language, sex.

Word Count: 12,107

Author's Note: Originally posted at the LiveJournal community Red and the Wolf for the Tales of Dogs and Scoundrels challenge. My prompts were "Off" and the Lenny Kravitz song, Black Velveteen. Big heartfelt thanks to the fabulous Godricgal for her excellent beta work, and for the perfect suggestion for a title!

---

"Aren't you going to kiss me goodbye, MUMMY?"

I yell at the bricks, so loudly I think I've sprained my vocal cords. I clear my throat as quietly as I can. I'll be an arse out here in the street … just mustn't give them the satisfaction of hurting me.

Mrs. What's-Her-Face-Next-Door twitches her curtain open an inch, probably wondering again which house I actually live in. I stare her in the bleary blue bloodshot eye for a moment, then wave at her, grinning. The gap and the eyeball disappear immediately. My automatic grin drops. It's our little game of peek-a-boo, and I can't disappoint her today of all days. It's the last time I'll see her.

"All right, Walburga, Orion, Regulus, Kreacher – not necessarily in that order – I'm leaving!"

My voice is hurting.

"Good bye and good riddance, you lunatics!"

Is it possible for vocal cords to bleed?

Only one thing for it.

Sing.

I take a deep breath and raise my arms like the conductor of a symphony or someone delivering a Shakespearean soliloquy, and I croon, as loudly and obnoxiously as I can. I know they can hear me. They're probably watching, too, so I point and throw in a rude gesture every now and then for good measure.

"DOGFACE! You're just a slimy little CREEP! Why don't you take a flying LEAP, before the dog catcher puts you to sleep, HEY!"

Remus taught us this song, which his Muggle gran taught him. It's a peppy tune and, yes, it's immature but it's the best I can do. To make the song my own, and to let them know they haven't beaten me, I take on the persona of a sleazy nightclub singer, doing a little soft shoe and swaying a bit in my boots, shuffling side to side, all jazz hands and eyebrows; and as my soles scrape the pavement I realise that I'm wearing my only possessions. With a sickening thud in my heart, my hand creeps round to make sure my wand is still in the back pocket of my jeans, and it is. Adrenaline has pumped into my arms and legs, making me dizzy and telling me to run.

I should sing louder.

"YOUR BREATH'S SO BAD … YOUR B.O. IS QUITE OFFENSIVE … SOAP AND WATER'S NOT EXPENSIVE … HEY, DON'T YOU BE SO DEFENSIVE … "

The words carry me in a little sidestepping dance down the street, and I jump over the cracks out of habit, skipping and gyrating like an idiot as I continue to sing. With no more fanfare than that, I'm away from home, from them. For good. Forever. And when I'm out of hearing range I stop singing and my grin falls and, clearing my raw throat, I lunge into the future, though I don't know where that is yet.

---

On the Knight Bus I'm pressed between two drunk old wizards, but they've got firewhiskey that they share with me as long as I listen to their tall tales while the morning sun and the drink redden our faces and the bus slams us from wall to wall like pinballs and that helps. The firewhiskey, that is. It clarifies. Got to be Machiavellian right now, which means doing things in the proper order. First things first, translation, Gringotts.

I joke around with the old fellows to pass the time, to pretend today's no different, that there's no special occasion or reason for drinking with strangers on a bus at ten in the morning, that there's nothing that should be sinking in right now, nothing that should be wringing out my heart like a bloody dishrag. Just to look at me, there's probably no evidence whatsoever of the screaming match I left at home, back there. I can start to pretend that I don't have a brother who hates the "common" girls I kiss and thinks they should all be sterilised or chucked into a dungeon and who actually – no, I can't think about that again. Another thing I won't consider as I slug back the firewhiskey is the mother who's convinced I've been permanently contaminated by my friends and who actually once had Kreacher pull the big cage out of the attic when she thought some of my friends were coming round for a visit, and that's not even the worst – no. As the alcohol soaks my brain and deadens my limbs I can almost imagine I don't have a father who won't even look at me anymore, much less say my name out loud, a father who – mustn't think about that, mustn't, mustn't, mustn't. I'm not part of them, I've been cut from them like a chancre – and none too soon, for all parties involved. I can drink to that.

Here, to these fellows on the bus, I'm just another bloke, drinking and riding. They might think I'm doing so because I can't afford a broomstick, which I can, or I'm too drunk to Apparate, which I'd like to be very soon. They believe that I'm no one, like them, and they elbow me as if I'm a beloved nephew. One of them looks a bit like Uncle Alphard, only not as drunk. I tell them my name is James and they offer meaty handshakes before I stumble out of the bus and onto the steps of Gringotts.

Later I'm leaving the bank with Uncle Alphard's inheritance money put under a false name in case they try to fuck with me, and now I've got coins, magically reduced, jingling in my pocket. I've got to go and see James, but I'll need a broom to get there.

---

Diagon Alley. I'm standing unsteadily in front of the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies, but I'm looking at the notice attached to the brick wall next to it.

DUE TO INCREASED NOSINESS

BY THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC,

LASZLO LEVIATHAN'S LOOT

IS GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.

ALL MERCHANDISE MUST BE SOLD.

MAKE ME AN OFFER.

There's a map to a shop down Knockturn Alley and to the left. And there's a photograph of a motorbike that seems to be posing provocatively, turning its front wheel from side to side, headlamps winking at me, metal glinting in the sun, and I can't take my eyes off it. It looks like a little bit of ecstasy, wrought from chrome and leather, and I want it immediately. Simple as that, my day is getting better. I rip the notice down and start weaving my way down the narrow alley, trying to walk straight and doing a passable job. The shop windows and hags and hooded men I pass are blurs in my peripheral vision as I lurch towards the business at the end of the alley.

"Hello?" I call when I get there.

I'm standing in the oversized doorway of what looks like a warehouse or a very large garage. Dotting the place are crates, some of whose lids are off or half off. Several of the boxes are shuffling and rocking as if the contents are trying to escape. In the corner I see what look like huge spindly spider's legs reaching out from between two slats of a crate, and they are feeling around, slowly and delicately, on the concrete floor. I shudder and take an involuntary step backwards.

"Anyone home?" I try again.

I enter and start to pad around, peering into the containers that aren't moving, because I do value all my appendages. There are urns and cauldrons packed into newspaper. Beyond those are roots and pickled creatures and carpets. Books, stacked higher than me, lean precariously like skinny, drunken giants. I see robes and all sorts of Muggle-looking devices and wigs and hats and cutlery and skeletons and –

"Yes?"

The voice behind me makes me crinkle the parchment in my hand. I turn around and face a very large, very pasty man whose doughy face is roughly twice as wide as mine. His bald head is mottled with large brown spots, and his eyes are bulbous, dark, and strangely empty-looking. He's wearing what looks like a Muggle train conductor's uniform, only in white, and there are smeared stains on it and I'm not sure I want to know why he's wearing those rubber gloves.

"Are you Laszlo?" I ask, watching my enunciation because even I know it's odd to be drunk at eleven in the morning.

He nods, pulling off the gloves with two pops and tossing them onto a crate to my left. The man's hands look nearly as rubbery as the gloves did, as if someone's hexed the bones right out of him, and I wonder how he's upright at all.

I produce the notice I ripped off the wall. "I'm interested in the motorbike."

Laszlo takes the parchment from me and stares at it. "What bike?" he asks flatly.

"The one in the – " I start to point to the photo at the bottom of the parchment, but there's no photo there anymore. "Erm, I saw a photo of a motorbike. Not sure where it went, but it was there on your advertisement."

Laszlo stares at me, those dull eyes unblinking as if I'm the most interesting bit of plankton he's encountered all day.

I clear my throat. "It was black," I offer lamely.

"I do have a motorbike – "

"Ah – "

"But I cannot sell it to you."

"You mean it's sold?"

"No, I mean I cannot sell it."

"It's your personal – "

"No, no." He sort of chuckles, a gurgly, hollow noise that sounds about as mirthless as a mortar full of newts' eyeballs. "It's not mine."

"Then – "

"I cannot sell it because it refuses to be sold."

"You mean the bike – ?"

"Refuses to be touched."

He looks again at the parchment, which is still void of any photograph, and I start to wonder if I was hallucinating. But no, he's talking about a motorbike, even if he is talking crazy – unless he's trying to wrangle some money out of me for something else. The old bait-and-switch; I've seen it before.

He sighs and his voice sounds wet, like he needs to clear his throat. "Ah, well," he says. "It's worth you having a look. Come on."

We cross the warehouse and Laszlo speaks, oblivious as I drunkenly dodge several crates and boxes that lunge at me. I try not to flail too much while keeping my balance.

"I received this motorbike over a year ago," says Laszlo, "from a gentleman who was passing through from California on his way to Moscow to be with his sweetheart, so he said, and he needed money. It's a Muggle cruiser, but it flies, too, so technically I shouldn't even have the thing. Ministry's getting a little too interested in what I've got here, you know. I thought I was doing the bloke a favour, taking it off his hands. Now I wonder where he actually got – "

"How much?" I interrupt. I'm not interested in the sales pitch, or why I should pay him more.

Laszlo doesn't speak for a moment and we walk in silence. At last he says, "Make me an offer."

We end up in a separate, smaller room, one that looks like a mechanic's shop. There are tools, engine parts, and bits of wood and equipment everywhere, lying on workbenches, hanging from rafters, hooked to the walls.

And there it is, parked under a high window in the dusty sunlight. Black with gleaming chrome and those little leather straps that dangle from the handlebars; a long, broad seat made of leather and trimmed with metal grommets; room for storage in the black leather saddlebags; fat wheels, pristine – they look untouched, undriven …

"She's a beauty, isn't she?" says Laszlo, but with that tone he might as well be commenting on the weather. "Tsk. Waste of space. It is unfortunate ... "

He makes a wide circle around the bike towards what must be his desk, and the engine growls. I hadn't realised the cruiser was running. Was it? Why would Laszlo leave it running?

The man shuffles through some papers in a file drawer, muttering to himself through his colourless lips. While he's searching, I go and take a closer look at this sexy piece of machinery.

The engine idles lazily as I circle around, inspecting it. No dents, no scratches on the chrome; oval side mirrors; a very pleasing arrangement of little round headlamps at the front, a large one flanked by two small ones; foot rests sitting slightly forward; seat low to the ground … oh, and leather-bound hand grips, they're the softest leather I think I've ever touched, and the engine purrs through the warm leather seat under my hand –

"What are you doing?" Laszlo snaps.

I jerk my hands away, raising them in placation. After the morning I've had, I'm in no mood for a punch-up with a seven-foot lump of dough. "Sorry, mate, just feeling the leather."

"She let you touch her?"

"She – I – yes." Not knowing why I feel like I've been caught cheating, I swallow. But I want this bike. I want it. I try to look bored. "One hundred galleons." That's not a fair price, but he's going to haggle with me, of course.

"Two hundred," Laszlo counters. "I've got to process the title into your name."

"That's hardly worth one galleon, much less a hundred," I reply. "One fifty and no title." I don't want my family to know a goddamn thing about me anymore. I want to be untraceable. Maybe I won't go back to school –

"Look here, young man – "

He ambles towards me with a piece of parchment he's pulled from the desk drawer, and as he reaches me the bike rumbles at him with a sudden lurch forward. He leaps back, his own white hands raised in surrender. The paper quivers and slips from his fingers; and when it settles onto the ground the motorbike inches slowly forward, dragging its kick stand across the concrete floor with a screech, until the front wheel is on top of the parchment.

"Bloody hell, that's the title!" he yells at the motorbike.

The engine roars once, filling the shop with sound, and then cuts off. The front end lolls to one side, lifeless.

This is my chance.

"Can I have it?" I ask, placing my hand on the seat.

"Yes! Yes! Take the thing!" He's beginning to sweat, and I wonder how many times he's actually tried to sell this beauty.

I magically enlarge the moneybag in my pocket and dole out one hundred fifty galleons into Laszlo's clammy, shapeless fingers. I'm surprised I don't actually see suckers where the greedy bugger's finger pads should be. His hand is shaking as he puts the gold pieces into a box on his desk and then locks it.

I take the handlebars, nudge the kick stand up with my foot, and gently ease the motorbike off the title. I jerk my head at the parchment. "Why don't we tear that up now?"

With something like a frown, he leans down and retrieves the paper, then rips it into several pieces and tosses them into a trash bin. "Happy?" he mutters.

"Exceedingly."

Two minutes later, as I'm walking the bike out of the garage, Laszlo is still cursing under his breath, muttering how I should be grateful he's just sold it to me for a song. Not that it makes a bit of difference to me. Let him gripe; I got my motorbike, unregistered and untraceable. Cash. Who needs a sodding broomstick anymore, with the places I'm going?

I walk the bike out of the alley and onto a vacant road. We are alone.

"Hello, beauty," I whisper, rubbing my hand along the soft leather seat. Remus told me that Muggle boys often refer to their cars and motorbikes as females, and who am I to argue with tradition? I'm as good as a Muggle now. I climb on the back and immediately get a bit of a hard-on. I squeeze the leather handlebars, masculine appendages on such a voluptuous item. I smile. "Black beauty."

As if she's read my mind, her engine switches on and we take off, up into the sky, and the motorbike is more solid than any broomstick. She's heavy, and hard to manoeuvre at first; but once I learn to lean into her with a little counter-steering, and take my time, she's butter in my hands.

The machine is huge, and she growls like a metallic steed that's somehow mine and not mine, as if she's only allowing me to ride her because I look good on her, like a hero on a white horse, a knight in shining armour, a rock star. I laugh out loud and the wind whips my hair into my mouth and across my eyes as I turn my head to look behind me and below. In the air it's easy to forget what I've left. The pleasant rumble between my legs is soothing, and I feel like I own everything beneath us, the streets and shops of London and all the towns beyond on the way to the Potters' house, which I could find even if I had to hitchhike there in the dark, which I've done. Twice.

The thought first crossed my mind in the shop, but I really do think I might not go back to school. I fly on, feeling freer than I've done in years, possibly in my entire ridiculous life.

The landing is a bit rough, and I nearly plough into the side of the Potters' house. I manage to steer the bike round back and hide it in the bushes. The engine turns off as soon as I step away, which is a good thing because I realise I forgot to ask for a key. Or for a test drive. Lucky for me she runs well.

There's no answer at the back door, but I know how to get in; the Potters told me, knowing I have to – had to – get away from my family sometimes. The kitchen is eerily quiet, and I help myself to a butterbeer while I sit and stare at the clock on the wall. Half past eleven. I notice a letter lying open on the table; there's a funeral today, which is probably where they are now. James' family has already been to three funerals that I know of this summer. I drink in silence, feeling poison bubbling up in me again; I've had to sneak out of the house for every single bloody funeral I've been to.

After half an hour of staring at the thick wood trim around the doorway I start to feel restless. They could be gone all day. All night, possibly, if it's family. And this butterbeer certainly isn't doing the trick, because the firewhiskey is wearing off and I'm starting to think again. I find a piece of parchment and a quill.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Potter and James,

Had a bit of a blow-up with the family. I was wondering if I could stay with you tonight. Send an owl if it's all right. If it's not convenient, I'll go to Peter's, don't worry about me. I hope you are well.

Many thanks,

Sirius

I don't really want to go to Peter's, though. He's not very good at listening when I need him to listen, or shutting up when I need him to shut up. The Potters are good at it, and a bolt of jealousy slashes through me, not for the first time. They treat me like their own, it's true, and I love them for it. But let's face it: I'm not their son. Never will be. They belong to James, and I've got what I've got for a family.

I throw away the butterbeer bottle and go and sit on the steps at the back door for a minute, looking at the hydrangeas, running a hand through my hair. It's beginning to sink in now, what's happened, and I really don't want to think about it.

I could go to Remus' house, but the full moon was last night, and his parents will be with him at St. Mungo's, and I can't go there while he's all white and sick and his mum is rushing around trying to make him eat soup and his dad is reading him bits of The Quibbler to make him laugh. Remus needs all their attention now, and there's no room at their place for me to stay, anyhow. Jealousy stings me again and I slap it away.

I'm back on the motorbike, thinking where to go next, knowing exactly what I want, and trying to talk myself out of it but failing because truthfully I wasn't really trying very hard. I turn south, knowing that it's a bad, bad idea … but I need something, and there's something that girls do for me, even though Lily isn't like other girls, and there's James, and I shouldn't, but Lily – if I had the chance – fuck all, I can't think about that right now either. I just go.

When I get close to her house I think I'm pretty sure her parents are at work because they're Muggles and most Muggles have to work. Her sister might be there, which would be a real bummer, but we could work around that if –

But there she is, there's Lily, red hair gleaming in the sun like a beacon, and she's just stormed out of the house into the back yard with fists pumping as she circles the garden. It's the Angry Lily walk. I love Lily when she's angry, which is most of the time, thanks to James. She looks so … so real.

I land ten feet from her, skidding a bit on the grass. Lily yelps, dropping her fists and grabbing her wand, and suddenly she's in fight stance, staring at my motorbike. Glancing at my face, she realises who's dropped in, and I say hello.

"Sirius Black, what in the world – ?"

She pockets her wand again and approaches me, eyes on the machine. The motorbike rumbles uncertainly, but I run a hand along the seat. "It's okay, Lily's all right," I murmur.

Lily looks me square in the eye, brow furrowed, like she thinks I've finally gone round the bend if I'm talking to inanimate objects, and she might be right.

"Fancy a ride?" I grin.

She looks at me – just looks at me – and there it is. That thing between us, the thing that keeps our eyes on each other when other people are around, only now no one's around, and I think again I shouldn't have come here, but I'm so glad I did, because it's Lily, and I –

"Just bought her." Keep talking, don't think. "She's a beauty, isn't she?"

Lily drops her eyes and I heave a silent sigh of relief as she circles me, her eyes raking across the features of my motorbike instead of my face, but Merlin it felt good when her eyes were there and I immediately want them on me again.

"She is," Lily says. "Absolutely gorgeous."

The engine purrs, which is a good sign, because clearly this bike is an excellent judge of character.

"Then let's go," I say, extending a hand. What am I doing?

"Where?"

I shrug.

Lily hesitates.

"Oh, come on, Lily – " I can't help myself.

"No, I'll go," she says at once, and my heart jumps into my throat. It's one thing to be alone in her family's back yard, but another thing entirely to be alone somewhere else, and she said yes –

"There's a place I'd like to see. How far can she go?"

At least from America to Europe, if Laszlo was telling the truth. "Far enough," I say.

"Then let's take a picnic." She turns her back on me and goes back up to the house. I watch her slender form, the little thin summer skirt and bare legs, those calves – stop it, stop it – and her hair swinging down her back –

Oh Merlin, what have I done?

I follow her into the house.

"Petunia's over at a friend's," Lily says as she pulls out a loaf of bread. She shoots me a threatening look. "I do hope none of the neighbours saw you flying that thing."

"Would I get you into trouble, Lily Evans?" I ask, putting a hand over my heart. She smirks and doesn't answer. Just as well.

But by Gryffindor's garterbelt, she's beautiful. I'm studying the dimple next to her mouth, and soon I'm leaning closer to her as if she's got some sort of magnetic pull on me. She blushes and I feel a surge of yearning. She turns away to get some roast beef, and I have to drag my eyes away from her and look around the kitchen.

I've never been inside her house before, and it's all whites and creams and yellow curtains, bright like her, the antithesis of everything I've left behind. As Lily organises our little picnic, I force myself to linger back, make small talk, lean against the kitchen table, keep my distance. Watching her delicate hands make our sandwiches, my heart contracts, almost painfully, and I understand that I want this. Her. Us, somewhere else, in a little white kitchen of our own. Did I just think that?

She turns around to face me. "Strawberries or blueberries?" But her face drops when she catches sight of mine and I wonder what I've accidentally let her see.

"Blueberries would be nice," I reply, shoving my hands in my pockets and schooling my face into a more neutral expression as I stare at the black and white tiled floor.

Lily pauses, but eventually she turns back around towards the sink to wash the fruit, the afternoon sunshine through the window making a halo of fire around her hair. I want to go to her, to breathe her in, to scorch my lungs on that blazing mane, but I don't move. It's as if all my little tricks are suddenly inadequate here, in her presence. Not that she'd ever fall for them. For me. But then again, I know she's got to be curious about –

"Where are we going?" I ask.

"The country," Lily says.

We chit chat again for a few moments, and I notice she's not asking what I'm doing here. That makes me go and join her again at the sink again because the table is too far away, too far from her. I want to be close enough to almost touch her; I want to make her blush again. I catch a whiff of something fresh and I grin at her, trying to will my heart to slow down. She glances at me with a twitch of a smile, handing me the colander of washed blueberries and a container to put them in. While I'm doing that, she leaves the room.

I carry the blueberries and wrapped sandwiches in a brown paper bag out to the motorbike and put the items into one of the saddlebags. I remain there on the ground, fastening the buckle, kneeling, hoping, and soon Lily joins me with another bag of things, which she deposits into the other saddlebag. I hear the clink of glass and metal.

"Ready?" I say.

"Ready."

I climb onto my motorbike and the engine revs; but as soon as Lily straddles the seat behind me, the bike lurches forward and Lily falls backwards onto the ground.

"Shit! Sirius!" She's angry. At me. Oh boy.

"Sorry, it wasn't me!" I jump off and run to her. She's tugging that little skirt down – oh Godric, her thighs – and her eyes are full of vitriol and promises of physical violence, and I adore that, though I'm absolutely certain I shouldn't. I offer her a hand and she smacks it away, preferring to get up by herself.

"It wasn't you?" She's brushing freshly cut grass off of her skirt. "Then who the hell was it? Your motorbike?"

"Well, yes."

"Oh, for – "

"Wait. Let me talk to her."

" – Pete's sake."

I walk in front of my bike and cross my arms, trying to ignore Lily's grumbles.

"Do you want to go back to the shop?" I ask it under my breath.

The bike growls at me. Lily tilts her head, thinking I'm completely deranged, at last, I'm sure.

"Let me tell you something, sweetheart," I continue to the motorbike, cocking my hip and leaning close to the headlamps with my hands gripping the handlebars, backwards. "Lily was here long before you were. You're the 'other woman,' not her. Got it?"

The motorbike is silent.

"Good. Now that we understand each other … " I climb on again and hold a hand out for Lily. Her cheeks are bright red, and my own are hot, too, because I realise what I've just said about her and it's too late to back pedal without drawing more attention to it. She glowers at the hand for a moment; but then she takes it, and I realise this is the first time we've actually touched on purpose, aside from when she smacks me, and it's thrilling. So is her body wrapping itself around my back.

I take her hand and pull her arm firmly around my waist. "Better hold tight, just in case." Oh, it's such a cliché, but it's so appropriate – and necessary – I'd be a fool not to use it.

Feeling her entire torso against my back sends a current of craving straight down into my jeans. I push the kickstand back with my heel and we're off. Lily whoops and squeezes me tighter and I grin like the biggest, happiest imbecile there ever was. Luckily she can't see me.

Some clouds are gathering, which is good, because I can steer us up higher for cover. It wouldn't do to be arrested by the Ministry now that I've got Lily hanging onto me for dear life.

"Where to, love?" I call.

Lily leads us by speaking directly into my left ear while I steer, and I feel my skin prickle where her breath lands. We duck below the clouds now and then to follow the roads. Every once in a while she points with one arm, but afterwards she always grabs me tighter.

I hope this place, wherever it is, is far, far away.

After about twenty minutes of flying away from the towns and into the countryside, I've got a raging hard-on and I'm having to think about Herbology to force it down. It doesn't help that Lily's hands are right above my belt and I can feel the heat of her pelvis and her thighs and her breasts snug against – Mandrakes. Wartcap. Devil's Snare.

Now she's telling me we're here, and she's pointing at a farm below. There's a creek and a little bridge and a barn, a wooden fence in disrepair, a few crumbling stone walls, and a cottage up on a hill. I see no animals. The sky is darker and threatening rain now, like it does in the summertime, and I wonder how long we'll have here.

We land beside the barn, near the small wooden bridge. It smells of hay and manure. There is colour everywhere, though the sky is grey. I twist around on the motorbike and Lily's eyes are brightest of all when she smiles at me, the green of leaves in summer and ivy in winter and every verdant thing living and resting in between.

She dismounts, not looking at me. There's that flush on her cheeks again, and my heart starts doing somersaults beneath my breastbone. I follow her like a duckling after its mum as she walks across the short bridge and looks up at the house on the hill. I glance behind me at the motorbike, but it's within sight and it'll be all right while we look around. There's no one out here, anyway.

Lily's voice is small, but matter-of-fact. "My granddad lived there with my gran, until she died. Then he lived there alone, until he died, in February."

"Death Eaters?"

"No. Cancer."

"Oh," I say, though I don't quite know what that word means to Muggles. But it sounds like chancre and I can see Lily's eyes glistening and I know it's not good. "I'm sorry."

She shrugs and wipes her eyes, then revolves on the spot to take in other parts of the farm. She sighs, smiling wanly. Behind a tree there's a storage shed I hadn't noticed when we landed, connected to what looks like a hen house. There are six bee houses dotting the hillside like dainty white buttons on a dragon's shirt. A rusting piece of equipment sits cockeyed halfway up the hill, as if it got stranded there after it couldn't decide which way to go.

It's very, very quiet.

But suddenly there's a huge thunderclap and the sky brightens for a millisecond. Lily and I jump and stare at each other with a mixture of fear and wonder, half-smiles on our wide-eyed faces, seconds before the rain begins.

"Come on! Come round this way! Get your bike!"

And she's racing around to the back side of the barn, which is built into a little hill. I rush towards the bike, but it's already following Lily on its own, so I guess it's decided it trusts her after all. Lily yanks the wide doors open and darts inside.

We're in a hay loft. The floorboards look none too sturdy, but the motorbike parks itself behind some rectangular hay bales next to the door where there is firm, packed earth underneath. The rain is coming in torrents, slapping the old wooden roof in a crazy tribal beat. Breathing hard and running my hands through my damp hair, I look up and see exposed wood beams running the width of the structure, and little birds darting inside the high windows to their nests. It smells fresh and old at once, and I immediately decide I could spend the night here.

"Well," Lily breathes, looking up with me into the rafters, "there goes our stroll around the property."

"It's all right," I say. "The rain'll stop soon."

Our faces lower and we stand there looking at each other again, and I notice the raindrops clinging to her cheeks and lips, and there's that thing again, and she must be able to feel it. It's not just me, and it's not just today.

Lily lowers her eyes and crosses behind the high stack of hay bales. She strokes the seat of the motorbike a little before squatting down to retrieve our food from the saddlebags.

While she does that I scout out a place for us to eat. The floor is dirty from years of tromped-in mud, so I climb onto the hay bales on the left side of the barn. The straw is clean and smells good, and there's cool, moist air coming in through the large doors we've left open. It's marvellously quiet here, except for the rain on the roof and the rustling and twittering of the birds above. It feels as though time has stopped, as if we could stay here for weeks and weeks and only truly be gone an hour.

"Hey." Lily's voice brings me out of my thoughts and she tosses the sandwiches up at me. "Bottles," she calls before lobbing the next bag up. Then I offer her a hand and she takes it and climbs up beside me. She avoids my eyes until she's pulled out our lunches and we are seated cross-legged facing each other, her skirt tucked demurely between her legs.

She hands me a sandwich and a butterbeer and puts the blueberries between us. Then she unwraps her own sandwich and says, "Dad phoned just before you came. They've decided to sell it."

I swallow the bite I was chewing, feeling a jolt of empathy. That's why she'd been storming around the yard. "Why?"

"We can't afford to keep the farm up, or to hire someone to do it for us." Lily wipes the lip of the bottle with her shirttail – I spy a sliver of pale stomach – before taking her first swig. "And there's no one here to work the land, tend the animals – well, we've sold them already." She's silent, sipping her butterbeer.

I take another bite and chew for a moment. "What about magic? House elves?"

She shakes her head. "I already thought of that. This is Muggle territory. Anyway, I'm the only witch in the family. Where would we get a house elf?"

"You can have mine," I mutter. Two birds with one stone if I kidnap Kreacher: make Lily happy, royally piss off my family.

Lily looks at me quizzically but says nothing. I don't think she knows how things are between me and the rest of them.

There's another deafening rumble of thunder that vibrates my chest and we both cringe for a second. Then we laugh at our own fear.

"Lovely summer's day," I say, tilting my butterbeer at her. We clink bottles and drink.

I wipe my mouth on my sleeve and think for a moment as I look out at the muted, wet landscape beyond the barn door. "Who will you sell it to?"

Lily raises her eyebrows and tosses her head, as if it doesn't matter. "Anyone." Then she looks away from me so I won't see the water glistening in her eyes, but I do.

"Can I buy it?"

Her head whips towards me again, and I can see that I've shocked the tears right out of her. "What – "

I look at her and shrug. "Why not?"

"Sirius – "

"Then it would still be yours. I mean – " Merlin, what do I mean? "I could sell it back to you for a knut, erm, a pound or whatever it's called. And we could tend the land ourselves. Grow vegetables and stuff."

Lily leans forward with her elbows on her knees. "Do you have any idea how much work is involved in keeping up a farm?"

"No."

She chuckles. "A lot."

"Well, so? I could get my house elf to help."

"Then what would your family do?"

"Pfft." I wave her question away.

Her eyes narrow, but she doesn't ask, and I feel another rush of affection towards her.

"What about school? You can't run a farm and study at the same time."

"Who said anything about school?"

She's speechless. I grin.

"Sirius, I can't let you do that."

"Can't stop me, either."

She inhales quickly, then thinks better of whatever she was about to say. She chews on her lip, takes a swig of butterbeer. "Don't," she says quietly.

"Come on, Lily."

"Don't tease me." Her eyes are dark and I see she means it.

"Lily, no," I say, alarmed. "I'm not teasing you."

I look into her face and she looks into mine and we understand each other. Just like that, I can see that she gets it. Her eyes soften and something shimmers between us, something more than what was there before. And I've got nowhere to hide because in offering to buy the farm, she knows. Great Godric, it's out now, I've fallen for her and there's no doubt about it, she knows, she knows.

Whatever comes out, keep talking. Just don't let this moment escape.

"I'll buy some overalls and a straw hat and I'll become a farmer," I say softly.

"I won't let you," she says, matching my tone.

"We'll see." For some reason whispering feels right.

Our eyes are locked and things are different now, and my heart is hammering madly.

"We're not selling the farm to you and that's final." She smiles at me and I have to smile back, even though she's pulled away a little and whatever's there between us is hiding behind her skirts now. "But I do appreciate the offer, Sirius." And the way she says my name sounds better than it ever has before and I recognise that I'm in trouble deep.

"Okay," I say, though I haven't actually agreed to drop the matter, but she doesn't have to know that. Maybe there's another way –

"Besides, we've got another year of school, haven't we?"

"Maybe you have." I glance at my motorbike and think of all the places I could go. We could go, Lily and I. If I can convince her.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm not going back." I say it out loud to see what it sounds like, and it's thrilling and a little scary.

"Yes, you are."

"No. I'm not." This is good practise. I'm getting used to the idea already.

"Yes, you are, Sirius." I'm starting to see a little bit of Angry Lily now, and I grin. "You are going back to school, what are you talking about?"

"I've left home." I didn't mean to say that. Shit. "What I meant to say – "

Her voice is quiet and her eyes dart all over my face. "You've left home? For good?"

"Well … yes." There.

"When?"

"Erm. This morning."

"You – what? This morning? Why didn't you tell me …?"

I shrug. "It's not a big deal."

"It's – of course it's a big deal! Sirius …!" But she doesn't finish.

And she's leaning into me with her hands on my knees and her face close to mine and I'm all she sees and I feel terribly exposed right now. I want to kiss her.

"You'd have done the same," I murmur.

She's silent and we look at each other.

"My brother – " I don't want to say it, especially not when I'm wanting to kiss her at the same time, but it just sort of pops out of my mouth.

"Regulus," Lily says, and I can hear the worry in her voice, because she knows him.

She doesn't know the half of it.

"Actually, my dad – he paid some people – and then he, ah – " I pause, blinking, and Lily just looks at me. I don't know what it is – she doesn't move, she's letting me decide – and suddenly I want to tell her everything, even though she hasn't asked. Her eyes search mine, she hardly breathes, and I know she's with me, she won't let me go through it alone, and something inside my chest unfurls uncertainly.

Well, if I'm going to tell it, I might as well start at the beginning.

"You'll want to get comfortable," I say, trying to manage a grin but probably failing spectacularly.

Lily settles back against a hay bale with her legs extended, her expression cautious, as if I might bite her if she moves too quickly or says the wrong thing, but she's still and calm, so of course I won't. I shift so that I'm leaning against the opposite side, my feet meeting hers but not quite touching them.

I reach for a few blueberries from the container between us and eat them, chasing them with the last of my butterbeer. Sweet followed by bitter. The birds over our heads keep chirping and singing, as if today's as beautiful as yesterday.

Perhaps I'll try not to look at Lily's reaction while I'm talking, because I don't really need to be reminded of how fucked up my family is. I take a deep breath, knowing that I've got to tell it all in one go or it won't get told at all; and when I speak, it's to the hands wrapped around my empty butterbeer bottle.

"Dad paid some fellows to go and capture a Lethifold." Now that the first words are out I know the rest will follow, and they come out in a rush. "I have no idea how they did it, or how many people died in the process, but they actually did it. It … it was sealed up in Mum's bedroom for months. She and Dad must have had to sleep together in his room, I suppose." I chuckle. "I found out during the Christmas holidays. Sweet fucking dreams at home, with that thing in the house. No one would tell me what it was for."

I start peeling the label off the bottle, working slowly to try to get it all off in one piece, still not looking at Lily. I can see her hands gripping each other in my peripheral vision.

"And then later, back at school, during one of our fights, Regulus bragged to me about sneaking into Filch's office first term and stealing the names of next year's incoming students. He wouldn't tell me why. But he doesn't do anything without a reason. No one in my family does."

I accidentally rip the paper a bit, but it's okay, I can salvage it. I dig a fingernail under the part that's sticking and try again.

"Next thing I knew, come the Easter holidays, I was home getting some books of mine that I didn't want Mum snooping through, and there was a box of wands sitting in our entrance hall, ready to be shipped to Ollivander's, addressed in my mother's handwriting, so she knew, too; she was in on it. They were careless to leave it sitting there where I could see it, but I knew, I knew something terrible would happen if I didn't tell Ollivander … "

I look up briefly and Lily's mouth is open and I can tell she's floored that I've actually ratted on my own family. How could I not? But her eyes are shining; and though it might be horror I see there, it might also be admiration, so I go on.

"For a long time, nothing happened. We went back to school, they didn't know I'd done it, and no one said a word, least of all me. Then we came home for the summer, things were the same as always, which is total shit, and then two days ago the Ministry came knocking, asking Dad all sorts of questions."

I accidentally rip across the label and half of it comes off, so I can't repair it this time. I start ripping the rest of it off because it's done now.

"They grilled him all day, and yesterday, and this morning, rifling through all his records and correspondence at home, maybe even at Gringotts, too. They wanted to know – how did he capture a Lethifold?" I tear another bit of the label off. "How did he slice it into little pieces and get them inserted into forty-two wands?" I peel off another piece. "How did he intercept those wands from the wandmaker in the first place, and how did he make sure the Lethifold bits inside were undetectable by Ollivander's safety spells?"

Between my fingers I start rolling up the bits of paper into little balls. Then I blow across my hand, scattering the bits onto the muddy floor. The rain still patters on the roof and I wish it were louder.

When I finally look at Lily, her face is white. She pulls something metal out of the paper bag that the butterbeer bottles were in. It's a flask, and she hands it to me. I take a deep draught of firewhiskey and pass it back to her. My hand is shaking a little and I'm sure she saw it. I wrap my hands around my knees to still them.

"It was brilliant, of course, but then again my family is nothing if not brilliant." I snort. "It was the perfect way to get rid of all those new little … Mudbloods … before they ever reached Hogwarts. Because I think they found some way to link each of the wands to the new – to those kids. And it was completely untraceable. I found out later they charmed the wands to release the bit of Lethifold if and only if the wand sensed it was in the presence of anything less than pure blood. And it would only seep out of the wand after dark, covering the mouth and nose of the kid in the middle of the night and smothering – "

My voice catches and Lily's hands are over her mouth. We're motionless for a while, staring at each other. Her eyes question me, and I nod. Yes, I think, my family is that fucked up. It's a relief to acknowledge it, to her, because she just accepts it. There's no raging, no thrashing, nothing that makes it worse than it already is. She knows to keep silent.

Lily slowly hands me the flask again. I drink. Between the butterbeers and all the firewhiskey I've had today, I'm coasting; it's a calm little buzz that keeps me from needing to flail and storm – well, the storm is inside where it can hurt no one but me, at least. I pass the whiskey back to her. We drink in silence, passing the flask back and forth, and I search her face. Yes, she's still with me, not judging. She looks terribly sad, and I want to make a joke to wipe that sadness from her face. She can't be that upset for me; it's just my family, and it's just the way they've always been.

Instead I keep talking, because now I've got to finish it.

"There wouldn't have been enough of the Lethifold to eat the kid, but enough to kill him, suffocate him. Her. Whoever. All of them. And it's unlikely anyone would have traced it to the wands, or my parents, if I hadn't sent an anonymous owl to Ollivander."

I should have named names, I should have gone to the Ministry myself. Then they wouldn't have dragged their feet. The trail wouldn't have been as cold.

My heart is pounding hard now. I drink and run a hand over my face. I'm glad Lily's not speaking, because I've got to get this out, it's making me sick.

"I kept thinking of meeting Remus on the train when he was eleven." I look at Lily and she's utterly still, her eyes large. "And you." My throat tightens and I lower my eyes because I can't bear to see any more of her reaction.

"But," I go on briskly, "my father knows how to cover his tracks. I'm sure he paid a lot of good money for his little plan, and even more to make sure it couldn't be traced back to us. Him."

I hand the flask back to her, not wanting to tell her how I chased after the Ministry officials this morning, yelling at them to come back, to look again, that it had to be in Dad's records somewhere, that someone had to make them all pay for what they'd tried to do to those kids.

"But even though he got out of it," I go on, tossing my hair out of my eyes, "I really bollocksed things up for them, and good. They can't pull that trick again."

"They knew it was you who told?" Her voice is gentle, and it makes my heart crack a little bit more.

I nod, and when I speak I'm hoarse. "Who else could it have been?"

"And you left."

"They wouldn't have it any other way." I clear my throat, my voice still raw from this morning, and dry from the drink.

"That was a very brave thing you did," she says tenderly, and now I can't avoid her eyes anymore because they are piercing me. "If your family's with the Death Eaters now, they could have – "

I shake my head. "You'd have done the same thing."

"Not everyone would have had the stones to do that, and you know it."

I shrug and hand her back the firewhiskey.

She drinks and we are quiet again. I exhale, feeling very old and very tired. All of a sudden I think of an old Muggle story and I wish I was Peter Pan and Lily was Wendy, and all I want is for her to put her arms around me and say everything will be all right, that we can go back to Neverland and bring our friends and flirt with the mermaids and fight with the pirates and stay up too late eating sweets and chocolate and after the moon rises Lily and I can sneak away and have sex. But of course Lily won't say any of that because there's no Neverland and Peter Pan's just a fictional little boy, actually, and who knows if she'd ever have sex with me, and she's far too practical for such talk, which is why I adore her.

But she could make me a real boy. Wait, I'm mixing metaphors. Well, she could make a man of me. A better man, one who's more than his past, with a future worth thinking about. I think that's true, it could happen; it's Lily, after all.

She finishes the flask and screws the lid back on. Then she reaches into the bag and pulls out another larger flask. I stare at it.

"I knew I had something to drink about today. Luckily I packed for two, just in case."

Pragmatic Lily. I smile.

She snickers, and it's the most beautiful sound I've heard all day. She slaps a hand over her mouth, perhaps thinking that I wouldn't find laughter appropriate after that pile of drama I've just dumped on her. But I laugh. And my laugh makes her snort again. And then we're both giggling, laughing so hard we're squeezing our sides and trying to breathe, rolling on the hay bales and smacking at each other helplessly like little children.

After several minutes we're lying on our backs catching our breath, our heads next to each other with our feet stretched out in opposite directions across the straw. It's still raining hard, and the air is clean, and my limbs are heavy from the firewhiskey, and I feel like I'm breathing for the first time today. I watch the birds flitting about overhead from rafter to rafter, singing happily to each other as Lily and I pass the flask back and forth, drinking in earnest now. Lily tosses some of the blueberries to the floor so the birds can have a snack, too. The blueberries land next to the rolled up bits of butterbeer label; and when the birds flock down to root through the trash and the fruit I chuckle again, not really knowing why.

Lily flops back down next to me and sighs. "Families have different ways of disappearing, don't they?"

I nod sagely. "Shut up and drink."

"Okay," she says.

And we do.

But soon she says, "You've got to come back to school."

"No, I haven't."

"You've got to finish."

"No, I haven't."

"You – God, you are the most contrary person in the world sometimes."

"No, I'm not."

She turns her face to me and smiles. "Yes, you are."

"No, I'm – " I grin back, because she's got me, and Merlin, she's just made me blush with that look on her face, flirtatious and – intimate. Are our faces really this close? "Well, it's your fault. You're fun to fight with."

She rolls her eyes. "Don't you start with that 'you're fun to fight with' load of bollocks, too."

I think of how she's looking at me, how she's never looked at James like this. That makes it okay. So I say it. "But I'm fun to fight back with. Admit it."

She gazes at me for a moment, as if she's truly considering it. She looks happy when she smiles at me. Happy. Is that possible?

"There'll be no fighting unless you come back to Hogwarts," she says, turning her eyes to the birds again.

"Don't say that."

"No fighting for you."

"Oh, come on, Lily."

"You've been warned. Don't say I didn't warn you."

"Lily – "

"It's true, though." Her cheeks redden and she looks away, towards the opposite wall.

I roll onto my stomach, up onto my elbows to look at her profile. Her pale legs are propped up on a hay bale, her fingers laced across her abdomen. I can see her collarbone, long and smooth, the muscles of her neck extending away from me, the pulse of blood under her skin. Her eyes blink slowly as she looks at the wall, but I can tell all her attention is on me.

"You like fighting with boys." Her coppery hair rustles a little under my breath and I see gooseflesh rise on her neck.

"No, I don't." Her blush deepens. She still won't look at me.

I whisper right into her ear. "I think you do."

"I'm done fighting."

I'm thinking of a retort but then I notice she's holding her breath. Why is she holding her breath? My heart rocks a little inside my chest and even the birds seem to have stopped singing and it's too quiet. "What do you mean you're done fighting?" Don't tell me, don't tell me, anything but that –

"James keeps asking me to go out with him, and – "

Things can't change just like that. Hasn't enough been ripped from my grasp? How much more am I supposed to sacrifice today? And so in a split second my lips are on her neck and she is silenced at once, and my brain is whirring at super speed. I linger there, planting soft kisses along the length of her neck, her jaw, because I can't reach her lips from here, and she lets me. I see her breath quickening. Mine is, too. And the birds are singing again, as if they can tell how good she tastes, how warm her skin is, how soft. They twitter to one another, as though they know how long I've been dying to do this and are as ecstatic about it as I am.

I pull away and Lily looks at me, her eyes shining, a little smile on her lips, a smile that says I've done exactly what she wanted, because she really didn't want to stop fighting, of course she didn't. She just needed someone better to fight with.

Her eyes look a little frightened, though, and I know how she feels: I'm nervous to go on, but I'm more afraid of stopping. Frozen for a moment, I want to touch her face, but somehow I know that hands would make this more real, and if I do that then there's no going back.

But then her fingers reach tentatively up to my cheek and into my hair, her eyes seeking approval, and I sink into her embrace; now that the decision is made for me, thank Merlin, relief floods me from head to groin, because who am I to say no to Lily? What fool would refuse her, after all? I lower my lips to hers and we're kissing, slow, long, deep, and it's too late to take anything back now even if I wanted to, because my heart is soaring.

I shift around so that our feet are in the same direction and now I've let my hands touch her, I've got her, the small of her back in the palm of my hand and my fingers in her hair, cradling her neck, and I don't want this ever to end, because it doesn't have to.

I can't stop looking at her because I'm half afraid if I blink she'll disappear, and she's gazing at me, too, like she's memorising me, as if she's allowing me into some secret place inside her heart, somewhere no one's ever been before, and I hope no one ever will again, and I tell her so with my kisses. My heart is drumming so hard she must be able to feel it.

Our kisses and our breathing become desperate, and soon Lily's got her fingers in my belt loops, pulling me towards her. I move so that I'm on top of her and our kisses deepen and Godric I want her, I want her, and she's moving into me, matching me, moaning into my lips and tugging me closer and driving me mad and I want her.

She slides her hands under my shirt and my skin tingles beneath her fingers, and then she's unbuttoning it and I'm unbuttoning hers but we don't quite fully manage to take our shirts off because we've got to keep kissing or we will die. I feel her skin against mine and I've somehow lost my mind and simultaneously gained a clarity I've never had before and I think my heart is about to burst even though I've never felt more alive in my life.

Whispering and murmuring into her mouth, her cheek, her ear, her neck, her breast, and down, down, down, squeezing and licking and tugging on clothing and flesh, I'm saying her name over and over again, which I've never done before with anyone, but I can't seem to stop myself. I like the sound and the feel of it, and every utterance has a new flavour, a new way of shaping my tongue to her will. And Lily's saying please, and that's a word she's never said to me before, and I adore her for it, I do, I love –

"Sirius …" She's tugging on her knickers and I'm helping her get rid of the flimsy little –

Now her hands are on my belt buckle and I let her do it, because my lips need hers again and it's strange how my tongue can keep saying her name even when it's inside her mouth, and –

Her fingers are hooked round my boxers, knees and calves hugging my ribs, and with her feet she pushes boxers and jeans down to –

My arm is underneath her back and she arches towards me, her hot palms pressing on my spine, down, down, down –

Sliding smoothly, it's not thrust-and-yield but a coming together where she's met me halfway, and our eyes lock, and I'm more conscious than I've ever been now that she's mine and I'm hers and my skin pulsates with every soft exhalation I feel on my lips and cheeks, and I never want to let this –

Moving, there's the mindless pleasure, but I keep whispering her name, the Ls lingering and leading me somewhere new, kissing and promising and pleading and wanting and giving, and even the sounds she's making are driving me insane, as if I can't get deep enough, make her –

It's slow but more frantic than anything I've ever known, our bodies are shaking and my blood is coursing fast, and her fingers are in my hair, and I want more than anything to –

"Sirius …"

I cover her mouth with mine to stop us saying anything else, because I can't let her –

She moans into me, urgent and languid all at once, and our movements become coordinated, though no faster, no faster than they were a moment ago, but Merlin, I don't ever want to –

"Sssssssssss …"

It's not even my name anymore, but I can tell she's right here with me, I've brought her here, I can't get close enough, and we don't have to think and my body isn't my own anymore and neither is –

"Please, please, pleasssssssssssse …"

I don't want to, don't make me stop this, Lily, please, don't make me –

But I'm moving faster because she wants it and my body is hers now and my fists are in her hair and I'm looking straight into her eyes and she's with me, she's with me, she sees me, I'm the only one, she loves me, at last, she –

"Ssssssirius, Sirius …"

She's kissing me with her entire body, as I knew she would, and it's better than any of the thousand dreams I've had about her and I've got to be better than good, for her, I've got to slow –

"Sirius …"

She's clutching me tightly, directing my movements, and I feel a desperate need in the heat and insistence of her palms, so I must do as her body says, because I'd do anything, anything for her, for Lily, I would –

"Please …"

As many times as she wants, anytime, anywhere, and I'll make her love me, I'll drive her mad, she'll never want to think twice about –

"Sssssssss …"

The hiss in my ear that's not quite and yet more than my name nearly sends me over the edge and I cling helplessly to her, she's the only thing keeping me here, Lily, Lily, don't leave, I love –

"God ...!"

And there it is, I've done it, she's tightening around me with her eyes shut tight, her pale skin flushing red butterflies across her chest, and I'm larger than life because she's mine and this moan and hiss are because of me, but it's too soon, too soon, I want –

"Ah …!"

Faster, faster, I can't stop it now, it's –

"Mmmnnnuhh …"

Wait, wait – it's too late, too late – the ecstasy, the blindness, the flashes of light and flesh and forever are over in a matter of seconds as I bury my face in her neck, her hair, the invisible flowers there –

"Sirius …"

I groan into her sighing mouth so that our names meet each other, and with each diminishing ripple try and –

But it's over.

We clutch each other, panting, slick with sweat, the clothes we still have on drenched and stuck to each other's bodies in the humid air… and I want to do it again immediately because I can't bear to let her go, to lose this closeness.

Lily's arm is around my neck and shoulders and her leg is around my lower back, and we remain that way, looking into each other's eyes, and she's more brilliant than sunlight on water, and I feel that I am, too, because of the way she's looking at me with that bold little smile – I've never seen that one before, on her – it's a smile that says I've pleased her, and perhaps she's pleased with herself, too. I pull a few bits of hay from her hair, stroke her cheek, kiss her over and over again to keep her right here, underneath my body. She can't go, she mustn't. She has to stay with me. It's not even nighttime yet, it's only that dusky purple time of day when it's not quite day or night, and we could just stay here and –

"I want you to come back to school," she breathes.

"Will you run away with me?" I respond.

We kiss again and I'm thinking of her question, and how I'd do anything for her. Always would. Always will. Anytime she wants me –

"Will you?" she asks again between kisses.

"Yes," I say, because she's asked me to. "Would you – "

"Ask me in a year."

"I will." And I'm kissing her again, helpless, senseless, single-minded and worthless.

There's a nearly inaudible rustle of wings on the hay bale above our heads and I glance up. It's an owl, a lovely tawny owl.

The Potters' owl.

I ignore it and keep kissing Lily. We haven't disentangled ourselves from each other yet, and I can't let this moment end. She adores me, it's there on her face, and I'm beginning to believe I deserve her adoration.

But as nature dictates, eventually we must free ourselves from each other's bodies, pulling knickers and boxers back on, tugging down skirts and fastening buckles, and still I ignore the owl. Lily's got her back to it and she hasn't seen it. It's a very polite owl and it just sits there, waiting. I wonder if it will go away if I ignore it long enough.

"So, I'll go back to school and we can come here on the weekends and work on the farm – "

"Sirius!" she shoves my shoulder. But she's smiling. "You're not buying the farm."

"No?"

"No." Her voice drops, though she still smiles with glittering eyes. "I couldn't bear it."

I sit next to her against the hay bales, as close as I can get, ribs to ribs, thigh to thigh. "Why not?"

She lowers her eyes, taking my hand and tracing patterns up and down my fingers, tattooing her touch there forever, I think, and speaking so softly I can hardly hear what she's saying. "I wanted to come and say goodbye to this place. This … this part of my life is done. I'm so far from the Muggle world that I wouldn't know now what to do with it if I had it." Her voice is quieter still. "But even though I have to, it's still hard to let it go."

Because I've left something behind today, too, I say, "Okay." I won't talk about the farm anymore. We look at each other and our smiles are a little sad, but that's all right. We've got each other.

The owl hoots softly. It's not as polite a creature as I'd thought, apparently.

"Oh!" Lily turns around and sees it. "Are you expecting …?"

Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. "Come on," I say to the owl. It extends its foot and I barely read the letter: yes, of course, come tonight, stay as long as you need to, et cetera. My heart is sitting somewhere in my stomach and I don't want to move. I can't think about James, not yet.

The owl waits for an answer.

"Go on, I don't have a quill," I say softly to it.

Confused, it shifts from one foot to another several times before taking off again through the open barn doors.

"Sirius?"

I blink and shake myself, folding the parchment and stuffing it into my back pocket next to my wand. "It's nothing. I've got a place to stay tonight." I didn't mean to say that, I should have lied; but she probably knows this owl, and I can't lie to Lily anyway, not anymore.

She doesn't say anything because I'm sure she knows exactly where I'll be staying.

Shit.

"Do you need to take me home now?" she asks slowly, and her eyes tell me to refuse.

"No," I say, of course. "No." I take her face in my hands and kiss her, and she kisses me back, and we don't talk again for a very long while.

But in time, when the light wanes and it stops raining and stars start peering down at our little barn, we begin to gather up the remains of our lunch. The birds have stopped twittering now that it's dark. It's bedtime for all honest souls, even ones that sing all day. We get back on my motorbike and it revs gently before it takes us up into the sky, and Lily's arms around me feel warm and safe and she hugs me tighter than she did before and I love her for it.

We set down quietly behind some bushes in a park at the end of her street and I walk her to her door and we say good night just like boyfriends and girlfriends do, with kisses and promises and who knows which of those will last the longest, but I mean to keep every one of mine.

And now my motorbike and I are headed to the Potters', which I could find if I had to hitchhike there in the dark, which I've had to do a total of twice; and I'm repeating myself, but I can't think about what's been taken from me today, and what almost was, and what I've bought and what I've stolen, and at what cost. At least I've got a good excuse for seeming distraught, and perhaps they'll let me go to bed without saying too much about why. If I sleep I'll dream of Neverland, and it will look something like a farm, and Lily will be there with blueberries and firewhiskey, and the birds will keep singing because the day will never end.

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A/N: Reviews are like gold to me, and I think Sirius would enjoy the attention as well. ;) The song Sirius sings as he leaves Grimmauld is an actual song I heard years ago that I think was recorded by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, but I couldn't track it down on the internet. Let me know if you find it, because it is frakkin' hilarious.