A/N: Motivated by A Fine Frenzy's beautiful autumn album "One Cell in the Sea" and Kaitsy's beautiful story, "Autumn" and even a little by Ann Brashares' beautiful book "Girls in Pants." I am inspired, and therefore cursed, by beauty found in the masterful artistry around me.
This takes place in Lily's parents' house, where she is currently staying, only a few months out of school. She's unpacking a suitcase of things she can't quite keep or throw away. Just a little mood piece to appease my thirst for melodrama, nothing particularly epic. Enjoy?
Autumn has always been her favorite time of the year.
There is just something about it; a certain timeless sparkle to the way summer begins to draw to a close, making room for transformations on the horizon.
The teasing summer breezes that played with her vibrant red hair on the warm, endless days spent outdoors begin to nip harder than usual, biting and scratching at her ankles like a restless toddler. The sun, so affectionate and ever-lingering on the infinite canvas of cotton-candy blue above her, sinks earlier and rises later, seemingly exhausted by the summer's needs for brightness.
Greenery so meticulously cared for isn't so green anymore, transforming into vivid colors – as though nature had been saving up for the whole of the past winter, spring, and summer for this moment to put on its best displays of color and brilliance.
Autumn is beautiful. There's a tang of sweet apples and smoke in the air, a swirl of fallen leaves around her bare skin, a mysteriousness about the way things change and life goes on during those few weeks in a year full of them. Everything is different, a sinister note to a childhood song, and nothing feels the same, chaotic in all its earthy majesty, and the intricacies of her complicated soul come out to play, because the world reveals itself for what it is: bitter.
Harmony ends when autumn comes around every year, and all that used to be dazzling and smiley and luminous draws to a gentle, fuzzy close. Things feel moodier, sultry, more important – like it's time to put aside the childish nonsense poisoning her mind with false promises, silly and idealistic notions.
Autumn brings about warm cloaks and itchy sweaters smelling like old memories so long forgotten, stored away in the deepest recesses of her mind. She remembers all this now, as she sifts through these monumental pieces of clothing in the middle of October, sitting on the floor of her old childhood bedroom, so painfully pink and flowery and juvenile. It contrasts in an almost comically grim way to her current situation – hurt and raw and dizzy, everything meaning too much, the transparency of her life and the way she lives it lacerating her tender insides.
She remembers all of these things as she opens the suitcase, remembers this green sweater she used to wear over her other clothes when she was cold. She remembers how, last autumn when she was newly a seventh year, she had been walking outside and crunching leaves underfoot with the Head Boy, who told her it brought out the green of her eyes.
She remembers that his compliment had frightened her back then, even though she was secretly flattered, and because of this, she never wore the sweater again.
She puts it to her face, letting the soft material rub against her skin, the smells and textures coming from within it invoking that scene back to her memory – the navy of his shirt, the slight stubble because he'd forgotten to shave, the slight nervousness of the way his mouth curled up into a small smile.
When she tucks it away, being careful to fold it nicely before doing so, she finds her favorite pair of blue jeans – faded, old, patched, worn. These were her favorites, and she kept mending and altering them when they dared to show their age; she had worn them for years, loving them like a mother loves her favorite crockery, loving them because they were stunning and wise and made her feel safe in the containment of their soft denim that fit her shape so perfectly.
She had worn them throughout her school-years, never letting them go when she should, and as she strokes them, the pattern and consistency of the seams feeling as familiar as the hand of a dear old friend, she remembers all the things she's done in these jeans.
Friends made and lost; profound laughter and inexpressible tears; bold courage and diluted cowardice. Love found and promptly gone astray, love that seared her bruised heart and caressed her with gentle fingers.
So much love can be found in these pants. Too much for her to handle, but never quite enough. Love that blesses her soul, but condemns it in the same breath.
She continues to pull clothes out of her suitcase, the memoirs that follow them whirling around the space of her pink bedroom like ancient magic, holding back the impulse to cry with some of them. They represent so much, too much, to her; and seeing them now, in the house she was raised in, after everything that has happened to her since she left it and returned as a cherished stranger, it's almost too much to bear.
She doesn't keep track of time as she opens these old garments of hers that she's put off seeing, because time would ruin the solemn majesty of seeing her old self reconnect with her new self, as though they really are different people. But, after what doesn't feel like very long, the suitcase is mostly empty, and she just has to run her hand along the bottom, to make sure she hasn't missed anything.
And then she finds it.
In a particularly shadowy corner of the case, she unearths that black shirt of hers – the simple black camisole with the sheer layer of floaty black material sewed on it, the shirt that is so achingly lovely for its straightforward design and simplicity. It's the shirt Marlene gave her a couple of days before they left Hogwarts and she cries as she reminisces, cries harder than she thought she ever thought she would. She gave it with the note; that note she still has somewhere in this mess of painful nostalgia:
This jumped at me when I was out, and it just feels mysterious to me; like it's quietly impressive and ambitious, waiting to be set free, waiting to be larger than life-size. I thought of you and I bought it. Be extraordinary in this shirt, Lily Flower, because things aren't the same as they used to be. Make lots of memories, but don't let yourself become one.
Now, even though she's held back so well today, she can't help but finally release those tears squeezing with a dull ache behind her skull, release the tears that she promised herself she wouldn't release when she began unpacking.
This isn't a good idea, facing up to her demons like this, coming so close to those days, to those times, those recollections she wishes belonged to someone else because their intensity is taking a sizeable toll on her, tearing her apart bit by bit. This isn't a good idea but she's doing it anyway, because she can't run away from this forever.
This is a part of her, a part of who she was and what she has made herself to be. To face the future, she has to confront the past, and now she is – how could she have thought she would do this without breaking?
So she hugs the shirt against her chest, curling up with it and crying, her tears spreading around the material, mixing with old tears she has cried on this garment, mixing with all the beauty and the pain and the murkiness this shirt brings to her.
Having the shirt here, she remembers everything…
It was the last night before school was going to end, that last night when she was outside with James Potter, the Head Boy she was kind of dating and kind of not, the one she kind of loved but kind of didn't, and they were talking like they did.
Her head was on his collarbone, his arm around her waist, and they were killing time because they were afraid to let it go any faster, talking about life and what it was going to be like once they left.
He told her he was going to miss her, miss her like hell, miss her more than she could ever imagine. She realized she felt the same way, even though they were still kind of a couple but kind of not, and she hadn't known what to make of it.
She wanted to look at him, breathe him in, memorize him the way she memorized spells – wholly, in entirety, so that she would never forget even in the face of danger. So she had kissed him there, as they sat out on the steps, kissed him without the reserve she usually showed him, and he reacted as only a man could – by deepening the kiss, his tongue exploratory and his hands much the same.
So she had broken the kiss before he went too far and she ran inside the school. He followed her, shouting after her that he was sorry for whatever he had done. She ignored him, in her own flurry to get back to the dorm, where she fished through the thin layer of her everyday clothes and found the shirt she had stashed away from Marlene.
She could just feel that tonight was the night to wear this, the night she was going to choose to be extraordinary. So, she locked him out of their empty Head's dormitory as she slipped out of her clothes and wore her prettiest bra and panty, and put on the black shirt. She opened the door then and she let him in, hearing his breath hitch in his throat as he saw her, taking in the way she was dressed and the look on her face.
The shirt hugged her superbly in all the right places, and under his gaze as he took her to the bed, collapsing on her in a kiss that robbed her of all semblances of oxygen, she felt invincible. She felt beautiful.
She made love to him that night, made passionate, exerting, all-consuming love right there in their dormitory for the very first time. They had both made love to others before, but this felt different – desperate and flurrying at some moments, overwhelmingly savory at others. His lips and teeth and tongue marked every bit of her skin, his hands all over her, and she explored him with the same wonder, the same emotion, the same sense of drowning in the surreal, barely-believable nature of a dream.
When he pushed into her then, finally, being with her in every sense of the word and giving her some of him to keep forevermore, it didn't hurt like it had with everyone else.
It felt easy, natural, and as stunning as everything else they'd done this evening. It felt right, and she couldn't find it in her to do anything but sink into him, exhausted but exhilarated, as she slept beside him, naked and perspiring but happy, happy in a way she had never been before.
She woke up in the morning beside him still, sticky and bathed in morning sunlight with tears in her eyes – but they were the truest ones she'd ever shed, and he kissed them away as they made morning love, slow and dulcet and just as wonderful as the night before. They did so for hours until it was time to go; time for reality to set back in on those hours out of time, time for them to rejoin the lives they were supposed to live.
She kissed him abundantly, touching him in any way she could, as they dressed each other, resisting the urge to fall back on the bed and do it all again. She wore that black shirt this morning as well, loving the feel of the fabric on the skin that didn't feel like her own, and he told her it looked beautiful on her.
He traced the shape of the neckline with his finger, and with his hands still touching the shirt, he gave his affection to her neck for a few minutes, her closing her eyes and him enjoying the stickiness of her in the morning.
When he resurfaced, the material of the shirt still in his hands, he whispered into her ear with a placid blow, "I love you, Lily."
And she, overwhelmed with the same sudden, ardent surge of love, fell forward and hugged him, sobbing real animal sobs and shaking right there on his shoulder.
He didn't care though; he just held her there, held her so close and rubbed her back and told her she would be okay, but she knew she wouldn't be. There was a war raging around them, he could be dead tomorrow for all she knew, and she knew for a while, she was not going to see him again.
But she loved him too. That was the real tragedy of it all.
So when she left on the train, not sitting in his compartment because she knew she would break down all over again, she clutched that black shirt Marlene had given her, and wondered what the price of being extraordinary really was – was such extreme pain worth the fleeting, but extreme joy? Was it worth tearing herself apart when she rebuilt so exquisitely at the end? Could she cope with the agony, the worry, the sick, sick feeling of being trapped in her own head because there was no way to get to him?
She had not had enough time to make her decision, she realized as the train chugged along on the track, so unaware of the heartache plaguing her chest and knocking the breath and the fight out of her; she couldn't choose to keep or to leave him because she had already left him.
She had left him, and she knew the time and miles that separated them would win; because there was an unbearably high likelihood that she wouldn't see him again.
All she had was his memory and the faint promise of his love. But how could she base her whole life around one night, teenage kisses, and whispers in the darkness of their dormitory?
She couldn't. And that was why he was gone.
The shirt is completely soaked in her tears now, and she feels like she's cried herself out to the point where there is no moisture left in her; yet the tears keep coming as she continues to hold it to her face, her lovely green eyes rimmed with red.
She grew up in this shirt last year. She grew up because now she knew what it felt like to love, to leave, to find the courage to breathe life in without censors. She grew up because life wasn't a sheltered bubble of smiles and butterflies, and when she made love to him, she saw him and everything he stood for without being afraid, every part of her open.
She grew up because it was time to leave the girlish innocence with which she used to dictate her life behind, and face the hard world as a woman – a woman who hurt, who felt, who lived.
It was hard. Nobody said it wouldn't be. But she's done it, hasn't she? This past summer, she joined the Aurors at the Ministry, who were whispering something about a rebel group called "The Order of the Phoenix." She keeps owling her friends wherever she may be, giving them news and keeping up with theirs. She is at her parent's house, spending time with them now before it gets to be too late.
She cut her long, curly hair. She doesn't have as much fun putting on her make-up. The only jewelry she wears is the plain gold necklace James Potter gave her on her birthday last year, and the gold earrings from Alice. She made sure she didn't have a boyfriend.
She has remade herself to be a different person, but now she knows that she can't forget the person she used to be in her haste to change.
The world is changing. People around her are changing. The season is changing. She herself is changing – but only as much as she lets herself.
Maybe she wears her hair differently and doesn't dress up as much as she did, but her fiery spirit and her capacity to love, love, love as much as her heart can hold has not changed at all. If anything, they have increased, because in these troubled times, her friends and her happy recollections and her ability to love like crazy are needed more than ever before.
So she stems the flow of her profuse tears with the back of her shaking hand, and inhales in the scent of her wrinkled, delicate black shirt. It still smells just like that night – a heady aroma of vanilla, of sweat, of the honeysuckle that always grew at the beginning of June when summer was new in the atmosphere, of the husky smell that hung around a boy turning into a man.
She can still hear him in her ear, his breath tickling the crevices of her ear, so soft on her flesh. "I love you, Lily." She can still see the light playing on the shadows of his earnest eyes; feel his hand cupping her breast, his other brushing like her favorite summer's breeze along her long leg. It's like he's here with her, here when she needs him most.
With a wobbly sigh, she bites her quivering lower lip to keep it still and folds the shirt as tenderly as she can, tucking it back into her suitcase. She folds the rest of the clothes she took out along with it, their weight different from when she took them out.
They feel lighter, as does she – like something arduous and hefty has been lifted from both, leaving only the best parts of each to make the most of, because there will be plenty of darkness to come.
When everything is put away and neatly having a place in that suitcase of hers, she puts it by her snowy-white door with a heaviness in her abdominal area. A burden has been lifted from deep inside her, but a different one has been added in its place – the nuisance of her juvenilia for the responsibility of her maturity.
Now she feels as though her conversion is complete – as though she's finally the adult she's always yearned to be. It just feels different from what she thought it would be; it's much more serious, much more cumbersome. Like there's no room for chance, no margin for error. Like this is it; no compromises, no escaping.
So she stares at the suitcase in the doorway pensively, images of leaving for first year all those years ago replaying like a film clip in her mind's eye, and then goes back to her bed – her small bed, with the pink covers and fluffy pillow and the best mattress, which she and Petunia used to sit on and gossip on when they were little girls.
She lies upon it, taking in the view from this bed she slept in every night for so many years. Mid-autumn sunshine, musty golden with more immensity than the frothy summer sun, shines in through the window on the other side of this rosy cube, soaking the room with its rays, the dying light casting vibrant shadows.
"I love you, Lily."
She can see his smile in her head – such a beautiful smile – and she smiles too, playing idly with a lock of her hair, as red as the leaves a few meters from her, as red as the stray apples dropping to the earth, as red as the blood that pumps so warmly through her, leaving a glowing blush on her pale cheeks.
Autumn is here. Change is here.
But now, so is she; as she remains on her childhood bed, and remembers.
LATER EDIT: This is going to be a four-shot for all the seasons, just starting off with autumn. Decided a few hours after posting.