1st Chapter: Can't Wash It All Away

And if you have to leave,

I wish that you would just leave,

'cause your presence still lingers here,

and it won't leave me alone…

There's just too much that time cannot erase…

(Evanescence – My Immortal)

"Darling, please, don't be late!"

"Don't worry Mum, I'll be back home on time…and I won't stop to pick up flowers or to talk with strangers..."

Lily Evans winked at her mother, kissed her goodbye on the cheeks and exited her house at full speed. The summery sun greeted her with warm kisses on her face, and its rays, entangled into her hair, made it shine like fire tongues. Lily stretched herself, enjoying the clear and warm air. What a wonderful morning, she thought. It looked like the perfect day to celebrate the end of…well, she didn't actually know of what. Of her childhood, maybe, to a certain degree. It was a week, just a week left to her marriage. She had expressed to James the wish to spend some days alone at her parents' house, an idea he had completely agreed with. But now that period was over, and that very evening, at seven o'clock, James would come and take her to London, where they had been living together for two months and where they would soon get married.

At the least, that day was the last one that Ms. Lily Evans was going to spend at her former home, and she felt that it needed to be someway celebrated, even though she still hadn't exactly figured out how. She only knew she wanted to get out of her house, and spend some time on her own. And this, apparently, had brought her mother to the edge of a nervous breakdown. Since she was informed about her daughter's plans, the poor woman had spent the whole morning reminding Lily how essential it was that she came home within seven o'clock, not a minute later, for heaven's sake.

Her excuse was that it wouldn't have been polite to make James wait. The truth, simple as it was, was that at half past seven Vernon, Petunia's rude, dumb, fat boyfriend, would come for dinner, and Petunia didn't absolutely want Vernon and James to meet. Their mother, poor woman, was just trying to preserve serenity inside her house. She'd also tried, utterly in vain, to persuade her younger daughter to give up her plans for that day. But Lily was stubborn: yes, she understood her mother's concern and, yes, she would come home well before seven o'clock, but that day was special, and it needed to be celebrated. Lily was fond of that kind of things: birthdays, anniversaries...moments that gave time a meaning.

As she unlocked her bicycle, the idea of touring the town flashed through her mind: she could pay a visit to all the places that held a meaning to her, and tell them goodbye.

Yes, it was a good idea.

Lily mounted on her bicycle and started to pedal with a good rhythm, while her flowered skirt billowed sinuously an inch above her knees.

She cycled swiftly from street to street, here and there recognizing places from her childhood, but without much interest...she felt she was looking for something different, something more special than that.

So, Lily skimmed along Hawthorn Boulevard, barely glancing at the Muggle shops that used to attract her as a child, when Tunia brought her around for a shopping tour, but she slowed down when she went over her primary school, and waved goodbye to the old walls. Then, she turned into Mayflower Lane, once her favourite street: Mr. McCallister's huge toys shop, where a visit was due under Christmas time, had vanished, replaced by an anonymous discount store. Still, old Tillie's Bar was still there, friendly and familiar. Lily remembered the great afternoons spent there eating ice creams with her mother and sister, and the barkeeper always gave her a free bag of gummy sweets: "a treat for the most beautiful eyes of the town!" he used to say, proud as a granddad. Now Lily smiled, slightly moved, and considered to stop for a little while; in the end, she decided for the contrary: after all, it would have felt slightly awkward, and then again...she still felt that urge to move over, that faint desire of something that was there, really near, but yet somewhere else.

So she went on cycling, a little faster now, enjoying the cool breeze on her face. After a short time she was far from the town centre, and she was beginning to pass through the deserted avenues that brought to the outskirts, where the chimney of Spinner's End, black and tall against the sky, could already be seen. Lily didn't even bother to look at it, focusing herself on the landscape instead, searching for any street that looked somehow familiar...she was somewhat aware of the fact that she was circling a rather precise idea, one that she wouldn't dare to confess even to herself. She didn't pay much attention to it, anyhow, and went on, humming a popular jingle.

She stopped at the corner of Lavender Avenue, in front of the old poplar where she had once saved a trapped kitten. She was only seven years old at the time, and nobody had realized how she could have climbed the tree and rescued the cat. Now, Lily giggled, and greeted the tree as if it were an old friend: now she could tell that then had been the first time she used magic.

As she mounted back on the bicycle, she thought it would have been better not to have stopped: the tense muscles of her legs now hurt, and she couldn't gain her rhythm again. She also started to feel a dim pain though her ankle, and so decided it was time to go back home...after all, whatever she had been searching for the whole morning, it was clear that she wouldn't find it there.

Without a second thought she turned left, into what she remembered to be the most direct road to her house. That street was bleak: Lily went over a row of old cottages, tarnished and blind, a news stand, worn-out and covered in graffiti, an abandoned playground...she stopped dead.

Despite both her good sense and her muscles suggested – even if for different reasons- to absolutely go back home as fast as possible, she couldn't help but keep staring at the old rusty swings, completely spellbound. That had changed so much, from the time of her childhood... It had been a fairly quiet and joyful place, once, one of the favourite to spend an afternoon when she and Tunia where kids. Now, Lily could hardly recognize it.

She dismounted from her bicycle, leaped over the fence and proceeded towards the swings. She was in a sort of a trance, barely conscious of the sandy dust that was coming into her sandals, prickling her feet. She couldn't believe that there was the same place she remembered form her childhood. She sat down on the swing, putting her arms around the worn-out ropes, suddenly full of melancholy and longing: it broke her heart to see that place, which she had loved so much, where she had spent so many merry hours, where...well, where she had discovered that she was a abandoned, so lost and forlorn.

She kicked away a little bit of sand, barely conscious of her gesture, deeply saddened.

Tha playground is not the only thing from that time that was lost and that you are missing now, is it?

Her Majesty the Truth of Facts chased her inside her mind, where she couldn't hide, nor refuse to face it.

Lily shook her head, trying to hush that annoying voice. Eventually she lifted her gaze from the ground and found herself staring at a bunch of hold bushes, withered and dry. For an absurd instant she hoped to see a skinny pale boy, dressed in clothes too large and long for his height, coming out of them, and the second after, her head was bent down, while she desperately struggled against the tears that, unwanted, prodded at the corners of her eyes.

This was it, then. For the whole morning she had poked at her sleeping memories, and now that they had risen, she had to face them.

It was true, the playground was not the only, and absolutely not the most important, among the...things...of her childhood that she had lost, and that now was missing, terribly missing.

She had been trying not to think about it, oh, she had been trying iso hard/i to let it all go, for all those years...and she had been good at it, very good indeed: keeping the rhythm, she hadn't let remorse take over her, every time she had managed to find an escape, sheltered by new affections, new interests. She had felt safe.

And now, now that everything should have been long forgotten, now that she hadn't seen him for three years, now that was the least convenient of the days, now, it came all back to her mind.

"Oh, well, obviously", she thought, suddenly annoyed. He, after all, had always had a peculiar ability to choose the least appropriate time to speak and the least appropriate thing to say. It was just logical that his memory, too, would decide to show up at that precise, most inconvenient, moment. And it was logical, too, that but a moment before she was crying, crying ifor him/i, and that now she was quiet pissed off, with him. That's how things had always been between the two of them. Lily dried her eyes with an hand, struggling to regain that veil of rage that had defended and kept her far from him for all that years. After a little while, she finally managed to get down of the swing, and shook with a resolute hand the dust off of her skirt. Now she didn't want anymore to go home. Of course, the temptation to go hiding herself inside that familiar shelter, far from her memories, was strong, but Lily knew better. Going back now would mean shutting herself up in her room, desperately waiting for James to arrive, while all the memories of that lost period, the ghost of him, of her, of what they had been (or, what they hadn't been) for each other would devour her brain, driving her mad little by little. Instead, she would mount back on her bicycle and go on with her tour, and she would wash it all away from her mind. Yeah, that was a good plan. She could make it.

But already as she went towards the bicycle she couldn't help but turn towards the dry bushes, kneeling beside the protruding roots. It had rained recently, and the soil beneath the bushes was still all wet and muddy. She spotted a little flower in the dirt, withered and blackened, picked it up and held it in her hand. It used to feel so natural, so easy, when she was a it took a great effort. But when she opened her hand a reborn flower, shining in lilac and perfectly alive, met her gaze. Beyond the petals, a short stem curled around her fingers, pulsing and imperceptibly growing.

Composed and intent, Lily dug two inches in the damp soil, her lips curled up in a small wet smile, and planted there the flower, happy to see it standing on its stem.

She stayed in that position for some moments, or maybe some hours, just kneeling there and watching as the flower silently grew, absorbed as a pious woman praying.

Some minutes after, she dried her eyes for the second time, concluding her little celebration, and then stood and went straight to her bicycle, trying to keep her step steady.

She turned her face one last time to the bushes: she sighed, and said goodbye to the little flower, hoping that the memory of the two of them as children, of what they had built and lost forever, would stay tied to it instead of haunting her.

As she mounted on the bicycle, she thought she was still on time to restart that day.

As she cycled on the road again, she foolishly believed that her small floral toll would be enough to pay the debt between them.