The plan Sirius and I had devised on the London bound Hogwarts Express was simple enough. Bring James and Lily together by the time we leave Hogwarts.
We weren't ignorant to the fact that it was a near-impossible task, especially since Lily's heart had hardened to the idea of ever accepting James Potter. This was due in part to the dreadful accident involving James and a foaming, upside-down Severus (it was quite a sight, to say the least) at the end of last term. In short, it was impossible for me to wait until September (or next year… or the next millennia) to finally see James and Lily make peace. As a result, it had been decided between Sirius and I that a little something could be arranged as early as my birthday, which fell in the first weeks of summer vacation. As Sirius put it, "It's late enough in the holiday for both Lily and James to get in the summer groove, but early enough for them to still be in the Gryffindor spirit."
Still I felt bad. She was fully aware of me knowing her loathing for James Potter and I (being such a trustworthy and kind friend) was deliberately using that knowledge against her. And yet Sirius still found a way to make me give in. We shook hands on it … or perhaps I should come out with the truth and admit we snogged on it.
And so, on the 25th of June 1976, Lily and I set foot into the Muggle restaurant where I had proudly made a reservation. The reservation hadn't been my idea, but Lily's. I found the idea to be very ingenious and exciting, so I had Lily explain the process to me beforehand and I got to use her telephone – phone – speaking device and everything! Although on my way home from her house, I had to call the restaurant from a phone box in order to change the reservation from two people to four.
However, logic, (whom had failed to present itself earlier in our schemes) made an impromptu appearance as we were being escorted to our table. And then it really hit me how Lily might hate my guts for doing this. The anticipation that had fuelled me until that moment disappeared. I breathed in deeply. Too late to turn back now, better get through with it.
My eyes searched Sirius's familiar dark head of hair amongst the dinning guests. He must've seen me searching for he leaped from his chair. I zeroed in on his handsome figure and blushed. Sirius looked dashing in his formal dress shirt and trousers. I, on the other hand, donned a casual blue shirt, tucked inside a beige pleated skirt, and topped off with a worn-out pair of dragon-hide boots. I mentally cursed myself for foolishly following mum's advice to 'Dress as plainly as possible so the Muggles won't look at you funny'.
Sirius closed the distance between us before we were even halfway to the table. He pulled me in a tight embrace.
"Happy Birthday, Miriam!" he whispered in my ear.
"T… thanks," I wheezed with difficulty.
Over his shoulder, I saw a wide-eyed and dumbstruck James standing halfway out of his chair. It looked as though he was internally debating whether to stand up or sit down. Sirius squeezed me even tighter and I fought to keep my breath steady, my fingers clawing into his back. I was suddenly aware of the curious bystanders watching us (or perhaps it was our less-than-normal Muggle attire that was throwing them off). Finding the present situation overly uncomfortable and sensing that Sirius's embrace was stretching way beyond what was appropriate for a public greeting, I cleared my throat and pulled away. Smiling feebly, I turned to Lily and tugged at her sleeve, successfully breaking whatever revenge-seeking trance she was in.
"Are you coming, Lily?"
Lily's whipped her head towards me and I withdrew my hand, wishing I hadn't touched her. Lily was livid. Thankfully Sirius was there to prevent any accidents from happening. He snaked an arm around my waist and poked Lily in the shoulder. She looked as though she wanted to bite off his finger.
"C'mon Evans, don't keep everyone waiting."
Not waiting for a response, he pulled me alongside him, effectively forcing an unwilling Lily to trudge behind. Back at the table it was all too clear that James had remembered his character. A cocky grin had replaced the dumbstruck look from earlier. He got up from his seat as we reached the table and pulled out the chair next to him. He gestured to it in a very gentleman-like manner.
Lily stopped short and stared the chair sceptically. I knew by experience that Lily was pondering whether or not the gesture was a joke – or worse, a cruel Potter trap to humiliate her. To my surprise Lily complied, but not without glaring up at James when he helped her (quite pointlessly) to push the chair under the table. He stared into her eyes and smiled cheekily before slouching down into his own chair. Lily's frown deepened.
So intently concentrated was I on catching every single action passing between James and Lily that I failed to notice Sirius pulling out my own chair. He sighed exaggeratedly and looked at his imaginary wristwatch. I chuckled at my silliness and sat down gracefully, beaming up at him. "Thank you, kind sir."
Amused by my little quip, Sirius smirked.
"You're welcome, My Lady."
Someone cleared his or her throat. We all turned to look. The poor waitress was standing awkwardly at the head of our table, watching us with a polite smile. She raised her eyebrows, her eyes flitted between Lily and I. "Can I offer you anything to drink?"
Lily was staring at something far away, making an obvious effort at ignoring everything going on around her. The waitress was clearly thrown off by her behaviour because her smile faltered. Distressed, I decided to intervene.
"We'll both have a glass of water," I said hastily.
The waitress glanced at Lily as to confirm what I had said. I looked on warily. When it became apparent that no answer would come, the waitress cleared her throat and smiled in our general direction.
"I'll come back shortly to take your orders."
I shifted in my seat and toyed with the wrapped silverware set before me. I peeked around carefully. James was smiling smugly, leaning back in his chair. He was glancing at Lily from the corner of his eye, and one could only picture what was going on in that head of his. Sirius had started to play with the salt and peppershakers. He was making little mounds on the table surface. Lily was watching him with a scowl. Her arms were crossed over her chest.
Was it going to be like this the whole evening? James must've thought the same thing because he started to speak to Lily. I felt compelled to retrain myself from gawking to offer them the chance to converse. My gaze fell on the menu set on the table. I snatched it open to cover my face. I prayed it didn't look too obvious. Sirius interrupted his game and followed my lead, trying to capture my attention by doing so. I smiled and put a finger to my lips, jerking my head in James and Lily's direction. He nodded. This is the moment I was waiting for.
''Are you doing anything interesting this summer?" James asked.
James laughed. "No? C'mon everyone does something!"
He was obviously taking delight in taunting Lily.
"That mustn't be much fun."
"What I do doesn't concern you," Lily snapped.
"Whoa, Evans," James said, his voice taking a tone of mock concern. "I was only asking a question!"
Lily didn't answer.
He tsked loudly. "You're not seeing Snivellus, I hope?"
Sirius and I dropped our menus simultaneously. Sirius appeared overly amused by this sudden development. I cast a sharp look in James's direction.
"James…" I said warningly.
But James was having none of it. He dismissed me with a wave of his hand and leaned back even further in his chair (it wouldn't come as a surprise if the back legs snapped), casting sideways glances at Lily as he spoke.
"I guess you wouldn't since what happened after the exams, but I don't blame you. He's a greasy-nosed scumbag."
My mouth fell open in shock. How dare he?
Sirius laughed and I kicked him under the table. Of course he saw my face, and stopped laughing immediately. He wasn't helping at all.
As much as I had learnt to accept the boys' characters, I wanted nothing more at that moment than to knock my head repeatedly against the table – or James's… or Sirius's head for that matter. For Pete's sake, we hadn't even been sitting down for five minutes and the situation had already spun out of control – not to mention we hadn't even ordered our food yet!
"I don't want to talk about him," Lily said, her voice barely a whisper.
James leaned in close to her ear. My fingers curled around the table cloth hanging above knees, aching to stop him –
"Sorry, I didn't hear you," he murmured.
Lily was sitting upright in her chair. Her jaw was set and her green eyes burned holes into the table surface. If looks could kill hers certainly would.
"I said 'I don't want to talk about him'," said Lily slowly.
Her eyes left the table and cast a dark look in my direction. If such a bone-chilling facial expressions held a meaning, this one would definitely mean, 'Fix this or you'll feel my jinx in very unwanted places.' I definitely did not want that.
"Right – erm," I started, sounding falsely cheery as my mind scrambled for a miracle conversation lifesaver. "Has everyone chosen something from the menu?"
My arm shot out to tap James's own menu for emphasis, wishing it would grab his attention. It didn't.
"Actually," James said, draping an arm over Lily's chair, "I'd very much like to make a toast in honour of Evans finally realizing which man is right for her."
Oh no, I thought. I buried my face in my hands. Whatever was going to happen next wouldn't end well at all.
"Does your brain function so slowly that it cannot process the fact that you're a pompous git, or the fact that you're barely a man?"
"Ah, c'mon Evans," James said ruefully. "Don't be like that."
"I'll be whoever I want, Potter!"
Lily pushed away from the table, knocking off James's arm. My eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets at what was unfolding before me.
"Y'know what? I can't believe I feel for this! I'm leaving!"
My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach. I couldn't let this happen. My voice shot out in a desperate attempt to stop her. I sure sounded desperate.
"Please – Lily, I can explain everything!"
She stalked off without another word.
My mouth hung open stupidly as I turned around in my seat to stare at her retreating back. I felt like the worst friend in the world.
"Evans!" James called after her. "Evans, WAIT!"
But she didn't look back.
The chatter in the room died down as everyone in the restaurant turned round to see what the commotion was about. The silence was suddenly broken by Sirius's loud bark of laughter. I whirled around again, sending him the angriest glare I could possibly muster.
"Better luck next time, Potter," Sirius said teasingly, leaning over the table to pat his friend on the hand. James smacked his hand away, but a smirk appeared on his face nonetheless. He ruffled his hair.
"Well, it's kind of hard when she keeps running away."
Something inside me snapped.
"Thanks to your stupid comment about Snape there won't be a next time," I sneered, bending down to pick up my bag.
"Miriam, it's Snivellus!" Sirius said.
"Doesn't matter, it was completely out of bounds!" I answered at once, straightening up.
Sirius laughed. "Out of bounds?"
I pursed my lips together. I wasn't in the mood to fool around.
"The whole point of this evening was to give James a chance to make a good impression on Lily," I said sharply, looking around at James, "and, of course, you failed to behave. How typical."
Sirius raised his eyebrows, almost disbelievingly so, and looked at James as to say, "Are you hearing this? Us, misbehave?"
As on cue, the waitress walked up to our table. She was watching us with a wary expression. I wondered if she had deliberately waited all this time to finally show up. She was holding a tray containing our two glasses.
"Is everything fine here? Are you taking any orders?"
I rose to my feet. "They might, but I'm leaving."
Arguing wasn't going to bring us anywhere and it was only cutting back on the time I had to find Lily. That is if she hadn't already decided to take the Knight Bus without me. Sirius grabbed my arm.
"What – no! It's your birthday!"
I sighed impatiently, shrugging him off. "And leave Lily behind, Sirius? No, I don't think so."
Sirius turned to look at James. "You fetch her. It's your fault she left."
James looked as though he was going to take the offer. Seeing this, I rolled my eyes.
"And why not?" retorted Sirius.
Again, I sighed impatiently. "Because, James has already done enough damage as it is, and I'm really not in the mood to celebrate."
"I can help you with that," he smirked.
I frowned. Sirius was leaning back in his seat, looking all cool and collected, as though his girlfriend's birthday dinner hadn't just been completely ruined by his loudmouthbest friend after said girlfriend's best friend left a crowded restaurant in a fury. I found myself fleetingly wondering how on Earth we had gotten together in the first place. But I couldn't dwell on that right then and there – they were more pressing manners to attend. I breathed deeply, straightened my shoulders and looked him dead in the eyes.
"Don't bother, Sirius," I said simply.
I stalked off and never looked back.
My brisk footsteps were leading me further away from London's bustling centre. I crossed my arms and cast anxious glances at my surroundings. The anger and fearlessness I had felt at the restaurant had quickly faded away, leaving me stressed and very alone. I had invited Lily to sleep over, but now I felt extremely queasy about having to sleep in the same room as her. It was bound to be awkward and I couldn't have that in my house. And it'd be just as awkward if she weren't there and I'd have to explain the whole thing to Mum. And she'd ask questions. I really didn't want that to happen.
But I should've known it would end badly. This was James and Lily after all. But of course, I had to follow what my heart stupidly thought was right. How pathetic I was. Those two are never going to be together, let alone on the same –
I stopped. Was that a flash of red I had just seen turning left? Strong my instinct was that I couldn't ignore it. In my mind it was Lily. It had to be her. I weaved my way around the snail-paced gaggle of Muggles I had been forced to walk behind for the past fifteen minutes and sprinted in the direction 'Lily' had turned. I paused to take a breath and look around. This street was mostly deserted except for a few vehicles parked along the road. The shops were closed for the day.
I tried to spot 'Lily' amongst the few scattered pedestrians. Just when I thought I'd lost her – a feminine form walking in long strides turned into an alleyway between two shops on the other side of the street – directly in my line of sight! I quickly aligned myself between two parked vehicles and looked both ways before running across the street.
"Wait!" I called out breathlessly.
I skidded to a stop in the mouth of the alleyway, holding the stitch that had been bouncing painfully on the side of my stomach. I definitely needed to work out.
The person turned around. It was a tad too dark for me to discern the person's face (that or I needed glasses).
The voice sounded small, far way… Had I even heard my name? I could've have been anything. My ears perked up at the sound nonetheless. "Lily?"
The figure said nothing and disappeared in the darkness. I groaned. Was she that angry? I hesitated a few steps, but stopped where I could still see by the lights coming from the street. I couldn't know if it were really Lily. And descending further in the darkness to find out would only render me vulnerable to other horrible things that I'd rather not think about.
Something hard collided with my back. My body tensed in alarm and I screamed.
"Miriam!" a familiar voice snapped.
Before I could register what was happening, Lily appeared in my line of sight. Her face was a mixture of anger and surprise. She looked me down.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
I was too shocked to answer coherently.
"Whatever, I shouldn't have asked. I'm leaving."
I grabbed her arm. "Lily, don't –"
"Go?" she finished for me. "Why? So you can tell me how wonderful James Potter is?"
She shook me away. "I'm tired of this, I tell you."
I swallowed hard. "Listen to me—"
"Miriam, no –"
"Lily, there's someone looking at us," I whispered.
Her eyes widen in surprise, but it was too late. A soft voice drifted towards us.
"The stars have told me I would meet you here this evening."
She whirled round at the sound of the voice.
A heavily veiled figure stepped out of the shadows; at the exact place where I thought I had seen Lily. A shiver ran down my spine.
Without warning, Lily whipped out her wand and pointed it in the figure's direction. Wisps of smoke came out from the tip. My mouth fell open in shock.
"If it's you Potter then you ought to run as fast as your scraggy legs can carry you because I am very, very cross at the moment."
"For Merlin's sake, Lily – put your wand away! Put it away!" I pleaded, attempting to lower her arm. Even though I found the person overly frightening, we seriously couldn't afford to be caught threatening someone with a wand, especially if that someone was a Muggle.
Lily struggled. "Let go, Miriam! Let go!"
We squabbled like this until the figure spoke for the second time.
"My dears… my dears… quarrelling only rouses the spirits… "
Lily and I froze in mid-movement. We stared in astonishment. She was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The woman before us wore large glasses that magnified her eyes several times their natural size. The way she stared… was indescribable; it was almost as if she pitied us. I found myself staring back, unable to look away; though I aware doing so was quite rude.
"Dark times await, you must prepare yourselves…" she said dreamily, motioning in the air with her hands.
"That's unlikely," I blurted out. My eyes widen and I clasped a hand over my mouth, glancing at Lily – whom was wearing her 'Told you that Potter's idiocy was going to rub off you eventually' look.
Lily turned her attention on the woman and spoke up. "What–"
The woman wagged a finger in Lily's face. "It is not the time for questioning my dear… "
"Why? Who are you?" she snapped. I wouldn't have been surprised if she decided to jinx the woman then and there.
"No questions I said!" said the woman reprovingly. "Everything you must know will be revealed in time."
Lily and I exchanged worried looks. Witches or not, encountering a possible nutter in a secluded and remote location was highly dangerous. I started backwards towards the street. Lily followed suit. My thoughts momentarily drifted to the boys. If only we had behaved like normal human beings nothing of the sort would be happening to us. But it'll be a hell of a story to tell.
"I'm sorry, but we must be off," I said, trying my best to sound casual. "We promised our friends we would meet them somewhere."
The woman looked up at the sky. Her tone was detached, distant... "You are lying my dear. No one is waiting for you, only destiny..."
Lily and I looked at each other. Lily nodded gravely. Her expression said it all; if we wanted out we would need to put our conflicts aside and work together. Lily reached out for my hand and grasped my fingers tightly. The woman suddenly wheeled towards us as though she had known our intention to flee. I felt Lily shudder. The woman looked positively mad. Her eyes opened up dramatically.
"Trouble awaits you, you must not leave…"
"You don't understand," said Lily. "We must go –"
The woman's voice was suddenly loud and harsh.
"You will not leave!"
She opened her cloaked arms wide, revealing a long gold chain dangling from her neck. Her eyes were unfocused and her mouth started sagging.
"Miriam," Lily whispered feebly. We huddled together – watching in horror as the woman's eyes started rolling inside their sockets – "RUN!"
And so we ran. We had to let go of each other to run at our fastest – which for me meant ignoring the growing and immensely painful stich in my lower abdomen. Still, I pushed my legs and pumped my arms as fast as I could. A fiery enchantment brushed dangerously close to my face – and before I could detour my eyes from its brightness – the mouth of the alleyway caught fire. Lily's shrill scream vibrated in my eardrums. I instantly lost my footing and fell on my backside. My vision blurred and watered at my close proximity to the flames. Too panicked to get up, I scurried backwards on my hands and elbows. The flame wall extended to the width of the alleyway – we were trapped!
A hand grabbed hold of my elbow, releasing me from my stupor.
"Quick!" Lily shouted.
I scrabbled to her feet and produced my wand from my boot. The Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry was at the bottom of my worries at the moment. My heartbeat quickened and my trembling fingers curled tightly around my wand. I refused to die without a fight. The woman was coming closer – and it looked as though she was having a seizure. Seizure or not – it frightened me to such a terrible extent that I could no longer hold back my scream.
Everything unfolded quickly then… so much so that it is impossible to explain for sure what happened. In my peripheral vision Lily raised her wand. And then, in a blink of an eye – there was flash of gold and something dreadfully cold coiled around my neck. It cut off my scream instantly. At the same time my body slammed against something hard. I was unsure whether or not I was knocked unconscious by the heavy blow, or if the air had been sucked out of my lungs in a whirlwind of sounds and colour…
There's only one thing I was sure of … destiny would be changed forever.