Chapter 8 : The Black Haired Heroine
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She stared up at the petite figure, contemplating the best course of action. The girl hadn’t even noticed her presence; this was not a good sign. In her childhood, Misericordia had been around enough drugged up individuals to recognize when someone was hallucinating. The longer she waited for her breathing to right itself, the greater the chance that this situation would end in a fatality.
She had a plan outlined. She knew she was going to need to shrink the tree, enabling them the opportunity to step onto the grass without the voyage back down. The only issue was the quick, jolt of movement that would cause. There was no way that the younger student was going to be able to grip on tight to the tree if she didn’t have a grip on reality; Missy would need to hold on for the both of them.
The figure on the branch above stood up on legs as shaky as a newborn fawn. She was reaching for something, or someone, that only she could see. Misericordia’s entire body tensed up as she began reciting ‘Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit’ in her head like a mantra to keep herself grounded. She braced herself, making sure her stance was stable, that her feet were secure. God, she had done this so many times before…
The little girl took one wobbly step, her foot unable to find purchase on anything but air. Missy’s reflexes activated, arms snapping around a tiny waist like a metal trap. From far below Misericordia heard a scream, but it was distant.
Her blood was racing, pulse running wild from the adrenaline that accompanies fear. The girl in her clutches was kicking madly, mouth open as if she was trying to cry out, but unable to remember how to vocalize. It took every bit of strength that Misericordia had to restrain her struggling.
She pressed the girl’s body between her own and the tree trunk. Able to loosen up her right hand, she reached for her wand with inhuman speed, commanding, “Reducio!”
The tree shifted, shrinking; ground was coming at them fast. The moment she started to feel herself getting boxed in (the space between the branches around them was rapidly disappearing) she grabbed her incoherent partner and jumped. They landed together in a heap, but at least they were both on solid ground.
The girl was immediately pulled from her arms. Someone who could almost have been her twin was saying, “Oh, thank you! Thank you, thank–“
Misericordia was yanked up by the wrist and dragged into the crowd. With the wind still knocked out of her, she was led out to the edge of the clearing until she was under the dark cover of the forest. The second she was across that first line of trees she was unable to hear the music anymore.
“What the hell were you doing?” James asked. His tone was pure venom.
“What you weren’t.” She could tell that pissed him off.
“I can tell you what I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t causing a fucking scene.”
Misericordia raised an eyebrow and bathed her next words in sarcasm. “So you wouldn’t classify the shouting match between you and Red as a scene?”
When she mentioned ‘Red’, James appeared to choke on his tongue, his face becoming a bright shade of that very color.
“Exactly,” she said. She really didn’t know what else to say to him. He was furious and she couldn’t care less. His ignorance was incredible. He had chosen to bicker with Lily Evans pointlessly, despite being one of the only individuals that had seen the girl in danger.
The sounds of the forest were the only noises to punctuate the silence that followed.
James huffed loudly. He slid his back down the trunk of a thin, mossy tree to sit on the forest floor with his elbows resting on his knees, both hands in his dark hair. His anger appeared to have abated.
He peered up at her, grimacing. “Fix your hair.”
“My hair?” Missy repeated perplexed. “Lumos! What’s wrong with my-”
It was red. She was holding up a large, spiraling, red curl.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Potter?” she asked in disbelief. What was she supposed to think? Was he trying to turn her into Evans? He’d made a comment about her eyes once, and how they were similar. The thought made her nauseas. She and Red were very fucking different.
“It’s not what you think,” he responded. He looked nauseas too. “I didn’t want you to be recognized. That was the first color that came to mind.”
Misericordia sat down and began tapping at her roots forcefully, almost violently, with her wand. With each attempt, she lifted a lock of hair to her eyes for examination.
“If you give me a few minutes I’ll help you,” James said wearily. “You’re just going to set yourself on fire that way.”
He had summoned a bottle of Firewhiskey. Misericordia watched him tip it back several times before he stood up, walked over, and parked himself down in front of her. He held out the bottle for her and she took it, helping herself to a burning mouthful. He flicked his wand over her head and frowned.
“I swear. If I’m stuck with this color, I will kill you.”
“You’d have a right to since it looks terrible on you,” James snapped. Another flick and he stuffed his wand away. Her hair was ebony again. “And I swear. If anyone finds out that I brought you here, you’re dead.”
Misericordia poured more alcohol down her throat. She had been buzzed when she climbed up that tree; hopefully this would cross her into drunken territory, because the atmosphere between the two of them was filled with tension. She passed the bottle back to him, unsure of what she should do.
Misericordia really couldn’t go back to the party and she needed someone to follow back to the castle; James didn’t appear to want to go back to the party, but he didn’t seem ready to go back to the castle.
“I’ll take you back when I’m bloody ready, yeah?”
“Fine.” Misericordia expected that to be the end of all conversation, but it seemed like a dam in James’ mind had been broken and he kept talking.
“Yeah, now you’ve got to wait around for me.” He swigged down more of the bottles contents. “Because I didn’t get to enjoy myself at all. I was too busy with my duties as a host.”
Misericordia snorted. “Oh, please. I don’t buy that for a second.”
“The point is, while you were having a smashing time attempting to charm the wits out of my best mate-”
“Watching me, were you?” interrupted Misericordia, her heart rate picking up suddenly. It was probably just the alcohol singing in her bloodstream. It couldn’t have anything to do with James’ words. Or the jealous way he’d said them.
“To make sure you didn’t pull a stunt like the one you just managed!”
“Saving a life, you mean?” This rapid pulse was unnerving her. She needed a cigarette. Realizing that she’d left her shoes, and everything in them, behind, she summoned them. She lit one with trembling hands. Why was she nervous? “Well, there’s no need to get jealous, alright? We were just talking.”
“As if,” James scoffed. “I’m Captain, and Seeker, for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. I could have any girl I wanted. Why the hell would I want you?”
She didn’t care. She couldn’t even stand him. So why did that hurt? She hoped to god that the unexplained pain she felt didn’t register on her face, because he was looking at her.
She shrugged, looking at the ash hanging from the tip of her cigarette. “You tell me.”
“I wouldn’t want you. You’re a Slytherin. Your personality sucks,” James said firmly, but because he was feeling a bit drunk at this point he added, “The only thing you’ve got going for you is a nice butt.”
He wished he hadn’t said that. He could never tell what she was thinking; she was an enigma. It bothered him that she hadn’t said anything. He took another drink from his bottle and passed it to her.
“And nice eyes,” he amended, hoping she would turn to him so he could look at them.
She didn’t, instead she stared deep into the forest. “I know,” she said, giving a humorless chuckle. “They remind you of Red’s.”
Misericordia finally looked at him and they locked eyes. For once he wasn’t thinking of Lily Evans at all. “Nah, they’re different.”
James scooted closer, reaching out a tentative hand to tilt her chin up. He had a much better view from this angle. “Hers are lighter – a springy green.”
Missy turned her head from his touch, shrugging him off. He didn’t need to study her this closely, just so that he could admire the qualities of someone else.
“Yours are deeper,” James said, lowering his voice. “Like this forest.”
She studied him, unsure of how to take this statement – and then she heard a noise that distracted her completely. The echoing crack of a branch had reached her ears. It hadn’t been the quiet snap of some measly twig, so chances were it wasn’t a squirrel. Something large was moving unseen through the trees around them.
James let his hand drop and stood up. “Lumos!” he muttered, shining his wands beam of light to pinpoint the source of the rustling movement.
A giant, four-legged creature jumped at him from the side, tackling him to the ground. Misericordia heard air whoosh from his lungs and grabbed her wand, pointing it at the furry beast. She was inebriated sure, but she thought she could still aim a wicked jinx at the thing. She hoped. If it opened its jaws it was dead.
“Are you kidding me?” James wheezed, still under the weight of the animal, which promptly gave a deep ‘ruff’ followed by what was unmistakably a tail wag.
Soft laughter came from the forest behind the great black canine and Remus stepped into the area illuminated by James’ wand. He had a big grin on his face and his hands in his pockets when he said, “Found you.”
Missy lowered her wand and raised an eyebrow. This was the most relaxed that she had ever seen Remus.
“An easy thing to do when you’ve got him sniffin’ my trail.” James shoved the dog off and stood up, brushing off his jacket.
“I know,” Remus said with a shrug. He leaned a shoulder up against a tree and his eyes darted to Missy and she held his gaze. He turned to James. “Thought you’d be introducing yourself to the mysterious redheaded heroine.”
James hesitated, glancing quickly at Misericordia. Remus’ animal companion was alert, looking back and forth between the two. He padded over to her, gave a short, low bark to Remus and nudged her ankles with a wet nose. Her feet were still bare from the climb, her signature boots laying haphazardly against a root. Remus noticed, putting the pieces together in a split second.
James opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again.
“We’ve already met,” Missy supplied.
Remus nodded in understanding. “I see.”
“Yeah...” said James.
“You know what’s funny?” Remus was addressing James. “The reason I came after you was to let you know she was here.”
“You knew she was here, but you didn’t know she was the girl up the tree?”
“She was up too high for me to recognize her properly. At that angle all I could really pay attention to was her-”
The dog let out a low bark, like a warning, interrupting Remus. It shook it’s shaggy head almost imperceptibly.
At this point Missy was wondering two things: ‘Did he just admit to looking up my skirt?’ and ‘Where the heck did he find this dog anyway?’
“So how did you know?” James asked, prompting his friend to leave the previous train of thought unsaid.
Remus blushed furiously, a silent confirmation of Missy’s suspicions, and continued without finishing his previous sentence.
“Sirius told me he talked to you,” Remus said, finally including her.
“Why would someone take the trouble of inviting you if they weren’t going to have you in their company?”
From the corner of her eye she saw James bend down on one knee, the better to cover his reddening face, and begin busying himself with adjusting a shoelace.
She thought for a minute before answering, “Honestly, Lupin? I don’t know. I’ve been wondering that, too.”
“I bet he was counting on someone sending a wicked jinx your way,” James snapped, glaring up in her general direction.
His statement registered higher than her normal emotional indifference. What was with this hot and cold act? Had she imagined them almost getting along?
He was back to being disgusted by her presence. It actually kind of stung. But that was only because she'd had so much to drink, right? She felt dizzy.
“I bet you’re right,” said Misericordia simply, walking the few steps to her footwear. She really needed to get as far away from him as possible. For as long as possible. She needed to go back to viewing him and his opinions as inconsequential.
Trying to be quick, she grabbed a boot, attempting to slip it on her left foot while standing on her right. Her head spun and she closed her eyes; she didn’t have the balance for it and felt the air move as she fell backward expecting to feel her skull hit the ground hard.
Instead, she felt a strong arm brace her.
She was almost completely parallel with the forest floor, a forearm was the only thing that had kept her suspended. It snaked up the path of her spine where a hand supported her neck, its fingertips woven in with the hair at the base of her skull. The other hand grasped her hip, offering no real benefit to keeping her upright.
The alcohol had her hoping that these hands, this touch, belonged to James. Whether it was because she felt something for him, or because she wanted him to feel something for her, she didn’t really know.
She opened her eyelids and at first her vision could only seem to focus on the depth of the rich brown irises that bore into her own. It was as if he was searching for something in them. Ticking seconds seemed like minutes.
Dazed, Missy blinked slowly, focusing on the soft curve of his lips before drifting her gaze up to meet his again. He inhaled sharply and the hand on her hip tightened its grip, tugging her a centimeter closer.
Misericordia’s right boot landed directly next to her head, breaking her hazy, single-minded concentration. The dog was beside them. He looked at her and pushed the boot closer with a front paw.
“I think...,” Remus began softly, then paused for a second, surveying the dog, “that Si- Snuffles... is right.” He tripped over the animals name, as if he had never referred to it before. He caught Missy‘s eye. “You should be going.”
James pulled back immediately.
There was an awkward silence between the three students and the unnamed, unexplained dog during which only the rustling leaves made any sound.
James stood up and turned his back to them. When he spoke he faced the woods, but Remus was the one being addressed. “Get her out of here.”
Honestly, she thought, fuck James Potter. There was nothing she would rather do at the moment than be going, going, gone.