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Chapter 2 : Act 1 – Curtain call
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AN: The quote in the beginning doesn’t belong to me. It’s from some movie I don’t know the title of, but surely not mine. The wonderful image that so perfectly captured the character was made my the amazing JaydScarlet @TDA.
Act 1 – Curtain call
“No, I think about him every day. Last thought before I fall asleep and first thought when I wake up. I talk to myself all day about him, even when I'm talking to somebody else, even when I'm talking to you now, I'm talking to myself about him…”
She looked away from the window and back down on the thick book on that was open in front of her. The sky was of an azure so clear that it sparkled like a mirror in the sun and the air was sweet with the scents of all the life blooming outside the cold and dreary castle walls, but with the final exams being only days away, Anya had no choice but to coop herself up in the godforsaken library and study!
She couldn’t wait for sixth year to be over. In fact, the only thing that was keeping her on her books was the thought that these exams were one step closer to that finish line. And that thought was more firm in her mind that her abhorrence for the library… at least that was what she told herself. She hated the small quarters between infinite row of books, the smell of dust and old parchment that made her nose prickle, hated having to sit down for so long, it was nerve-racking and made for an incredibly depressing environment.
This entire magic thing had been unfair from the start and Anya had always resented her mother for it. Anya had known what she wanted to do with her life ever since she was 5 years old and it had nothing to do with pulling rabbits out of hats. But her mother dearest was a witch and magical schooling had been non-negotiable, even though Anya couldn’t care less about how you could transfigure a parrot into a water goblet.
What was up with that anyway? Didn’t wizards see the cruelty of it, of taking life out of a living being by making it into a thing! They were so arrogant in their power, thinking themselves nearly god-like just because they had the ability to manipulate the energy and matter of the space around them…
Anya sighed. For the sake of self-honesty, she had to admit that magic was pretty amazing, but she knew that this didn’t make wizards any better than the rest of the non-magical folk - on the contrary. Her people, including herself, were much easily prone to mistakes exactly because they had a slightly greater power.
She didn’t want to care about that anyway. Her world was outside the magic world and all its wonders. And since sixth year would be over in a bit, she would be allowed to it, to her life. Her real life, that is. Away from this castle and its weirdness, away from the people here, the ridiculous fights, the constant petty teases. Away from the ignorance and arrogance that made her want to scream. Away from the un-changeability of it all - this being the worst aspect by far.
Because even though in the surface this world appeared so full and anything but static, Anya knew better than to fall for that illusion. In her opinion, wizards were not in the habit of learning from mistakes, be that their own or someone else’s - and as such, they seemed unable to truly change.
Anya sighed and tried to concentrate on Transfiguration again. This way of thinking did not belong to her. She had never cared about things like that and she sure as hell was not going to start now.
Three more weeks for the end of this year. One more year after this one and she’d be free. Then she would give the magical world the hairy bird, walk away and never look back.
A few weeks later
Summer of 1977 (or somewhat around that)
“See you on Thursday Andy.”
“Hey, you want a ride?” The blond boy looked at her a little hopefully, but she shook her head and smiled.
“It’s ok, I have to stop by the library and get some books for my mom. Thanks though.”
Anya turned around and readjusted her sports bag when a familiar a waterfall of blonde hair came into her view, blurring her vision. But sight didn’t matter, Anya knew who it was. She sighed, resigning to her fate, but smiling a little nonetheless.
Cleo had already started talking.
“…believe we always get off at the same time huh. You always stay late these days though, we’ve hardly seen you.”
Anya hoped nobody else would be joining them. She could handle Cleo alone, but not the entire group, not right now. Her friends would definitely start drilling her about her behavior of the late and she didn't want to give explanations, because she herself didn't know the cause of her distress, nor did she like to dwell on it.
In the last few weeks Anya had been unsatisfied with everything in her life, it was like being on constant PMS! She hated it, but there was nothing she could do about it. Sometimes her nerves would just snap for no reason. Which made her very bad company.
“Hey Cleo. How were classes?”
The blonde shrugged nonchalantly. “Same old, same old. You on the other hand are always so much more interesting to talk about.”
Anya snorted on the inside.
“Rumor has it you’re performing with RBC this season. That’s like, 10 different kinds of bloody cool!”
Cleo winked at her and Anya smiled, this time more easily and genuinely. Because this was Cleo for you: with her you could be safe in knowing that what you see is really what you get, mostly because Cleo didn’t really care about ballet. She took some classes during summer, but she was into contemporary dancing and the fact was that she was perfect for it with all that energy and good athletic skills.
But her feet were too flat to do any serious ballet work. She could barely hold herself up on pointe and it she tried too hard she could end up hurting herself.
On the other hand, even thought in a different branch of the Academy, Anya wasn’t surprised that Cleo knew about her supposed professional career. News like that tended to travel fast.
Every ballerina in the country wanted to snag a spot in Royal Ballet Company. To invite in a student that wasn’t even out of the Academy yet, and who only actively studied within the Academy itself only during the summer courses… well, that was unheard of. So naturally, when news had gotten out that RBC had offered to take Anastasia Rain in their troupe it had been a bombshell.
Had it been anyone but Anastasia Rain, nobody would have believed it. But it was Anya, which meant there had been stares and whispers, but not a much surprise and not even a hint of disbelief.
“That’s just a rumor. And it’s not even accurate.” Anya said with a smile, looking at Cleo’s sapphire eyes as she rolled them theatrically.
Cleo had beautiful eyes. Proportionate with her face, shaped to perfection. There was no denying the hint of envy that sparked in Anya as she noticed this every time she looked at the blonde.
“Don’t give me that! Alicia told me you practically signed.”
“No honestly, I haven’t signed anything. We talked, but I told the representatives that I want to finish here at Academy first.”
Cleo stared. “You’re nuts, you know that! I’d kill for your luck… and your legs.” she laughed and Anya had to smile at her.
She didn’t say that she’d been promised so much more than just a spot in the corps de ballet. The artistic director of the company wanted her as a soloist, but Anya really didn’t want that part to get out. Being a seventeen year old and one of the main dancers of the biggest dance companies in the world… Well, Anya wasn’t sure she wanted that kind of attention. She could hardly believe it herself. It was a dream come true! But only halfway, as always. Because she was Anastasia Rain and things tended to get complicated if you were a witch who wanted to be a ballerina with a paranoid, control-freak mother.
“Have you ever practiced with them? With the rest of the troupe, I mean. What are they like? Are the ballerinas catty to you? Is Jacqueline Florell as big a bitch as they say she is?” Anya had to smile. There was no stopping Cleo when she got on a roll.
“I have been practicing with some of the troupe every Saturday ever since the beginning of the summer, and yes, Florell is everything they say she is.”
Cleo snorted out a laugh. Anya was about to tell her about the little run-in she’d had with the RBC’s prima ballerina a few nights ago, but something interrupted her.
To their right, one hell of a motorbike had just stopped in his tracks. The rider kept accelerating while holding down with the breaks, the friction of the back wheel against the asphalt raising a small cloud of smoke.
He was staring at Cleo – who couldn’t help checking him out a little. The lean muscles of his arms and forearms showed under his faded blue T shirt – skin so tan that he looked like bathed in golden brown - and they flexed as he changed gears.
Cleo forgot what she had been talking about with Anya and just couldn’t help smiling his way. And even though his face was practically all covered by his helmet, Cleo could tell by his gunmetal-grey eyes that he was smiling back.
“Look at that…” She whispered, and it was all Anya could do not to roll her eyes.
It wasn’t like that bloke wouldn’t know that Cleo was talking about him! The girls kept walking and biker-boy followed Cleo’s every step with his eyes. And then the bike made a jump forward and started following them, despite the traffic-light still being red for him.
Oh, just perfect… Anya thought as she picked up her step.
Cleo was not even bothering though.
“Hello.” The boy said, his voice muffled because of the protective helmet he was wearing and hadn’t bothered taking off. Cleo had the good sense of not replying but she was still smiling.
Anya didn’t even turn to look at him, pointedly ignoring him. By practice, she knew that he wasn’t talking to her anyway. When you walked with Cleo, you were invisible… unless you were Alicia.
“Fancy a lift?” The guy added, still following them at minimum speed, sounding amused. At that low speed, Anya thought, it was a wonder he wasn’t losing equilibrium.
“No thanks. I live nearby.” Cleo answered, too much lightness in her tone.
So this is how girly girls flirt with weird guys in the street and then get butchered in dark allies, Anya mentally commented in her head.
“Really? Where’s that?” He asked, sounding amused. Cleo’s eyes flashed; she was enjoying the attention, but not even she was going to give her address to a stranger. She chuckled in a way that Anya thought was supposed to be coy.
“That’s really none of your business.” Cleo said, even thought it sounded more like an invitation to insist than to leave it alone.
“Ah, that’s too bad. We could have fun, go for a ride wherever you want, I’d buy you dinner and a movie and then I’ll take you back home. I’ll be the perfect gentlemen, I swear.”
He sounded as if he were almost laughing, not at all like most freak-shows that talked to Anya sometimes, who poked their tongues out and flapped it around like serpents. The mere thought of it made her skin crawl.
I suppose I’m a freak magnet, she thought with a mental shrug.
“Thanks, but I really do need to get home. My mum is waiting for me…” Cleo replied and the regret in her voice was unbelievable, Anya noticed, outraged. Then, to Anya’s even greater surprise, the blonde added:
“You know, you could always pick me up tomorrow.” she sounded hopeful, inviting. Anya almost choked on her spit. Going from the one-second pause of the guy, Cleo had surprised him too.
“Just name when and where love. No wait, let me guess, you’re a ballerina right?”
Cleo was amazed.
Anya less so.
“Yeah! How did you know?”
This time Anya could help a small snort, which she artfully turned into a cough. Cleo didn’t even notice, thank god.
‘Oh, probably the fact that you’re wearing an elaborate set of pink cut-off sweatpants and a matching tank top.’ she thought a bit more derisively than Cleo deserved ‘…and you have a huge ‘Danza’ bag over your shoulders - You know, the little things…’
Anya clapped a metaphorical hand over her metaphorical mouth, stopping the blabber in her head. When had she gotten this bitchy?!
“Everything is in the details.” The bloke said. He earned a few points in Anya’s book though, because he was rather polite about Cleo’s obvious self-induced dumbness by not calling her on it. Anya knew for a fact that Cleo had dated much worse.
“So, tomorrow, this time, outside the Ballet Academy down the street.” It wasn’t a question but somehow it didn’t sound a demand either.
“See you then.”
“Hey, wait!” Cleo called, stopping her walking, clearly afraid he would speed off, which was exactly what he had been about to do, going by the way he had accelerated and then abruptly stopped.
Anya had to stop walking too, elaborately still not looking at either of them, in fact staying a few feet away from Cleo and her new potential-love-interest altogether.
His tone was neutral, if not a little amused. Another good point in Anya’s book, despite her irritation with the entire situation. At least he didn’t sound pissed. Because had he been, Anya would have started lecturing her friend about the dangers of sociopaths that dwell the streets of London on bikes.
“Don’t I at least get to see your face?” Cleo asked, her tone flirtatious. Anya didn’t know why, but she just had to look.
And just as she’d thought, Cleo wasn’t flirting just with her tone. She was throwing the whole package at him, so much that Anya wondered how the bloke was still holding his balance on his bike: Cleo’s lids were heavy over her amazing crystalline eyes, looking at him through her thick long lashes, the hand on her brilliantly blonde hair, pouting her lips prettily and jutting out her hip, so much that Anya had to wonder if she had dislocated the thing. The overall effect was straight out of a fashion magazine, of the kind that turned heads.
It was almost painful to look at.
“I’ll surprise you tomorrow.” The guy said, a smile blatant in his tone and…
Anya met his eyes … and recognition struck like a hammer on her heart, which stuttered painfully within her chest the same way it always did when she felt a stab of fear.
Anya couldn’t believe what she was looking at. She stared. Blinked a couple of times and stared again.
He put the bike in gear and sped off so fast that it seemed something that launched him off, leaving a trail of smoke behind. Anya followed his high-speed performance with horror.
That had been… that had really been…
Shocked speechless, Anya realized that she hadn’t recognized him at all. She should have known his voice, but she hadn’t - probably because she had been so busy blocking out the conversation. But one glance at him and she had known - his eyes couldn’t be mistaken for another’s.
Mostly because she was always so afraid of catching their gaze. Afraid of him.
How was it possible that of all the streets in London, of all the possible combinations of alleys and deviations, he would pass through the one Anya was walking on?
Anya felt her heart pounding against her breastbone, as if it wanted to punch out. She still couldn’t believe this. A perfectly ordinary day had been shaken to its very core by that one simple glance… and now Anya was half dazed, still trying to recover a normal breathing patter. She couldn’t explain this reaction; all she knew was that it was not normal.
“Oh. My. God.” Cleo almost squealed, snapping Anya out of her surprise and horror.
“You better not get on that bike!” She said alarmed turning to her friend.
Cleo frowned a little, but still smiling a little too widely. “Why not?”
“Didn’t you see the way he drives? What if you have an accident? He could get you killed! Or worse, injured!” Anya dearly hoped her friend didn’t recognize the slight hysteria in her tone. But in the face of her total seriousness Cleo just shrugged.
“I’ll tell him to be careful.”
As if that solved anything!
“But you don’t even know the guy! What if he’s a maniac or something! What if he…”
“Oh, I know him. I mean, I know about him - Alicia is the one that knows him, I saw her talking to him a few days ago. I remember the bike - and his face.”
So that about wanting to see him had been just one of Cleo’s little games. Cleo had known who it was behind that helmet. Probably she’d known before Anya did, and how moronic was that! Anya had gone to the same school with the bloke for 6 years, spent almost 3 of those years avoiding the places he and his friends roamed, out of self-preservation instinct. In a twisted way, she was attuned to him by now, the way the prey is always so in sync with its hunter, able feel danger from miles away…
Anya’s inner alarm must be broken, because she had not felt a thing!
“God, he is so hot. I’ve dated better-looking guys, but he has this air about him that is just so… so… so dangerous.” Cleo said passionately and then sighed, a slightly dreamy look on her face.
Anya felt her eyebrows reach for her hairline. “Dangerous? That’s the bases of his appeal?”
Cleo giggled, looking at Anya as if the answer was beyond obvious. “Yeah! He has this air that makes me think about adventures and naughty things!”
In the face of Anya’s open disbelief, Cleo laughed and rolled her eyes amiably. “Every girl likes a bad boy, Anya.” She stated as if it was a universally known truth that Anya had yet to acknowledge.
When Anya cynicism added to the disbelief previously layered in her expression, Cleo shrugged. “Well, maybe not you…” She amended.
Anya huffed, rolling her eyes and deciding to drop the argument. Let the girl do what she wants, she thought… Let him do what he wants. Or who he wants, as it were the case. It was none of her business and she was being a bitch, raining all over her friend’s parade like that.
ButCleo wouldn’t stop talking and Anya was dearly wishing she was somewhere else… Anywhere!
“… I couldn’t believe that cheeky bastard! Alicia told me his name to, but I can’t remember now.” She said, now ecstatic and almost clinging to Anya’s arm. “I can’t believe he actually asked me out. And just like that… It just feels so unreal. Can you believe it?”
Oh, trust me, I can… I just wish I didn’t have to.
God, how she wished she’d stayed behind a little longer in class. Why had she had to see this? Was this punishment? Couldn’t fate just leave her alone?
The girls parted ways after a few hundred feet. Cleo was debating what to wear when they said goodbye, to Anya’s irritation – which Cleo failed to notice.
Anya had barely said a word the entire time, eating herself up on the inside. She had been almost happy when she got out of the academy, but now all the weight of her frustration was on her in the form of some unknown anger that had slithered his way in her chest, coiling there like a snake.
Anya rubbed the bridge of her nose. Her mood had the ability to change so drastically, switching from highs to lows in a heartbeat. She had always know that she was a moody girl, but with some control and restrain, she had always been able to keep some kind of equilibrium. Not anymore though…
With a sigh, she put on the headphones of her portable cassette player and closed her brain to everything else. The music filtered in her ears and Anya danced to it in her head, just like she did when Transfiguration got particularly boring. Thank god she still depended on dancing and it never stopped releasing her emotions for her. Anya was sure that with the stress levels she had been provoking herself lately, she would have gone loopy by now had she not had a point of release – to her that had always been ballet: the physical expression of herself. Through the creation of movement she could make her every emotion into something meaningful, something beautiful… and let go of everything else.
Slowly, Anya found out she could even let go of thoughts of him this way. If she tried hard enough…
Wherever you are, you can practice your steps. Dance in your mind, listen to the count in your head. - That’s what Sasha always said.
One two three - lift, one two three, one two three, plie, arabesque on four. Take your standout from the hip! From the hip dear - use the muscles in your inner thighs.
And again from the top!
It was always Sasha's voice in her head, telling her what to do, urging her on. And Anya followed it. Even now that she was walking home, Tchaikovsky playing in her headphones, she was dancing with the music, dancing her steps.
Support your arms from beneath, not above. Three thousand people are not going to watch you raise your arms if you don’t do it beautifully - they want to see the movement, not the work behind it.
Anya smiled, thinking fondly of her teacher and mentor and her fierce stares… And just like that, in that one moment of distraction, thoughts of the invasive bastard found his way into her head yet again from the corner they’d been lurking. He just shoved in, without a bang or a whisper, without even asking for permission. There was no helping it… again he’d found a way to slither inside her thoughts despite her will.
Anya felt the irritation with herself grow to unhealthy proportions. She had no idea why the thought of him was so persistent, so insatiable. Maybe it was because he intimidated her so much. He was among the people that Anya went out of her way to avoid – ironically for the very same reason that Cleo found him so attractive: there was something very unstable about him, something dark and potentially volatile that made him dangerous and to her that danger was not attractive – it was alienating on a very instinctual level. The way he lived scared her, the fact that he never cared about anyone but himself scared her.
But he hadn’t been always like that.
When she’d seen him for the first time on the Platform 9 ¾, he’d been different. And once she noticed him, it was easy to keep looking.
Back then, he had been the only one in the middle of that mess that had looked as miserable as Anya had felt. He had been so strange, so very quiet and reserved. He stood out in an outlandish way, as if even in the middle of the peanut-crushing crowd, he was completely alone; cut off from everyone else in ways that weren’t about space as much as they were about time.
His eyes had stricken her with their seriousness. He had the most amazing eyes, despite their sobriety: so determined and unafraid. And so intelligent and sharply attentive that they had unsettled Anya a bit. But it had been the sadness in him that she had recognized.
So easily she had related to him back then, without even knowing him.
But that changed as they grew up, because he had grown up into a different person… into something ugly. Someone that scared her, that she keep away from because she was one of those people he liked to hex around for fun, just because he could.
But then, all had stopped. (That was when the thought of him had started invading her head every now and then.)
Something had snapped at Hogwarts, changed as if someone had arranged it. It had happened somewhere between last Christmas and the end of the year: that constant battle inside the castle had slowly faded into the usual random accidents, people didn’t go looking for trouble anymore, cruel pranks were not dealt out just for the fun of it.
And Anya had noticed, before she noticed much else, that he had changed. Only recently she had learned why… or at least she thought she knew why. Anya could not be sure of course, after all she didn’t even know him, not really. She’d never actually talked to him, not once, probably because she was 10 different kinds of coward.
Speaking to him would require something Anya didn’t possess: courage. The courage to risk being refused, ignored or ridiculed by him at the end of the conversation. She had heard him talk to people multiple times and if it weren’t for his shrewd eyes and the barely-there smirk, his way of speaking could be perceived as almost naïve, because he always answered with the truth, always, so much that sometimes Anya thought there was nothing he cared about enough to want to hide. But Anya knew that his kind of honesty did not stem from some moral soul – it was too brutal, too aggressive to be that way - but rather from an incredibly confident one. He was so assured of himself that nothing minimally grazed him; so arrogant that in his mind, nobody could ever be on his level enough to offend him.
Anastasia shook her head as if that would dispel the thoughts inside it. God, how she hated him (and herself more) for disturbing her so much. She had things to do, important things, things that did not involve boys of any kind except those in tights!
Anya took a deep breath and refocused.
One two three - flutter, flutter on the surface girls. You need to barely touch the floor! Gracefully – remember, you are swans!
Yeah, swans are beautiful, sure… Too bad nobody mentions that they are the meanest animal on the planet...
AN: Thank you so much to peaches369 for beta reading this chapter. She's pure awsomness! I bet you didnt even catch any of my silly typos anywhere!
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