Chapter 14 : Act 12 - Adagio
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In dance: Slow, enfolding movements, performed with the greatest amount of fluidity and grace as possible
Fear is only an illusion. It is the illusion that creates the feeling of separateness, the false sense of isolation that exists only in your imagination – and which will shake to its foundations by one single helping hand. - Adapted (but not mine)
The girls sat outside the main rehearsal room, sitting on the hardwood floor as they ate form the plastic containers in complete silence. Every time Alicia tried to stir the conversation, Anya gave monosyllable responses and ate in slow, small bites, like a little bird.
“Anya… are you sure you are all right?” Alicia dared. Anya didn’t even look up from her food, she nodded faintly, her eyes glued on the piece of lettuce she kept pushing around the plastic container. Well, if worry wouldn’t stir her, then Ali would try with irritation, maybe that would work better…
“So, I have to ask because I'm kinda worried… do you have a place to stay? Where are you going to sleep tonight? And any other night for that matter?”
This time Anya did look up at her friend, even though she did so with expressionless eyes. Alicia couldn’t know what was brewing behind the brown depths of Anya's eyes because she was not letting it show. She seemed so... hollow.
What the hell had happened between eight o’clock in the morning and now?
“I requested a dorm room here.” Anya explained, and Alicia didn't miss the fact that she put aside her food altogether.
She had barely had five bites!
“Is that possible, the Academy is already full.”
“It's possible for me.”
Alicia's frown deepened, but then she smothered out her expression and took a deep breath.
Ok then. Here goes nothing...
“James asked me to tell you that he has a place for you, if you like.” When Anya's head snapped up, eyes alarmed and the tinge of anger in the pull of her frown, Alicia quickly added. “The building next to his house is empty and his parent's own it, so it’s not like you'd be living in his house or something. It's just empty apartments that he is offering to someone who needs a place to stay.”
Anya's distrustful eyes were now rueful. “Really? I supposed it's like renting any other apartment then?” she asked with a humour that reeked of cynicism.
Alicia shrugged. “Yeah… And of course the obvious advantage of being shadowed with every protective spell imaginable.”
Anya snorted, and then coughed, as if the sound had caught in her throat.
“Of course.” Anya took a deep breath and settled against the wall, some of that fathomless apathy clearing out of her eyes, which now looked at Alicia in a more direct way.
“James'. I don't know where he got the idea from. I suppose he did talk it over with his parents...” Alicia answered truthfully. Anya looked away, her eyes searching the inside of the classroom she had just come out of, settling on one of the barres fixed to the wall.
“I know it would be safer. And simpler. And I wouldn’t have to wait to wait two weeks to sleep in an actual bed...”
Alicia opened her moth to say something, but Anya interrupted her. “Thank Potter for me, tell him that I appreciate it, but I already have it settled.”
Alicia couldn’t hold her tongue anymore. “Anya, please…”
“Of course you do. Figures you don’t give a shit about the people that have to go through triple efforts just to keep you from ending up in some ditch.”
Alicia was startled and looked up to confirm with her eyes what her ears had heard. Yup, he was really there.
Ali dared a look at Anya, who seemed just as bewildered as Alicia had been, if not more. She was looking up at Black with wide eyes as he – with a nonchalance that only Black could master – sat down with them cross-legged, claiming that spot on the floor as if it had belonged to him all along.
The triangle they formed had to be one of the most discomfited in the history of geometrical shapes.
Alicia looked away from Black, her eyes falling on Anya, who had angled her body away from him, as is she was afraid or something, and she looked so tense that Alicia was sure she was about to spring up and run away.
“Black? What the hell are you doing here?” Alicia asked, the confusion and distrust as palpable in her voice as it was visible on her face.
In response he just shrugged. Then he looked at Anya with a smirk.
“I see you made it here in one piece. How's your foot?” His tone was light, conversational; that easy smile made his chiselled features look even finer.
It softened the angularity of his face, the sharpness of his noble cheekbones and straight nose. There was amusement rippling in his eyes and had the situation been a little less sudden on her senses, Alicia would have said that Black was trying to be charming… maybe soften Anya's frown and the distrust in her eyes, or the tension in her whole frame and the way her lips were so tightly pursed that it seemed she was never again going to utter a word.
Alicia held back from laughing in Black’s face, because she reminded herself that he was not as unpleasant to her today as he had been forty-eight hours ago. But she had to admit that if she hadn't found the situation so bizarre, she would have told him right then and there that he was wasting his time. It was true that Sirius Black possessed the kind of easy charm and absentminded elegance that made his bad-boy aura even more alluring and contradictory. He could hypnotize a cobra if he wanted with that lopsided smile and passionate nature. If one were to go only by the surface of things, he’d be every girls fantasy!
Hence Cleo’s effortless infatuation with him.
But Anya was a different kind of animal: charm didn’t work on her and she never limited herself to looking only at the surface of things. And Alicia knew that under that thin surface, Black was something a little more damaged than he wanted people to know – a secret that he tried to mask with an easygoing manner and his natural charm. But his true nature showed in the things that he could not control about himself: the way his eyes were so penetrating and ever-watchful; the way he carried himself, with such caution. He was dark and striking despite his easygoing attitude. The chilly aspect of his true self was obvious to anyone who cared to look a little deeper.
And knowing how Anya had always been weary of Black, Alicia suspected that she would need to remind her friend of all these facts anywhere in the future.
Anya made to get up, only giving one swift look at Alicia, who was able to read her like a book: she was leaving because of Black's presence.
Alicia had always known that Anya felt some kind of resentment, even dread for Black - for obvious reasons: Anya, like many others, had been on the wrong end of his jokes more than once, be it by coincidence or design. Add to that the fact that Anya was not a person who preferred direct confrontation, and it would stand to reason that she would choose to outright leave rather than face any kind argument with someone who intimidated her.
Which would all be fine and dandy exempt for one thing: Black had interrupted a very important conversation and Alicia would be dammed if she let him do that so easily.
“Wait, don’t leave.” Alicia called out, holding on to Anya's wrist. Then she turned to glare at Black. “Black, could you do me the favour of evaporating please?”
“If you think you're going to convince her of staying at James', then you're wasting your breath. This one is a 'do-it-herself' kinda gal.” he said, his amusement growing.
Alicia could have easily forgiven his presumptuousness if he hadn’t just used it to offend her friend so carelessly. But she didn’t like to play the mother-hen either, so she took her cue from Anya's reaction – who was looking at Black so dispassionately that for a moment Alicia was thrown off.
Anya’s eyes were icy and she was so very still.
“You must have a very empty life, Black, if this is what you do to amuse yourself.” she said, her words careful and deliberate.
Black only smiled, as if there was a punch-line in there that only he could understand, but there was a shift in his gray eyes that Alicia didn’t like. All of a sudden, even though he was still smirking, his aspect changed – darkened by the fierceness in his eyes, which gave way a different purpose.
“My life is fine, it's yours you should be worrying about.” Black said slowly.
Anya paled… and that was saying something, since she had been looking pasty all day.
“You know, there was another raid in Glasgow last night. The family there barely made it out alive – because the Order intervened. A ten year old kid had his face almost slashed to pieces because there was nobody there to stop it… and in the middle of all this, where is one of the best assets the Order has? He is stuck on babysitting duty - because of you.”
Alicia has been stunned into silence by the viciousness of Black’s words, by the gravity in his face as he spoke them. His black, hawk-like eyebrows were drawn over his eyes, which sparkled like gray dawn: cold and distant.
Anya hastily got to her feet and looked down on him.
“Because of me? Is it my fault that this boy’s family got attacked? Did I point a wand to his face?” Anya was barely making out the words, hissing them thought her teeth.
“No you didn’t. But you’re making this a lot harder than it needs to be by refusing to look reality in the face.”
Anya blushed all of a sudden, as a result of exertion and anger, doubtlessly.
“Who the hell do you think…”
Black sprinted to his feet as well, with surprising agility and took one step towards Anya, whose determination faltered just a little and backed away from him.
“Look, nobody is asking you to get in line and march against Voldemort. But everyone is so busy treating you like a fine piece of glass that they are forgetting you need a wake-up call - ”
At this point, Sirius grabbed her wrist and pulled her forward, and Anya was so startled that she didn’t even struggle.
But her eyes were huge, the fear in them piercing, she wasn’t even breathing.
“There’s a difference between not getting involved and getting in the way – and right now, you’re a liability because the men who could be doing something much more valuable are currently watching over your bony ass, lest you might break a nail!” Sirius said, his tone no longer accusing but low and intense – he was not threatening, he just wanted to make a point.
His eyes burned into hers, rooting Anya on the spot and not just because he was holding on to her forearm.
“Black…” Alicia’s dangerously quiet voice came from his side and when he turned to look at her, she was eyeing him with a fierce expression.
“Let go of her forearm - before I break yours.” She said seemingly so calm, but the words were hissed out between tightly clenched teeth, her frown so deep that two pronounced lines had appeared between her brows.
Alicia saw Black roll his eyes and just like that he smoothed over his expression, as if the intensity from before had been just a play and he’d been this calm all along. He took a step back shaking his head as if disappointed, but Anya’s shaking voice stopped both him and Alicia in their tracks.
“I never wanted any of this – and this is exactly why… What do you people want from me? Just… what the hell do you expect?”
Anya’s desperation didn’t need to be spoken loudly. It resonated much more violently in those few words, whispered precisely in that way, as if the world depended on those words being heard. Her eyes were wide and shiny, as if she was terrified and angry at the same time.
Going from the amount of strain and emotion that she had heard in Anya’s voice, Alicia had been fully prepared to see tears, but none came. Anya’s cheeks were dry, eyes shining but not shedding; her cheek was faded, her lips pale, her entire complexion taking on shades of grey, but her frown was deep, her anger laced between the threads of her pain, resonating in the determined set of her jaw.
But her words had a strange effect on Black. His fierce gray eyes softened, allowing a small smile – just a barely there curve that pulled one side of his lips up. The expression struck Alicia as foreign because it was: she had never seen it on his face before. It was the smallest of smiles, on a face that now for the first time was not guarded or blank, or wearing a certain emotion like a mask.
It was sincere. And for precisely that reason, entirely unfamiliar.
Black leaned in, that same secretive smile never leaving his face.
“Let us help you.” He said softly, catching both Alicia and Anya off guard.
Anya frowned, baffled by his words, by that expression on his face, as if he meant every word. Gone was the frown, the harshness of his drawn eyebrows. Now he was looking at her thought clear eyes, his very look begging her to say ‘yes’.
“You heard me. I would have told you this same thing last night, but you were so intent on breaking my balls while interrupting my every sentence, that I didn’t get a chance.” He said in his usual undecipherable tone with which no one could ever tell if he was in jest or in earnest. But his eyes were serious and his expression sober. Every word he spoke seemed to be alive, the truth in them so heavy that for a moment Alicia thought Anya was not going to be able to handle it.
“You want to stop being a burden? Then start taking care of yourself and let other people help you do it, because - and trust me when I say this - by themselves, better people then you would be fucked.”
Black's tone was so matter-of-fact, so dispassionate that Alicia found it easy to believe he meant every single word. She saw Anya swallow thickly, more effected by his words than Alicia had ever seen her. A loud bell that sounded a lot like a fire alarm ringed through the corridor, startling the three of them. It was the signal that classes were about to begin again, so with a huff, Anya turned to her company. She seemed much more in control of herself now, much calmer.
“So, by the gist of this lovely conversation, I take it that its coherent outcome would be to give in and take that nice offer Potter made: live in a safe house.”
Black smirked at her choice of words. “Yeah, that would be its coherent outcome.”
Anya’s eyes hardened, her tone more cutting this time – as if she was negotiating a contract.
“And I can leave whenever I want?”
Back shrugged. “It's a free country… for now at least.”
“And I’ll still be able to follow my classes?” Anya asked, completely ignoring his jab, eying him suspiciously. Alicia didn’t know if it was her impression or not, but it seemed to her that with every word out of Anya’s mouth, Black’s amusement only grew. He didn’t show it fully, but the smile was in his eyes.
“Yeah, if it’s so important to you.” He said in his usual aloofness.
“It is. It’s very important to me.” Anya punctuated. Her breathing had calmed, but Alicia couldn’t help but notice that her right hand went around her middle and she held on, brows pulling together in an almost unnoticeable frown.
“I assume you know what you’re talking about?” Then Anya’s frown deepened, as if remembering something unpleasant. “Wait, how can you know what you’re talking about? You told me yourself, you’re not part of this Order thing!”
Black smirked at her, winking. “I have friends in high places.” He whispered conspiratorially.
Alicia suppressed a snort. His response was meant to be funny, and it was, but funnier was Anya’s reaction to his words: she gave him a blank look, utterly unamused, one eyebrow twitching upwards.
“I don’t want to see my mother while I’m there. Can you assure me of that as well?” Anya asked slowly, eyes intent on deciphering the slightest hesitation from Black. Who in turn only looked at her without blinking, face suddenly blank of any expression.
He shrugged. “If it’s what you want.” He said a little more disinterestedly than needed.
Anya didn’t hesitate. “It is.”
Alicia narrowed her eyes at him in suspicion: What did Black care whether Anya saw her mother or not?
“Anything else?” Black asked, his right eyebrow raised minutely, one corner of his lips lifting imperceptibly. “Room service, lavender on your pillow, pink champagne on Saturdays, your majesty?”
Anya pinned him with a deadpan stare, not at all amused by his cheek.
“Fine, I’ll move in wherever you want me to.” She hissed out, irritated.
Alicia crowed victory on the inside.
Black was a little less delicate.
“How about Mars?” He teased, lowering his voice, lopsided smile in place.
Anya didn’t even flinch a single muscle on her face, let alone smile. She limited herself to giving him a blank stare.
“You seriously overrate your sense of humour Black.” She said flatly. “A consequence of being around too many giggling blondes, doubtlessly.” She added calmly – and with a little more bite than Alicia had thought Anya capable of, actually.
Alicia had to mask a chuckle as a small cough – though she doubted she fooled anyone, because Black gave her a dirty look, to which Alicia only replied with a small raise of one eyebrow: 'what?!' and smirked even wider. Anya’s sense of humour was almost inexistent, but when it reared its ugly head, it was always for a good, sharp strike.
That’s the only place your charming smile will get you Black.
Anya turned to grab her bag, and this time when she bent over, Alicia didn’t miss the wince on her friend’s face. As Anya tuned to Alicia, the usual 'see you later' almost out of her lips when Alicia interrupted her.
“Are you feeling alright?” Alicia asked carefully.
Anya frowned, looking genuinely confused. “I’m fine, why?”
“You don’t look fine.” Ali observed and saw Anya roll her eyes at her, but a small smile made up for it.
“Ali, I had a rough night and today is turning out to be no better. I've been dancing non-stop for the last five hours – two of which with Madame Bardot. Just give me a break, ok.”
Alicia snorted. “Please, you wouldn't know what to do with one.”
Anya's rolled her eyes but the smile on her lips was undeniable. “I'll see you tomorrow Alicia.”
“Sure.” Alicia replied, smiling for the first time out of relief.
Then Anya turned to Black and gave him an uneasy look-over, as if still, after all that had happened, she still couldn’t quite believe he was really standing there. But then she turned away and shuffled into class, lost between the rest of the ballerinas that were getting ready for rehearsal to start again.
“She’s a peach, isn’t she?” Alicia heard Black’s sarcastic voice over her shoulder and turned. She fixed him with a level stare, not wanting to get into an argument about his personal opinion on her friend, but rather to discuss what had just happened.
“So…” Alicia started, but soon faltered. What was there to say really?
“I’m going to try and convince Dumbledore to have Moody drop the protection detail around her. I’m sure that between James and myself, we got Bellatrix pretty well covered.” He said and his tone was so clipped and to the point that it took Alicia by surprise. But when his gunmetal eyes fixed on hers, Alicia instinctively knew what he was going to ask before he even said the words.
“Are you up for it?”
Oh, he had no idea! But...
“I’m starting Auror training sometimes next week, so I’ll have to fit that in. Whenever I’m around, I’m in.”
Alicia saw the way he straightened, the surprise flickered unchecked in his eyes and he raised one eyebrow at her.
“Auror training? I thought you wanted to be a healer…” He observed with a tiny frown and looked her over again as if he was seeing her for the first time. God, he could be so unmovable in his opinions!
Alicia rolled her eyes.
“I’ve never been too sure of my career choice.”
She’d done internships both at St Mungos and at the Ministry – at the Department of Mysteries, no less, since thanks to her father she could get that kind of clearance - but she’d never seriously thought of a career in Magic Law Enforcement, that was true. Then, the last two days happened, and everything changed. It seemed ridiculous how much of an impact those critical few minutes in that pub were going to have in her life… It was an unmistakable feeling: being so violently sucked into something so much larger than her own existence made her feel as if, for the very first time, she had a true purpose, a driving force behind her actions.
It gave her perspective - But that didn’t mean she knew what she was getting into, which was frightening and exiting at the same time.
And one more thing: she didn't trust Black and she didn't like him in the slightest. Just because there were suddenly on the same side didn't change that.
“Do you have any idea what we’re doing here Black?” Alicia asked, deliberately keeping her tone neutral.
He only smirked.
“Sure I do. We’re enrolling into the Order of the Phoenix – whether the Order wants us to or not, might I add.” He whispered conspiratorially, and even though he was looking at her with humour, Alicia knew that he was not pulling her leg. That’s when her gaze sharpened, and then smoothed again as if it had only been a volatile emotion.
But it hadn’t been. Alicia simply realized that she had been wrong. She had had the impression, somewhere during these five minutes, that Black actually cared, but now she realized her mistake. He didn’t. Anya was nobody to him, just another face. All he wanted was to get in the Order of the Phoenix. Which was weird, since Black had never been one to need permission for doing whatever the hell he pleased. Maybe he had just grown tired of being told off, of having to explain himself.
Alicia hurried to contain the flash of violence that ran through her. If he thought he could use Anya’s safety and wellbeing as his personal leverage, he was about to be sorely disappointed… sorely, as in she would beat him to a blood pulp herself if he ever endangered a hair on Anya’s head for his personal reasons.
“Are you going to stay here until she finishes her classes?” Alicia asked sceptically. Black just shrugged and Ali felt her eyebrows come up, reaching for her hairline.
Boy, he was in way over his head here, and he didn’t even realize it.
Don't worry pretty boy, Anya will sow you what she'd made of soon enough… and you'll be wishing there was a hell so you could rent a room there, after a couple of days in her life.
“What?” Black bit out, challenging.
Alicia couldn’t help a smile. She almost felt sorry for him.
“You have no idea what you're doing - and it shows.” Alicia explained, but before he could react, she explained herself.
“Anya practically lives in this school Black. She's here from eight o’clock in the morning until sometimes eight at night. Are you seriously telling me you're prepared to be her shadow for twelve hours a day?”
But in the face of her disbelief, he only smiled, relaxed and easy as ever.
“Maybe I won't have to.” He said and he was so confident that made Alicia wondered what was the ace up his sleeve.
Knowing Black, it would doubtlessly be something ominous.
Sirius had thought that spying on someone would have at least some high points, but then again, he supposed that depended on the object of study. Anastasia ‘Anya’ Rain did not rank high on that particular scale. All she did was dance and dance and dance… and then try it again just to be sure she had it down perfectly. A perfectionist and a control trek - that was a dangerous combination. She went from class to class, tolerated all manner of abuse by teachers that seemed to get off in putting down their students and did it all with a dedication that should be a fault.
What was a little more unusual was that she was always alone. Almost the whole day had gone by and she had not spoken to a single soul. Did this girl had no friends?
And for fuck’s sake, didn’t she have a life? McKenzie had not been kidding when she said that the girl lived in her school. It was almost seven o’clock and she was still in classes! Where did she find the strength to stand on her toes all day?
Sirius was just contemplating setting the school on fire, just to make her come out, when the door of the rehearsal room was shoved open with a violence that made the quiet of the deserted corridor shiver. Anastasia Rain walked out and ripped her hair free of the bun they were in, with such viciousness that Sirius was sure she was going to rip off a piece of scalp. She gripped her sports bag and violently threw it against the wall, breathing hard and fast. A scream seemed to be locked in her throat and he was sure it would tear out of her any moment… but it didn’t. She swallowed it. And just like that, her violence subdued and she fell on one of the chairs nearby, sinking her head in her hands, her loosened hair falling around her like a mahogany curtain.
Sirius took off the invisibility cloak, cleared his throat and watched her almost jump out of her skin at the sound. Her hair looked like a haystack, her bangs were almost standing up vertically – she'd pushed her hands over them too many times – her eyes were red-rimmed, cheeks blotched, her lips raw. When her eyes focused on him, a strange stillness came over her, as if the sight of him locked her every muscle in place. The disbelief and confusion that flooded her face were so strong that he could practically hear the questions turning in her head.
Why is he following me?
Why won’t he leave me alone?
Why is he here?
Then she sighed and looked away as she reached to undo her dancing shoes in quick movements with one hand and combed her fingers roughly through her hair with the other. The next time Sirius saw her face, she was composed, her bangs over her eyes almost hiding them from view, her cheeks dry.
He smiled his best easy smile. “Hey there. I wasn’t expecting you for another couple of hours.”
She fixed him with a mildly questioning gaze, intense as it always seemed to be whenever it fell on him.
“Expecting me?” She echoed, frowning, looking at him as if, for the world, she could not figure out why he would do that. Sirius didn’t understand if she sounded sceptic or confused - it was hard to read the notes of emotions in her tone because it was almost completely flat. Whether it was because she wanted it to or because she couldn’t help it, that was a question without an answer at this point.
She sighed heavily and got up.
“Why are you still here?” She asked again, so deadpan that it didn’t even sound like a question. Without even waiting for his response she started walking down the corridor, bag over her shoulder and not glancing back once to see if he was following or not.
“I had to talk to you about something important.” Sirius answered.
She pushed the sliding door and didn’t hold it open for him as she walked through.
“What is it?” her tone was hard, on edge.
Why did this girl dislike him this intensely?
Sirius mentally shrugged. He was wrong to immediately assume that it had anything to do with him directly. This girl had a lot on her plate right now and she didn’t strike him as someone who differentiated between friend, foe and neutral when she was on edge. It was very possible that she was just as bitchy to everyone as she was to him.
Still, he had to admit, he had never gone so much out of his way to help anyone who was this adamant about not wanting any help.
But, Sirius had an ace under his sleeve – a sure way to get her to be a little more cooperative.
“A way to keep Bellatrix off your back.” he said slowly, enunciating every word with care.
Anastasia stopped in her tracks and turned her questioning eyes to him. She doubted him completely – her suspicion showed in her frown, in the tightness of her lips. Those dark eyes were guarded, careful and distrusting.
But for the first time, she was listening.
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