It was dawn, and the nightjars were singing in the bracken outside the window. The room was quiet, and warm, and very very still. It was July.
Remus lay on his back on the floor, arms by his sides like a corpse, and raised one leg very slowly. He kept it straight. He swept it out as far as he could to one side, until his stiff toes brushed the paisley quilt on the bed.
Hold it, hold it, hold it ghosted across his ear. Slowly, he returned to his starting position. The muscles in his legs hissed; it was almost time to stop. He trained his eyes on the white chimney breast in front of him as he worked. The dappled orange glow of the morning fluttered on white walls, dancing gently in a sleepy daze, and he thought he might drift off like this.
He sat up, just as the sun peeked over the crack willow outside, and peeled his vest off, pleased with its dampness. Apprehension stirred low in his belly as he dropped it in the wicker basket beside the door, followed by a pair of slim pyjama bottoms, and padded into the adjoining bathroom.
Standing, back straight, chin tilted up towards the shower head, he let out a soft, pleased hum as the hot water licked its way down his body. And when he was clean, before he got out, Remus reached behind himself, placed a hand on the warm tiled wall and slowly, very carefully, arched his back, leaning into the block of his arm, until his spine popped from base to neck, and a soft, satisfied moan slipped from his lips.
He'd arrived at Limehouse four years ago; timid, awkward in speech, lovely on his feet. When the panel had asked him what he wanted to be, he'd mistakenly blurted out "ballerina", and two of them had looked at each other and the third one had laughed. But he'd pirouetted his way into their respective consciences and, seeing that his body was too good to go to waste, they'd promised to work on his demeanour throughout his time at the school.
They had, in a way. Drama lessons and Character took up only a small part of the curriculum at Limehouse Ballet Academy, and Elocution even less. He danced three hours a day, four on Saturdays, and one hour every evening was spent in strength training. He'd picked two AS Levels out of a choice of five – English and French – and devoted two hours a day to each. His alarm clock was set to wake him at five o'clock every morning. By seven he was warmed up, showered, and in the breakfast hall. Unless he had a show, he went to bed at precisely ten o'clock every night, after a cool shower and a ten-minute grooming regime which included moisturising his face and hands, keeping his toenails uniformly clipped, and shaving his underarms.
He'd hated schedules before he came to Limehouse but had grown to, if not love them, accept that they were necessary. There were few other boys at the school who showed the same level of commitment, Remus was well aware. But he was also aware that if he devoted himself to structure, followed the science that said such rigid regimes would help him become what he wanted to be, he knew by the time he left Limehouse he would be superior to all of them.
That was something which was especially important today.
Every year the boys were required to re-audition in order to secure their place at the school for another two terms. Remus had been successful four years running, had swanned his way through with ease and grace and something close to charm. But his mother had always told him that if a ballet dancer was going to lose their way, they'd do it at seventeen. His last year at the Upper school was crucial, absolutely vital. If he completed the last year, he would be on his way to becoming a professional ballet dancer. Today, at ten o'clock, was his audition, and he was determined that nothing would come between him and his passing it. He had not lost his way. He had not lost his way. He'd been chanting it to himself for the past month, like a psalm, and he knew it to be true. Remus Lupin was not perfect, but he could dance. He knew that.
At 9:30 exactly, after a breakfast of unsweetened grapefruit and orange cordial, he descended the winding iron staircase to the Alexander Charles Dance Hall. It was the worst hall, the one they used for first and second year recitals. It was dark and the floor was uneven. A rumour had spread amongst the older boys that they held all auditions in Alexander Charles because the school was losing money and the staff wanted to make sure only the very best got in by auditioning them in the most difficult room.
Remus knew it was untrue, and stupid anyway because the school was funded by the government, not by fees. But even so, as he walked into the changing area outside the hall he felt a kind of bitter resentment towards the judges, towards anything that might get in his way. He sat on one long wooden bench and cracked his white shoes and pulled them on, watched as a blond boy with beautifully sculpted arms and legs strode out with a smug smile on his face, then took a deep breath and entered into the room.
I have not lost my way.
"You dance like you are miserable," the third judge, his fourth year Modern Dance teacher, told him in his thick French accent. He had a high forehead and sharp, ratty eyes, and always stank of musk.
Remus stared at him in a kind of drunken bewilderment. "I'm not miserable," he whispered.
The French judge shrugged, and turned to the others.
"Well done, Remus," said another, the only lady. Amelia was her name. He didn't know who she was, she'd never taught him, but she had been on the panel every year so far without fail. "We'll be seeing you next year."
Re-entering the changing room Remus passed through a cloud of ashy deodorant and old sweat, registering the familiar, nauseating scent before discovering a softer, soapy quality within. He found next to his locker Sirius Black. He was a Lower schooler like Remus, seventeen-years-old and one of the most renowned dancers in the school. He'd played the lionised Romeo in last year's Shakespeare production, and Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake.
He was one of the most attractive boys in the whole year, with thick inky black hair and a sharp face. They lived in different parts of the school, and took different subjects, and had different dance teachers, and Remus had never spoken to him but he'd seen Sirius in the breakfast hall sometimes and always thought he ate too much.
"Hello," Sirius said now, cheerful and easy. He discarded a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of a band Remus had never of and pulled on a very tight black vest. "Have you just had your audition?"
"How did it go?"
"I got in again."
"Hey, well done, you!" said Sirius, as though they were friends. He glanced at the door, then back at Remus with a grin. "What do you think my chances are?"
There was a smug, self-satisfied tone to his voice that Remus didn't like. Granted, it was difficult to attend a prestigious ballet school for six years and not be at least somewhat aware of your own talent, but Remus had never appreciated the arrogance all the boys at Limehouse who'd been privileged enough to obtain starring roles seemed to possess. Remus wondered, if when he received the star role in next year's production of Don Quixote, he would fall victim to such infuriating vanity.
"I'd say they're quite good," Remus replied, sitting down on the bench and slipping off his shoes. "But then, you already knew that, didn't you?"
Sirius gave a laugh that was not altogether fitting of his appearance. "What's your name?"
"I'm Sirius. Wish me luck!"
For the summer, Remus' mother assumed the role of teacher and spent all of July and August enforcing too many breaks from dancing and feeding him too much asparagus and chamomile tea. Remus was glad to return to Limehouse, to complete his final year of training and to win the role of Don Quixote. He had been a mere back up in both Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake, not even worthy of a name, faceless in white paint and feathers. This year he was going to shine. He could feel it in his very bones.
As a seventh year, his new room was much bigger and much more comfortable than his last. Unfortunately, he no longer had a view of the beautiful crack willow at the front of the boarding school, but his window did overlook part of the small stream that ran adjacent to the house. He had a comfortable twin-sized bed, a mirrored wall and a large desk, a bath as well as a standing shower and two sets of wardrobes.
To his left was Caradoc, the blond boy whose audition had taken place prior to Remus's. To his right was a boy named Gideon who spoke too much and was only ever not clumsy when performing. Opposite was Sirius, the wondrous Romeo.
On the first day back he wandered into Remus's room, uninvited, and sat down on his bed. He wore a black t-shirt and very tight jeans. His black hair was wet, and when he reached to push it back his biceps rippled smoothly. Remus quirked a brow. He had been in the middle of unpacking.
"You've a lovely view," Sirius commented, leaning across the bed to peer out of the window. "Mine overlooks the car park. Except I've a bigger bed than you."
Remus found himself surprisingly jealous. "Do you?"
"I have to. Doctor's orders. My back hasn't been right since Swan Lake." He slid gracefully off the bed and wandered over to the chest of drawers, pawing at the things Remus had already unpacked. "Course, it has advantages other than those of an orthopaedic nature."
He turned and offered Remus a sly grin, and Remus answered him with a small, humourless chuckle. He wasn't surprised. He knew the sorts of things that went on at Limehouse, and while it was a commonly quoted stereotype that all male ballet dancers were gay, it wasn't unreasonable to suggest that a lot of them at Limehouse actually were. Remus had long since acknowledged his own desires, but unlike the other boys, he wouldn't allow himself to become caught up in them. Relationships were a nuisance, and sex was a distraction.
"Say," Sirius said suddenly, picking up a small, ornately-painted wooden box. "What's this?"
"It's my music box," Remus told him. He started towards him and hesitated. "Please don't touch it."
"Sorry." Sirius placed it back down carefully. "Where d'you get it?"
"Italy. Sorrento. It plays the theme from The Nutcracker."
"That's nice," said Sirius, already gazing around for something else to play with. His bright, grey gaze landed on Remus. "Will you come and have a drink in my room tonight?"
"I don't drink, sorry."
Sirius smiled conspiratorially. "Well no, none of us drink, Remus."
"Yes, but I really don't."
"Come along anyway. Well, if we're going to be living opposite one another we might as well be friends. And we're in the same ballet class this year, too."
"How do you know that?"
Sirius pointed to the timetable Remus had already blu-tacked to the wall above his desk. "It says so right there. With Edmund Strong. I can't wait, he's amazing."
"Yes, pretty amazing."
"You've been taught by him before?"
"Not exactly. He led a class for myself and some others once for Romeo and Juliet, when John Carlisle was away sick. He's... he's wonderful. Incredible."
Edmund took only seventh years for men's ballet class, and at thirty-two was a retired professional. He was a magnificent dancer, difficult to please and very, very beautiful.
"He is," Sirius drawled. "He tutored me for Romeo. And Swan Lake."
He stepped right up close to Remus and smiled down at him, a good few inches taller. He had a very hard, straight jaw which was dusted with black hair. Remus had never seen him unshaven before. He didn't like it. It made Sirius look like a yob.
"Tonight then?" he prompted, and Remus blinked.
"Tonight. Come to my room tonight." Sirius swaggered out of the room without waiting for an answer. Remus watched the muscles and blades of his black-covered back gliding as he went. Then he padded after him, to ask what time.
Sirius hadn't unpacked when Remus got to his room at nine o'clock that night. His room was a bit smaller than Remus', taken up mostly by the queen-sized bed, so that Remus wondered where Sirius did his morning stretches. He probably didn't do them at all.
It smelt of fresh smoke and warm vodka when he went in, and Sirius was dropping a hand towel on to the carpet where a plastic cup of something red had been knocked over. Gideon sat beside it, looking drunkenly sheepish. They were joined by three other boys, two of whom Remus didn't recognise and one he'd never spoken to.
The two, it transpired, were exchange students from Latvia. The other was Sirius's friend William, who was very blond and effeminate and had a laugh so wild and squealish Remus didn't know whether to scoff or snap.
"Sit next to me, Remus," Sirius ordered, climbing over Gideon's legs to flop down on to the bed. He patted the space beside him. His other hand was holding a cup of clear liquid.
Remus did as he was told, wary of the situation. He hadn't realised other people would be here. He'd thought they were just going to have a chat, perhaps about technique or something. After all, Remus still wanted to be in bed by ten. He had his first ballet class at half past nine tomorrow.
"This is Alexei, and this is... this is -"
Sirius grinned at his new-found Latvian friend. "Yeah." He turned back to Remus. "Do you know Gideon and Will? And would you like a drink?"
"I do. And no, thank you. Not tonight."
"You don't drink?" asked Alexei, sounding surprised.
"I'm afraid not."
"Do you smoke?"
"Then how do you dance?"
They all laughed, except Remus. He didn't mind. He was used to people here thinking him strange, but he knew too many boys who lived off tomatoes and vodka and threw up after every breakfast, lunch and dinner, and he wasn't about to apologise for discovering a healthier way to live and dance.
"I enjoyed The Rite of Spring," Rudolf told them after his third drink, "but there is little room for males. I was Von Rothbart in Swan Lake."
"I was in Swan Lake too!" Sirius said in drunken wonder. Remus looked at him sharply and for a moment seemed to dislike him quite a lot. He couldn't tell if it was because Sirius was drunk, or if it was merely what he was saying.
"You were the prince," Alexei smiled.
"It's a demanding role."
"Didn't bother me in the slightest," said Sirius, waving a dismissive hand.
"I thought you said you injured your back?" Remus said innocently.
Sirius looked at him. "I didn't say injured."
"I just assumed that's what you meant."
"Well, it's not." Sirius turned back to the others, looking proud. "I've never had an injury in my life. And I never will."
"You might want to touch wood," Gideon slurred from his place on the floor.
"Never?" Rudolf said doubtfully.
"Not unless you're counting skin burns," Sirius replied.
"I find that difficult to believe."
"Believe what you want, mate."
Remus didn't want to believe him either, but generally speaking when one of the dancers – especially one of the well-known dancers – had done some kind of damage to themselves, it spread through the school like wildfire. The teachers were beside themselves with nerves if a particular prodigy was bed-ridden. Remus couldn't remember any word about Sirius being hurt in the four years he'd been there. He himself had suffered broken toes, sprained ankles, a dislocated shoulder and various cuts and bruises ever since he'd started ballet when he was ten.
"Did you take any summer intensives?" Rudolf was asking now. He seemed intent on finding something he was better than Sirius at.
"Not this year."
"I went to two camps," Rudolf told him smugly. "One in Riga, the other in Moscow. They are nothing like your camps here. Or your schools."
"Why did you come here then?"
Rudolf's stern face dissolved into a rather lecherous smile. He didn't answer. Remus thought that Rudolf, with his slavic features and dusting of acne scars, wasn't particularly handsome at all. But he had a magnificent body, and afterwards when Remus had gone back to his dorm, he could hear them fucking in Sirius's bedroom.
Perhaps they were trying to see who was better.
Remus shut the door and put on Beethoven's Spring Sonata and practised for a while in front of the mirrored wall. When he realised it was long past ten o'clock he swore and turned the music off, relieved to be greeted with silence. He slipped out of his clothes and dropped them in the basket and climbed into bed, alarm clock set for six.
The French judge told him he was miserable when he danced, so when Remus walked into Genesis Hall in his white vest and grey tights, he offered Edmund Strong a big smile he didn't feel quite worthy enough to give.
Edmund barely even looked at him.
"All of you hurry up," he barked, clapping his hands. "Stop slouching over like pigs. Walk gracefully. Gracefully. Just because you're not on stage doesn't mean you walk like animals."
Remus glanced around, confused. No one seemed to be walking like an animal, but Edmund appeared to see things that no one else could.
There were about thirty in the class altogether, and they were ordered by Edmund to line up along the mirrored wall and warm up while the last of the students filed in, a minute or two late and falling victim to Edmund's wrath.
"I won't have this lazy, piggish, laid-back approach to my classes, boys," he snapped. He wore a thin cotton shirt, the sleeves of which he shoved up to his elbows. "You're here for a reason. To have reached your final year proves you all must possess at least something bordering on talent. And it's your duty to show that to me, all of you. Now. Today we're starting with -"
The door swung open and closed for a final time, and Sirius came striding in, black vest and tights clinging to his body, dark hair swept up into a ponytail.
"Sorry I'm late," he drawled, "sir."
Edmund opened his mouth, clearly on the verge of berating him. Then his lips closed, and drew themselves into a broad, pleased smile.
"Ah, my prince," he beamed, holding out his arms, almost as though he were expecting Sirius to be drawn into them. "My Romeo!"
A few of the boys looked at each other and sniggered. It was a general fact throughout Limehouse that those who weren't friends with Sirius hated him. Remus watched him saunter past Edmund to join the end of the line and begin warming up, while their teacher ran them through the contents of the day's lesson.
They were going to be practising Blue Bird, the male solo from Sleeping Beauty. Remus knew it by heart.
It was not so exuberant that they could not all practice it at once in the big room together, but when it soon became clear that the majority of the class was familiar with the simple piece, Edmund ordered them all to one side of the room and called boys up, seemingly at random, to perform the dance alone.
Remus was not stupid. He knew this wasn't a simple warm-up lesson. Edmund was already picking out contenders for Don Quixote, in the first class of the term. He'd whittle them all down to about half, and then begin scheduling extra-curricular classes to find the perfect Don. Remus glanced to where Sirius was sitting and knew without doubt that he would be in those extra-curricular classes.
But Sirius Black was not a better dancer than him, and Remus reminded himself of this fact when Edmund's steely eyes landed on him and he said, "You. Up you go."
He took a deep breath to steady himself as he stood, legs unfolding gracefully. He tugged his white vest away from his body, wafting it for coolness as he walked to the centre of the room, and pushed his hair out of his eyes. Edmund nodded to the boy by the radio, and high violins flooded into the room.
He turned once, leapt, and began to dance. This was his magic, his medicine. His body so free of pain, mind so free of thought. He heard the music and he was listening, he was listening, and then he was gone. For fifty-five seconds he was gone.
Edmund cocked his head from side to side when Remus returned to earth. "Precise," he said eventually. "Fair. Sit down."
Remus tried not to be too crestfallen; Edmund had called Caradoc's performance 'repulsive'.
Sirius was next. Edmund called him up with a warm smile, watching like a proud parent as Sirius glided into place. He ran a hand up beneath his black vest, across his stomach, unnecessarily. Then the music started, and from the sidelines Remus watched.
It began slowly. Sirius's first turn was almost bored. Then he caught their teacher's eye, and smiled, and suddenly flung himself into the air with such carelessness that Remus let out a small noise of surprise, almost as though he were ashamed for Sirius, since Sirius could never feel such a thing himself.
And then, quite soon, Remus realised, as Sirius threw himself wildly around the room, that while he wanted to laugh and scoff and point out how terribly crass and uncouth a dancer Sirius really was, he couldn't. Because it was beautiful. It was so beautiful. It was like watching fire spread.
Sirius' black hair came free of its ponytail and whipped wildly about his face, which was grinning and alive with unadulterated pleasure; his muscles twisted and tightened and rolled like coupling animals; his body soared, imprecise and gorgeous, his pauses too short, his pirouettes too wild; where he was supposed to sauté once, he did so twice; his chassés were too frequent, and his body leapt in heedless ways, dark and lithe, like black water.
It was wrong. Practically every step was wrong, or adapted, or extended. It was so perfect Remus ached.
He didn't wait to speak to Sirius in the changing room afterwards. He didn't know what he could say, how he could appropriately convey how he felt about Sirius's dancing, yet at the same time how much he hated him for it.
It wasn't until after dinner that they bumped into each other. Remus was going into his room and Sirius was coming out of his. They quite literally bumped too, their shoulders colliding, so that Sirius looked back at him and smiled and apologised, and Remus felt his heart drop into his stomach.
"Sirius," he croaked.
Sirius turned, expectant. He had a bottle in his hand. He was going to somebody's room.
"Yes?" he prompted after a few moments of silence. He turned around fully to face Remus, suddenly looking intrigued. "What is it?"
Remus licked his dry lips and wondered how he could adequately get across both sentiments of awe and jealousy, without the latter actually sounding like jealousy, or the former sounding like awe.
"I thought you were very good today," he said eventually.
"Thanks! I thought you were too."
"Don't you know Sleeping Beauty?" Remus blurted out.
Sirius looked surprised at this. "I'm sorry?"
"You got some of the steps wrong. Well, quite a few actually."
For a moment their eyes met, and almost seemed to lock, grey key on brown. Surprisingly, it was Sirius who looked away first, with a smile he hid behind his hair when he glanced down at his feet.
"I must have been enjoying myself," he replied.
"Are you going to audition for Don Quixote?"
"Of course. Aren't you?"
"Yes." Remus hesitated. "I thought with you having done Swan Lake... and Romeo and Juliet..."
"You're not very subtle, are you, Remus Lupin?" Sirius laughed. He stepped closer, so close that he put a hand out and placed it on Remus's shoulder. It felt warm and heavy. "Look, you've got as good a chance as me. Better, even. Like you said, you learn all the steps, and you're lovely when you dance. And they're probably getting bored of me by now, you're right."
"I wasn't – I didn't mean –"
"It's alright, I get it. But yes, I am going to audition this year." He stooped a bit, searching for Remus's eyes, a grin still playing on his lips. "If that's alright with you?"
Remus nodded, feeling stupid. "I thought you were fantastic today," he mumbled. "Really fantastic. The way you... well, it was very good."
Sirius' smile turned soft. "Thanks, Remus."
When he'd left, the place where his hand had been burned through Remus' white t-shirt. He went for his cool shower, and determinedly kept his hands in his hair.
Two weeks later auditions began. Preparation for them was the most exhausting process Remus had ever gone through in all his time at Limehouse. He found himself staying up later just to fit in extra rehearsals, determined that he would know every precise step of Don Quixote's backwards as well as forwards before he had to stand before Edmund Strong and prove that he was worthy of the role.
He'd taken to slipping down to Genesis Hall at night when it was empty to fit in extra practices. Sometimes, if it was early enough, around six or seven, he could play the music on the radio. But if it was any later, he had to imagine it in his head, watch himself leap about the room stupidly to imaginary music.
But one night, the very night before the auditions, he found his sanctuary invaded upon.
Indignation had already begun to creep up into his throat when he saw the lights were on from outside, and when he heard the very faint tendrils of music drifting outwards. When he pushed through the doors though, the feelings dissolved, replaced with surprise, as well as a tender excitement he chose to ignore.
Sirius cantered gracefully about the room, his black hair free, his clothes dark and tight against his body as he soared and spun. Remus wanted to watch him but Sirius turned and stumbled slightly with a sharp gasp, and then laughed, relieved, when he realised who it was.
"God, Remus, you scared the fucking life out of me!" he said, clutching his chest for effect.
"I'm sorry. The hall's normally empty at this time."
"Yeah, well. I'm afraid I've already set up camp for the evening." He held out his arms. "Though you're welcome to share."
Remus wasn't sure about this at all. He only ever let his teachers and his mother see him practising, in case he made any mistakes. He stepped a bit closer, hesitant.
"Are you... are you practising your audition piece?"
"What? Oh, no. No, I'm sick of that. It's all I've been doing the past month. It's seeping into my dreams. I'm singing it in the shower. I can't take it any more. This is just..." He waved to the radio vaguely, which was still playing something jaunty and light that Remus didn't recognise. "I don't know what this is. It was already in the CD player when I came in."
"But the auditions are tomorrow. You're just... doing whatever?"
Sirius huffed out a laugh. "If you like." He swanned over, hands on his hips, and when he came close Remus could see how hard he'd been working; beads of sweat were pooling in the hollow of his throat, his face flushed with a healthy glow.
"Don't you ever do that?" Sirius asked, cocking his head to the side. He spun carelessly and wandered back over to where he'd been before. "Just... make it up?"
"Me? Not really. I wouldn't know how. You're not really supposed to improvise in ballet."
"Not supposed to," Sirius echoed derisively. "Do you always stick to the rules, Remus? Though I think that's an unfounded one. I've taken ballet for a decade and I don't remember reading anywhere that you weren't allowed to arse about and do whatever you like."
"It's just a very technical form of dance and I think it always requires precision. I think it deserves it." Even as he spoke, Remus wondered why he was saying it; Sirius had already proved to him that precision was low on the list of requirements for a piece of dancing that to watch could make your bones ache.
"You're too highly-strung," Sirius told him.
"No, I'm not."
"But you are, you are."
"But I'm not!"
"How do you relax?"
Remus replied without hesitation, "I dance."
"How can dancing relax you when you're so concerned about getting every step right?"
"I make sure I know every step so well that I don't have to think about what I'm doing."
"That sounds like a lot of hard work."
"I like working hard. It's satisfying."
Sirius studied him carefully for a moment, the music still singing out in waves of yellow-coloured notes. Then he grinned, impishly. "Do you want to know how I relax?"
He fixed Remus with bright, mischievous eyes. It was obvious that Sirius assumed Remus fancied him, so fond he was of himself. It was the unfortunate truth that he was right.
"I could probably guess well."
"Sex is a multi-purpose activity." The word came out so abruptly that Remus jumped. Sirius began to saunter close again, speaking all the while; "Loosens you up, releases endorphins, magnificent work-out. Taps into your inner animal."
Sirius was close again now, but the words were too amusing for Remus to do anything but let out an unattractive snort of laughter.
"No, straight up," Sirius protested. "That's what Edmund said."
Remus stopped laughing. "Edmund told you that?"
Sirius shrugged. "He recommends sex to all his students. Not with him, mind. Though I wouldn't say no, would you?"
Remus began to feel uncomfortable again. He was strangely bothered by the idea of discussing such a subject with Sirius. All he could do was shrug his shoulders. Sirius laughed. Then he held out a hand.
"Dance with me, please."
Remus looked up at him. "What?"
"I like the music, I want to dance to it."
"With you. Come on. I haven't had a partner in ages that wasn't so concerned with telling me exactly how many times I'm supposed to ballonné and chassé and mange touté and whatever else. I tell you, women are a nightmare." Still he held his hand out. "Come on, Twinkle Toes. That's what Edmund called me during Swan Lake, because of my name. Revolting, isn't it?"
Remus finally took his hand and agreed that the name was, indeed, revolting. Sirius's palm was warm and slightly damp with sweat, and Remus liked how firm it felt when their fingers slid together and Sirius pulled him into the centre of the room. His strong hands travelled down to rest on Remus's waist, as though he were contemplating his first move. Then with a jolt he slid, pulling Remus with him, and that was it. They were dancing.
It was difficult at first. Remus kept trying to recall steps he already knew, steps that would fit to the music flowing through his head, but he wasn't fast enough, neither for the notes nor for Sirius. He felt intimidated by such effortless grace moving against him.
Sirius bent to whisper, warm in his ear, Relax, Lupin, and Remus, with little effort, found himself melting back into Sirius's body and closing his eyes and focusing on what he was hearing and what he was feeling, which was a slew of warm cello and a surge of heat in his belly and his back and his neck, and hot breath on his ear, and heavy hands on his sides.
He stepped to the side, stepped out of himself, and started to move.
They slipped and slid effortlessly together, gliding around the wide open space, claiming it. Their heavy breaths mingled while ivory cotton on ebony twisted and played; honey brown hair against Spanish black, white Christmas skin on olive. Remus' back arched as Sirius' bowed, and heels walked with toes and backs with chests, and then they were turning together, and their torsos pressed hard and breathed in clashing tandem.
Sirius let Remus go and caught him, and brought him back into his body in time with an intricate orchestration, intimate. Their lips met, hot and wet, and slid together in reminiscence of their bodies. Soon they stopped dancing, and it was only their mouths that moved, warmly, one on top of the other, tongues sliding into wet heat, weaving, searching, hungry and hot and desperate.
Remus forgot all grace and slid his hands into Sirius' black hair, grabbing great fistfuls of it and pulling, trying to pull Sirius against him though their bodies were pressed so tightly that too soon they were forced to break for air.
They stood, panting, with swollen lips and messy hair and open mouths. Then they surged up against each other once more and their lips met in another frenzied kiss.
"Remus," Sirius breathed when they finally pulled apart. Their foreheads came down gently to rest together. "Remus."
They arranged to meet in Sirius' room at eight o'clock.
Alone in his bedroom, Remus peeled off his white vest and tights and took a hasty shower and changed into a pair of loose joggers and a white t-shirt. He gave a quick glance to the mirror on his way out and caught himself looking terribly excited, a pink tinge across his cheekbones and eyes that were glassy and dark. The anticipation of sex welled up inside him, yet it was with some effort that he made his way across the hall to Sirius' room.
Sirius smiled when he opened the door. He'd washed too, and his hair was still a bit damp, and he was wearing black low-slung pyjama bottoms. He hadn't bothered with a shirt. Remus wondered if it was intentional.
The room was a lot different from the last time Remus had seen it. The bed was made properly now, heavily decorated with a fairly amusing amount of cushions and blankets that made it look like a prince's boudoir. There were framed photographs about the place and posters for musicals and ballets, some of which Sirius had been in and some which had been signed by the stars themselves. And it smelt like Sirius now too; soapy and smoky and slightly woody and fresh and good.
Sirius closed the door and drew Remus into his arms and kissed him softly on the lips. His warm hands travelled down to the elastic waistband of Remus's trousers. He dipped a thumb beneath it, his other hand toying with the drawstrings at the front. Remus shivered into the touch. This time he was the one to tilt his head and press their lips together. His left hand slid to the small of Sirius' back, while the fingers of his other curled around the back of his neck. Sirius' hair and lips were so soft, so unlike anything Remus had expected from someone so brash.
They fell as gracefully on to the bed as two ballet dancers could, and Remus lay back and allowed Sirius to undress him and thought that yes, definitely, this was the distraction he welcomed.
When he woke, it was with firm arms wrapped around him, and a nose buried in the crook of his neck, and warm legs entangled with his own. For a moment, Remus allowed himself a tiny smile. Then his bleary eyes registered the bedside clock, and with a gasp he threw Sirius off and tumbled out of bed.
"It's a quarter to ten!" he hissed. It was taking too long to distinguish his clothes on the floor from Sirius'. The first thing he found was his underwear, which he hastily pulled on just as Sirius began to properly wake up.
"What are you doing?" he mumbled, rubbing at his eyes. He lifted the clock and tilted it, yawned and fell back on to his pillow.
"My audition's at ten! Why didn't you wake me?"
"I was asleep..."
Remus pulled on his trousers and then tried to find his t-shirt amidst the mess on Sirius' floor. It didn't take long; practically every item Sirius owned was black.
"So that's a no to breakfast then?" Sirius muttered after a while.
"For God's sake, Sirius!" Remus pulled his t-shirt on and spared a last look at the boy in bed. It wasn't that he wasn't beautiful. There were just more crucial things to consider.
Remus wrenched open the door, let it bang shut behind him and flew across the hallway to his bedroom. He grabbed his shoes from the dresser, clean leotard and tights off the hanging rail, and rushed through the boarding house, into the main academy, down into Alexander Charles Hall. He almost slipped on the winding iron staircase in his haste.
In the changing room he pulled off his clothes and tugged the ballet attire on in double quick time. Someone else's deodorant was standing at the end of the bench, and he quickly took it and used it before tossing it back carelessly. The clock in the changing room said it was seven minutes to ten, so Remus flopped back down and ran through the quickest warm-up in his life, cursing Sirius Black all the while.
He refused to acknowledge their night spent together. All his thoughts he focused on Don Quixote, the music, the steps, the loosening up of his body. By the time the door opened and a boy wandered out, looking crestfallen and defeated, Remus's muscles didn't feel nearly stretched enough, his bones not warm enough, his body not loose. A whole term spent waking at five to stretch and swim and shower, to practice in the hall until nine, sometimes ten at night, had all come down to this; seven minutes hasty stretching, with messy hair and a clumsy anger.
His name was called, and that was it. He had no choice but to enter in, no choice but to dance. Remus forced all thoughts of Sirius Black aside.
I have not lost my way. I have not lost my way. I have not lost my way.
The casting list was put up on the notice board outside Genesis Hall a week later. Sirius was Don Quixote. Remus was Basilio, the barber.
His mouth went dry as he stared at his name. Ridiculously, his first reaction was to cry. He felt the hot, angry tears stabbing the backs of his eyes, trying to force their way out. He drove them back so fiercely his eyes stung, and he rubbed at them irritably, swallowed down the lump in his throat, shrugged off the nameless person who clapped a hand on his shoulder and said, "Hey, well done, Lupin!"
Turning, he forced his way back out through the crowd and banged down the dark, twisting corridors, past Genesis Hall where he had met his fate, past the generic dressing rooms and past the star dressing room where he'd never sat before, and now where he'd never sit at all. At the end of the corridor he found Edmund Strong's office and banged twice with his fist on the door.
"Knock with a little more grace, could you?" Edmund said when he opened it.
"I've just been helpfully reminded that I don't have any," Remus snarled back.
Edmund blinked, apparently surprised. "What's wrong?"
Remus felt his throat go slack, so that when he tried to burst forth with everything he wanted to shout, his voice cracked, and all he ended up saying was, "I wanted to be Don Quixote."
Edmund said flatly, "I made you Basilio. It's a good role. Be proud. You get to dance with the stars -"
"I didn't spend four miserable years here just to lick someone else's shoes!" Remus snapped. "It's not fair! I put so much work in! I work so hard, and he..." His voice caught in his throat, and with a growl of frustration he slammed his fist against the wall beside Edmund's door. "He doesn't work hard at all!"
"Remus," Edmund said levelly, "this isn't necessary. You're acting like a child. You and Sirius are very different people. You're very different dancers. The panel and I agreed that he captured the character -"
"Oh, give me a break. Everyone knows the only reason you keep casting him is because you want to fuck him - "
"Watch your mouth," Edmund suddenly snapped. He stepped closer, menacingly. "Or I'll take that role off you."
"Take it! I don't want it anyway!"
Remus turned and rushed back down the hall, hands balled up into fists, ignoring Edmund's calls. He ignored everyone else around him too, the people who stared and the people who tried to talk him out of his rage. He pushed past them all, up the stairs, slamming doors as he went. He made it all the way to the boarding school, and when he was upstairs, at the end of his corridor, he pushed open Sirius's door, letting it bang open with a loud clatter.
Sirius was on his bed with people Remus didn't recognise, smoking and playing cards.
"Do you know you're Don Quixote?" Remus demanded.
The cigarette glued to Sirius' lip tipped slightly as he opened his mouth to speak. "What?"
"Congratulations, Sirius!" one of the boys said, nudging him on the arm. Sirius turned to the boy and grinned. Remus hated that grin.
"Yeah," he drawled, "congratulations, Sirius."
He threw himself back out of the room, across the hall to his own, but when he tried to close the door a hand stopped him. Sirius was looking at him with wide, confused eyes.
"Get out of my room," Remus told him.
"I said get out!"
"What have I done?"
"Nothing! You've done nothing! That's the point! You don't do anything, do you? You just mess around and drink and eat and skip lessons to go and... to go and fuck people -"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You haven't put any work in this term. You come to your lessons late and flutter your pretty eyes at the teacher and everything just goes fine for you, doesn't it? You don't even learn the fucking steps. You don't – you don't deserve to be Don Quixote."
"I worked so hard!"
Sirius tried to take hold of him, to wrap him up in his arms, but Remus pushed him away.
"Get away from me. This is all your fault."
"My fault?" Sirius spluttered. "How is this my fault? What do you think, I sucked the panel off?"
"I wouldn't put it past you," Remus said harshly.
"Oh fuck you, Remus. It's not my fault I'm a better dancer than you -"
Remus shoved him hard in the chest, so that Sirius fell back against the wall with a thud that made the items on the chest of drawers rattle. Sirius stared at him in surprise. His hands flew to Remus's wrists, holding them in place, as though afraid he might be hit.
"You are not a better dancer than me," Remus hissed, believing every word. "Don't ever say that."
"I didn't mean it like that. I just -"
"Just leave me alone!"
He shoved Sirius, hard, away from the wall, in the direction of the open door. He felt Sirius's legs collide with his own as they twisted, and felt too, rather than heard, the heavy thud as Sirius fell to the floor.
There washed over the room after that a deathly silence, a stillness that Remus didn't understand. He looked down at Sirius, surprised to see him sitting quite still, hunched over into himself. Breathing hard, Remus held out a hand to knock his shoulder. Sirius mewled quietly at the contact.
Slowly he raised his hand, which was shaking. Sirius' foot had twisted to a sickly, unnatural angle.
Rudolf, Sirius' Alternate, took the role of Don Quixote. William became Basilio. Remus was no longer taught by Edmund Strong who was now dealing only with those involved in the final performance. Remus returned to his sixth year teacher, a fact he was truly glad of. His sixth year teacher had always thought highly of him.
Sirius himself didn't return to Limehouse for six weeks, during which time the late summer stretched into a melancholy autumn, and an eerie peace drifted about the place. All sorts of rumours flew around the academy as to what had happened, the most absurd of which was that Remus had pushed Sirius down the winding stairs leading to Alexander Charles Hall in a drunken rage.
After Sirius had spent a first night in hospital, Remus had been taken to the office of one of the members of staff where it had been quietly explained to him that he oughtn't feel ashamed, and that the doctor had said Sirius' lower body had been working up towards such an injury for some time, and if it hadn't happened now it probably would have happened during rehearsals for Don Quixote.
Remus felt that, in a way, they were trying to find a silver lining to the grotesque twist of bone and muscle that had become Sirius Black's left foot.
He couldn't help but feel guilty though. He was plagued with it. It racked his body, his very bones, as he lay awake at night, wondering if Sirius would ever dance again. He replayed the event in his head over and over until he wanted to be sick. He couldn't understand it; it had only been the smallest push.
Sirius came back to Limehouse in late November. He did so quietly, without fuss, so that it took almost three days before Remus realised the room opposite his was occupied again. Even then, it was in Genesis Hall that he foundhim.
Remus had been going down there with the intention of dancing off some of the tension that still filled him. When he saw Sirius sitting in front of the mirror, propped up on stretched arms, legs out, he gasped softly. His eyes immediately flew to Sirius' foot, which somehow seemed like it always had, and somehow still looked wrong.
"The prodigal son has returned," Sirius grinned with a little wave of his hand, when it was obvious Remus wasn't going to speak first.
"How... how are you?"
"I'm fine. How are you?"
Remus had to swallow hard, as though there were some physical obstruction in his throat. With gentle footsteps he padded towards Sirius, hesitant, almost checking to make sure he was real.
"Is your foot better?"
"Yeah, right as rain. Well, no, still a bit stiff but I can walk at least. I'm so glad. It's been driving me spare, having my parents wait on me. They kept feeding me all this disgusting tripe and giving me nothing but books on Russian ballet to read. I'm sure they were enjoying themselves."
"You haven't been here in so long."
"Well, there wasn't much point, was there? I couldn't dance. I studied at home."
Remus looked at him and wanted to say everything.
"Sirius, I am so sorry."
"I forgive you."
"I can't believe... I wish I never -"
"Remus, I forgive you. I promise I forgive you." Sirius smiled up at him to reiterate his point, and then held out a hand. "Be a lad and help me up."
With slight hesitation on Remus' part, their hands met, and their fingers curled together, and both of them made it simple for Sirius to lift gracefully to his feet, on which he was still ever so slightly unsteady.
"Hey, what's that look for?" Sirius asked when their eyes met. His hands reached out to take hold of Remus's face.
Tempting though it was to take hold of Sirius' own face, to kiss him, to push back his ridiculous hair, Remus couldn't ignore that which had been gnawing at him through the whole of his aching autumn.
"You can still dance, can't you?" he asked, voice barely above a whisper.
Sirius smiled down at him. His features were pointed and beautiful. "I was about to find out," he said gently. "Dance with me, please."
Soundlessly, Remus did.