Teaching Elephants to Dance
Author: Lucki Lyotto
Archiving: All FQF will be archived solely at this site until January 30th, 2005. After that, it's yours to do with as you will.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to.
Challenge & Summary: Challenge #49: The Seventh Year Holiday Ball is coming up and Sirius's parents never had the decency to teach him how to dance. Insert Remus.
Author Notes: As always, thanks to Noche for the beta. She never lets me down. Also, I really do know how to waltz - the Viennese in particular - but teaching it in words is a headache so I wrote my way around the actual dancing part. If you want proof that I know what I'm doing, or just want to try it yourself, feel free to ask.
“Yes, Sirius. A ball.” Remus sighed as he transcribed the exact same line of the exact same essay for the fifth time in as many minutes. He kept catching himself misspelling simple words due to a plotting Prongs and a perfectly panicked Padfoot. “The entire school has been talking about it for months now,” he stated. “Even Severus has a date, you know? And half of the school’s female population has been following you around even more eagerly that usual in hopes of being yours.” With a glance up, he raised a brow at the incredulous look he was receiving. “Or hadn’t you noticed the sudden surge of your entourage?”
“I wasn’t really paying attention!”
“Typically,” Peter muttered with a half-hidden smirk from his bed.
Sirius scowled at him. “We had that big essay for Arithmancy and the test in Defence and the full moon and the Charms project and…oh bugger it, Remus!” A grunt accompanied the creaking protest of the bed frame as the great Black collapsed so suddenly across his friend’s bed that Remus barely had time to keep his ink from spilling. “A ball. What am I supposed to do?”
Rolling his eyes and his parchment, the werewolf gave up on homework for the evening and turned his full attention to the crisis at hand. Obviously he wasn’t going to be given a chance to do much else anyway. When Sirius had a problem, everyone had a problem. Well, when Sirius had a problem, Remus had a problem at the very least.
“It’s simple, Pads,” James laughed as he plopped himself down on the floor at his best mate’s head. “You find some bird you like, ask her to the ball, give her the night of her life and go on with it.”
And upside-down Sirius snorted. “Easy for you to say, mate. You’ve got your girl.”
“Going to the ball with Lily doesn’t make anything any less nerve-wracking,” was his defensive answer. “The night has to be perfect. One wrong move and I’ll be paying out of my arse for the next forever just to make it up to her.”
“You wouldn’t mind.”
But Remus sitting up stopped the argument before it could become an actual fight and the two merely fell to making faces at one another. Merlin knew it easily could have gone on forever otherwise, the two eventually refusing to speak to one another as their silent duel continued its solitary build up to some monstrous proportions only rivalled by those of their last spat, but they were best mates and such things were expected. Honestly, Remus generally found that such issues tended to provide him with a day or two of pleasurable silence before the hushed dormitory began to make him too nervous to let it continue. At the moment, there was just too much going on for a little bit of peace and quiet to be worth the uneasiness, not to mention the fact that something as silly as a holiday ball was just too petty of a matter for him to stand.
“The issue here,” Remus said as he packed his parchment away for later, “is not who does or does not have a date.”
“Sure it is,” Sirius grumbled.
“It is not.”
“Oh come on, Sirius.”
“You said yourself that even Snivellus has a date already!”
“I don’t! I have nothing!” Back to panicking. “I didn’t even remember there was a stupid ball that I needed a date for until James started babbling about how he had to make sure everything was perfect for Lily! Everyone has a date but me!”
Peter cleared his throat. “I don’t have a date.”
“See?” Remus gave a slightly exasperated sigh to Sirius and a grateful nod to Pettigrew. “Peter doesn’t have a date.”
“Well, that’s Peter.”
“Neither do I.”
“And that’s you!” Sirius shoved himself up off of the bed looking desperate. “No one expects you or Peter to have a date! It won’t surprise anyone if you don’t!”
Arms crossed over his chest, Remus looked unimpressed and perhaps even downright angry. “You’re not doing much to convince me that I should help you, Sirius.”
“People expect me to be there with someone!” It continued even as James and Peter rolled their eyes at one another. “I mean… I’m Sirius! Sirius Black! If I walk into this ball by myself, I’ll never hear the end of it! I might as well just not go! It’d amount to the same thing!”
“Do what you like,” James finally interrupted, climbing to his feet with a grunt. “Right now, though, I’m too tired to listen to this. It’s time for bed. I’m pulling rank. Lights out.”
Eyes closed but sleep still just out of reach, Remus listened silently to the soft chorus of snores surrounding him. Peter was dreaming, nightmares. He kept whimpering and squeaking and thrashing at intervals and, if it hadn’t been for the fact that Remus had no idea what he would have been able to do for the boy, it was almost tempting to wake him up. James was dreaming dreams of a completely different sort. In first year, that habit of talking in his sleep hadn’t amounted to much. Now, however, Remus could easily have blackmailed their dear Head Boy into kingdom come. His muttering and moaning was, simply put, rather incriminating. The fourth bed in the dormitory was quiet, though, and Remus had barely had time to notice before he found out why.
“Moony?” Sirius was crouched down beside the werewolf’s bed, hands tugging nervously at his friend’s pillowcase. “Moony? You awake?”
He didn’t have to answer. It was obvious that he wasn’t sleeping. If he kept lying there, though, Sirius would assume that he was still upset over the date comment and just go away. Unfortunately, Remus had never been much good at pretending to be angry when there was nothing really important enough to be angry about.
“Oh good.” Smiling, the shadow of Black moved to sit on the mattress, Remus sitting up and curling there at the head of the bed as he let his eyes adjust. “I was kind of worried you’d just ignore me or something.”
“The thought did cross my mind.”
Sirius offered a sheepish grin at that and laughed. “Well, I’m glad it crossed instead of camping because I’m sorry I said what I said about you and the not having a date and all that.”
“Apology accepted,” Remus couldn’t help smiling a bit, “but I doubt that’s why you decided to talk.”
“Heh. You know me too well, Moony.”
“Mmhmm. Well enough to know that there’s more bothering you about this holiday ball than the simple fact that you don’t have a date. After all, you are Sirius Black, and I mentioned your entourage earlier, did I not?”
They both chuckled at that, Sirius nervous and Remus wondering why.
“So what is it, Padfoot? Can’t choose the right girl? Can’t fit into your old dress robes?”
“Can’t…” Remus blinked. “What?”
Sirius chuckled nervously again, fidgeting with the drawstring of his pyjama bottoms.
“What do you mean ‘can’t dance’?” Remus knew he sounded just as shocked as he felt.
“Mum never bothered to put me through lessons,” was the mumbled explanation. “The rest of the kids in the family had to suffer through it but I was just too much trouble so she didn’t even try.”
Remus still couldn’t believe his ears. A Pureblood – a Pureblood of Black calibre – and he didn’t know how to dance. Even James had taken lessons. Granted he hadn’t taken them for long because he was simply too much of a hellion for the instructor to handle, but James had still learned basic dance. He remembered discussing as much during one of those long talks the group had taken to having since Lily had joined their number. Peter’s parents had put him through classical dance when he was little and Remus’ own mother had even made him learn to waltz. All respectable wizards should know the basics, she insisted, or else risk making a fool of themselves should they some day be invited to a function that called for it.
That was just it, though, wasn’t it? All respectable wizards should know how to dance. Those without such knowledge risked looking foolish. Heaven forbid Sirius Black ever look the fool. Well, Heaven forbid he ever do so unintentionally.
“You have to help me, Remus. You have to teach me.”
“I have to…”
“Teach me. Teach me how to dance. James can’t, he’d be too busy laughing if he found out anyway, but I know you can. Anyone who can teach Peter Arithmancy can teach me to tango.”
Those big grey eyes – puppy dog eyes – were just too pathetic to refuse.
“Well,” Remus sighed, “I don’t know about the tango but I can at least teach you the Viennese.”
“Oh you’re a mate, Moony!” And there were big, strong arms wrapped tight around him, chests crushed against each other, a black tangle of hair in his face and in his mouth and up his nose. “A perfect mate!”
And that was the first time he had ever really noticed it, any of it – that strength, that scent, that smile – those singular aspects of the one and only Sirius Black. So that was why the girls were always following him and clinging to him whenever and wherever they could. Even when you’d been within his inner circle of friends since first year, his personality was somehow utterly intoxicating.
Dancing, Remus thought as he watched the other boy move happily back to his own bed, might prove a bit more interesting than previously expected.
“No. No. No. No. It’s right foot forward, left foot around.”
“Oh Merlin’s beard, Remus! If it’s so easy, why don’t you do it?”
“Because when you get to the ball, you’ll be the gentleman. The gentleman is supposed to lead.”
“How can I lead if I can’t even get the steps right?”
“That’s why I’m trying to tea—ow!”
“By the time this is all said and done, Sirius, I believe I may find myself with flat feet.”
“Or broken feet.”
Stepping back, Remus sighed. They had been at it for three days now and they weren’t getting much of anywhere. Sirius could follow perfectly but he couldn’t seem to remember the steps long enough to lead. It was somewhat like dancing with an elephant, really – lumbering and awkward – only he had a feeling that an elephant would have been more likely to at least manage an honest two-step whereas Sirius couldn’t even pull off a proper bow.
“Say it, Moony. I’m hopeless.”
“You’re not hopeless, Pads, you’re just determined to be a lady.”
“Oh yeah. That was a shot of confidence right there.”
“Eh. You’re the one putting this ahead of your studies for my sake. You deserve a good jab at me now and again.”
“Heh.” Remus grinned. “I’ll take what I can get, then.”
With another sigh, he returned to position once again, one hand grasping Sirius’ hand and the other on the taller boy’s shoulder. If at first you don’t succeed, correct? Granted they’d been try, trying again and again for three afternoons in a row, but they had two more days to make this work. Something would have to give eventually, wouldn’t it? Sirius would catch on soon.
Or he wouldn’t.
“Ah! Er…sorry again.”
Remus groaned, the two now lying tangled on the floor due to Sirius and a devastating lapse in balance.
“At this rate, my dear Mister Padfoot, you are more likely to squash your date than sweep her off her feet.” Spreading his arms across the floor, the frustrated werewolf glanced towards his friend. “It will, however, most definitely be an evening she’ll have a hard time forgetting, so you’ll have succeeded in something at least.”
Sirius sat up, hunched forward so he was looking moodily down at the other boy, chin resting on his fists. “I have to succeed in finding a date before any of this’ll matter, anyway.”
Remus blinked incredulously. “You still don’t have a date?”
“Oh come on, Sirius! How hard can it be? You have a veritable fan club and you’re still dateless?”
“Well, so are you.” Oh and now he was pouting.
“Of course I am,” Remus rolled his eyes as he shoved himself into a seated position. “What point is there to finding a date for an event you won’t even be attending?”
Sirius choked in disbelief. “Won’t be attending?”
“As in I’m not going. It’s just putting in too much and getting out too little, to be perfectly honest, and mum never found the money this summer to buy me new dress robes so I wouldn’t have anything to wear anyway.”
“But Remus! Not going?”
“You have to go!”
“Because…! B-because…I…it’s…” But the protests sputtered out and died, the larger boy slumping over like a kicked dog. “So you’re wasting all this time trying to teach me to dance for a stupid, old ball you aren’t even going to?”
Remus shrugged and stared down at where their legs were still tangled. “Essentially, yes.”
“Because I’m a mate, like you said, and James would never let you live it down if he knew.”
Rolling his eyes again, the werewolf shook his head. “Oh come on, Sirius.”
“You say that a lot, y’know?”
“Never mind. Think we can try this stupid dance one more time?”
Remus smiled. “I think my feet can stand one more go at it, yes, but then we have Transfiguration homework.”
“For you to do and me to copy?”
“Something like that.”
Sirius was grinning as he climbed to his feet and dragged his friend up, too. One more try. They’d give it one more try. Remus already knew how it would end. Sore feet and bruises were all he was getting out of this. Of course, what had he expected in return when he’d agreed to it? Nothing. So far he was receiving said payment in abundance.
Well, okay, he thought as Sirius tripped yet again and the two pressed tight to one another in an attempt to keep standing, perhaps he had received a bit more than just pain and nothingness. There are some things you don’t ask or even hope for, after all, like dancing with one of your best mates every evening in an abandoned classroom. It’s just one of those things that happens and leaves you wondering how. You don’t ask to rush your homework at three in the morning and skip breakfast in order to do that research you should have done last night. You don’t ask to spin in lonely circles while he watches and studies and fails to comprehend. You don’t ask to laugh and stumble and fall like a fool when his foot catches yours just as you’re beginning to think that he might be catching on. No. You don’t ask for things like that.
You just savour what you get.
“Oh come on, Sirius. You’re not even trying anymore.”
“What’s the point? I’m not getting it anyway, and I still don’t have a date.”
“Still? The ball is tomorrow!”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking of just not going.”
“Oh, no you don’t. I did not just waste my evenings on you and your two left feet for nothing.”
Sirius sighed, flopping down on the floor to sulk, and Remus rolled his eyes as he joined him.
“I don’t like any of the girls who want to go with me, Remus. They’re all too clingy and desperate and…” He stared at his shoes, making a face as he picked at the rubber soles. “I feel like a trophy.”
The smaller boy sighed as well, shrugging helplessly. “Face it, Pads. To most of them, that’s exactly what you are.”
“I’m not a trophy friend to you guys or even Lily. I don’t want to be a trophy boyfriend or even just a trophy date. It’s stupid and degrading and…”
“You’re a Black, Sirius. Disowned or not, your family name makes you about as good as a prize racehorse. I mean, if you don’t believe me, just look at your family history, or even just your cousins’ relationships. Bellatrix married a LeStrange and Narcissa will probably announce her engagement to Lucius Malfoy as soon as she graduates.”
Sirius pouted. “Andromeda didn’t marry a Pureblood.”
“Not for lack of temptation,” Remus reminded him. “Ted just got lucky.”
“I still don’t want to go.”
“Sirius!” With a frustrated groan, Remus lay back and sprawled on the floor. “What happened to having to impress everyone? People will expect you to be there. They’ll expect you to have a date. They’ll expect you to wow them all with your exceptional dancing.”
“Maybe we could make you all up to look like me and you could wow them instead.”
“Oh bloody hell.”
“C’mon. You never know. It might work.”
Remus dragged his hands over his face. “What am I going to have to do to convince you to go to this stupid ball?” He moved his arm just enough to give the other boy a Look. “Short of having Lily try to pass me off as a girlfriend for you.”
Sirius was almost grinning.
“And no, that was not me giving you ideas.”
“Just go to the ball with me.”
“Not as my date!” The bigger boy raised his hands in surrender. “Just…come to the ball.”
“I don’t have any dress robes,” Remus muttered, suddenly nervous.
“James has extra, I’m sure.” Damnit, he wasn’t giving up. “C’mon, Moony! If you’re not going, I’m not going. I swear it. End of story. I won’t have one of my best mates wasting all sorts of time on getting me ready for something only to skip it himself.”
“Oh come on, Sirius.”
Sirius gave him a jackal’s grin. “You really do say that a lot.”
And, with an exasperated grunt, Remus recovered his eyes.
It was all just as horrible as he had known it would be. James and Lily barely left the dance floor and even Peter had taken advantage of Sirius’ groupies and found himself a date for the evening. So it was simply Remus sitting there alone. Well, he wasn’t really alone, but he might as well have been. Sirius, though he wasn’t dancing, had taken to chatting up the throngs of fans surrounding him for no reason other than to hear them all giggle. Playing witness to that was about as good as spending the night in the dormitory, except for the fact that the dorms, at least, would have been somewhat peaceful.
“Oh Sirius,” one of the girls was cooing. “Please dance with me. Just once.”
“Nah. I don’t feel much like dancing. Say! Why don’t you dance with dear Mister Lupin? He’s a natural and he’s looking lonely.”
The look on her face as she turned to Remus was one of amazing disappointment, but she wasn’t going to argue with Sirius, it seemed, and she gave his friend the sweetest smile she could muster. “Would you mind too terribly much? I’ve been looking forward to dancing all day.”
Remus knew Sirius was watching him. Those eyes always made him nervous when they studied him and they were quite obviously studying him now, waiting for his reaction. So what was he supposed to do? It wasn’t like he could just say no and leave the poor girl completely helpless. She’d been snubbed once. What a blow to the ego it would be if she was refused by the next best thing as well.
One last glance towards his friend and he was walking towards the floor with a girl he had only ever seen as a single insect within the swarm. He barely recognized her face and he couldn’t for the life of him remember her name, but he would dance with her anyway. At least this way she could say that, though he hadn’t danced with her himself, Sirius Black had set her up with one of his friends so she wouldn’t go to bed tonight without having danced at all. Oddly, though, Remus thought he could have easily mistaken Sirius’ look of satisfaction for one of discontent.
“I’m going back to the dormitory.”
“No, Sirius. I’m going. I’m tired of trying to satisfy your cast-offs with a spin around the hall. I should have just skipped it and let you do the same. It would have saved a lot of girls a lot of heartache and it would have saved my already aching feet from being abused any further.”
Of course he wasn’t giving up. Sirius never gave up. Remus was convinced that the boy had some sort of condition that prevented him from realizing that it was just time to leave well enough alone. Or perhaps it was just that he was a Black. Sure. That was the simplest thing to blame everything on. After all, Blacks never gave up until they either got what they wanted or else died in pursuit of it. Most of them were just more subtle than the boy he was dealing with now.
“I am not going back in there, Sirius! I wasted day after day trying to help you and it got me nowhere! I am sore, I am tired and I am going to go finish the Charms homework I should have finished yesterday instead of making a last ditch effort to achieve something repetitive failures should have shown me was truly impossible!” Closing his eyes, Remus took a deep breath to calm himself. “I’ve done as much for you as I can. The rest is up to you. But for someone who’s so adverse to being seen as a trophy, you sure do string people along like you’re some incredible prize to be won.”
Sirius’ face fell at that but it was going to take more than the expression of a wounded puppy to get under Remus’ skin. Wounded Puppy Padfoot was something he was used to, after all. Wounded and spoiled.
“One more dance,” Sirius said quietly.
Remus made a noise of disbelief. “No, Sirius! I am not dancing with another one of your admirers! I already said…!”
“I don’t mean with one of the girls,” Sirius interrupted patiently. “I mean with me.”
“For old time’s sake?” There was that grin, that irresistible grin. “To prove all your effort wasn’t totally wasted.”
Remus just sputtered.
He couldn’t really say no, though. Even if Sirius hadn’t already been taking his hand and putting an arm around his waist, he doubted he could have managed the words involved in a serious refusal. This was insane, two boys dancing in the Entrance Hall as the music wafted out to them. Someone was bound to see them, some couple deciding to escape the festivities and sneak away for some sorely desired time to themselves. It was almost perfect aside from that, though, a scene out of a romance novel, two dancers alone, waltzing their way in slow circles, content with only each other for company.
And then Remus remembered why he had been the one doing all of the dancing this evening, as that all too familiar foot hooked his and they toppled to the ground in the usual tangle of limbs.
They were both laughing, though, Remus’ moment of anger and Sirius’ moment of anxiety both forgotten. There was no point in arguing or worrying. After all, they were merely two fools, two fools lying on the stone floor with enough bruises from previous falls to last them two lifetimes. Remus was definitely grateful that Sirius hadn’t pulled such a move while they were still in the Great Hall.
“Well, now,” Sirius’ face lit up with a grin to make his friend’s skin crawl. “What’s this?”
Confused, Remus glanced down at the green sprig clutched in the other boy’s hand. Either he had pulled it off of the wall when they fell or he’d been keeping it in his pocket all evening. While the latter would have clumsily attempted to restore the romantic air, however, Remus decided it wasn’t crushed enough to have been planned.
Sirius was still grinning. “Mmhmm.”
“Oh come on, Sirius.”
“You should really come up with a new phrase.”
There wasn’t any use in protesting, Remus knew. Sirius wasn’t giving up. Sirius never gave up. Neither of them was going to be getting up and getting away without the other’s full cooperation, either, and Sirius was unrelenting as he held the plant up over their heads.
“How cliché.” Remus tried not to smile, tried not to encourage it, but he couldn’t help the twitch of his lip.
And that was all the encouragement Sirius needed. “I’ll take what I can get.”