Summary: He can't help but watch her dance through life.
Author's Note and Disclaimer: Some aspects of this story were inspired by Leonard Cohen's song Dance Me To The End Of Love. Everything Harry Potter belongs to J. K. Rowling.
Dance Me To the End of Love
He really saw her for the first time at the Yule Ball in his fourth year.
He attended the ball with Pansy Parkinson at the suggestion of his parents. They had been pushing him towards her for years. He was practical enough to realize that she was, in fact, the most promising prospect for marriage, whether he could stand her or not. So he brought her to the ball and pretended to listen to her catty comments about the other girls' robes. Pansy was complaining about Granger and Krum for the fourth time when she passed in front of him on the arm of Neville Longbottom.
He knew who she was, of course. It was hard to miss her flaming hair in the usual sea of black school robes, but he had never paid her much attention. There didn't seem to be much to her besides her pathetic crush on the Boy Who Lived. He threw the stray insult her way, but usually didn't bother unless her brother or Potter was around. But then she walked past him on the way to the dance floor.
She wore second-hand robes that were a little too big here, and a little too tight there, and just the wrong shade of pink. She wasn't old enough to have much of a figure. Her face, marred with freckles, was not classically beautiful. And yet she was stunning. Her hair cascaded gloriously down her back, her eyes were bright with laughter, and she stood tall, with her shoulders thrown back. When she danced with Longbottom, she almost made it look graceful, even when he trod on her toes. She never even complained, just steered the oaf towards the drinks table. She was utterly different than he had ever seen her. It was as if she had been hiding behind a veil that obscured her, but tonight she had thrown it off and shown herself for what she was.
He wasn't the only one who noticed the change. Boys here and there around the room were tracking her across the dance floor. Not Potter, of course. Potter was too busy mooning after the unattainable Cho Chang and plotting to save the world yet again. He wondered for a while if her transformation was a desperate plot to finally get Potter's attention, but she hardly ever glanced in his direction, so he dismissed the thought. And she did seem to be having, well, a ball. She danced with a number of boys, never failing to make them look good. By the end of the night, she had even managed to teach Longbottom to waltz a bit.
She moved and the world moved with her. She laughed and it filled the whole room. He didn't hear a word that Pansy said the rest of the night.
The next day he looked for her at the Gryffindor table, wondering if her transformation was only temporary. It wasn't. She chatted with the Creevey boy, laughing and confident. She never once glanced at Potter or noticed the looks thrown her way. When she left the Great Hall, she skipped.
After that, he noticed her whenever she was near. He tried not to, but his eyes were drawn to her as a magnet to steel. He developed the habit of checking for her in the Great Hall at meals, and his head turned involuntarily whenever he caught a glimpse of red hair out of the corner of his eye. Occasionally, she would meet his gaze with an inscrutable look of her own. When this happened, he would seize the next opportunity to insult her, just to reassure her (or himself?) that he didn't really mean anything. She would listen to his insults calmly, then move away without a word. It drove him mad.
In his fifth year, reluctant noticing turned into intentional watching. He saw how she ate nearly as much as her brother, but never let the different foods touch on her plate. He memorized the way she brushed the end of her quill across her lips when she thought deeply about something in the library. He followed at a distance during her frequent forays onto the grounds. He learned her schedule so he could pass her in the corridors between lessons. He was fascinated by the way she never merely walked but seemed to dance to some strange rhythm as she moved.
After a while, she couldn't help but notice him following her. When she did she would acknowledge him with a nod or a smile. But he couldn't bring himself to stop. Once, she caught him watching her write a Potions essay in the library and smiled at him. For a reason he couldn't explain, he got up and moved to sit at her table. After a while, she gathered her things, smiled at him once again, and left. After that, he took to sitting at her table regularly. They never spoke, but seemed to have an understanding.
Sometimes he would even sit near her when she went outdoors. She seemed to do this more often than most students would, even in winter, and it seemed to rejuvenate her. She would wander outside, and find a place that suited her. She would sit down, close her eyes, and seem to withdraw from the world. He would find an inconspicuous spot nearby and watch her until she opened her eyes and returned to the castle.
He nearly ruined everything at the end of the year. Professor Umbridge, who seemed to hate Potter almost as much as he did, drafted him and some other Slytherins to help her catch Potter doing something she could expel him for. It was a chance he had been waiting for since his first year. But when the dust cleared and he saw which of Potter's band of fools had been caught, there she was, tight in the arms of Prudence Bulstrode. He was torn between wanting to see Potter finally get his just rewards, and wanting to keep her safe both Umbridge and from Potter's scheme to save the world, whatever it was this time. So he was both angry and relieved when Umbridge left with Granger and Potter without punishing them. He was distracted for a moment, and Prudence must have been as well, for before he knew it, she was out of Prudence's grasp with her wand pointed at him.
"Tell your goons to let them go, Malfoy," she demanded coldly and quietly.
"What? Did you want to follow that idiot to your death like a daft puppy dog?" he hissed under his breath, so the other Slytherins wouldn't hear.
"Follow? Like a puppy? I thought you knew me better than that, Malfoy. I never do anything that I don't want to do." He couldn't help but think this had a double meaning, intended for him. "I am choosing to help a friend in his time of need. That is a distinction you still need to learn to make," she said, just before muttering a curse that he didn't quite hear. And after that, he was in no shape to think about it, as he was being attacked by his own giant bogies.
He didn't recover from the hex until well after she had returned from the Department of Mysteries. She was safe, which was a relief greater than he was willing to admit, even to himself. But Potter had returned as well, which was quite a blow. And she refused to even look at him again that term.
That fall, he cornered her on the train. "What, you thought it was safe to come back this year, Weasley?"
"We Weasleys are like cockroaches, Malfoy, notoriously hard to kill. You'll have to do more than talk if you want to get to us."
He couldn't help but hope that she meant that in more than one way, but by then, she was gone.
And the worst thing was, he knew she was right. He avoided her, as much as he could, for months, but nothing he did could get her out of his mind. He would think he had gotten over her, but then he would pass her in the corridor and she would smile or wink at him, and she would creep right back into his thoughts. Even if he managed to go a day without thinking of her, he would dream of her at night. He was losing sleep over it. But he wasn't about to give in to anyone, much less a Weasley.
One night he was particularly restless. His father was pressuring him to take the Dark Mark. Although it was what he always had thought he wanted, he had begun to doubt. He needed some way to center himself, to decide what he really wanted. Deep down, he knew he needed her, but didn't want to admit it, so he decided to go for a walk. It wasn't until he had wandered beyond the Quidditch pitch, somewhere he had never been before, that he realized there was something drawing him there. He walked through an unfamiliar copse of trees and emerged in a clearing that peaked into a hilltop.
And then he saw her.
She was at the top of the hill, standing ramrod straight, face tilted to the stars, her eyes closed. He stopped in his tracks, heart pounding in his chest. She was breathtaking in the moonlight, which brightened her hair and made her skin even paler.
After an eternity, she spoke.
"Do you feel it too?"
He had no idea what she was talking about.
"You feel it, don't you? The tide is turning." She looked at him then, and she must have seen his confusion. "Come. I'll show you."
He moved towards her, as if in a trance. When he was a few feet from him, she reached out and took both his hands in hers.
"Come. Your heart is beating too quickly. You must relax, or you won't be able to hear. Now breathe slowly and listen. Look up if you can't hear it."
He listened, but all he heard was the sound of the forest nearby. He looked up, but all he saw was the stars.
"I'm sorry, but what am I supposed to be listening to?"
"To the song of the universe. Can you not hear it? It is loud tonight. The tide is turning. Mars has burned bright, but after tonight, he will begin to fade. The melody is changing. Listen!"
And he stood, eyes closed against the night, and listened as hard as he could. And eventually he heard...something. He highly doubted it was the song of the universe. Perhaps the sound of his own blood pumping through his veins. Or maybe hers. Or maybe both of their blood, pumping together. Whatever he heard, its rhythm increased, slowly at first, then faster. His eyes flew open, and he found her looking at him with a new intensity. And still the rhythm increased, goading him, pushing him, until he leaned forward and touched his mouth to hers.
The kiss was explosive. Like nothing he had ever experienced. His senses were multiplied. He heard the rhythm still, but there was more to it–a melody he couldn't quite capture. He felt as if he was on fire where he touched her. This was soon almost everywhere, as they quickly drew each other closer. He felt that he would drown in her eyes, her taste, her smell. She had nearly engulfed him when she finally pulled away, and smiled shyly up at him.
"The tide has turned," she whispered. "We should head back to the castle." And they did, hand in hand.
In the morning, he went to Dumbledore and told him everything he knew about his father's and the Dark Lord's plans.
That night, he found her in the library, and sat not only at her table, but next to her. She asked him for help with her Potions essay. They talked until curfew about lessons, and Quidditch, and how to sneak into the kitchens. He even teased her about her eating habits, and smiled when she blushed. When he walked her back to Gryffindor Tower, he felt as if he was dancing on air. And then he gave her a chaste goodnight kiss, quite unlike any he had ever given before.
But, as he reflected later in his room, nothing to do with her was quite like anything he had ever known before.
In the months that followed, life continued in this vein. They met each night in the library, hidden in a dark corner of the stacks. Sometimes they would just study, and he would watch her out of the corner of his eye. Other times they would talk, and he would feel as if he was being reacquainted with someone he already knew well. Then they would sneak off to snog in empty classrooms. But his favorite times were when she said the song was calling to her and they went outdoors. They would go to the hill in the clearing where they first kissed, and she would open herself to the sounds only she could hear. He would watch, entranced by the sight of her. Eventually, she would look to him and smile in a way that was his alone, and then they would share the most magical of all kisses.
And through it all, he continued his communications with his father with renewed strength. He knew, now, that he would never receive the Mark. But his father didn't know, and until he did, he would learn as much as he could for Dumbledore. And he knew that she knew what he was doing, and that when the inevitable happened and his father found out and disowned him, that she would still be there by his side.
By the end of his sixth year, he had managed to admit to himself what he never had before–that he cared for her, deeply, and that he would never let her go.
That summer, on his seventeenth birthday, he reached the moment of truth. His father told him that he would meet the Dark Lord that night to receive the Mark. He nodded in agreement, then as soon as his father left him alone, fled to Dumbledore. He was confined to Hogwarts for the rest of the summer, and for the foreseeable future, as it was the only place he would be safe from his father's wrath.
When she returned to Hogwarts on September 1st, she already seemed to know what he had done. When he asked her if Dumbledore had told her, she looked at him strangely and said, "He didn't have to." Then she kissed him and he was lost. It wasn't until hours later that he thought to wonder about what she had said.
Over the next months, he spent every spare minute with her. He was unwelcome in Slytherin House, as word had gotten out that he had defied the Dark Lord and been disowned by his father. She was the only person he could stand to be around. Somehow, he always felt better around her–even just seeing her two-step her way to class could make him feel warm for hours on end.
They never hid their relationship, really, though they didn't flaunt it. They would meet in the library, an empty classroom, or the hilltop where he had first kissed her. But her brother and his friends never seemed to notice. Not that he was complaining–he would prefer not to have the life beaten out of him if he could avoid it. He asked her about it once, but she just shrugged her shoulders and smiled at him.
At Christmas, she gave him a misshapen jumper in Slytherin green that she had knit herself. He gave her a pair of dancing shoes. She put them on and waltzed him around the room, graceful and laughing. He felt he would burst, and whispered "I love you" to her for the first time, though he wasn't sure if she heard.
One Sunday morning in early March, his world caved in when he received a letter informing him of his mother's death. She had apparently stumbled on a meeting of Death Eaters at the Manor, and the Aurors who investigated couldn't tell if she had been caught in the crossfire or if her death was intentional. He looked to the Gryffindor table–a glimpse of her would have been reassuring. When he saw that she had skipped breakfast, he almost felt as if she had deserted him.
He wandered aimlessly from the Great Hall and out onto the grounds, and eventually found himself at the top of their hill, holding back his grief. And then she was there beside him, enveloping him in her arms, whispering comforting nonsense. He broke down and cried into her hair.
It seemed like hours later, when he had cried himself out and was lying with his head in her lap, her hands smoothing his hair. He realized that she had comforted him, but that he had never told her what had happened. He opened his mouth to tell her about it, but she placed a finger to his lips.
"Shh. I know. I know what happened."
"But...how? Who told you?"
She looked away from him for a while and he thought she was debating something with herself. Finally, she turned back to him.
"No one told me. They didn't have to."
He felt totally bewildered. How could she know?
"Do you remember that first night, when you found me here?" He nodded. "Did you hear the music?" He blushed and nodded, remembering how he had felt when he kissed her.
"That music is always with me. I have been able to hear it since my third year. It is the song of...everything. If I listen carefully, I can understand... Well, it doesn't matter what I can understand. But since then, I have been learning how to listen. Sometimes the melody calls to me, as it did that night. It was as if the whole world was filled with song... Usually, I have to pay attention to it to really understand. If I really concentrate, I can isolate lines of the melody and know what is happening somewhere in the world. But there are a few strings of the melody, those of the people I love, that I am so familiar with, I know immediately when they change. This morning I woke up knowing that something was horribly wrong with you. Your song was so discordant, I just had to find you. I was able to piece things together once I got here. I really am sorry about your mother."
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes as if waiting for a response from him. He was too stunned at first to say anything. But soon things started falling into place. How she knew that he had left his father over the summer. How she always knew what to do to make him feel better. How she always seemed to be dancing to music only she could hear. And then he realized one particular thing she had said.
"Did you mean it?" he asked softly, sitting up and staring intently into her eyes. She looked confused. "Did you mean what you said? Did you mean to say that you... that you love me?"
She smiled softly at him and whispered, "Of course. More than anything."
"I love you too," he whispered as he caught her in a bone-crushing embrace. He was sure she heard him this time.
He heard the music again that day, as they made love for the first time on the hilltop. And as they moved together, it was like a dance–rhythmic, and graceful, and full of joy.
Over the next two months, he would have been caught up in the euphoria of being in love and loved in return, but the real world intervened. He had N.E.W.T.s to study for and Quidditch to practice (just because he was in love with Gryffindor's star Chaser didn't mean he was going to just let them win the Cup). And, much as he would like to avoid it, news of escalating tensions filtered into the relative safety of Hogwarts. War was brewing and no one was immune. Certainly not him, considering his past actions. And she was a friend of Potter, determined to aid him in any way she could, despite his desperate pleas that she keep herself safe.
The morning of the Defense Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T., she pulled him aside. "Be careful today. Stay alert. I don't know what will happen, but something is coming. I can feel it. Be careful, for me." And she kissed him as if it were the last time, and he returned it, realizing that it might just be.
She had been right. Just as the morning exam was winding down, he heard muted explosions from the direction of Hogsmeade. Looking up, grimly determined, he saw Potter, Weasley, and Granger with similar expressions and knew that he wasn't the only one she had forewarned. When it became clear that Hogwarts would soon be under attack, the seventh years rose, almost as one, and left to stand outside and defend the castle, the exam forgotten. This would be a real practical exam, and would require every bit of knowledge they had managed to acquire over the years. And yet each of them faced it with a calm that belied their ages.
Later, he could not remember much of the battle. Only smoke, and curses flying, and, of all people, Longbottom saving his life.
He woke in the hospital wing. She was there, sleeping with her head on the side of his bed, both of her hands clasping one of his. Her brother was in a bed further down the ward, but she was at his side. He slept again.
When he woke again, he learned that the war had ended. Potter had destroyed the Dark Lord. Someone had managed to kill his father. No one told him who had done it, and he didn't ask. He didn't want to know.
There was rebuilding to be done, and he was offered a position at the Ministry to help with the effort. He accepted, seeing it as the peace offering it was meant to be–an acknowledgment that he was not his father. Besides, he had been disowned and needed the money.
The work began right away, and he couldn't see her as much as he would have liked that summer, but they were able to meet most weekends. Then she returned for her last year at Hogwarts, and he saw even less of her. He would meet her on Hogsmeade weekends or when he had an meeting with Dumbledore. But they wrote to each other nearly every day. And he found that if he thought of her hard enough, she could almost hear his thoughts in the song. And so he managed to survive their separation, difficult as it was.
On a Hogsmeade visit in early March, he proposed. It was a simple, straightforward proposal, without any flowery declarations. The ring was modest, but the best he could afford on his salary, and it looked lovely on her hand. He was over the moon–he would only have to live without her for a few more months.
When she left Hogwarts, she took up a place in the Department of Mysteries. He thought it must be because of the music, but she couldn't say. Outside of their work, they were nearly inseparable. Somehow her family had not opposed their engagement. In fact, none of them, even her brother Ron, had mentioned his family or his past. He wondered if she had asked them not to, or if it was because the war changed everything. Either way, he was grateful.
And now, he stands and watches her from across the garden, all red hair and white robes, dancing with her father. They move smoothly across the lawn–after all, he was the one who taught her how to dance, her feet on his, round and round the kitchen. They smile at each other with tears of love and pride gleaming in their eyes. She has never looked so beautiful.
Without even thinking about it, he finds himself at her side. "May I have this dance?"
She turns from her father and smiles so brightly he nearly melts. He and his new wife move as one, and he is overcome by a feeling of rightness. This is where he belongs–dancing through life in her arms.