chthonya: Eagle owl eye icon (owleye)
In honour of the longest day - and of the tenth anniversary of our first glimpse of the Ministry in Order of the Phoenix - I offer you this ficlet. My apologies to those of you awaiting Invictus 19 that this isn't it, but I hope it may amuse you. :)

Music: The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night by Astor Piazzolla. (E.g.)

Dance of defiance

I'm standing near the door to the terrace as you approach, so I assume that you're stepping out for some cooler air, or maybe to find some pureblood cronies with whom to plot your next act of sabotage. I'm not expecting you to speak to me; you've made your feelings about me and my legal reforms clear enough.

But suddenly you're by my side, hand extended. You ask me to dance, and though Ron glowers I have no choice but to accept. I'd much rather slap you and walk away, but I need to be mindful of my position. So I dredge up a political smile and take your arm.

There are few couples on the dance floor; I suppose this is why you've chosen to approach me now. You've been slithering back into Ministry circles, and no-one must impede this show of rehabilitation, your pretence of unity with everything you once publically reviled. Well, fine. It won't hurt me to be seen engaging with your faction, either.

Dancing isn't my strong point, but I've taken a few lessons since that disastrous Midsummer Ball three years ago, and I recognise the opening bars of this one as I turn to face you. You take my right hand in your left; I reach towards your shoulder with my free hand as you rest yours on my waist.

I've never been this close to you before. Your hand is warm through my thin summer robe, and you smell faintly of silk and sweat. For a moment I want to bolt. But I will not.

You are not so very much taller than me; I could meet your eyes if I wanted, but instead I focus on your chest. I don't want to miss the first sign of movement that I need to follow. This particular dance is improvised, so I don't need to remember a set sequence of steps – but I'll have to concentrate even more to follow your lead. I'm sure that amuses you.

I stifle my resentment. Time enough for that when the dance is done.

You slide forward and I step back, holding the distance between us. You move deliberately, every step exactly in time with the music, your arms held firm so that I can feel clearly the direction you wish me to take. You're actually quite a good dancer – well, of course you are; it's probably something that's been drummed into you since you could walk. Even when I stumble slightly you shift your weight to compensate so that anyone watching would think you'd planned that change in direction. For a moment I'm surprised you don't let me fall, but I suppose making me look good is part of what makes you look good.

You will not need to cover for me again. I concentrate fiercely on every step, mirroring your movements exactly. If you aimed to make a fool of me then you will fail. You will not find me falling short of this social benchmark.

But you are not the only one judging. As we move round the room I catch glimpses of colleagues, old friends, old enemies, and I try not to imagine that they are looking at me in amusement or shock or disdain. I find Ron, Harry's hand on his arm, scowling as if he wants to punch you. And you'd deserve it, a hundred times over for everything you've said and done, but I'm glad Harry is there to restrain him.

The music circles to an end at last. Just a few more bars and I can get the hell away and find a drink.

You guide me to a halt, and I murmur a polite thank-you, removing my hand from your arm as I move away.

You do not let go.

I stare at you, annoyance swiftly overtaking a moment of confusion. And yes, you've assumed that superior smirk that makes me want to hex you into next Tuesday.

"It is customary, Miss Granger, to dance the whole set," you say. "Unless my dancing has offended you?"

Your very existence offends me! But you're right, damn it: this dance comes in three parts, and if I walk away now I'm either demonstrating my social ignorance or dealing you a grave insult. Which would be fine by me, but not particularly productive.

And besides, the way your fingers curl around mine tells me that you wouldn't make walking away so easy.

I smile and incline my head, as if I have trapped you and not the other way round. "Of course not, Mr Malfoy."

And now I have another two dances with you, you devious bastard. We're supposed to converse in these moments between, and if this was a Jane Austin novel I'd be ready with some devastatingly witty remark. But I have nothing to say to you. You should be rotting in Azkaban, not greasing palms at Ministry functions.

You're watching me, still with that smug little smile, as if you can read my thoughts. Well, what if you can? You know what I think of you, and you've hardly made a secret of your opinion of me.

And then you look up, over my shoulder. Your smile widens, and I realise that I have my back to Ron, which means that you'll be facing him and that he'll be wanting to kill you. I hope to God Harry makes him see sense.

But there's no time to worry about that, because the music is starting again, and this time I'll be damned if I follow you meekly. If you want to do this, you'll have to work for it.

Oh, I respond to your lead, my steps as aggressively precise as I can make them, but I throw my weight forward, making you push through me. And of course you pretend you don't notice, though I feel your arms go rigid and your fingers tighten on mine as you harness the tension to propel us across the dance floor. This time I hold my head high, watching your mocking smile give way to concentration, watching you glance at the other dancers so you can steer us swiftly into the spaces they open.

And then you look at me.

I feel myself burning, but I will not look away. I return your fierce disdain with my own, and you raise your eyebrows a fraction. My refusal to be intimidated is a challenge that your pride will not ignore.

I brace myself for some complicated figure to trip me up, but instead you shorten your step. The music beats between us. You twist slightly; I follow the movement to cross in front of you, defiantly in time. And as I turn back, you slide your foot forward so that it brushes the length of mine.

I almost trip and I can see you enjoy my surprise, but damn you, Malfoy, you can wipe that smirk off your face because I know this is just part of the dance and if you want to play it that way, so can I.

I step across you again, as deliberately as the music will allow, and it could almost be an accident when my toe drags lightly across the top of your foot. But we both know the truth; the way your right hand slides from my waist to my back tells me that.

And that hand is holding me firm, so when you step forward I can't quite match your distance, can't stop your leg invading my space, can't escape the brief touch of your thigh against mine, can't escape your widening smirk or this acute feeling of exposure.

In that instant I feel every one of the twenty-five years between us. You are too practised at this and I am barely beginning to learn.

But, after all, I am renowned for learning quickly. And my embarrassment erupts into anger. You want to humiliate me in public? Make some kind of demonstration of your superiority? Well, let me demonstrate mine!

I'm hyper-alert now, thankful that my robe is light and spelled to stay out of the way as I twist and step away from your every attempt to trap me. Even the music is taking my side, pulsing round us wild and spiky and dissonant, faster than before so that I'm whipping though turns and figure-eights and you're lengthening your stride to swallow up the dance floor but I am keeping pace with you because I will not let you win this.

And the music ends, and I realise I'm gripping your arm, the heavy black silk of your robe creasing under my hand. I stretch out my fingers and in that moment you pull me closer.

"You dance well, Miss Granger," you murmur. "But if you'll permit the observation, you might enjoy it a little more if you trusted me."

Civility be damned! "You expect me to trust you?"

"Why not?"

I push away and look at you, smiling down all innocent as if you'd just asked a perfectly reasonable question. There are a hundred reasons why not, and you know it.

"Well, let's see," I say, "how about the time you let me be tortured on your living-room floor?"

Your smile fades. "We are not in the Manor now."

You pull me close again, so I'm almost leaning on you. I shouldn't have brought that up. Remembering Bellatrix's savagery is making me tremble; I'm sure you can feel it and I hate giving you that satisfaction. I breathe in, slowly, willing myself to calm. And then you speak, and I can feel your breath on my ear.

"Try closing your eyes."

The music starts again – a long, haunting note – before I can dignify that with an answer. You are daring me, I know, but to accept the dare would be to surrender to you, and I will not.

I feel the tension in your arms before the shift of your weight, so I move into the first step almost as you do, and smoothly mirror the second, third, fourth. The music is calmer now, almost languid, but it carries a dissonance that demands my attention.

But then you twist slightly and I'm too late to follow. I almost stumble before you shift again and I sink into step, and then you do it again before I can quite recover my balance so that I can only place my feet where you're placing me, and we glide across the room with following suddenly as easy as falling.

But I'm not used to dancing in this position. My balance feels off; I have to lean into you to steady myself.

Your hand is warm on my back. I hate it, but it helps.

The music weaves around us. A moaning violin tugs at my soul.

You lower your head. I brace myself for a mocking whisper, but you stay silent.

A stray strand of your hair brushes my shoulder.

I am too close to look at you, but staring over your shoulder at the room is a distraction from the music that moves me and moves through me and insists I respond to it and nothing else.

I close my eyes.

And now there is only the music, compelling me to respond. And somehow, where I need to step, you are already leading; when the music demands boldness you are striding with me; when it spikes you are making the space for my answering twist.

We are opposed, you and I, and always will be, but we have both suffered the hope and loss and despair that swells through the music, and the music carries us with it. It is not your arms holding me but the rhythm of the music, not you directing our steps but the musicians, and the melody is leading us both.

So when my foot hooks around your ankle it is because the music demands it. And when your foot nudges my leg my answering shiver is not at you but wrung from the essence of the music. I don't want it to end.

But it does.

I blink myself back into the room.

You bow slightly, shielding yourself in formality, a haughty stranger taking the place of the one with whom I have danced.

You take my arm. For an instant I resent the presumption, but a moment later I am glad of it; I am still half lost in the music and only too happy to let you navigate the room. By the time we reach Ron and Harry I have recovered myself sufficiently to smile politely and thank you for the dance.

"It was my greatest pleasure, Miss Granger," you respond, your smarm calibrated to cause maximum irritation to my friends. Not that you can be content to leave it there. "As it would be my pleasure to accompany you again," you say. "I understand your friends are not fond of dancing, but you need not deny yourself on their account."

"She doesn't need to dance with you!" Ron snarls.

You stare at him for a moment, one disdainful eyebrow raised. "I am not speaking of need, but of mutual enjoyment, Mr Weasley. I trust you are familiar with the concept?"

You imply the opposite, of course – even Ron can't fail to miss that, but thank God he doesn't do anything. You'd just love to have him thrown out for causing a scene.

"Until next time, then, Miss Granger." And you are gone.

Next time? Presumptuous bastard! The next time I see you will be in the Ministry, and there we will always be enemies.

I did not surrender to you tonight; we both surrendered to the music. But I doubt you will admit that even to yourself, and that will give me an advantage in the months ahead.

Because this dance is not over.

September 2016

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