A/N: This was a very challenging chapter to write, and I hope I did it justice.
Theo arrived at the Manor to collect Hermione and Draco for their evening out at Shimmer. A grin quirked the corner of his mouth as Draco sauntered across the marble foyer to join him, a bit of his old swagger back in his step. He was dressed all in black, but he wore it well and the cut of his robes only enhanced the impression of casual elegance that the Malfoys were so well known for. "You're looking worlds better Draco."
Draco snorted. "Be hard to look worse, is there some reason we're taking little Miss Goody-two-shoes to Shimmer tonight?" He gave Theo a bit of a pout. It was unofficially a Slytherin thing, and something felt quite wrong bringing a Gryffindor along.
"I'm her escort for the summer, I could hardly go out to the club with some other witch." Theo chuckled. "And last I checked, you weren't interested so…I take what I can get." He drawled.
"I suppose…" Draco sighed.
Theo chuckled, smirking as he saw Hermione coming down the stairs beside Tracey Davis. He'd asked the other Slytherin girl to come over and help Hermione find something appropriate for tonight, and as a thank-you she'd be Draco's date for the evening. He knew the pretty half-blood had a thing for Draco, had since fourth year, and her blood-status would be a little bit of rebellion for his friend against his father without it being too terribly scandalous. Tracey had certainly kept up her end of the bargain. Hermione was wearing a deep purple sheath dress that stopped just above her knees, and stylish black heels. Tracey had done her make-up, giving her smoky eyes and contouring the blush to emphasize her cheekbones. She looked like a darker, edgier version of the girl he'd escorted to the garden party, and for where they were going tonight that was just right.
Tracey was a little more daring, wearing a shorter, tighter, and lower-cut black dress that certainly had Draco's full attention. Her long lean legs were shown off with her edgy stilettos, and liquid liner had given her already pretty blue eyes added drama. Both girl's hair was long and free, Tracey's strawberry blonde locks hanging straight and fine with Hermione's curls only slightly tamed. Theo went over to the bottom of the stairs and offered Hermione his hand, aware that his friend was mirroring his actions with Tracey.
"You look stunning." He said.
"I feel a little ridiculous." She admitted, having had a hard time letting Tracey dress her up like this.
"You're going to give the male contingent at Shimmer heart failure, Granger. And you're welcome." Tracey rolled her eyes a little. "Live a little."
Draco chuckled and escorted his date for the night over to the floo. "Ladies first." He said gallantly. His gaze however was focused firmly on her ass.
Theo was trying hard not to dissolve into laughter watching Draco fight to not drool over the beautiful witch. They quickly flooed through to the entrance of Shimmer. To Hermione's eyes it looked like it had been a warehouse at one point, but there were five Massive fireplaces that served as entry points to the club. Music thrummed through the building making the floors shudder and vibrate, and showers of sparks fell down around them as they walked towards a silver archway that served as the entrance to the main part of the club.
Hermione's eyes widened as they were waved through, and the atmosphere of Shimmer began to wrap around her. Magic seemed to pulse and throb through her veins, heady and thick as it coaxed her inhibitions to relax. Whoever had designed this place had employed powerful enchantments and she couldn't help but admire the complexity of them as they played against her skin. They coaxed but didn't force, it was a whisper, a suggestion…an invitation. They were heading over to a raised seating section when Hermione stopped dead, eyes fixated on a flash of colour in the dark club.
"Ginny?" She whispered, not wanting to believe her eyes.
"What?" Theo said, turning from his talk with Draco.
"Ginny's here…and not with Harry." She said, wanting to look away but not able to. Ginny was practically wrapped around the lean, handsome figure of Blaise Zabini.
"Shit…Draco, get them the hell out of here." Theo said harshly, hand closing around Hermione's arm to keep her from following the blonde as he hurried through the writhing throngs.
"Let go of me Theo." Hermione hissed at him.
"No, you can't make a scene, not here," he whispered urgently. "The press are here to photograph us." He leaned down, whispering in her ear. "If you go storming over, they'll see her with Blaise and then Harry's heartache will be splashed all over every major publication in our world."
Hermione paled, but allowed him to walk her up to the VIP section. She sank into the purple velvet settee, trying hard to hide the shock in her expression. She had no idea how she was going to tell Harry what she'd seen, how she could possibly soften the news. "Did you know?" She asked Theo as he handed her a glass of wine.
"I knew they were seeing each other on the sly last year, I caught them in the Fourth floor alcove once. I didn't know it was still going on," he said quietly, dark eyes guarded. "I wouldn't have kept quiet, I'm rather fond of Potter these days and I would have been obligated to tell him."
Hermione nodded and sipped her drink. "This will destroy him, he's never taken rejection well."
"He'll be fine, Hermione. It will hurt, certainly, but far less than if it had continued to go on for months." He sighed. "I'm sorry, this isn't what I wanted for your night out." He ran a hand through his hair, a rare show of emotion from the normally controlled Slytherin.
"What did you want?" She asked, trying to relax. There was nothing she could do about Ginny tonight, and she needed to at least pretend to have a good time.
"Just for us all to relax a little. We play politics so much that it's easy to forget that we're still young." He gave her a small smile. It was moments like this that Theo was grateful that Hermione was a Gryffindor and not a Slytherin. Someone from his own house would have picked up on the subtle manoeuverings of the night, but the lion's house was more likely to believe in coincidence and the stupidity of others.
"Sometimes I feel like I've lived through enough to last two lifetimes." Hermione nodded, sipping her wine. "I never knew a place like this existed." She gestured at the room. It was like a muggle night club, and yet there was a feel of something that made it distinctly…magical.
"Yeah, it's owned by a witch named Clara Hart." He nodded towards a different VIP section where an attractive witch was lounging with a large group of friends. She looked to be about ten years older than they were, and her glossy black hair fell in soft waves around her shoulders. "She was one of the few muggleborns to be sorted into Slytherin in this last century." He said. "This place isn't just a club, it's the center of her information network. If you ever need dirt on someone, she's a good place to start looking…as long as you understand that there's always a price." Theo told her, leaning back into the seat and resting his arm along the back.
"A muggleborn in Slytherin?" She looked at him.
"They do happen…usually two or three a century. Pure-bloods don't have a monopoly on ambition after all." He winked at her.
Hermione just chuckled, and felt a sudden wave of respect wash over her for the other witch. She couldn't imagine trying to be in Slytherin House as a muggleborn, at least not in her year. They'd have eaten her alive by the end of the first week.
"Don't sell yourself short Granger, I think you'd have been a superlative Slytherin." Theo said. "I always figured there had to be more than a little ambition in you to push you that hard in class."
"The hat did consider Slytherin." She owned. "I nearly was a hatstall…but not between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor like everyone thinks."
"How did you end up in Gryffindor then?"
"Since it couldn't decide between Slytherin and Ravenclaw…I told it to put me in Gryffindor." She smirked. "I thought that Gryffindor would lead me on my path to being the greatest witch of the age, like it had done to Dumbledore. I never really fit there." She said softly. "I realized my mistake by Halloween…and if not for the Troll incident, I probably would have petitioned for a resorting by Christmas." She told him quietly.
Theo looked honestly surprised. "Clever and ambitious," He shook his head and lifted his glass to her. "To secret Slytherins…"
She laughed and touched her glass to his, drinking just as Draco and Tracey rejoined them.
"I hustled them out, but I think the press still saw them." Draco said and sat down beside Theo, pulling Tracey onto his lap. "Someone will need to give Potter a heads up."
"I'll do it." Theo said, immediately. "The night out was my idea, I'll handle the fall out."
Hermione nodded quietly. "Poor Harry…"
"All right, enough wallowing." Theo tipped his glass back and finished his wine. "I believe you owe me a dance or two, Miss Granger." He stood and offered her a hand.
Hermione set her glass down and accepted his hand, letting him draw her up to her feet and out to the dance floor. As he pulled her close she realized how odd it felt. Theo was an attractive wizard, all sharp features and lean lines. He was charming, and attentive…but there was absolutely nothing when he held her against him. Even stranger was that she was fairly sure the lack of attraction was entirely mutual. It made it easy to relax and just have some fun, knowing that he wouldn't get the wrong idea. Knowing he didn't think of her that way made him safe.
As the music picked up, he guided her effortless across the floor. A subtle touch on her hip, or a brush against the small of her back directed her to where he wanted her. Hermione laughed as he dipped her, and she was pleased to see he looked like he was having just as much fun.
"Someone's been practicing." He teased as they finally headed back up to their seats, noting that Tracey and Draco were long gone.
"I wanted to make sure I didn't embarrass myself at my first ball." She said and all but collapsed down onto the plush cushions. One or two dances had someone turned into nearly an hour down amongst the other dancers. A waitress came over with fresh drinks for them.
"Who's been teaching you?" Theo asked, having his suspicions.
"Who do you think?" She asked in kind, arching an eyebrow at him.
Theo chuckled. "I imagine you'll be opening the first dance with him? Have you decided what you'll be doing?"
"He suggested something called the Duelling Dance." She said. "He said it's quite complicated though."
Theo's eyebrows rose. "It is, I'd suggest starting practicing soon." It was a complicated dance, and when well performed it was exquisite. He could understand Lucius' choice of the dance, both from an aesthetic level and because it would allow the other wizard to touch her freely without anyone batting an eye.
"That hard?" She looked worried.
"You'll be fine," He reassured her. "It's going to be your crowning moment, and neither I nor Lord Malfoy will let you falter. I do however claim your first waltz now, before someone else can beat me to it." He grinned.
"You're my official escort, you may have the pleasure of dancing with me as much as you choose." She said, the wine and atmosphere of the club letting her set her worries aside and be a little playful. Her eyes drifted out across the club seeing Draco dancing with Tracey and another witch she didn't recognize. "At least Draco seems to be having fun."
Theo snorted. "He's not exactly difficult to please." He said. "A pretty witch in a short skirt and he's happy enough." It had been that way ever since their fourth year, and Draco had gone through an insane amount of witches.
"Why does that that not surprise me." She snorted. She'd been a little apprehensive about coming here tonight, and the issue with Ginny and Blaise had obviously not helped…but she was actually having a nice time. "Thanks for bringing me here tonight, Theo." She said after a moment.
Aware that they were being watched he reached over and took her hand, kissing her knuckles. "It was my pleasure, Hermione." He allowed a tiny smirk to cross his lips as he met her eyes, letting her know he was playing for the camera. It was refreshing to play the game with someone who seemed to grasp the rules. She knew he wasn't interested in her, but was playing the adoring girlfriend effortlessly. He hadn't needed to tell her, she'd simply deduced it on her own. Thank Merlin she really was as clever as everyone said.
Harry hadn't slept after Theo had delivered his news last night. He honestly didn't know what to feel, and that very fact bothered him more than the discovery that Ginny had been unfaithful. He was standing just outside the Burrow's ward line, trying to gather the nerve to go in. Theo had warned him that it was possible that Ginny had been photographed with Blaise, but regardless of that he needed to confront her about it. Harry took a deep breath and crossed through the gate and headed up the path towards the place that had been like his home during his years at Hogwarts. He knocked at the door, and was unable to help smiling as Molly answered the door in her favourite patchwork house coat. It made his throat tighten up, realizing that after today things would change between him and the Weasleys.
"Harry dear, come in come in…would you like a little spot of breakfast?" She smiled and hustled him inside.
"I umm…actually I need to talk to Ginny, if she's up." Harry said, looking uncomfortable.
"She's just helping with breakfast, I'll send her right out." Molly frowned, unsure what had happened. She hurried off to the kitchen and a few minutes later, Ginny came out and gave Harry a bright smile.
"Harry!" She headed over and was pulled up short by his hand.
"What were you doing at Shimmer last night with Zabini?" He said, his voice cold. He couldn't believe she was coming up to hug him as if nothing was wrong. Theo had told him that he'd send Malfoy over to hustle them out, she'd been CAUGHT and was acting like it hadn't happened.
"How…" She paled dramatically then. "Harry it was nothing…I…"
"How long has it been going on?" He asked.
"I…" Ginny felt tears rising in her eyes. "Since last September." She admitted quietly, head hanging down.
Harry felt a wave of fury hit him. "So while I was on the run, living in a tent and trying to stay alive long enough to kill Voldemort, you were screwing around with Blaise Zabini!" He shouted, unable to help himself.
"It wasn't like that…Harry please…I love you." Ginny reached out for him, just as her Mother came into the room having heard the screams.
"No Ginny…we're done. You don't screw around on someone you love." He turned away and stormed out of the Burrow, not able to look at her for a moment more. He apparated away as soon as he cleared the wards, appearing in front of his home. He went inside and immediately adjust the wards and closed off the floo. He just wanted to be alone…needed to process this horrible gut wrenching sense of betrayal.
Ginny had fallen to her knees in the living room, sobbing as Harry left. She was aware of her mother gathering her up and helping her over to the sofa, stroking her hair gently and whispering soft platitudes. Oh Merlin, she had messed up so badly. What had she been thinking? Eventually she stopped crying and sat up a little, feeling a deep sense of shame when she saw the disappointment written all over her mother's face.
"Ginevra…what have you done?" Molly said sadly.
"It was just a night out…it didn't mean anything." She tried to say.
"Then why lie about it?" Molly gave her a look at all of her children knew extremely well. "How serious is it with this other boy?"
"It's not!" She protested. "Blaise…he's just so much fun, and it's fun because it's not serious."
"If this ends up in the papers…you know it will get serious very quickly. Your father has just finally managed to start rebuilding our family's reputation. He can't allow you to behave like this. I am very, very disappointed in you. I think you'd best go to your room and think about what you've done." Molly said quietly, heartbroken both for her daughter and the young man she'd hoped to have as her son in law. She couldn't blame poor Harry for ending it with Ginny, given his own position as Lord Potter…he couldn't risk the scandal any more than they could. She watched her daughter leave the living room quietly and she stood and headed straight for her husband's workshop…needing to tell him what had happened. There was only one way to possibly salvage this, and that was to quietly and quickly arrange a betrothal between Ginny and the Zabini boy.
Arthur looked up from an old muggle radio he was tinkering with and smile. "Am I late for breakfast again Mollywobbles?" He grinned.
"No…we need to talk about our daughter." She sighed and shook her head. "Harry's ended their relationship, and it appears she was not out with Luna and Hermione last night…she was out with a boy, and someone informed Harry."
Arthur frowned and set the radio down. "Which boy? Surely it was just a misunderstanding?" He grasped instantly just how serious this was. He and Harry had just started talking about a formal betrothal contract.
"Blaise Zabini, a Slytherin that was in Harry's year. Apparently it's been going on since the start of last school year." Molly shook her head. "She admitted it to Harry, and he broke things off. Poor boy looked gutted, and I can't even find it in my heart to blame him at all." She ran a hand through her wild hair. "We have to deal with this, and quickly."
"I am aware, dear." He went over and kissed her cheek. "Go and finish breakfast while I get dressed…I'll be paying a visit to young Mr. Zabini." He had sworn to his wife many years ago that he would not ever force any of their children into an arranged marriage, but he had little other choice now. Ginny was their only daughter, and he could not allow her reputation to get dragged through the mud.
Molly nodded quietly. "Do what you must Arthur…do what you must." She squeezed his arm, trying to let him know wordlessly that she understood what he had to do. She walked back up to the house with him, glad when he wrapped an arm around her waist and pressed a kiss to her temple. They'd been through a lot over the years, this was just another challenge that they would meet as a family. There were worst things in life than an arranged marriage, particularly when it was clear Ginny was at least somewhat partial to the boy. It would be alright. It had to be.