Hermione felt much better after a long, hot soak in the tub. It was a nice moment to reflect on her time so far at Austen Manor and to think about what exactly she hoped to get out of the whole experience. It also gave her a chance to read that pamphlet Narcissa had given her. And lucky she did because it contained a very useful schedule of events. Without it, she very likely would have been late for dinner, which according to the fine print, meant extra sewing during free time. And extra sewing is something she didn't need, since apparently she was expected to mend the dress that Malfoy had ruined.

Standing in front of the wardrobe in her underclothes, which she had successfully managed to put on all by herself, Hermione tried to decide which brown dress to choose. She was torn between the frumpy dark brown dress and the frumpy light brown dress. Sighing, she closed her eyes and grabbed one. After all, it didn't really matter since they were all equally ugly. According to her schedule, Hill was supposed to come by to help her dress and do her hair, but the servant was nowhere to be seen. Whether she was still in the stable or cleaning the floors leading up to Hermione's room, the odds were she was doing something dirty. Not wanting to be late for dinner, Hermione decided not to wait for the servant to come and did her own hair. She was rather pleased with the result.

Using her map from the pamphlet, Hermione found her way to the drawing room where they were meeting before dinner with only a few minutes to spare. Mr. Denny bowed when she entered the room.

"May I say that you look even lovelier than when I saw you last, Miss Kitty. And I must compliment you on your choice of gown. That shade of deep brown perfectly matches the color of your hair, which by the way is in a most becoming style, as well as your eyes, which are very fine indeed." Looking her up and down in an appraising manner, he added enthusiastically, "And I see your shoes are also brown. I must say, you are the most coordinated woman I have ever met."

"Thank you, but I must give all the credit to Lady Catherine," said Hermione, glaring over at her hostess, who pretended to ignore her.

"Like a cup of chocolate," continued Mr. Denny, seemingly unable to stop talking about her appearance. "I could drink you up, I could."

"So," began Hermione, hoping to change the subject, "do you enjoy reading, Mr. Denny?"

"I'm more of an adventure man myself. That's why I joined the militia. The excitement and camaraderie of traveling the country with my brothers-in-arms. Never a dull moment, I dare say. But you, Miss Kitty, I am sure are a great reader."

Overhearing, Draco walked over and answered for her. "I'm sure Miss Kitty is not a great reader and has pleasure in many things."

"On the contrary, I am a great reader," Hermione boasted. "And I can assure you that I find most things are not as pleasurable as you think they are going to be," she added, glaring at Draco.

Feeling the uncomfortable tension between the two of them, Mr. Denny quickly excused himself. "I think Miss Lydia is in need of my assistance over there. Mr. Wickham has quite the reputation, you know. I best make myself useful acting as a chaperon. Wouldn't want anything untoward to happen between the two of them."

He bowed and walked over to the other side of the room where Lavender was sitting very close to Mr. Wickham on a small sofa. She had her hand on his knee and was whispering something in his ear. It did not look like Mr. Wickham was taking advantage of her. It was more likely the other way around.

Hermione turned on Draco. "Would you leave me alone," she snapped.

"I'm sorry, Kitty," Draco said insincerely. "Did I scare off your new beau?"

"Quit calling me, Kitty!" Hermione hissed.

"I have to. It's in the rules."

"You may call me, Miss Bennet."

"Yeah, I don't think so."

Hermione let out a huff and stomped off to a chair near the fire. The evening was a little warm for a fire, but Hermione was boiling anyway, so she took little notice of it.

"What are you doing sitting by the fire when you could be off playing with fire with one of these handsome men?" asked Lavender, sitting down in the chair next to her.

"I'm trying to avoid Malfoy," Hermione grumbled.

"You mean, Mr. Darcy?" asked Lavender, giggling. "I have noticed he stares at you a lot."

"Probably plotting new ways to vex me," surmised Hermione.

"I think he likes you," said Lavender, smirking. "Mr. Denny thinks so, too."

"What! That's ridiculous."

Lavender leaned in to whisper in here ear. "Mr. Denny said–"

Narcissa interrupted Lavender's gossiping by ringing a little bell to get everyone's attention.

"I am happy to announce that our other guests have finally arrived. We will make short introductions and then go in for dinner. We will be joined by a gentleman and three ladies."

"Too many ladies," Lavender whispered to Hermione.

However, when the new guests entered the room, there were only two of them. To Hermione's dismay, she recognized both of them.

"Good God," gasped Lavender. "What the fuck is Blaise Zabini doing here?"

"Probably the same reason Pansy Parkinson is here," said Hermione glumly. "To make our lives miserable."

"You have to hide me," said Lavender quickly.


"I don't want to see Blaise."


"We've had sex, Hermione. I think I can call him by his first name."

"You had sex with Blaise Zabini?" said Hermione in shock.

"Would you quit repeating everything I say? Yes, we've had sex. Multiple times. In fact, every time I see him, we end up having sex. That's why I don't want to see him."

"Here's a novel idea," said Hermione. "When you see him, why don't you just not have sex with him?"

"Oh, Hermione," said Lavender, shaking her head. "You are so naive."

"May I present Mr. Bingley and his sister Miss Bingley," said Narcissa, addressing the group. "And where are the other two ladies?"

"They apparently changed their minds," said Pansy.

"I hope they are aware that there are no refunds," said Narcissa, sounding annoyed.

"But of course," replied Pansy, smirking.

"I bet she snuffed out the competition," Lavender whispered, a little too loudly. "We'd better watch out. We might be next."

Pansy walked dismissively past them, saying under her breath, "You flatter yourselves if you think I actually consider you competition."

"That bitch," hissed Lavender as she watched Pansy saunter over to Draco.

"Merlin, Pansy. Put those away," said Draco, glaring at her breasts squishing out of her tight, low cut gown. "No one here is interested in your 'assets,'" he sneered.

"Just because you aren't, doesn't mean no one else is," said Pansy haughtily, her eyes focusing on Blaise Zabini. "If your mother would quit trying to push you off on me, I might stand a chance at having a real happy ending."

"I told her I wasn't interested in you, but she has her heart set on your money. Believe me, I would rather end up with anyone other than you at the ball."

"Even Granger?" said Pansy, smirking.

"I would rather shoot and hang myself than have to spend an evening listening to Granger lecture me on some stupid thing she read in a book that is of no consequence to me. If I wanted to dance with a book, I'd dance with one of the leather-bound beauties from our library," said Draco loud enough for Hermione to hear.

"Please head into the dining room now," ordered Narcissa. "Dinner is ready."

Scowling, Hermione stomped past Draco and found a seat next to Mr. Denny in the dining room. Dinner was a long affair with too many courses and way too much wine. The food was authentic Regency and some of it was just plain disgusting. One dish she made the mistake of trying was actually sheep's eyeballs. When Mr. Denny graciously informed her what she had just stuck in her mouth, she immediately spit it out. It flew across the dining table hitting Pansy in the eye. If Pansy wasn't an enemy before, she definitely was now. She couldn't help noticing that Malfoy had chuckled when it had happened though. She tried to ignore his presence, but it was rather impossible with him sitting across from her. She felt his eyes on her through the entirety of dinner.

Mr. Denny was a charming dinner companion, but he asked an awful lot of embarrassing questions. Had she ever been in love? Would she ever consider running away with a lover? Did she have very many suitors? Would she be upset if her lover had a lot of conquests? Had she ever been jealous when a lover spent too much time with another? Hermione tried to answer his questions as best she could, but it was rather difficult seeing as she had never actually been in love. Sure she had fancied Ron for a while, and she had dated a few guys after him, but it was never anything serious. The closet thing to falling in love she had ever experienced was with a fictional character. And she couldn't very well say that she was in love with Mr. Darcy when a so-called real life Mr. Darcy was sitting across the table from her eavesdropping.

After dinner, everyone retired to the drawing room. The room was very hot, and Hermione had forgotten her fan. She was grateful to see a bowl of punch on one of the tables and gladly accepted when Mr. Denny offered to get her a cup. After all of the wine she had nervously consumed during dinner, she was in need of something refreshing to clear her head. She was also quite parched, so instead of a lady-like sip, she took a big gulp. Unfortunately, the punch was spiked with alcohol, and she immediately started choking on it.

"Please have some discretion with your coughing, Miss Kitty. It is wearing on my nerves as I am sure it does everyone else's," said Narcissa sharply.

"I don't cough for my own amusement," Hermione obediently snapped.

"Perhaps it was just for my amusement, then?" Draco joked, earning himself a glare from Hermione.

"It's probably a hairball," muttered Pansy.

"It was the punch," Hermione retorted. "Would you care for one?"

"This sure is a roaring fire you have going on here for such a warm night," commented Blaise, undoing his cravat. "Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?"

"You can't do that," began Draco before his mother shushed him.

"We do enjoy a cozy room when we are among friends," said Narcissa amiably, giving Blaise a rare smile as he began to unbutton his coat.

"You know this isn't proper Regency behavior," Draco hissed under his breath to his mother. "A gentleman would never undress in a room full of ladies, and you know it."

"Cut him some slack, dear," Narcissa replied dismissively, her eyes transfixed on Blaise. "He's new here."

Draco looked around to see all of the ladies in the room staring spellbound at Blaise as he performed his little after-dinner strip show. Even Hermione's eyes were glued to Blaise as he removed his stiff Regency jacket, leaving him in just his white shirt, which conveniently gaped open at the top, revealing his dark, muscular chest underneath. Blaise seemed to be reveling in the fact that he had commandeered the attention of all of the ladies, and Draco didn't like it one bit. They had always been competitive at school, and Draco wasn't having Blaise one up him in his own home.

"This is completely inappropriate," Draco snapped. "This is not how we spend a typical evening among friends."

"You're right, dear," said Narcissa, snapping back to Regency mode. "We need some music. Do you play, Miss Kitty?"

"Pardon?" asked Hermione, tearing her eyes from Blaise's chest.

"The pianoforte," said Narcissa. "Do you play?"

"A little," said Hermione uncomfortably. "But I'd rather–"

"Then I insist," Narcissa commanded, not looking as though she would take "no" for an answer.

Hermione took another big swig of the heavily spiked punch to give herself some courage and then walked unsteadily over to the pianoforte. She looked at the selection of music before her and inwardly cringed. Not being familiar with any of the rather difficult pieces to choose from, Hermione was afraid she would not be able to perform up to Lady Catherine's overly high expectations. Never liking to fail at anything, she decided it was best to go with a song that she knew by heart.

Unfortunately, it really was very warm in the room, and it was difficult to think clearly. There was only one song that was immediately coming to mind, and of course, it had to be a song that her cousin had taught her that was highly inappropriate. Luckily, it was a Muggle song, so no one in the room likely knew it, anyway. As long as she didn't sing along with the music, everything would be fine.

Unfortunately, when she started playing, Lavender recognized the song and, a little drunk from the punch, got up and started singing the rather raunchy lyrics that accompanied the music.

"It's getting hot in here," Lavender sang rather off-key. "Let's take off all our clothes."

Really getting into the song, Lavender started to try to really take off her clothes. However, being authentic Regency, that was a really difficult thing to do. After struggling for a while, she ended the song by ripping her bodice open. Not knowing what else to do, Hermione stood up and curtsied as was appropriate. Blaise clapped his hands enthusiastically, but everyone else just stared at them in shock.

"That was frigging awesome," said Lavender, her eyes shining a little too brightly from all of the alcohol she had assumed. "Do you know the song Lick it Before You Stick it?"

Noticing Narcissa's eye start to twitch, Hermione grabbed Lavender's hand and said, "I think it's time we retired for the night."