That evening, Narcissa called Hermione and Lavender into the parlor. Hermione swept into the room with confidence and poise, basking in the glory of her new Lizzie persona. She was wearing an elegant, cream-colored gown and her hair was swept up in a mass of curls that framed her face perfectly. Lavender had really outdone herself, and Hermione kind of wished that she had let Lavender do a makeover on her sooner. Draco, Blaise, and Pansy were playing a rousing game of cards in the corner of the room, but her entrance did not go unnoticed. Blaise whistled softly, and Draco got so distracted by the sight of her that he accidentally lowered his hand of cards and showed the whole table. Pansy, of course, took full advantage of it and used it to win the game.
Narcissa raised her eyebrows at Hermione's makeover but didn't say anything. Instead, she motioned the two of them to sit on a sofa away from the others. She sat down stiffly in the wingback chair next to them with her lips pursed. After an uncomfortable silence, she finally cleared her throat and said, "It seems Mr. Denny has run off with Mr. Wickham."
"You mean, he kidnapped him?" Lavender gasped.
"No," said Narcissa, closing her eyes for a moment in an effort to regain her composure before continuing on. "They have apparently... eloped."
"But that was supposed to be me," pouted Lavender.
"As I said before, every trip to Austen Manor is unique. This is an adaptation. We make our own stories here."
"And my story is that my love interest runs off with his gay lover?" said Lavender incredulously.
"It is a bit unusual," began Narcissa awkwardly.
"It's bullshit, that's what it is," said Lavender angrily. "I want my money back."
"There are, of course, no refunds. However," said Narcissa quickly as Lavender started to rise, "I will, of course, be giving you replacement love interests. Miss Lydia, I expect Mr. Bingley would suit your needs."
"Absolutely not," said Lavender. "We went on a few dates during our school years, and I can assure you I find him most disagreeable."
"A few romps in the broom cupboard do not a date make," was Blaise's bored reply from across the room.
"I suppose I could switch your love interest with your dear sister's," replied Narcissa tightly, turning to Hermione. "However, you should be aware that Mr. Bingley is normally part of our gold package. You should consider yourself most fortunate."
"His package isn't all that," Lavender muttered.
Blaise walked over and took Hermione's hand and kissed it. "Perhaps Miss Kitty should judge my package for herself."
Hermione's eyes widened.
Pansy practically flew across the room. "Perhaps, Miss Kitty, you would like to take a turn about the room with me," she said, taking her arm.
"Um, okay," agreed Hermione, quite certain she didn't have a choice in the matter.
After several laps about the room with Draco staring at her the whole time from behind his cards, Hermione finally said, "I feel stupid."
"Look," hissed Pansy, leaning in close to her ear so no one else could hear. "I know you've been using magic and if you don't want me to tell Narcissa and get you kicked out, you'll do what I say."
"What do you want?" asked Hermione warily.
"I want Mr. Bingley, and you're going to give him to me."
"You want me to set you up with your brother?" said Hermione incredulously.
Pansy gave her an exasperated look. "He's not really my brother, you nitwit."
Hermione glared at her. "Why didn't you just ask to be Jane? I'm sure you paid enough to get to choose your character."
"Because Jane is a ninny. I identify more with Miss Bingley's character, and she has a much nicer wardrobe. How was I supposed to know Blaise was going to be playing Mr. Bingley? It was Theo Nott last time I was here. But now that I think about it, how hot would it be to get it on with my own brother?"
"You are disgusting."
"Whatever. Are you going to let me blackmail you, or aren't you?"
"I guess," said Hermione reluctantly. "What do I have to do?"
"Sit next to Draco at dinner."
"Because otherwise Narcissa will try to saddle me with him."
"I don't want to sit next to Malfoy."
"Would you prefer to be sitting alone at home eating a bag of crisps? Because I can make that happen."
"You are a bitch."
"Being a bitch is always in style, no matter what the time period," was Pansy's haughty reply.
With a very bad attitude, Hermione stalked into the dining room and slumped into the seat next to Draco. "I'm only sitting next to you because Pansy is blackmailing me," she informed him.
"Are you sure it isn't because of my charm and wit?" he asked, winking at her.
Hermione gave him a cold look. "I'm quite sure."
"You look beautiful tonight, by the way."
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"When are you going to stop being mad at me? So, I told you Mr. Denny was gay. Would you have rather heard it from my mother?"
"It's not just about that. I don't know what it is, but you... frustrate me."
Draco laughed. "Believe me, the feeling is mutual."
Hermione glared at him.
"Let's make a deal. If I try not to ruin your Austen experience anymore, will you stop looking at me like you want to hand me a revolver and a rope?"
Hermione couldn't help smiling. "I'll try. So, what's on the menu? More sheep's eyeballs? I can see if I can hit Pansy's other eye."
"Unfortunately, no. Mother only serves the really disgusting food the first night. She likes her guests to experience a little culture shock."
"So, what are we going to do to pass the time, then?"
"I say we leave after the first course. Have you seen the garden yet?"
Feeling nervous butterflies in her stomach, Hermione stopped by the bathroom to freshen up, promising to meet Malfoy in the garden in ten minutes. On her way out, she ran into Lavender. She had hay sticking out all over her hair.
"What happened to you?" asked Hermione.
"It turns out that my new love interest is the fucking stable boy. I'll admit, he was handsome enough to tempt me, but we were just out fooling around in the hay, and you know what he did?"
"He delivered a baby horse."
"The correct term is foal, but wow. That's amazing."
"Amazing is not the word I would use. It was more like disgusting. I mean, he stuck his hands in a horse's vagina. His bloody hands were in a horse's vagina. And they were bloody, believe me. I think it was supposed to be romantic, but it seriously killed the mood. I mean, how can you get it on with a guy when you know his hands have been in a horse's vagina?"
"I don't know. I guess I've never thought about it before."
"Well, the answer is you can't. Well, not without it being an extremely traumatic experience anyway. I'm thinking about asking for a new love interest. Where are you going?"
"I'm meeting Mr. Darcy in the garden," admitted Hermione.
"Ooh la la!" exclaimed Lavender excitedly. "I guess you did get to be Elizabeth after all. And I think I'll be Jane, since I'm the pretty one."
"Does that mean you're going after Mr. Bingley?"
Lavender shrugged. "I told you I can't help myself."
"But what about Pansy?"
"She's only got one eye. She'll never see me coming."
Hermione nervously walked into the garden looking for Malfoy. This was the first time she had ever been in the garden, and it truly was a breathtaking sight. The flowers glowed softly in the moonlight, and there was a heady scent in the air that made her feel giddy. It was the perfect setting for a romantic Regency encounter. If it weren't for the fact that she was meeting Malfoy here, she would have thought it had been plucked straight out of one of her dreams.
As Hermione wound her way through the garden, she started to get paranoid that Malfoy wasn't going to show up. She should have found him by now. After walking for a while, she came to a small clearing with a pond. It reminded her of the scene in the 1995 BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy dove into the lake. She didn't usually like adaptations that needlessly altered the original work, but that scene was pretty damn fantastic. She stood there admiring the pond and imagining Mr. Darcy emerging from it dripping wet. However, she was snapped out of the dream by the sound of a splash.
When Hermione discovered what had made the noise, she about died. It was Malfoy, and he was swimming right toward her. She watched with wide eyes as he reached the end of the pond and stood up dripping wet. His white shirt and tan trousers clung to his body in a very sexy way. Unable to take her eyes off him, Hermione stared at him in shock as he walked toward her.
"That... that wasn't in the book," was all she could manage to say.
"I know," he said huskily, leaning in close enough to kiss her. "Think of it as a bonus."
"Why are you doing this? I thought you believed this was all foolishness."
"I do. I feel like a right fool. I think I have a lily pad stuck in my pants right now, and it's damn uncomfortable. But I know this is important to you. And I like you. Will you do me the honor of giving me the first two dances at the ball? Oh, hell with propriety. I want all of your dances. And if Mr. Bingley even comes near you, I will challenge him to a duel. Please tell me you'll save all of your dances for me."
"I don't know what to say."
"Say yes," said Draco softly, leaning in to kiss her.
Hermione's eyes were fluttering shut and her lips were about to touch his when she suddenly panicked and shouted, "I love house-elves!"
Draco tried not to look offended. That was not quite the declaration of love he had expected.
"I can't do this," said Hermione. "I didn't know how this was going to make me feel at the end. Now I know what you were talking about when you said this is a dangerous game we are playing. I hate to admit it, but Ginny was right. It's time I unstuck my nose from my book and found out what it's like to really live. This is a fantasy. You're a fantasy. A really lovely fantasy. But I need something real."
"I'm your fantasy?"
"Yes. No. I don't know," said Hermione, getting confused. "But it doesn't matter. A fantasy isn't what I'm looking for anymore. Goodbye, Mr. Darcy."
One week later, Hermione was back in the wizarding world and working at the Ministry in the Magical Creatures Protective Services Division. She was filling out some paperwork on a recent house-elf visit she had performed when Draco Malfoy walked into her office.
"What are you doing here?" she said in surprise.
"I decided it was time to hang up my Mr. Darcy cravat and take a job at the Ministry."
"You're working in this office?" Hermione practically squeaked.
"I've been living in a fantasy world for a long time. I'm ready to experience something real."
"So, you got tired of all the foolishness at home, then?" said Hermione a tad bitterly.
"I'm sorry that I said the whole Austen thing was foolishness. I didn't understand it before, but I think I do now. Sometimes the world doesn't live up to what you want it to be, and it's just nice to get lost in a good book. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as you can find your way back. You found your way back, and I'm glad, but the only problem is, you left me behind. What happened between us at Austen Manor wasn't a game to me. It was real. You just ran off before I could tell you."
"I don't know what to say," began Hermione.
"Can we start over? In reality."
"We don't even know each other in reality."
"I can fix that," said Draco holding out his hand. "Hi. I'm Mr. Malfoy, but you can call me Draco. I enjoy smirking, playing the guitar, and nightly dips in the pond."
After only a moment's hesitation, Hermione accepted his hand and replied, "Nice to meet you, Draco. I'm Hermione Granger. I enjoy reading, horse riding, and the thought of you taking nightly dips in the pond."
Not letting go of her hand, Draco asked, "Do you think there's a chance I could still be your fantasy now that I'm no longer Mr. Darcy?"
Hermione nodded. "But... maybe you could still whip him out for special occasions?"
Draco pulled her in closer. "So, don't these stories usually end with a kiss?"
"Actually," said Hermione, smirking, "they usually end with a wedding."
Draco's eyes went wide.
Hermione laughed. "Don't worry, we're not to the ending of this story yet. I think this is just the beginning."
"So, what type of story is this? Adventure? Fairy tale? Romance? Fantasy?" he asked, raising his eyebrows up and down suggestively.
"How about all of the above?" suggested Hermione, finally leaning in to kiss him.
Snogging Draco Malfoy in the middle of her office was not exactly something she had ever imagined happening in the story of her life, but if the 1995 BBC version of Pride & Prejudice had taught her anything, it was that sometimes adaptations could be pretty damn fantastic.