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Yay! The queue has gone down, thanks to our wonderful validators :) Well, here is chapter eight! 

Chapter Eight: Let The Game Begin

"Ginny, are you absolutely positive you have your driver's license?" shouted Hermione over the sound of the red convertible's engine and the roaring wind. She was holding onto her seatbelt for dear life as Ginny merely laughed and accelerated, zooming along the quiet country road.

"Don't worry, Hermione!" Ginny shouted back. "I've got everything under control here--"

"Watch out for the bicyclist!" Hermione shrieked, grabbing the steering wheel and sparing the lone cyclist’s life by an inch.

"I can drive, Hermione," said Ginny, taking over the wheel once the danger had passed. "Just enjoy the ride. We're nearly there. What time did the Bellemonte fellow say everyone had to be there?"

"Monsieur Beaumont said to be there at three in the afternoon," said Hermione. "Which means I have exactly two minutes to get to the Malfoy Manor."

"Well, this Muggle car can't go any faster, so I suppose you're going to have to be, hmm, what do they call it? Oh yes…fashionably late." Ginny turned to Hermione and grinned.

Hermione attempted to smile back, wondering how in the world she had allowed Ginny to convince her to be dropped off in a flashy red convertible. The car swerved dangerously. "Keep your eyes on the road!"

"Right. Sorry."

Another ten dangerous minutes later, Ginny's red convertible screeched to a stop at the front of the Malfoy Manor. Unfortunately, she applied the brakes a fraction of a second too late and collided into a fancy black stretch limousine with a loud crash. A shrill alarm went off.

"Oh, damn," said Ginny cheerfully as a blonde girl and her chauffeur came running outside, screaming in French.

"That's Georgina," Hermione observed, removing her sunglasses and attempting to tame her hair, which had gone completely crazy during the car trip.

Ginny peered over the top of her sunglasses to see the chauffeur dropping to his knees and sobbing dramatically as he inspected the dent in the side of his car. She elbowed Hermione unnecessarily in the ribs as Georgina raced over to the red convertible and began shouting in unintelligible French, waving her thin arms around madly.

"What do you think she's saying?" Ginny whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

"Well," said Hermione dryly, "I'm not sure what her exact words are, but I'm fairly certain she's a little angry."

Georgina finished ranting, her eyes flashing angrily at Ginny. Ginny figured it was her turn to speak.

"Hello, Georgina. I can't speak French at all, so I'm going to apologize in English. I'm very sorry for damaging your fancy little limousine, but honestly, there is no need to freak out like that because a simple Reparo will fix everything. I can do it right now if you'd like," said Ginny with a winning smile on her face.

Georgina huffed and stomped away.

"What's the matter with her?" said Ginny, becoming hot-tempered. "I offered to fix the little scratch!"

"Forget it, Ginny," said Hermione, finally ready to get out of the red convertible, after managing to smooth her hair into a French braid. She popped open the back of the car and used her wand to levitate her trunk out. "Thanks for the life-threatening ride."

"Bye Hermione! Have fun!" shouted Ginny, waving.

"For the record, I don't plan on having any fun while I'm here. Please avoid crashing into anything or anyone on your way home." Hermione pretended to glare at Ginny and then laughed. She began ascending the stone steps to the front door of the manor, waving at her redheaded friend the entire time.

"I'll try! And remember…I'm betting ten galleons, you're betting twenty!" Ginny hollered before speeding away in a puff of smoke.

Hermione shook her head, laughing, and stepped through the threshold to enter the Malfoy Manor. She had barely gotten the chance to look around when someone grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her two swift kisses on the cheeks.

"You must be Miss Hermione Granger!" exclaimed the thin, handsome Frenchman that was Claude Beaumont. Hermione smiled warily.

"We were getting worried. Anyway, let me see where you are staying... ah, yes, you are rooming with Georgina Auclair and Isabelle Delacour. It is up this staircase, on the third floor, the last room in the hallway. Settle down, put away your things, and then prepare for dinner at seven." He paused, looking around. "Would you require assistance in bringing your trunk up to your room? I see you do not have an attendant with you."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. An attendant? How wealthy were these girls? "No thank you, I can manage perfectly fine on my own."

Monsieur Beaumont smiled a smile that did not reach his eyes. "But of course. On behalf of the bachelor, enjoy your stay at Malfoy Manor."

Hermione almost laughed for no reason at all, but stopped herself and strode past Monsieur Beaumont up the grand spiral staircase. When she reached the second landing, someone collided into her.

"Hermione!" Parvati shrieked, throwing her arms around the startled girl. "I'm so glad you're back. How are you feeling?"

"Much better, thanks," said Hermione, smiling genuinely. She dropped her voice to a whisper. "To tell you the truth, Ginny had to drag me here. I'd really rather stay at home."

Parvati nodded understandingly. "Don't worry. Draco's been really nice to all of us. He's really changed."

"Really?" said Hermione, feigning surprise and concealing her doubt. "Well, I guess I'll see when I meet him again."

"Where's your room at?" said Parvati, joining Hermione as she continued her ascent up the staircase.

"Somewhere on the third floor. I'm with Georgina and Isabelle."

"Oh dear," said Parvati, shaking her head.

"What?" said Hermione.

"Oh, nothing…it's just that Georgina--" Parvati dropped her voice to a low whisper "--has been really, really mean." She nodded knowingly, her eyes wide.

"Why, what has she done?" said Hermione. She was surprised at her own interest since she usually avoided gossip like the plague.

"There have already been twelve rows around here, and Georgina was part of all of them. Most were over trivial things, such as accusations of stolen shoes or copied outfits. But the biggest one was started by Pansy. Pansy told everyone Draco was sure to choose her in the end, and Georgina told her to shut her mouth, and it erupted into an all-out cat fight, with fingernails and everything."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "I'll be careful not to provoke her, but…" She suddenly remembered Ginny's car crashing into Georgina's limousine. She started laughing, even though it really wasn't funny to be making enemies this early in the competition.

"What's the matter?" said Parvati, beginning to giggle too.

Hermione stopped. "Nothing important. Thanks for telling me, Parvati."

"Oh, you're welcome. I've got to go finish unpacking now. Cute dress, by the way. It's so…sunny." Parvati smiled, waved, and then skipped back down the stairs.

Hermione glanced down at the yellow sundress Ginny had picked out. She had forgotten she was wearing such a bright color. Reminding herself to change before dinner, she forgot to concentrate on where she was going and heard someone collide into her levitated trunk and scream something that sounded like, "Aie!"

"Oh dear," said Hermione. She had a feeling she knew who she had bumped into. "Je regrette! Or is it, désolée…oh, to hell with my French. Sorry." She removed the levitating charm and let her trunk drop to the floor. There was another squeal of pain.

"Mon nez! Et mes pieds!" Georgina cried dramatically. 

As far as Hermione could see, her nose was perfectly fine. As for her feet…well, the trunk was still on top of them. She quickly moved the trunk.

Georgina glared at her. "Premiere, la voiture. Maintenant, moi. Je suis furieuse!"

"I'm really sorry," said Hermione again, having gotten the gist of what the other girl had said in French. "But I honestly didn't see you coming."

Georgina glared and stomped off again, muttering in rapid French. Shaking her head, Hermione levitated her trunk again and carefully made her way to the room at the end of the hallway.

The room was airy and spacious. It featured a large bay window with a window seat that overlooked the serene countryside, three white country-style four-poster beds, and a pretty desk and vanity. There were two wardrobes and a second door leading to the roomy bathroom. The walls were painted a sunny yellow to match her dress. It was a very cheerful room, which was quite the opposite of what Hermione had been expecting in the Malfoy Manor.

Strewn across the bed nearest to the door was an array of clothes, shoes, and accessories. Sprawled on the next bed over was a thin, silvery-blonde girl who was deeply engrossed in a glossy magazine.

"Isabelle?" said Hermione, a little uncertainly.

Isabelle raised her head. "Oh! Hermione! Bonjour, et bienvenue chez nous!" She got off of the bed gracefully and gave Hermione a hug.

"Hi Isabelle!" said Hermione. "Thanks for seeing that I got home safely last night."

"You are welcome," said Isabelle, beaming. "Are you feeling better now?"

"A lot better, thanks. So we're rooming together, huh?" Hermione knelt down by her trunk and unlocked it. In her haste to arrive on time, she certainly hoped that she (or Ginny, rather) had packed everything she needed.

"Oui. I was so glad, but you probably know Georgina eez with us," said Isabelle, lowering her voice. "She can be a kind person, but…"

"Yeah," said Hermione a little absentmindedly. She was a bit preoccupied with the fact that Ginny had found it necessary to pack twenty pairs of lacy thongs and matching bras in various shades of red. What did that girl think she would be doing?

"You can take zat armoire," said Isabelle, peering into Hermione's trunk. She suddenly gasped. "Are those ze new purple pumps featured in ze fashion section of ze most recent Witch Weekly?"

"Pardon?" said Hermione distractedly, stuffing the lingerie away.

"I suggest you hide ze shoes," said Isabelle, her eyes widening. "Georgina has ze exact same pair, and she has already freaked out because some American girl down ze hall uses ze same brand of mascara."

"Are you serious?" said Hermione. She glanced at the stylish shoes. She didn't exactly remember buying them…or the lacy thongs, now that she thought about it. "What's wrong with--"

The door to their room flew open and Hermione hastily tossed the purple pumps under the bed. She was keen to avoid starting the thirteenth row on the first day of the Game of Love.

"Isabelle, ze dinner starts in an hour. Why aren't you dressed yet?" said Georgina disdainfully, checking her appearance in the full-length mirror by the door to the en-suite bathroom.

Isabelle sighed. "I was helping Hermione unpack." She casually took out a red suede miniskirt from the trunk (Hermione again wondered where it had come from) and tossed it under the bed to join the purple pumps. Winking at Hermione, she sat back down onto her own bed and picked up her magazine again.

Georgina glanced at Hermione suspiciously before saying, "Isabelle, for 'eaven's sake. Stop combing over zat magazine. You are not going to find his name, or any news about 'im, in zair." Georgina sniffed, smoothed her red suede miniskirt, and strutted out of the room with the air of a model prancing down a catwalk.

Isabelle tensed, but her face betrayed no emotion. She carefully placed the magazine under a pillow. "So what are you wearing to ze dinner, Hermione?"

Deciding to ignore Georgina's puzzling comment, Hermione pulled the pumps and the miniskirt out from under the bed and transfigured them into a pair of dowdy old boots and a wooly cape before stuffing them into the back of the armoire. "I don't know…is it a fancy dinner? Must we dress up?"

"Oui, zat is what Monsieur Beaumont said."

"I'm not sure how much more dressing up I can take," Hermione muttered, picking out a black dress. It had thin straps, a ribbon sash, and it fell just above her knees. Discreet, plain, and definitely not something that would grab the bachelor's attention. Hermione did not want Draco to notice her, mostly because she hadn't quite figured out what she would say to him when she saw him.

"This is only the first day!" said Isabelle, laughing.

Hermione made a face before joining in, making a mental note to talk to Ginny about all the mysterious articles of clothing she had discovered in her trunk.

The dinner took place in the ballroom because it was more practical than stuffing twenty-five women, a full staff, a crew of cameramen, a host, and a bachelor into the formal dining hall, even though the Malfoys' dining hall was, of course, immense. There was one long rectangular table. The table was set with gold forks and knives for twenty-seven. In front of each chair was a place card. That was when Hermione realized the seating had been arranged beforehand. She had hoped she was far, far away from wherever Draco was sitting, but there was no such luck. She wound up sitting directly across from him.

Hermione kept her gaze focused on her plate, speaking to no one. Every once in awhile she would feel Draco's silver gaze on her, but she resolutely refused to look at him. Instead she picked at her food, which consisted of a dainty bite-sized piece of salmon and a leafy green spinach salad. She was starving, but she hated spinach. So instead she stabbed at it with her fork, tearing it into little pieces and moving it around her plate.

Across from where she sat, Draco gave a cough. She chanced a glance at him to see him concentrating on cutting a piece of the steak he had been served, the corner of his mouth twitching. She immediately returned her gaze to her plate of mutilated spinach salad, glaring at it as though she wished to set it on fire.

Monsieur Claude Beaumont was sitting at the end of the long dining table, eating something that looked like an orange duck. Hermione wished he would eat faster so she could perhaps escape the Malfoy Manor and order some real food, like pizza. Her stomach growled in agreement. A pizza heaped with cheese and sausages sounded absolutely heavenly at the moment.

Finally, Monsieur Beaumont finished eating the orange duck and wiped his mouth daintily with a napkin. He stood up, cleared his throat, and tapped the side of his glass goblet. The chattering died down and twenty-four girls turned to look at him. Hermione raised her eyes carefully, spotted Draco gazing at her again, and redirected her attention to her plate.

"Congratulations to all twenty-five of you young, beautiful women for making it to the second round of the Game of Love. The real fun begins now that you have settled into the Malfoy Manor." Everyone apart from Hermione cheered. Draco clapped twice.

"Let me explain how this will work. Every week, our handsome bachelor will take each and every one of you on a date. The cameramen will record every date. This week, there will be five group dates with five girls in each group. You will be notified by owl post. You may be able to see Mr. Malfoy in between dates if he happens to be wandering around the guest wing. However, Mr. Malfoy has informed me that no one is allowed to explore the manor without his permission." Monsieur Beaumont paused and noticed that Hermione found her plate to be much more fascinating than what he had to say. He frowned slightly before continuing.

"You are allowed visitors, but you must inform me first. All meals will be provided." Monsieur Beaumont stopped shortly, his eyes darting between Hermione and Draco, who was still looking at her. "Miss Granger," he said suddenly, "how was the spinach salad?"

Hermione vaguely realized that she was being addressed and tore her eyes away from her salad. She blinked, confused. "Oh…it was…delectable."

"Excellent," said Monsieur Beaumont stiffly. Hermione had the feeling he didn't like her very much, not that she cared in the slightest bit.

She looked away from Monsieur Beaumont and, for the first time that evening, at Draco. He was smirking at her in that annoying way of his. She willed the dinner to end.

"At the end of the first week our bachelor will choose twelve girls, no more and no less, to continue. My only advice for you is to flirt until you drop. Do not play hard-to-get. Let your inner feelings be known!" Hermione managed to turn her snort of laughter into a sneeze, while the majority of the other girls nodded seriously. Draco was smirking in a very arrogant way that Hermione found to be quite irritating.

"For the duration of this competition, I do ask that you refrain from attempting to sabotage another girl's chances. This means to behave in a lady-like manner: no fighting, name-calling, or anything of the sort. But then again, all's fair in love and war."

Hermione couldn't help but roll her eyes. She clapped along with the other girls as Monsieur Beaumont finally finished his speech, but only because she was glad she could finally leave the smirking bachelor and her shredded spinach salad behind, and order that pizza.

Not much D/Hr action, but this filler chapter was neccessary. Now that Hermione is at the Malfoy Manor, the real fun begins! Please leave a review! They keep me going :)
Yours till the Nargles infest your brain,
Queen Luna

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