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Despite all my distractions, I have put up another chapter. Enjoy!

Chapter Fifteen: Friends and Farewells

Hermione spent the rest of the week sitting in the cozy room she shared with Isabelle and Georgina. She stayed away from the swimming pool in the courtyard, where the rest of the girls splashed around and showed off in their skimpy bathing suits, hoping that the bachelor would be looking at them. She refrained from wandering around the manor, even though she was itching to go back to the library to indulge herself in a few more books. She came down for meals and the occasional walk outside, but other than that she stayed inside the room. There she didn't have to confront Draco or admit that she was feeling something different for him. It was no longer hate or loathing, but not love. No, certainly not love…. Not yet.

As she imposed upon herself this voluntary solitude, she began to miss life outside Malfoy Manor. It had been more than week since she had seen Ginny and almost a month since she had seen Harry or Ron. She wondered how her boss and coworkers were doing without her at the International Magical Office of Law. She wanted someone to talk to, but she didn't feel like she could trust anyone in the Game of Love besides Isabelle, who was on her one-on-one date that day. She was just about to sneak out of the manor under the nose of Monsieur Beaumont when she heard a crash and voices below.

She ran out of the room, thankful that she had changed out of her pajamas into a comfy pair of jeans and a shirt. If the Malfoys had visitors, she wanted to look presentable at the very least. She skidded to a stop at the top of the staircase, her shoes sliding on the slippery white marble. What she saw down below in the foyer made her heart leap with joy.

"Oi!" a gangly, redheaded man was saying. "I think I just broke a priceless vase!"

"You idiot," huffed a girl whose hair was just as red as his. "Lavender should send you to take ballet lessons so you can learn to control your limbs."

"It's okay, Ginny," said a man with untidy black hair. "I can fix this easily." He took out his wand, muttered "Reparo!" and watched as the Malfoy family heirloom pieced itself back together. He looked up as he stowed his wand away. His face broke into a smile.


"Harry! Ron!" said Hermione happily, running down the rest of the stairs to throw herself into the arms of her two best friends.

"What about me?" said Ginny, standing with her hands on her hips. She tried to look indignant but the corners of her mouth twitched.

"Ginny!" Hermione removed herself from Ron's embrace and gave her a hug too. "What are you all doing here?"

"I told them we shouldn't bother you, and that you were perfectly fine, but these two wouldn't believe me," said Ginny, rolling her eyes.

At this, Harry and Ron became serious. "Is he treating you decently? Is he being a stupid git? Do they feed you properly here? They don't make you sleep in the dungeons, do they?"

Hermione laughed out loud. Simply seeing her friends and hearing their voices made her world seem a lot brighter. "No, of course not! Here, let's go up to my room so we can talk. Monsieur Beaumont won't like seeing unregistered visitors here."

"Who's this Mon-zeer Boomontee fellow?" asked Ron as they followed her back up the marble staircase.

"Monsieur Beaumont is in charge of the Game of Love. He came up with this whole thing."

"You're not mad that we signed you up for this, are you?" said Harry anxiously.

Hermione dwelled upon that question before answering, leading her guests to her room. "No, I'm not." She didn't add that she was actually very glad that they had done what they did.

"Oh…this is a nice room, I guess," said Ron, stopping on the threshold. "Who knew the Malfoys could decorate their rooms with sunshiny colors?"

Hermione sat down on the window seat. Harry took a seat by the desk. Ginny flopped onto her bed. Ron sat down on the edge of Georgina's bed, mistaking a poofy designer gown for a pillow.

"Ron!" barked Ginny. "Get up!"

Ron leaped to his feet right away. "What is it?"

"You just sat on some snotty French girl's dress! And wrinkled it too!"

"Why do you care?" said Ron, bemused. "If she's snotty and all?"

"Because she'll kill Hermione for it, that's why," snapped Ginny.

Ron wheeled around. "Malfoy locked you up with a murderess?" he shouted in alarm.

Before Hermione could calm him down, Ginny was yelling at him again.

"Figure of speech, Ronald! Merlin, how thick can you get?"

Ron's face turned red. Harry turned to Hermione, who was laughing.

"So you're perfectly alright then, Hermione?" he said, directing the attention away from Ron's embarrassment.

"Honestly, Harry," said Hermione, "and you too, Ron. You both worry too much for my sake. I'm fine."

"I told you so," said Ginny. "Now leave."

"What'd you mean, leave?" said Ron. "We just got here!"

"I need to talk to Hermione!" said Ginny. She stood up and shoved her brother out the door. Harry hastily followed them.

"See you, Hermione!" he said over his shoulder.

"Harry!" said Hermione, getting to her feet. She ran over to him and hugged him again. "Thanks for coming all the way out here to check up on me."

He chuckled. "We care about you. And Ron was going ballistic."

Ginny came back, her face red. "Harry dear, can you check on my brother please? You'll find that he's covered in bat bogeys at the moment."

"Such a temper," said Hermione. "Bye Harry."

"I'll come by again later," he said, kissing Ginny. And then he disappeared to go help Ron.

"Now that those idiots are gone," Ginny said, flouncing over to the bed again, "we can talk."

"About what?" said Hermione as though she didn't already know.

"About Draco Malfoy, of course? How was your date at the Quidditch match? You didn't write to me like you said you would!"

"Yes, I did!" argued Hermione.

Ginny pulled out a small piece of parchment from her purse and read out loud. "Dear Ginny. The date went well, I suppose. Love from, Hermione." She raised an eyebrow at Hermione, clearly dissatisfied.

Hermione nodded. "There's nothing else to tell you!" she lied, thinking of the fight between Draco and Viktor. "Oh, and I've been on a second date since then."

"You never tell me anything!" Ginny wailed.

"Yes, I do!"

"No, you don't!"

"Ginny, honestly. This is my life. Do I have to pretend you're like my diary and tell you everything?"

"You keep a diary?" said Ginny, her eyes lighting up.

"Figure of speech, Gin," said Hermione, laughing.

"Oh, fine," said Ginny grumpily, holding up her hands in defeat.

"Really?" Hermione was surprised. She was so sure that Ginny would pry every last detail out of her.

"Just answer this," said Ginny. "Do you like him?"

Taken aback, Hermione was tongue-tied for a few seconds. "I--no, of course not!" she sputtered.

Ginny stared at her beadily. Hermione was reminded of both Professor McGonagall and Molly Weasley. "You're not telling the truth, Hermione."

"How do you know?" said Hermione crossly.

"You aren't! And you do!" said Ginny excitedly.

"What are you blabbing about now?"

"You like him. You like Draco. I'm right, I'm right, I'm right, aren't I?"

"No," said Hermione flatly.

"Yes! I knew it!" crowed the redhead. She paused to take a breath. "You're not denying it."

Hermione opened her mouth. "No." Wait…what?

Ginny jumped up and gave Hermione a hug. "Hermione, you are well on your way to winning the Game of Love." With that, she skipped out of the room.

Hermione stared after her, openmouthed. Yes, she had enjoyed the last date with Draco. Sure, the bachelor had almost kissed her. But what about the eleven other girls? For all she knew, one of them may have already gotten the first kiss. And elimination--that is, another rose ceremony--was taking place tonight. Four girls were going home while eight stayed. Who knew what would happen?

Hermione stood next to Isabelle and Georgina, breathing easily. She had gotten through to the next round. She admiringly examined the rose she had been given. The perfect deep red petals were just beginning to unfurl.

The bachelor was now saying goodbye to the four girls he had rejected. Jenna--Maddi's friend--and three other girls Hermione didn't really know were being gently escorted out the door. All but Jenna were weeping dramatically. Hermione even thought that Jenna looked happy to be leaving.

"We survived!" said Hermione cheerily. "Shall we go celebrate?"

Georgina opened her mouth to answer, but then stopped short and stared at Isabelle instead. Hermione glanced at Isabelle too. She hadn't moved since she had gotten her rose. She was as still as a statue, staring at her rose.

"Isabelle?" said Georgina.

"Is something wrong?" said Hermione, concerned.

The bachelor had finally shaken off the four women he had rejected and came back to join the other eight for a celebratory toast. Isabelle finally looked up.

That was when she broke all conventions and said, in a clear and unwavering voice, "Desolée, but I refuse to accept this rose." She handed Draco the rose, lowered her gaze to the floor, and stepped back.

Monsieur Beaumont gaped at her like a fish for a few seconds before fainting, his legs giving out on him. Three four rejected girls, who had been slipping out the back door to end their humiliation, came swarming back, demanding that Draco choose one of them to stay. Hermione and the other girls, apart from Georgina, stared at one another and at Isabelle, utterly confused and flabbergasted. Only Draco and Georgina remained perfectly calm.

Draco ignored the three rejected girls (Jenna was the one who hadn't bothered to come back to gain a spot) and turned to Isabelle. In a solemn voice, he said, "I understand."

Hermione was confused the sincerity of Draco's statement. He really did understand. But why? Wasn't someone like Draco used to getting all the girls he wanted? Wasn't he supposed to be the one who dumped the girl, not the other way around?

"Merci," said Isabelle before walking out of the room. And just like that, she was gone.

Hermione shook her thoughts and questions away and ran up the spiral staircase with hopes of seeing Isabelle before she left. Georgina was right behind her. But when she entered the room, it was empty. Isabelle's armoire was open and completely cleaned out. Her giant shoe collection was absent. Her fluffy pink bathrobe had disappeared from its hook beside the bathroom door. The knitted blanket on her bed was gone.

"Why?" said Hermione out loud.

She heard footsteps behind her and turned around, but it was only Georgina. She didn't look surprised in the slightest bit.

"You knew everything," said Hermione, not meaning to sound accusing.

"She eez my best friend. We grew up together."

"Oh," said Hermione, not knowing what to say.

"She left you a letter," said Georgina, walking over to the window seat and picking up a scroll of parchment tied with pink ribbon. "'Ere you go."

Hermione caught the scroll Georgina had tossed. She was about to unroll it when the door banged open.

Monsieur Beaumont stood at the threshold, his gaze sweeping the room. Apparently he had regained consciousness. "So she's really gone?" he said sadly.

Georgina nodded silently.

His shoulders drooped. "Ah, well. It happens. I just didn't think it'd be her." He paused before continuing. "The reason why I am disturbing you ladies at this hour is because room assignments are changing. With only eight--no, seven--girls left, everyone gets their own rooms. Miss Georgina, you may stay in here. Tomorrow you will find that it has shrunken down to accommodate just one bed, which is all you need, I'm sure. Miss Hermione, come with me." His lips pursed in a way that made Hermione wonder if she was in trouble.

"Should I pack my things?" she asked as she clutched Isabelle's letter in her hand.

"The house-elves will take care of it," said Monsieur Beaumont. "Now, follow me."

Hermione obediently followed him out the door, down the hall, and up a small flight of stairs she hadn't noticed before.

"Er, where are we going?" She assumed she would be placed in a vacant room across the hall or something.

"The bachelor himself requested that you be placed in the room I am leading you to. I personally think he's gone mad, but what do I know what goes on in his head?"

Hermione raised an eyebrow

"It's not far from your old room," he said. "Just one flight higher. And here we are." He flung open the double doors.

Hermione stood at the door of her new room and gasped. It was more than a room; it was like the presidential suite of a luxurious five-star hotel. It was bigger than the room she had previously shared. A king-sized bed with deep red hangings dominated the center of the room. The white carpet was plush and soft. Antique, dark wood furniture was tastefully placed here and there. Best of all, every inch of wall space was lined with books Hermione couldn't wait to get her hands on. It was like having her bedroom in her own private library.

"Malfoy--Draco wanted me to have this room?" she said, feeling like her eyes might well up with tears from his sweet thoughtfulness.

Monsieur Beaumont sighed and nodded. "Like I said before, I don't know what he was thinking." In a tight voice, he added, "He must really like you."

"What?" said Hermione, blushing. "Oh, I don't think so." She was denying his statement even though her heart leaped at the possibility.

"Good night, Miss Granger," was all Monsieur Beaumont said. "The house-elves will be up here shortly." He left and shut the door behind him.

Hermione was so happy she wanted to dance around her new room, but instead she settled into a cozy velvet chaise and pulled out Isabelle's letter again. After a slight moment of hesitation, she unfurled the parchment and read:

Dear Hermione,

I am sorry about leaving so abruptly, without telling you anything, but I had to. I just wanted to let you know that you are one of the best friends I have made in a long time, and hopefully this letter will explain everything.

I attended Beauxbatons, as you may already know. Georgina and I were, and still are, best friends. She may seem mean at times, but deep inside she is very kind. She was brought up by her high society parents to act like that towards people she does not know very well.

At Beauxbatons, I met Guillaume. Guillaume is the love of my life. It has been that way for as long as I can remember. I am a believer in love at first sight, because that is precisely what happened. When we were old and mature enough to date, we became inseparable. My friendship with Georgina started to break at this point, but in the end she came through and understood. But not everyone, particularly his parents, felt that we belonged together.

Guillaume's father is the magical Prime Minister of France. He is very wealthy and holds a lot of power. He comes from a line of elite wizards; his wife is the same. My parents, on the other hand, have humble beginnings. They came to Paris from the French countryside. Don't get me wrong; I love them very much.

Monsieur Auclair did not like me at all when Guillaume brought me to meet him during the Christmas holidays one year. He forbade his son from seeing me. That didn't stop Guillaume, and we fell more deeply in love. He was willing to sever his family ties to stay by my side.

Everything was fine until the war came along. The Death Eaters had allies in France who were just as cruel. Guillaume disappeared. It was said in the papers that he had been taken hostage. Perhaps You-Know-Who was hoping for a total surrender of France to help his cause in Britain. Instead of saving their son, the Auclairs went into hiding. My family followed Fleur's example (she was in the Order of the Phoenix, wasn't she?) and fought bravely. When the dust settled, I looked around for Guillaume. I waited and waited for any sign of him. There was none. I thought he had died.

I was determined to get on with my life though. I went back to school and studied to become a Healer. A few years later, Georgina persuaded me to sign up for the Game of Love. I agreed because Guillaume was gone, and it would be futile to wait for him to come back.

But then everything changed. Suddenly he started sending me letters. I thought it was a cruel joke at first, but then I saw him with my own eyes. I was in Paris with Draco. We had Apparated there to have dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower. We were about to take a cruise on the Seine when I saw him. He was just sitting there on a park bench. He was looking right at me, and I knew it was my love. For the rest of the cruise I explained everything to Draco. And when we docked he let me go to Guillaume. He said he understood perfectly.

I couldn't believe it at first. I asked him where he had been all this time. And he told me some dreadful things that I can't bear to retell. In short, the Death Eaters had taken him and abused him until he lost his memory. He was locked away for a long time. When someone finally let him out, he had forgotten who he was. He wandered around until something triggered his memory and it all came flowing back. And now we are together again.

Hermione, we will see each other soon. For now, I wish you the best of luck in the Game of Love.

Love from,

Isabelle Delacour

Hermione hadn't realized she had been crying until a tear splashed onto Isabelle's signature. It was such a beautiful story, tragic but with a happy ending. As she gazed out the window to the darkening sky, she realized that though Isabelle had left the competition, she had won her own game of love in every way.

And there you go. No more confusion over Isabelle, I hope. For the first time since I started this story, I have no finished chapters waiting to be edited and submitted. Please be patient with me. ^_^ Oh, and if you are from Australia, where I understand it's winter right now, I need your help. If Hermione and Draco happen to go skiing or ice skating or sledding in the snow, where exactly in Australia would they go? (Wow, that rhymed.) I hope I'm not revealing too much here! 
Yours till Fudge cooks the goblins,
Queen Luna

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