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*hides from mob of angry readers* I could apologize profusely for the long delay, but I don't think that would suffice. Before you all murder me for being away for so long, here's the next chapter of The Game of Love! :D

Chapter 23: Dreams and Drama

Hermione was having a very pleasant dream. She dreamed she was on a ship, sailing across the seas to a faraway land where a fairy tale castle awaited her. And in that castle was a prince…

Hermione, the prince seemed to be calling out to her. Hermione.

She woke with a start. Someone was calling her name.

"Hermione? Are you awake?"

She opened her eyes blearily, and Draco's amused face swam into view. He was already up, fully dressed and with a breakfast tray in his hands. He looked far too awake in her opinion.

"Good morning," he said, setting the tray down on the coffee table and sitting down next to her on the leather couch, where they had fallen asleep the night before.

"What time is it?” she yawned, combing her hair with her fingers in a futile attempt to get it to resemble something that wasn’t a rat’s nest.

"Almost nine," he answered. "We need to get off this boat as soon as possible. Beaumont technically only rented it for yesterday from six to midnight."

"Ah," said Hermione, taking a croissant from the breakfast tray and nibbling it. "He's probably going to have a fit."

"Yes, he probably will," said Draco, looking quite happy about that for some reason.

"And frankly, I don't care."

"Neither do I," said Draco, "but the captain's going to throw us overboard if he discovers we're still here. Are you ready to leave?"

Hermione stood up, realizing that she was still wearing the gold dress. It was very wrinkled. "Where are we going?"

"Home," he said, before taking her hand and Disapparating with a loud crack.

Hermione made her way up the spiral staircase, holding her shoes in one hand. She didn't want to disturb anyone, and plus her balance had been off ever since she had gotten off the yacht.

She made it to her room without being spotted and found Ginny snoozing in her bed. She tossed the shoes to the side.

"Hey Ginny!" she said loudly. "Wake up!"

The redheaded girl threw a pillow in her general direction, but missed. "Oh, sod off," she mumbled. "I'm sleeping."

Hermione grabbed Ginny's ankles and dragged her off the bed and onto the floor.

"Hey!" Ginny protested, rubbing her eyes. "I'm awake now, are you happy about that?"

"Very much," said Hermione briskly. "What are you doing here, Ginny? Didn't you go home last night?"

"No," said Ginny grumpily. She made a face.

Hermione was immediately suspicious. "Why, are you and Harry fighting?"

"No, it's not Harry," said Ginny, sighing. "It's Ron."

"What about Ron?" said Hermione, going into the bathroom to shower and change into something more comfortable. Ginny continued to talk, rather loudly, over the noise of the water.

"He's crashing at our place. Apparently, his flat is rather lonely without Lavender." Ginny said this very sarcastically.

"They broke up?" Hermione gasped.

"Yeah, a couple of weeks ago."

"And you didn't tell me until now?" Hermione nearly shouted.

"Didn't I mention it?" said Ginny innocently.

"No," said Hermione. There was a lull in the conversation as she finished showering and dried off. She emerged from the bathroom in a comfy tee and sweats, with her hair wrapped up in a towel.

"Well, it doesn't bloody matter. He'll get over it eventually."

"So what's preventing you from going home?" Hermione inquired.

"I told you, it's Ron! He's always moping around all the time--it makes me feel depressed just to look at him," said Ginny, scowling.

"Maybe I should go talk to him," said Hermione worriedly. "I mean, he's obviously going through a tough time."

"Might as well," said Ginny, shrugging. "Maybe you can get him to smile again." With that, the two of them Disapparated.

Ron did smile when he saw Hermione, but just barely. "Hello, Hermione," he said, running a hand through his unkempt red hair. He was wearing a wrinkled old shirt and stripped pajama bottoms. He hadn't shaved in days.

"Ron!" said Hermione, giving him a comforting, friendly hug. "How have you been?"

"Miserable," he said. "I'm pathetic, aren't I?"

Hermione pulled back from the hug and wrinkled her nose. "When was the last time you washed?"

"I suppose that answers the question," he said dismally. "So, what are you doing here?"

"I'm just here to talk to you," said Hermione, steering him over to the Potters' living room and sitting down on the couch. "You seem like you need to let a few things out."

"She broke up with me," he said in monotone, sinking down onto the couch next to her. "End of story."

"You still really like her, don't you?" said Hermione gently.

"Yeah, I guess," he said. "You know, the reason why she broke up with me--well, I guess there were many--but one of them was because of you."

"Me?" said Hermione warily. She could see where this was going.

"Yeah," said Ron. "I guess she thinks I still like you…a lot."

Hermione gave a brusque laugh. "Well, you don't, right?"

"I think I do," he said, in a voice that Hermione did not like at all. "Why did we break up again?"

"Because, Ron, we're better off as just friends," she said firmly, moving away from him. "You're just…you're on the rebound."

At that moment, the doorbell rang. Distracted, Hermione watched as Ginny barged through the kitchen to open the door. She was evidently still in a foul mood.

"What?" Ginny barked.

"Hello, Ginevra," said a familiar, girly voice.

"I told you not to call me that, Lavender," Ginny growled.

"Lavender's here," Hermione informed Ron, in case he hadn't figured it out already. Apparently, he hadn't. He was still staring at Hermione with a glazed sort of look on his face.

"Who?" he said.

"Lavender, damn it!" said Hermione, completely exasperated. She was beginning to think that she should have never come. "Your girlfriend!"

"Ex," Ron corrected her. And then he kissed her--or attempted to.

Lavender chose that precise moment to appear in the living room. "I knew it!" she shrieked, pointing a shaking finger at the pair of them. "I knew it!"

Ginny came dashing in behind her. "You're not supposed to be here!" the redhead barked.

"What the bloody hell--get off me, Ron!" shouted Hermione, shoving him away and wiping her mouth. He landed into a bookcase and almost fell over.

"You!" said Lavender furiously, glaring daggers at Hermione.

"That was definitely not what it looked like," said Hermione firmly.

"Ron!" Lavender cried, slapping him across the face.

"Lavender!" Hermione and Ginny both shouted, holding her back.

"I--knew--you--still--liked--her--" Lavender was trying to launch herself at him, but Ginny's grip proved to be very strong.

"Maybe you should leave," said Ginny to Hermione. "I'm sorry Hermione, I'll fix everything."

Hermione sighed and stepped back from the melee. Before she Disapparated once more, she caught sight of Ron looking at her with remorse.

"Sorry," he mouthed.

She shook her head and Disapparated.

Feeling rather distracted after that dramatic episode, Hermione misjudged her destination and landed in the foyer of Malfoy Manor rather than in her room. She was surprised to find everyone there, staring at her.

"Mademoiselle Granger," said Monsieur Beaumont in a clipped, icy tone. "Where on earth have you been?"

"My friend was in the middle of an emotional crisis," she snapped. "I had to go help."

He looked at her, unimpressed with her answer, but didn't say anything more.

"So," said Hermione, looking around. Georgina, Maddi, Caitlin, and Karina were all there. Draco was missing. "What's going on?"

"If you had been here like you were supposed to, then you would know," Monsieur Beaumont sniffed.

Hermione was quickly become very impatient. "Well then, if I'm not needed I'll just go up to my room—"

"We are here because I have a very important announcement to make," said Monsieur Beaumont through gritted teeth.

"Oh," said Hermione. "Carry on, then." She was surprised at her own insolence. She supposed that she got it from Draco.

"As I was saying," Monsieur Beaumont said, turning to address all the girls. "It is time for you all to meet the bachelor's mother. Her name is Narcissa. She has invited you all to an afternoon tea in the parlor. You have about an hour to freshen up. Don't be late."

With that, Monsieur Beaumont left the room with his camera crew in tow, leaving the girls to talk amongst themselves.

"Ooh, what should I wear?" said Caitlin feverishly, twirling a lock of blonde hair around her finger. "I just bought this fabulous new dress…it's pink, do you think his mom will like that color?"

"I'm going to vear black," said Karina in her Russian accent, looking around at everyone haughtily. "I heard that she is steel in mourning for her husband. It vill be a sign of respect."

Hermione almost laughed out loud, but instead decided to quietly retreat from the room. She wasn't going to put up with their nonsense. She would go up to her room, pick something nice and comfortable to wear, and act perfectly normal. Everything would go just fine…or so she thought.

Lavender slammed her purse down onto the bar, muttering to herself angrily as she sat down on a stool. She couldn't believe what she had just seen. She couldn't believe the nerve he had…

"Can I help you, ma'am?" a gruff voice said.

She looked up at the bartender. "Something strong," she requested, trying to sound dignified but failing dismally. She was about to tune everything out and wallow in her bitterness when another voice spoke, a familiar one this time.

"It's too early in the day to start drinking the heavy stuff," remarked a woman with dark hair. She was wearing dark sunglasses, even though she was indoors.

Lavender barely spared her a glance. "I could say the same thing to you," she said morosely.

"I have my reasons for being here," the woman said, stirring her drink with more ferocity than the task called for.

"Likewise," Lavender mumbled. She raised her head as the bartender slid a glass filled to the brim with a mysterious clear liquid and took a sip.

"The man I'm supposed to be with is falling for someone else," the woman supplied, rather frankly.

At this, Lavender finally turned her head to face the stranger, who was in the process of taking off her sunglasses.

"Pansy?" said Lavender incredulously.

"Lavender," Pansy returned.

"Who is this man you speak of?" Lavender inquired, curious. She had always loved a bit of gossip.

"Whom do you think?" Pansy snapped, sipping her drink.

"Hmm," said Lavender, pretending to think. "Draco Malfoy."

Pansy rolled her eyes. "Of course," she sighed.

"And who's the other woman?" said Lavender, trying to seem nonchalant.

Pansy narrowed her eyes. "Why should I tell you?"

Lavender took a long sip of her drink, pondering her answer. "Fine," she said at last. "I’ll tell you about my problems first."

Pansy shrugged. "Fair enough."

Lavender sighed. "My boyfriend—or ex-boyfriend, I should say—is still in love with his ex-girlfriend, although I really can’t fathom why."

"How do you know he's still in love with her?"

"I walked in on them in the middle of a snogging session," Lavender sighed melodramatically.

Pansy raised an eyebrow. "Hang on a second," she said, "your boyfriend—sorry, ex-boyfriend—is Weasley, correct?"

Lavender nodded glumly.

"Then naturally," Pansy continued, "his ex-girlfriend would be Granger." She spat out the name Granger as though it were poisonous. She was struck by a sudden thought. "Granger was kissing Weasley," she said slowly.

"You needn’t remind me," Lavender snapped.

"No, you don't understand," said Pansy, pushing away her drink. There was a strange glint in her dark eyes. "Granger is supposedly dating Draco—my Draco."

Lavender knocked over her glass, ignoring the indignant look on the bartender’s face. "You can't be serious," she said flatly.

For some reason, there was a smug look on Pansy's face. "But I am."

"You're lying."

"I'm not."

"Hermione wouldn't do that…" said Lavender uncertainly.

"What do you mean?" said Pansy evenly, while concocting a devious plan in her mind.

"I know that girl," said Lavender, not sure why she was defending the girl she had just seen kissing her boyfriend. "She was my roommate for six years. She would never double-cross two guys like that."

"But she did."

Lavender mulled over the situation for a brief moment. Anger filled her once more as she recalled the way Ron had looked at Hermione, and how he had kissed her even though he had sworn that he had gotten over her. "Well, what are you going to do?"

"Hmm?" said Pansy, attempting to feign innocence but failing.

"I know you're not going to sit back and do nothing. You've got something evil planned."

"So what if I do?" challenged Pansy.

"I want to help," said Lavender bluntly.

Pansy finally cracked a grin. "You should've been in Slytherin. Now, we haven't got much time, so here’s what we’re going to do…."

Ooh, so what are Lavender and Pansy going to do? Guess you'll have to wait until the next chapter to find out! *evil laugh*
Anyway, you might be wondering why this chapter took me so long. I have my list of pathetic excuses, if you want to hear them: 
1. School. Yep. Junior year is NOT fun.
2. Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. I decided to enter my NaNo novel, so I've been spending the last couple of weeks working on polishing my entry.
3. Writer's block. I wasn't sure where I was going with Pansy's evil little plan and I didn't want to post this chapter in case I changed my mind about the whole thing, but I think I've figured it out now.
Well, this was a long author's note. Please review! I WILL respond to all of them someday. ^_^
Yours till the Wrackspurt steals your thoughts,
Queen Luna

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