Severus Snape stepped from the cloak closet at the Apothecary's shop on Diagon Alley. He made this journey every year, to refresh his store of potions ingredients. He came at this particular time every year, too; there would be no beastly Hogwarts students to gape at him, none of their parents here to question his teaching methods. No, he was quite happy coming here at the beginning of the summer when most other wizards and witches were on holiday.
He carefully chose some fresh troll toenails, boomslang skin, and rat gizzards (they came in a handy variety pack). He instructed the clerk to fetch him some dachsund spine off the top shelf (extremely dangerous) and get some pickled puffer fish out of the back storeroom. Having finished replenishing his deleted stores, he quickly waved his wand and sent them back to his dungeon, where he would meticulously label and organize them later, and hurried out the shop door and pulled his black cloak around him.
Walking through the Leaky Cauldron, he kept to the wall, peering around lest he see some of his fellow teachers. Luckily, the other professors had all gone on a group tour of the Lakes (they'd hired a tour guide and rented a bus) and he saw no one familiar. Glancing around, he opened the front door and slipped out into the muggle world.
This was Snape's favorite part of his yearly quest. Some time ago, shortly after he'd left the loyalties of the Dark Lord, he'd developed a fascination with muggles. He loved to explore their businesses and poke through their stuff. He heaved a sigh of relief as he noticed that his favorite bookstore across the street from the disguised Leaky Cauldron was still open. He walked to the crosswalk, waited for the electronic sign to tell him it was safe to cross (shivers ran up his spine when he saw the neon letters) and moved with the throng of pedestrians who were also crossing the street.
Walking in, he inhaled deeply. Ah, the smell of books! There was nothing like the smell of muggle books: the combination of paper, leather, and plastic wrappings mingling with the coffee and pastry smells in the tiny café made him dizzy. He hurried to his favorite part of the shop: the muggle magazines. He loved those magazines! He loved browsing through the glossy pages where no pictures moved, scantily clad women tried to sell him all manner of muggle products, and quizzes waited to test his compatibility or decorating savvy or some other personality characteristic. He grabbed bridal magazines, home improvement magazines, fishing and hunting periodicals... he couldn't wait to get back to his dungeon and devour them...
Then his eyes fell upon the book display just past the magazine rack. Classic literature! What did muggles consider classic? he wondered. Entranced, he seized a paperback with a painting on the cover of some very attractive ladies. Hmm, although they stayed stock-still, there was something very enthralling about them. He decided that he would include this novel with his other purchases, and moved toward the checkout counter, feeling in his cloak pocket to make sure he still had his muggle money.
Snape could not put the novel down. He became lost in the world of these country families, the Bennets and the Lucases and the Bingleys... he especially admired the dashing Mr. Collins. However, something bothered him about the book...
"Nooooooooo!!" he howled, upon reading that Mr. Bingley would not return to Netherfield Park. "He has to come back! Jane's happiness depends upon his proposal of marriage! I know he loves her!" Snape tossed the book on the floor, disgusted. "Smarmy! Come here."
A tiny grey house elf, clad in a threadbare rag that had been used to clean the potions lab, appeared in the doorway. "Yes, Master?"
"Oh, Smarmy, I'm feeling so restless. How could this Jane Austen person have written such confusing, frustrating nonsense? They never share their true feelings! They engage in small talk, beating around the bush; I'm sure that real muggles don't dodge the truth so much!"
"Master, let me fetch one of your spell books; you'll feel much better," Smarmy suggested.
"No! I can't stop reading now! I have to find out what happens. Does Darcy ever confess his love for Elizabeth? I have to say, Smarmy, that all I've read in my magazines had led me to believe that women are much more independent, and that people should be more straightforward. Why, in this issue of Cosmo (he held up an issue with a photo of a woman in a bikini top, looking seductively at the viewer) the author encourages women to demand honesty in their relationships. I can't account for the difference in communication...why, if I ever encountered a woman who was so... I'd..."
Snape suddenly looked as if a wand had been lighted in his brain. "Of course! Veritaserum!"
"What, master?" Smarmy stopped dusting Snape's bureau and stared at him.
"If I couldn't get the truth out of someone, I'd slip them some veritaserum, Smarmy! That's what I'd like to do to these characters!"
Smarmy looked frightened. "You don't mean, Master..."
Snape looked sinisterly at Smarmy. "My faithful elf, prepare to go where no other house elf has gone before. You will go into the story and give these muggles a draught of what they need, and we'll see some action for a change!"
As the servants in the ballroom at Netherfield were rushing about, they never noticed a small grey man with huge, tennis-ball-shaped eyes scamper from the curtains to the buffet table. They missed seeing a tiny hand holding a flask creep up next to the punch bowls and empty the contents into the fruity liquid. No one noticed when he crept to a sofa and stayed crouched behind it. Minutes later, guests began arriving. The first ones there, some officers who were quartered in the nearby town, began sampling the punch, hoping that the evening would prove interesting. They had no idea that their hopes would be fulfilled in such a way.
Elizabeth entered the drawing-room at Netherfield, looking around for the young man she had developed an interest in. She had dressed to the nines, hoping to catch his fancy. But, once she noticed he was nowhere to be seen, she suspected his invitation had been purposely omitted because of that jerk, Mr. Darcy. She stalked over to the punch table, nose in the air. Her sister, Lydia, rushed by her.
"Oh, Mr. Denny! I'm so glad we found you! Entering a ball is always so intimidating if one does not have anyone to walk in with." Lydia clung to Denny's arm, grinning and simpering.
Denny smiled back at her. "I am certainly glad you're here, Miss Lydia. The other officers and I were just remarking that we hoped you'd be very attentive to us tonight. In fact, Mr. Wickham was just saying how much he'd like to..."
"Oh, dear Mr. Wickham! Where is he?" Lydia craned her neck to look around the room.
"He's not here. He had sudden business to attend to in London." Denny chuckled. "He didn't want to have to face Darcy over there. The two of them might have gotten into a bit of a brawl."
Elizabeth colored with rage. "Would Mr. Darcy actually resort to violence with that young man?"
"Well, I don't know about that bloke, but Wickham sure looks for an opportunity to punch his lights out," slurred Denny.
Elizabeth did not know what to think. Was Wickham so very upset that he would cause a scene? She could not believe it. Just then, Mr. Bingley approached, escorting a radiant Jane on his arm.
"Miss Elizabeth! How delighted we are to see you. Ladies, will you allow me to get you glasses of punch? I assure you, my staff does make an excellent bowl of punch." Bingley, ever the charming host, himself ladled red punch with orange slices into two cut-glass goblets.
"Thank you, sir," both Jane and Elizabeth murmured, and Jane took a sip just as Elizabeth saw her good friend, Charlotte Lucas, and set her glass down to walk over to her.
Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour; and though every prospect of her own was destroyed for the evening, it could not dwell long on her spirits; and having told all her griefs to Charlotte, whom she had not seen for a week, she felt easier and lighter.
"Cousin Elizabeth! I hope you have not forgotten your promise to me!" said a nasal voice just behind her.
Lizzy forced a smile. "Of course not, Mr. Collins. Oh, by the way, have you met my good friend? Let me introduce you. Mr. William Collins, this is Miss Charlotte Lucas, Daughter of Sir William Lucas, whom you see over there." The two bowed at each other. Mr. Collins, having drunk some punch, could not control his tongue suddenly, and said,
"I am delighted to meet you, Miss Lucas. I am always pleased to meet titled families. You are very plain, but I hope to be able to demean myself enough in your presence that you will condescend to talk to me again."
Neither lady could think of a response to this, and Mr. Collins, thinking nothing strange about what he had just said, took Elizabeth's hand and led her to the dance floor. "I do hope, Cousin, that my dancing will awaken your sensibilities to my excellent person. As you have probably already noticed, I am a very eligible match for you. I hope it will not be too long before I can make you an offer."
"Mr. Collins! Please! This is not the time or the place to discuss this!" Elizabeth reddened, as they were standing in line next to other dancers.
"But why should I not? Of course I want to marry you. You are, next to your sister and my noble patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, the most beautiful angel I have ever seen."
Elizabeth put her hands behind her back to keep from slapping him. "Sir, I have given my word that I would dance this dance with you. However, your candor tempts me to break that promise. I thank you for your compliments, but I cannot permit you to be so open in public! Mrs. Long, here, would vouch for my innocence if I were to walk away."
Mrs. Long, standing next to Elizabeth, nodded. "I would indeed. I don't want Elizabeth to marry before any of my daughters, so any refusal she voices would give me great pleasure."
Mr. Collins began turning in the wrong direction. "Oh, you would not be so foolish, Cousin. Because of your father's ill entail that cuts you off from inheriting Longbourn, or receiving any proper income after his death, no other man will make you an offer."
Elizabeth stopped in mid-stride. "That's it! I will not endure any more of these insults and affronts to my family's honor! I must take my leave of you!" With that, she hurried off to the side of the room and sat as calmly as she could in one of the chairs.
An officer approached her. "Miss Bennet, you are looking very voluptuous this evening. May I claim the next dance so I may stare at your excellent figure?"
"What? Sir, you are no gentleman, and if you do not leave, I will be forced to report your behavior to Colonel Forster." She jumped to her feet and stormed away, leaving a bewildered officer behind her.
"Charlotte! You will not believe what these men have been saying to me!" Lizzy related the whole of her conversations with these men. Charlotte was shocked, but responded:
"What do you expect, Lizzy? You are an attractive creature, and your fortune will have to be made by a good marriage." She paused to sip some more punch. "I myself have been trying to think of a way to trick a man into marrying me..."
Lizzy almost cried. Why was everyone acting so strangely? Didn't they have any respect at all for proper decorum, especially at a ball? She listened, shocked, at Charlotte's plan for deceiving someone into matrimony.
From the sidelines, Mr. Darcy gazed upon Elizabeth talking with her friend. He had been watching her from a distance these past several weeks, and the more he saw her, the more intrigued he was. He realized that she was beneath him, but the sight of her was so very intoxicating. Sure, her family was embarrassing, but he felt the need to be close to her. He decided to ask her for a dance. Certainly, it couldn't hurt him to have a small flirtation? He would be leaving for London in a few days. Yes, he would dance with her, and get her out of his system. He set down his glass, walked toward her, and cleared his throat.
"Yes, Mr. Darcy?" Those eyes, he thought. How they sparkle and flash!
"Miss Bennet, I wonder if I might lick your cleavage." Realizing what he had said, he clamped his hand over his mouth, his eyes growing wide. "I mean, I want to dance with you! Please, excuse my rudeness!" It took all his resolution not to run away.
Elizabeth had just about resigned herself to the weirdness of the whole evening. "Mr. Darcy, I have heard all manner of incredible things tonight, but you just about take the cake. I am very insulted..."
"No, please, I don't know what came over me. I want to dance. Please let me make up my rudeness to you. Here, let me get you a glass of punch," he stammered, trying to absolve himself from his outburst.
Elizabeth consented and accepted the punch. She was so upset, that perhaps it would do her good. She drank long and heartily.
"Miss Bennet, I hope you will excuse me for a moment, but I must speak with Mr. Bingley," he blurted out. He hoped that Bingley would have some advice on what to do!
"Well, Lizzy, I should say you've got him under a spell! When a man that rich is attracted to you, I dare say you will find him very agreeable." Charlotte refilled her glass.
"Heaven forbid! Charlotte, I am determined to hate him. He has treated Mr. Wickham abominably, and now makes remarks about licking my bosom. But you know, Charlotte, I am unaccountably turned on by his suggestion," Elizabeth said coyly, succumbing to the drink's power.
"Well, then, there you go!" rejoiced Charlotte. "Men are helpless when they are turned on. Use that power, my beautiful friend! Here!" Charlotte grabbed Lizzy's sleeves and yanked them farther down her shoulders. "He'll be making you a proposal of marriage before the night is over!"
Mr. Darcy, meanwhile, was panicking. Why had he said that? He had always prided himself on modesty and decorum. What must she think of him? For once in his life, he was afraid of what someone of a lower class than himself perceived him as.
"Bingley! You must help me! I have just said something so rude that I fear..." Darcy stopped in mid-sentence. Charles was staring into Miss Bennet's eyes in rapturous joy. "Bingley?"
Charles turned to look at him. "Darcy, I am so glad you are here! Miss Bennet and I have just been exchanging our feelings for each other. She is in love with me, and I am totally in love with her! Oh, Darcy, will you be my best man at my wedding?"
Darcy snorted. "Well, Miss Bennet, I hope you have more luck than the ten girls he was in love with in the last six months," Darcy scoffed.
Jane looked horrified, and Bingley exclaimed in surprise. "Jane, I haven't been in love with ten girls in the last six months! It was only nine!" Jane ran away in tears. Bingley held up a warning fist. "Darcy, you are a pompous, stuck-up arse. Why would you tell her that?"
"I couldn't help myself, Bingley. It just slipped out!"
"Well, you're lucky that I'm smaller and weaker than you are. Otherwise I'd give you a beating!" Bingley ran off to find his love.
Back in his dungeon, Professor Snape grimaced. What had he done? It wasn't turning out as he expected at all! He thought of what he could do to fix the mess he had made.
Snape dived toward his collection of muggle magazines and books. He had bought a book a few years ago because he was interested in muggle clothing. Where was it? Oh yes, Costume & Fashion.* He thumbed through it until he got to the correct time period.
He read two pages about George Brummel, and how superior the English tailors were at this time. "Let's see, silk stockings worn with pumps... trousers ending above the ankles... a collar that extends up to the cheek with a cravat...a cutaway coat..." with a wave of his wand, he transfigured his professorial robes into early 19th century evening wear. Since it would be November, he added a cloak, and looked into the mirror. He may not be the most fashionable man at the ball, but he would fit in, which was all he needed.
When the dancing recommenced, and Darcy approached Elizabeth to claim her hand, Charlotte could not help cautioning her in a whisper not to be a simpleton and allow her previous fancy for Wickham to tone down her seduction of a man of ten times his consequence. Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours' looks their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly she fancied that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes she addressed him a second time with
"It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples."
He said through gritted teeth, "I am concentrating very hard on not saying something inappropriate, and therefore would rather remain silent."
"Very well. After your shocking sentiment earlier, you probably do not want to make the same mistake."
He eyed her keenly. "Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?"
She smiled. "Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It is sometimes the only way a young lady like me might flirt with a man." Now it was her turn to blush.
"Well, Miss Bennet, I can imagine that, here in the country, there are very few men whom you would enjoy flirting with. In town, there are many ladies who chase me down and try to chatter with me all night long, but I find them dreadfully boring, and have learned to tune them out."
"Well, I can see that you are of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless you expect to say something that will amaze the whole room. Which, if the whole room had heard you earlier, they certainly would have been amazed."
"I am sure you do think that, Miss Bennet," said Darcy somewhat sadly, "For I have been a stuck-up pig. But I have been through a very stressful time lately, and I am very wary of strangers."
Elizabeth felt it was time to change the subject. "Wickham is not a stranger to you, I hear," she said maliciously. "You knew him when you were younger? And then, recently, refused to give him what was his due?"
A deeper shade of hauteur overspread his features. He spoke in a constrained manner: "Mr. Wickham lies, Miss Bennet. He fooled us into thinking he was going to study the law, but lived in debauchery and recklessness. I do not know if you are referring to the living he didn't want, or my sister's hand in marriage, which he tried to take, but I assure you, neither was his due." The dance had reached a point where the couples held hands, but Darcy now retracted his own.
Elizabeth was aghast. "What?"
"That's right, Miss Bennet. I tried to protect my sister from the shame that an elopement would have brought, and have almost nunnified her, but she is safe from Wickham which is all I want. I urge you not to befriend him, as he is interested in nothing more than either your money or your virginity."
Elizabeth colored. "Sir, doesn't family pride guard you against speaking so freely?"
At that moment Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy he stopped with a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and his partner, sloshing his punch on the floor as he did so.
"I am so pleased that you're dancing with Miss Elizabeth, Sir. I enjoy watching dancing so much because it allows me to live vicariously through young people." He hiccuped. "I hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desireable even shall take place, such as your sister marrying Mr. Bingley. Oh, but Mr. Darcy, I see that you are anxious to have Miss Elizabeth all to yourself again. I cannot say I blame you; in fact, I quite envy you with her supple skin, and that excellent figure..."
At that time they moved down the line of the dance and could only hear Sir William's voice calling after their backs, "Capital! Capital!"
Darcy then turned to his partner and said, "I remember what we were talking of, but I want to change the subject. What kind of books do you like?"
She smacked her head and said, "Books? How can you speak of books at a time like this?"
"Well, if we talk of books, I will not be tempted to talk of my feelings for you."
"Well, I think we should talk about it."
"All right then; I think you are beautiful and enticing. I want to have an affair with you because I could not marry you."
She stomped her foot and furrowed her brow. "Why not? Do you think you are too good for me?"
"No, Miss Bennet; I do not think I am too good for you, I think your family is beneath me."
"They are not!" she bellowed.
"Oh, please! Look at your mother! She says every manner of embarrassing things! And look at your sisters!"
He picked a very good time to point out Elizabeth's sisters. At that particular moment, Jane was sobbing in a corner while Bingley tried, unsuccessfully, to console her, but seemed to be making matters worse. Kitty, having drunk no punch, was winning at cards (no one else could bluff against her), and Lydia was being groped by the tall officer who had asked Elizabeth to dance earlier, having told him that that was her fondest desire.
But the most shocking sight of all was Mary. She had walked in alone, unescorted, and, as she did not have a knack for conversing in a ballroom, had headed straight for the punch table. She had drunk five cups of it before Mr. Collins had approached her, rejected by Elizabeth.
"Mr. Collins, why does your mouth droop so?" Mary wondered, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
"Your sister has just accused me of insulting your family's honor. I am very upset because now, she will not marry me, and I will have to return to Hunsford parsonage alone, and Lady Catherine will know I was unable to procure a wife."
Mary's eyes brightened. "Mr. Collins! Why don't you pursue me? I think we would be perfectly suited to one another, and I find you extremely sexy!"
Mr. Collins looked her over. "But I don't find you attractive at all. Why, you're almost as plain as Miss Lucas over there!"
Mary blushed and tore off the shawl that had covered her décolletage. "I'm not attractive? For God's sakes, Mr. Collins! You have greasy hair and a hunched back! I'll have you know that I am a very accomplished woman. I play the piano and can discourse on every major theologian of our time! I do not consider myself above household work, like my sisters, and I'm willing to do things once I'm married that they would never even consider! Now what do you say to that?!"
Mr. Collins stood, aghast. He had not noticed Mary before because of her mousiness. Now stood before him a passionate, wild woman. He could control himself no longer; he took her face in his hands and kissed her. She jumped onto him, her legs around his waist.
Just as this delightful scene was taking place, the footman entered the doorway and announced to the room, "Presenting the Duke of Hogsmeade, Master Severus Snape." All eyes turned to see the dark stranger who had entered the ballroom. He made his way through the crowd and bowed deeply to Charles Bingley. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir. Please allow me to say what an excellent house you have here."
Charles bowed in return. "I thank you, your Grace. What brings you to this part of the country?"
Snape smirked and replied, "I intend to right a wrong I have committed."
Caroline Bingley almost crashed into him in her rush to meet him, her ball slippers sliding on the polished floor. "Charles, I don't think I've been introduced to your friend," she simpered, eyes never leaving Snape's face.
"Your Grace, please allow me to introduce my sister, Miss Caroline Bingley." They bowed to each other. Caroline tucked her arm in his and said, "Tell me, Duke, you must be very rich..."
Meanwhile, Darcy and Elizabeth had finished their dance and were making their way to the side of the room. They both got glasses of punch and sipped them as they watched all the goings on about the room.
Elizabeth spoke first. "Mr. Darcy, I realize that my family is a source of humiliation for me. I always try to censor my mother and sisters, but it seems they are determined to ruin my life. I beg you not to hold this against me. Of course, I don't know how you could forget it, as family is very important and you'd probably be subjected to them more than you care for."
Darcy nodded. "It is a dilemma. What can we do?"
Snape had managed to dispose of Miss Bingley and snuck along the side of the room, looking for his house-elf. He checked behind curtains. "Smarmy!" he hissed.
"What was that?" asked Charlotte Lucas. The pair looked at each other. For a moment neither said a word. Then he said, "I'm looking for someone..."
"To dance with?" asked Charlotte, hopefully.
"Yes," Snape responded. He took her hand and led her to the floor as a new song started. They still hadn't taken their eyes off each other.
"Where is your estate, Mr. Snape?" Charlotte looked for something to converse with him on.
"It's very far to the north of here, Miss Lucas."
"How do you know my name?"
He gazed into her eyes. "I know you."
She touched his hand as they circled each other. "I feel so strange, as if I've never been in a place before where I belonged, but now I'm right where I'm supposed to be." She heard the words coming out, and realized they were very personal, but she knew she was saying the truth.
"I feel the same way, Miss Lucas," he whispered. "I must tell you, that in my place, in my time... well, I've done things I'm not proud of. I don't have many friends. But you seem to be, well, like me."
They didn't say anything else for the rest of the dance. They also did not notice anyone else was dancing around them.
"Jane, why are you so upset? I've been trying to tell you that I want to be with you!"
Jane took in a big, chokey breath and tried to calm down. "Mr. Bingley, I just feel that your feelings for me are passing. How can I be sure that you truly love me when you've loved so many girls before?"
Bingley sighed. She had a point. "I guess you are right. Perfectly right. I don't know how you can be sure. All you can do is take a chance and let me prove it to you."
Caroline Bingley walked up to them, glass in hand. "Charles, that dark-haired Duke has left me and is now dancing with Miss Lucas," she sneered. "I feel slighted. Do go challenge him to a duel, brother."
Bingley gave her a withering look. "Caroline, can you not see I am busy?"
Caroline pouted. "Oh, do stop crying, Jane. My brother loves you. In fact, I don't think he's ever been so in love in his life! I've seen him obsess about a lot of women, Jane, and he's never been so much in love as he is now."
Jane looked up, her eyes puffy. "Do you really think so?"
Caroline snorted. "I know so."
"B-but when I was sick, you said-"
"I know I said he was going to marry Miss Darcy. But that was a ploy to keep you away from him. Really, Jane, you have to believe me. I feel as if I can't lie right now... I am unable to..."
"So am I, Jane," Charles ventured, looking in her eyes. "And the truth is, I want to marry you."
As their eyes closed and they moved in to kiss one another, a loud screech broke out through the ballroom. Mrs. Bennet, seeing her daughters so compromising, was hauling Lydia and Mary out of the rooms, her fingers pinching their ears.
"You've brought shame upon all of us, you impudent hussies! What is to become of us all if you give our family such a reputation?"
"But Mama!" protested Mary, cringing at the pain in her ear. "Mr. Collins wants to marry me!"
"And Mr. Chamberlayne said I have the perkiest bosom he's ever touched!" added Lydia.
"We're taking you home, where you will be locked in your rooms, but I will visit you anyway since I can not discipline you," retorted Mrs. Bennet.
Snape hurried over. "My dear madam, please hear me out. These girls are not to blame for their actions. It is I."
The crowd gasped.
"You, sir?" asked Mrs. Bennet disbelievingly.
"Yes, I, Madam. You see, I observed you all from, well, from somewhere else. I could see where you all were coming from, but I was disappointed in your communication. You hide things from one another, and you tiptoe around truth in the name of politeness. I wanted you to simply express your feelings, but there seems to be a severe catastrophe in what I tried to do.
"My house elf, Smarmy, (where are you, Smarmy?) has given you a draught of what I call 'Veritaserum'. It renders the drinker unable to lie. You have all been telling the truth all evening, and this is why your ball is in such uproar."
Smarmy stepped from behind the sofa where he was hiding. "Master, here I am."
"Come here, Smarmy. You are in no trouble. You see, friends, I want things to turn out for the best for you. You may all have happy endings, but will be miserable in getting there. Mr. Bingley!"
Bingley stepped forward. "Yes, Your Grace?"
"Do you love the eldest Miss Bennet?"
"Yes, I do, sir, with all my heart," replied Bingley unhesitatingly.
"Well, then, do not run off to London. Stay here and court her properly." The crowd ooh'd and aah'd as Charles put his arms around Jane and they hugged tightly. "And you, Darcy!"
Darcy stood from the chair his had been sitting in. "Yes?"
"Do you love Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
Darcy bowed his head. "Well, I think I do. I find her attractive, and I want to be around her always, but her family is so improper."
"Darcy, you have not given yourself opportunity to get to know her and her family properly. You also must remain in Hartfordshire, courting her. After a time, you will recognize the Bennets' good qualities, and your feelings will run so deeply for Elizabeth that it will not matter.
"My good countrymen, take a look around you. As a wise author of Cosmopolitan magazine will say one day, 'Don't settle for a relationship based on anything less than honesty and trust.' Don't settle for marriages that are merely eligible matches in terms of family fortune. In order to be happy in life," his gaze turned on Charlotte, "You must be with someone you are compatible with."
Mr. Bennet, watching from the side, silently agreed with him.
Snape continued, "People shouldn't be repressed by what is proper and what is approved by society. Follow your hearts, people. You can't help who you love."
The crowd cheered. Charlotte ran to him, and he picked her up and swung her around. Everyone who attended the ball that evening deemed it a huge success!
Life in Meryton and Longbourn soon returned to normal. Well, people were not forced to tell the truth because of a magical potion. But they were a good deal more open and honest with one another. Rank and money did not seem quite as important as they had before November 26th. People reached out and helped one another rather than gossiping.
Charles Bingley did travel to London for a day to tend to a business matter. He also had to tell a young lady who had been pining for him there that he was in love and engaged to be married. When he returned, he visited the Bennet household nearly every day, and before three months had passed, had officially asked Jane to marry him.
Fitzwilliam Darcy also stayed in Hartfordshire. He spent a good deal of time with Mr. Bennet and learned of the sufferings and heartache of having a partner in life whom one cannot respect. Darcy resolved that he would not make such a match, and would marry a woman whom he loved and respected. After getting to know the sisters, publicly humiliating Mr. Wickham and running him out of town, and spending lots of long nights with Elizabeth, just talking until 2 or 3, he too had a betrothed.
After years of feeling plain next to her sisters, Mary was the first to be married. She returned to Hunsford with Mr. Collins. Lady Catherine was, at first, severe towards her, but after seeing her excellent householding techniques (which rivaled her own), Lady Catherine pronounced Mary as the finest parson's wife ever to have graced the profession. The Collins had several unattractive but pious children.
Caroline Bingley returned with the Hursts to London, unable to stomach the goodwill of the Hartfordshire community. While in London, on the very day that she was to have visited the miserable Jane in Cheapside, Caroline met the Lord Percival, who was struck by her posh orange and olive green outfit. They married in St. James the following season. While they did not have a very happy marriage, Caroline had gotten what she wanted and did not regret anything she had done.
The youngest Bennet girls had very good role models to follow in their sisters. Kitty took her winnings from the card tables at the Netherfield ball and invested them in the London Stock Market. Her tidy interest earnings enabled her to buy land not far from Longbourne and build a house grander than her parents'. She lived there as a happy, handsome lady of good fortune and only married when she met someone whom she truly loved. Lydia took Mary's place at the piano, and became a world-famous composer rivaling Mozart and Bach. She encountered Wickham some years later and was able to throw him some Austrian coins, as he had become a beggar.
Of course, our anachronistic Professor Snape had a happily-ever-after life with Charlotte. He decided that life in an early-19th-century novel was more suitable to him than teaching Potions at Hogwarts. He kept his magic going, and had soon taught Charlotte all he knew. They wound up buying a house not far from Lucas Lodge called Purvis Lodge. The attics there, as we all know, are dreadful, but it has a very spacious dungeon.
*Costume & Fashion by James Laver.