"Finished!" said Jane cheerfully after setting the final pin in Lizzy's hair. "You look very well tonight, Lizzy."

"Not half so well as you," said Lizzy with a teasing smile. After a moment, she sighed and looked longingly at the trunk in the corner of her room.

"I recommend against sulking this evening, Lizzy," said Jane after rolling her eyes at Lizzy's self-depreciation. "We'll be returning to Hogwarts in a mere month. Enjoy the time with Mama and Papa."

Lizzy shook her head and, with it, the melancholic look from her face. "You are, of course, correct," she said, reapplying a smile. "After all, I cannot drive off Mr. Bingley and his five thousand a year with my scowl, not when he is sure to fall violently in love with one of my sisters at a single glance!"

Jane giggled at Lizzy's well-humored epitome. "Careful, Lizzy, lest Mr. Bingley fall for you!"

Lizzy rolled her eyes. "You and I both know Mama will push you at him."

Mary suddenly entered the room, massaging her temples.

"Good evening, Mary," said Jane pleasantly, though not before shooting Lizzy a retaliatory look. "Is Mama at it again?"

"She's in such a fit that I can't ignore her," Mary answered dismally. "The sooner this assembly is over, the better! You know how I detest them!"

Lizzy exuded sympathy for her younger sister as Jane encouraged Mary to sit and began humming a soothing tune.

Mary, though only preparing to enter her fourth year at Hogwarts, had begun training in Legilimancy the previous year to some amount of success. She hoped it would help her understand those around her more, thus enabling her to meld better with society. Unfortunately, her fellow students had begun to become wary of her, fearful of her going through their very private thoughts.

Upon the girls coming home for the summer and tucking their wands away, Mary had discovered she was so familiar with the way the minds of her family members worked that she was able to hear their thoughts at all times. She had shared her discovery only with Jane and Lizzy, knowing they would aid her in any way they could. She had also practiced the piano nearly obsessively, as it so occupied her own mind as to give her relief from those of her family.

"Can't I go back early with you?" Mary asked.

"Unfortunately not," Lizzy answered. "Jane's returning early for training as Head Girl, and Professor McGonagall's told me to come early to get a head start on my animagus training."

"Surely I can come for some extra help in Legilimancy!"

Lizzy and Jane exchanged a look, confident their mother's fit of nerves would prevent Mary hearing their thoughts.

"When we arrive, Mary, I will ask Professor Flitwick if he would be willing to work with you a few times before the school year starts," Jane offered.

"I would advise against raising your hopes," Lizzy cautioned. "The staff will be busy, what with the influx of students coming in from Beauxbatons."

"Yet McGonagall, who will be busier than anyone save Dumbledore, will carve out time for you," said Mary bitterly.

"I'll be earning my keep," Lizzy said, trying to sound aggravated. "McGonagall's said that she will have plenty of work for me to do when I'm not tending to lessons."

Mary looked at Lizzy blandly. "Remember who you are trying to fool, Lizzy."

Lizzy rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh. She flinched a moment later as Kitty and Lydia burst into the room.

"It's not fair!" Lydia burst, stomping over to Mary. "Why should you get to go to the assembly while Kitty and I are forced to stay home?"

"I would gladly exchange evenings, if only Mama would allow it," said Mary, beginning to rub her temples again.

"I don't see why I should not go," Kitty pouted. "Mary went out when she was my age!"

"You would be decidedly bored," said Lizzy, thinking quickly. "Papa has been very clear that Mary will not be dancing. She is only attending to observe."

"Jane!" Mrs. Bennet's shrill voice called. "Lizzy! Mary! Come! We must not be late!'

Lydia rushed from the room, undoubtedly to attempt once more to convince her parents to allow her to attend.

With the limited time they had left before Mrs. Bennet became truly unhinged, Jane and Lizzy fixed Mary's hair from her massaging her skull and checked each other's outfits. The three descended as a group.

"But I shall be going to school in six weeks!" Lydia was protesting. "Why should I not be allowed to the assembly, to say goodbye to my neighbors?"

"Oh, my dear girl," Mrs. Bennet cooed. "You'll be attending dances soon enough. The time will just fly by! Then you shall be sought after by every young man in sight!"

Lydia stomped her foot, then stormed back up the stairs to her room. Kitty stayed on the main floor, though she cried as her mother and sisters loaded into the carriage and set off.

Mrs. Bennet chattered nonstop the entire way. She complained that Mr. Bennet was not attending, so would not be able to introduce them to Mr. Bingley. Gave very pointed advice to her girls. Bemoaned the fact they were soon leaving. Wailed over her certain future of being thrown out of Longbourn and into the hedgerows. Babbled about local gossip.

Lizzy chose staring out the window over listening. Witnessing her mother's hysteria made her long to return to Hogwarts all the more. At home, in the Muggle world, Lizzy knew she was just a woman. If she truly belonged to that world, she would have to choose between marriage for convenience as early as possible, or a life of toil and hard work in some sort of service. As a witch, however, her life was full of possibilities. Women in the magical world were on equal footing with the men. Lizzy dearly loved the freedom she had at Hogwarts and was forever grateful that she would soon be able to choose what happened with her future.

"Lizzy!" Mrs. Bennet cried. "Lizzy, are you listening to me?"

"My mind wandered, Mama, I apologize," Lizzy said, snapping back to the reality in front of her.

Mrs. Bennet huffed. "I was directing you to keep your sharp tongue to yourself this evening! I'll not have you scaring off the new young men from Jane!"

Lizzy rather thought her mother's shrill voice would scare off the new arrivals to the neighborhood, but gave her mother the desired response. She knew that was the easiest way to end the diatribe.

Finally, the carriage came to a halt and the Bennet women were handed out.

"I don't see why I should be made to go to this," Mary said miserably, walking alongside Lizzy as Mrs. Bennet hissed further advice to Jane ahead. "I'm too young to be out, not that I wish to dance anyway."

"Yes, but Mama wants us seen as much as possible, since we spend so much time away," Lizzy reasoned. "Do you think you'll be alright?"

At the first assembly they had attended after coming back from Hogwarts, the Bennets had to leave early, Mary's head hurt so much. While she could understand the thoughts of her family members clearly, all the neighbors she grew up with created an unending and indecipherable murmur when gathered together that overwhelmed the poor girl.

"I will manage," said Mary shortly. Mrs. Bennet had been so upset with her when they had to return home previously that she was determined to deal with everything this time.

Upon entering, Lizzy squeezed Mary's hand, mentally wished her well, and then left her to Mrs. Bennet's less-than-stellar chaperoning to attend to Charlotte.

"Lizzy, I am glad to see you," said Charlotte with a smile. "You and I shall have to visit frequently before you and Jane leave. Oh, what will the neighborhood do with all the Bennet girls gone this year?"

"Live very peacefully, I would imagine," Lizzy quipped. Charlotte was the only thing Lizzy missed while away, besides her father, occasionally. While Charlotte was not aware Lizzy was a witch, she did know that the school Lizzy went away to every year was not the average, but respected that Lizzy could not answer questions.

Lizzy and Charlotte fell into easy conversation. Just before the first dance started, they were claimed by old friends and danced merrily. Almost as soon as the first dance finished, there was a hiccup in the rhythm of the assembly caused by a group of newcomers entering late.

"Which of the party is the famed Mr. Bingley?" Lizzy asked mockingly after she and Charlotte and disengaged from their partners.

Charlotte gave Lizzy a warning glance before pointing out Mr. Bingley and all the members of his party: his sisters Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, Mr. Hurst, and a friend called Mr. Darcy.

Lizzy had not time to fish out any more details, as Mrs. Bennet was none too subtly signaling for her. She hurried over before more of a scene could be made and was joined at her mother's side by Jane.

Mrs. Bennet hissed her excitement that Mr. Darcy was a single man worth twice as much as Mr. Bingley. As she carried on, Lizzy looked around uncomfortably and was infinitely grateful no one that would judge was within ear shot. Though she might not truly belong to the Muggle world, she understood what was accepted and what was not in it.

Before long, Mrs. Bennet snapped her mouth shut as Sir William approached with the newcomers and performed introductions.

Lizzy was impressed with Mr. Bingley's amiability, but less so with the rest of his party, who seemed to think the assembly below them. His sisters and brother-in-law found excuses to wander away as soon as introductions had been completed. Mr. Bingley wasted no time in asking Jane to dance, which pleased Mrs. Bennet exceedingly.

Lizzy became absolutely horrified when Mrs. Bennet began shamelessly fishing for Mr. Darcy to ask herself to dance. Though his abrupt dismissal and exit from the conversation was rather rude, she found she could not blame him, as she, herself, wanted the floor to swallow her whole.

Mrs. Bennet began, as quietly as she was capable of, raging against Mr. Darcy and his high-handed manners.

Lizzy gave her mother teasing responses, and Mary amused looks. Mary had a desperate glint in her eyes, and Lizzy had been about to volunteer to look after her for a dance or two while Mrs. Bennet went off on her own, but was asked by Charlotte's brother to dance. She apologized mentally to Mary as she took to the floor and Jane was claimed by a neighbor who had patiently been waiting his turn.

After Charlotte's brother, Lizzy danced with one of the Goulding boys while Jane dance with Mr. Bingley, and then she had her own turn with the man. Her estimation of him only rose from her first meeting him. Mr. Bingley was everything friendly and polite, though Lizzy could not say the same of his friend. Mr. Darcy had danced the second with Miss Bingley, the third with Mrs. Hurst, and was now prowling the perimeter of the room with a rather haughty expression, though there were several other young women hoping for a partner.

Mr. Bingley returned Lizzy to her mother and, at the same time, asked Jane for a second dance. Lizzy thought Mary looked ready to burst, and so she encouraged her mother go and sit with her friends, offering to look after Mary for a dance or two. She did not mind in the slightest, as there was a disproportionate number of women to men in attendance. She would take her turn sitting out.

Mary sighed in relief as Mrs. Bennet bustled away.

"Well, Mary, what shall I think of?" Lizzy asked good naturedly as the pair settled themselves into chairs to watch Jane and Mr. Bingley dance. "Horses? The outdoors? Food? Practicing the piano?"

"Think whatever you wish," said Mary lightly. "Your thoughts are generally amusing, whatever direction they might tend."

Lizzy contented herself with watching her neighbors behave much as she expected them to, and was pleased to see Jane so happy dancing with Mr. Bingley. Lizzy knew she could never be happy to marry a Muggle, but Jane was of such a disposition that she could be happy with anyone, as long as she truly loved them and was loved in return. By the second dance of the set, Lizzy began to suspect that love between Jane and Mr. Bingley may very well be possible. They seemed so well matched.

"Don't be so hasty, Lizzy," Mary cautioned.

Before Lizzy could reply, Mr. Bingley stepped from the dance to stand before Mr. Darcy who, Lizzy was surprised to note, was rather closer to her than she had thought.

"Come, Darcy," said [Bingley], "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."

Had Lizzy been at Hogwarts, she would have laughed openly. As it was, she had to turn her amusement into a slight cough to conceal it, then quickly school her features.

"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."

Lizzy felt her ire start to rise at Mr. Darcy's response, and Mary put a cautionary hand on her arm.

"I would not be so fastidious as you are," cried Bingley, "for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty."

"You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

"Oh, she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."

"Which do you mean?" and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till, catching her eye, he withdrew his own, and coldly said, "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me, and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."

Lizzy allowed herself a moment to seethe before deciding to be amused, instead. "Come, Mary," she said, rising and linking her arm with her sister's. With a mischievous smile, she led Mary past Mr. Darcy over to Charlotte, where she recounted the man's poor manners with much bravado. Charlotte laughed easily with her friend.

Later that night, Lizzy and Jane sat on their bed and discussed, in detail, everything that had happened at the assembly. Mary had declined to join, stating her head hurt something fierce and that she wanted to sleep.

"Oh, that was so very wrong of him to say!" Jane said laughingly upon Lizzy's exuberant recitation of the overheard conversation.

"Indeed it was," Lizzy agreed with a grin. "He should be well pleased with the results, however. I am sure our neighbors want as little do with him and he does with them."

"It was rather strange for him to only dance with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst."

"You've not told me of your dances with Mr. Bingley," said Lizzy with an arched brow.

Jane blushed. "I told you of them in the carriage."

Lizzy rolled her eyes. "Your recounting in front of Mama was hardly satisfactory!"

Jane's blush deepened. "I very much enjoyed dancing with Mr. Bingley. I should look forward to it again. He is everything a young man should be."

Lizzy knew what a big deal such an admission from her reticent sister was, and so she grew serious. "Do be careful, Jane. I should hate to see you stow your wand away for a Muggle only to find you grow tired of each other after a few years."

"I don't plan on rushing into anything, be it with a wizard or a Muggle," said Jane with her gentle firmness.

The pair conversed some time longer before blowing out the candles and going to sleep.

Author's Note

New year, new story! I hope you enjoy it!

"But, Alittleinsane, what about the three open stories you've already started? What's happening there?"

Yeah... so here's the deal, fam. Professors' Point of View: I regularly work with traumatized children, so delving into McGonagall's thoughts during the events of Half-Blood Prince sometimes hits a little close to home and it's kind of difficult to motivate myself to get in that mindset when I already spend a good deal of time in it. HP/NCIS Crossover: I am crazy stupid out of loop on NCIS right now, and have to rewatch some stuff to be able to write as I would like. And ain't nobody got time fo' dat right now... or patience/desire to sit mindlessly in front of a TV for hours and hours... HP/Major Crimes Crossover: see previous excuse.

Fear not for this story, however, for I have already completed it! Awwww yisssss!

Please let me know what you think so far!