***Sorry, I just realized that this posted the incomplete version of the chapter! It's fixed now, so happy reading...***
The first two weeks of school passed quickly. Hermione stayed busy with Head duties and her classwork, and occasionally spent an afternoon in the Gryffindor common room with Harry, Ron, and Ginny. Her interactions with Malfoy had been minimal so far, only a glare or rude comment from him in passing. True to her word, she had been kind and courteous no matter how angry or sad he'd made her feel, which seemed to throw Malfoy off more often than not. Today in particular, he'd been avoiding her since the moment she'd woken up. Which wasn't really very long at all, but she wasn't going to focus on that. She had decided that she'd check on her parents today. It had been a little over a month since her last visit, and she wanted to see how things were going for them.
Standing up from her perch at the kitchen counter, she stretched and made her way to her bedroom. Seeing as she'd be in Australia, and winter there had yet to fade, she opted to switch her baggy t-shirt and lounge pants for some comfortable skinny jeans and a light gray sweater. She quickly twisted her hair up into a cute messy bun, leaving a few delicate waves out to frame her face, and moved to the wardrobe to grab her brown boots.
She turned to go to the common room where she had set her bag down when a blur of color caught her eye. It was her only photo of her with her parents, resting gently against a pile of books on her nightstand. She hesitantly reached for it, holding it gently between her fingers. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to bring it… It will help me pass the time today when I can't see Mum or Dad. She closed her eyes, hugging the photo to her chest and drew deep, steady breaths. Her heart still ached when she thought of her family, but she knew they were all right, and that's what really mattered. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, wiping away the few stray tears that had formed. Holding the picture in one hand and her boots in the other, she once again made her way to door. Reentering the common room, she sat on the edge of the couch so she could pull on her boots. I wonder if the snow in Victoria has melted yet…
A voice outside the portrait hole jostled her from her thoughts. A click a moment later signaled that it was Malfoy, no doubt skipping class to come back here to the dorm. Hermione was definitely not in the mood for an argument and decided to just leave him be, so she stood and headed for the kitchen just as he entered the room. He froze when he caught sight of her, but quickly recovered and leaned back against the doorway, sneering.
"Now this is a sight I'll bet no one else has seen. Hermione Granger skipping class? I'll bet McGonagall will be thrilled to hear about this." He pushed off of the wall, following her into the kitchen. Hermione sighed gently, her back still facing him as she went about making herself a cup of tea. Her brow furrowed and lips tilted ever so slightly into a frown as her continued to ramble on about how awful it was that she was skipping class and how much trouble she'd be in when he told McGonagall. He stopped for a moment, taking in first the upset look on her face, then her clothing.
"What's the matter, Princess Mudblood? Got into an argument with Scarhead and Weasel, so you're running away?" He smirked down at her, his arms folded across his chest. Hermione looked up at him with weary eyes and forced a tiny smile as she set her mug of tea back on the counter.
"Not at all, Malfoy. I have somewhere I need to be today, and Professor McGonagall has already given me permission to go. I should be back early tomorrow morning, so I arranged to have Zabini cover my rounds tonight. I figured you'd be more comfortable with a friend and fellow Slytherin anyway. And as always, I finished my schoolwork early, so no need to be worried on my account." Turning to face the counter again, her smile faded as she finished her tea and rinsed the mug in the sink. Malfoy was silent for a moment, but immediately resumed his interrogation.
"I never worry about anyone, so no problem there. And just where might you be going in muggle clothing, and overnight? Certainly nothing school related. Maybe you and Weasel are finally getting together, is that it? Though if so, I would highly suggest you at least try to make yourself look decent," he said, gesturing to her choice of clothing. He paused, seemingly waiting for a response, and scowled when the only one he got was Hermione pushing past him and heading for the portrait. He grabbed her elbow and turned her around to face him. "What, not enough Gryffindor courage to even admit it?"
She frowned again, her brows furrowing slightly in both pain and annoyance. She obligingly met his gaze, but used her other hand to remove his rather painful grip on her elbow. Might as well just say enough to clear THAT up right now…
"Ron and I were never together and never will be, Malfoy. So no, that's not where I'm going. I'll be in a muggle area, which is why I'm wearing muggle clothing, and I'm going overnight because it's rather far away and the time distance gets in the way of the things I need to take care of. So if you'll excuse me, I really need to go now." Her voice was calm but quiet, quite different from how she normally spoke to Harry and Ron. For some reason, she just never felt the need to raise her voice at Malfoy like she used to, and now she preferred to speak quietly when it was just the two of them. Pulling her arm away from him, she turned and pushed her way out of the portrait hole before he could stop her, shutting it in his face so he would know to leave her alone. As soon as she set foot in the hallway, she slowed her pace and gently meandered down the hallway. She had to be outside the castle to use the portkey, so she slowly made her way through the empty halls towards the front courtyard. Everyone was in class, so she knew it would peaceful for a while yet.
The walk itself was rather pleasant. Midmorning sunlight streamed in through the tall windows, and only the occasional sound of an owl fluttering by and Hermione's gentle footsteps disturbed the tranquil silence of the castle. Upon reaching the courtyard, she reached into her bag and retrieved the small felt pouch that contained her portkey. She'd made it herself after two months of studying how, and was pleased that it worked so well. Taking a deep breath, she opened the pouch and looked at the tiny golden globe.
"Australia, here I come…" She whispered in a soft tone, and touched the object with the tip of a finger. With a flash of bright light and a distinct tugging at her stomach, she felt her feet hit the ground and looked around. She'd arrived.
Oh, she did NOT just dismiss me. Draco was furious. Not only had the annoying little mudblood just dismissed him like some sort of commoner, she'd also slammed the portrait right on his nose, which he now sat rubbing to dull the throbbing ache that had set in. Glaring around the common room, he felt a brilliant idea hit him. Well, if she won't TELL us where she's going, then we may just have to follow her and find out. A triumphant smirk settled on his face as he quickly cast a disillusionment charm on himself and muffliato-ed his footsteps. Stepping out of the portrait hole, he turned just in time to see the little wench turn the corner at the far end of the hall.
Quickly shuffling down the hall so as not to lose her, he rounded the corner and was annoyed to learn that she was simply ambling down the hall at an infuriatingly slow pace. He continued to follow her through the castle, stopping now and then to sit when she slowed her pace even more than her current languidness. As they reached the front courtyard, his annoyance grew even further as he realized that they might actually be walking to wherever she was going. If she's just going for a little stroll on the grounds, I am in NO WAY going to join her for something as stupid as that- His thoughts were cut short as Granger stopped in the center of the courtyard and reached into her bag. Curious, Draco inched closer until he was standing right beside her, just far enough away that she wouldn't feel his robes in the gentle breeze. His curiosity grew even more as she pulled out a tiny felt pouch: the kind, he realized, that usually held portkeys. Realizing that she was about to disappear into thin air, he cast a wordless tracking spell on her. So just where ARE you going?...
A devilish grin overtook his features as he heard her gently whisper.
"Australia, here I come..."
Well, THIS is going to be an interesting day, Mudblood. An interesting day indeed...