Alright, let me take a moment here to PROFUSELY apologize for the REALLY late update. God, I'm ashamed of myself. But apart from pressure from my university, I now have an Internship to bother about. Oh God, what I did, is completely unpardonable, but I hope, you, my lovely friends, will find it in your heart to forgive me after this installment. I really hope I can update sooner than I wish. This story is close to my heart for various reasons, and I have no wish to ditch it.

Disclaimer - J.K. Rowling rules. I'm merely a courtier. ;)

CHAPTER 9 – The Road-Trip

Soft, soothing and warm evening sun rays streamed in through the plane windows, falling gently on Hermione's face that caused her to wake up but with a gentle smile gracing her lovely soft features. She calmly looked outside the windows to see a field of cotton wool soaked in flaming orange and gentle red tones. After returning fully back to consciousness, she realized that she had a weight on her right shoulder. She craned her neck to see a carefully trimmed mop of platinum blonde hair, falling gently on the nape of her neck. She felt a small smile tug her lips as she adorably gazed at this changed man sleeping soundly, his shoulder rhythmically poke her shoulders as he breathed. She felt a teeny weeny tinge of jealousy as she noticed how smooth and silky his hair was, effortlessly oozing style. Come on! A girl had every right to be envious! She turned her head front to see Blaise and Luna looking on at the couple with a knowing smile. Hermione felt a blush creep up her neck but stared back nonetheless rolling her eyes. As she felt some light reflect off Draco's hair, she looked out again to see a huge cloud setting an excellent example of the phrase, "every cloud has a silver lining." She gazed back at Draco's hair to see the striking similarity between the cloud and his head. "Silver," she whispered. Yes, for some reason, Draco's presence felt like the silver lining in her post-war life, that had been lacking all this while. But wasn't it too early to forget about everything that happened in the past? Especially between them?

But before she could further ponder over their situation, the cabin made the announcement of their arrival at Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal, Mumbai. Draco jerked open his eyes, scared from the sudden noise that came out of nowhere. Hermione and Luna stifled their giggles looking at his frantic disposition, while Blaise looked at him with an amused raised eyebrow and a half-smirk. He quickly collected himself, and put back the stoic expression that betrayed no emotion. He regally sat, with his seatbelt fastened, and waited for the flight to land.

The wave of strong heat even in the chilly month of December raised shocked expressions from the students, and immediately after exiting the flight, they removed most layers of their clothing, as much as propriety allowed. After collection of their luggage, they were all led by the professors to the arrival hall area, where there saw a huge signboard saying, "HOGWARTS". Under the signboard stood a plump Indian man dressed in casuals, with what seemed like a very jubilant smile. "Welcome to India! I hope you had a pleasant journey so far. I'm Mukesh and I am here to escort you to our hotel in Rajasthan."

The delight of being in a foreign country along with the contagious happiness radiating from Mukesh had their smiles growing by the minute. It was hard not to like him. The professors walked up to him and talked in lowered voices as the students busied themselves in checking out wide expanse of sweeping roads where cars seemed to be zooming past them. The bright sunrays glared back from the trees, shadows were scarce for those seeking shelter from the wrath, a slight hint of light mud to the side of the roads, a huge array of brightly coloured cabs and the bright beams of sun pouring in through the glass rooftop of the airport they were standing at, brightened up the place where they stood, making it seem so Indian. Just like its vibrant culture and its happy people who always were in the festive mood.

They looked back towards the professors and the Indian man, to find him enthusiastically nodding his head to Professor Snape, to which he warmly smiled back. The students really did a double take, seeing Snape smile so freely. But before they could further think in awe about what just happened, Mukesh said, "Alright students. Now would you kindly line up, and follow me into the parking lot where we shall board onto our bus. We'll be travelling on ground, therefore, it'll be an overnight journey. We'll stop four times, two for toilet and refreshment and two for lunch and dinner, respectively. We'll be travelling to what is famously called, The Pink City, Jaipur. It's the capital of the state of Rajasthan. More of its history will be told to you, along the way in your magical journey in India. Be assured, this will be the journey that will change your life. Now, come along. Follow me."

Hermione mentally smirked at change was already happening. With Draco straightening up and Snape smiling and Blaise flirting shamelessly with Luna, it was hard to believe anything else could surprise her. With a sigh, she picked up her luggage and walked along with the other students to the parking lot.

"Look Harry! Muggles have such magnificent buses!" exclaimed Ron and he bounced on his way towards the bus. The other students laughed at his childish antics (or his "moronic behavious" as Theo whispered into Blaise's ears) and boarded the bus with their luggage in hand. Inside All that could be heard was the chiming of the small crystals that hung on the ceiling of the double taker bus, because none of them dared to make the slightest noise that would bring them out of their stupor. The sight that the interior of the Volvo bus held was breath-taking.

The Gryffindors along with Luna took the bottom level and the Slytherins were stationed on the upper deck, since they had fewer beds up there.

Hermione grabbed her trunk and her magical pouch and settled herself beside Luna. It was time she was more open-minded and understand other people's point of view. Limiting herself to her own opinions would not benefit her in anyway. And she being the epitome of an ideal student would gather knowledge from anyone and anywhere. With that thought in mind, she walked towards the stairs that led to the upper deck when her innate "constant vigilance" mode became fully alert when she heard "Gryffindor", "fun" and "so sad" being spoken by suspiciously familiar voices. She peeked at the upper deck from the top of the stairs to see Draco and Blaise sniggering as quietly as they could manage, with Pansy smirking along with Theo, who shook his head at the two boys. As quietly as she could manage, she tip-toed back onto the lower deck and immediately communicated with all the Gryffindors using the magical coin they used back in Year 5. Everyone, almost at the same time, removed the coins from their pockets and nodded at Hermione for informing them about Slytherins' on-going plans to trick them. Little did the slimey gits know that they would be digging their own graves. Or so the Gyffindors thought. Fate had some wonderful plans for both the houses.

Harry, taking the lead, announced, "Alright guys, I think to celebrate our first trip abroad together, let's have a party tonight for dinner. And everybody's welcomed including Mr Mukesh and the Professors. Does that sound good to you Professor Snape?"

Snape raised a delicate eyebrow at Potter, surprised he was talking to him. Maybe this was truce after the battle. They were on one side after all. Maybe he's not so bad. He nodded in accession while Professor McGonagall smiled kindly at Harry for his gallant behavior. Truly Gyffindor.

"Alright everyone! We'll start the journey, but no worries, you won't feel the inertia. It'll feel as if it's on solid ground with no movement. So enjoy the scenery everyone," said Mukesh and closed the door to the driver's compartment. The two professors took their seats/beds in the very front of the bus, and drew the curtains around them to have some privacy. The Gryffindors too, feeling a little jet-lagged retired to their seats, while the Slytherins cast a silencing charm around the top deck and began their discussions.

And thus began their journey in India.

"Dude, that celebration invitation seemed a little dubious to me. Noticed how they were exchanging smug looks at each other?" asked Theo, his Slytherin instincts kicking in.

"Yeah, even Loony looked weird, well more weird than normal," drawled Pansy, pretending to check her perfectly, magically manicured nails.

"Hey Pans, it's Luna, alright. Don't call her that," said Blaise, appearing a little more miffed than he should.

"Okay, the thing is, we all get the feeling that something suspicious is going on, and I tend to find out what it going to be. So who's with me?" asked Draco.

Getting an affirmation from his childhood best friends, they all began their plans to find out what the Gryffindorks were hiding.

Dusty roads, labourers, both men and women walked hurriedly to their workplaces or used bicycle to commute. Brick red city buses carried people to their destinations, cars of all shapes and sizes painted the busy streets of Mumbai colourful. Reaching the outskirts of the city after about two hours of incessant honking, abrupt turns and breaks, and slow crawl on the roads, finally the images of dusty and rustic scenic beauties whizzed past the tinted windows of the cool air-conditioned bus, which only the professors savoured.

Somewhere on the top floor Draco and Pansy were now taking their turns in eavesdropping on what the Gryffindors were doing. Blaise and Theo amused themselves with a round of Wizarding Chess.

Somewhere below the upper deck, Draco overheard Granger and Looney furiously debating about Nargles, the conversation not approaching a conclusion any time soon judging by how stubborn both girls were. Harry and the other Gryffindor boys were discussing the latest upcoming match of the Cannons vs the Kestrals, which Pansy really wished they'd stop. Instead she decided to listen in to Lavendar, Parvati and Ginny's discussion on Madam Malkin's latest Spring/Summer collection, which at least did not rot her brains.

Soon everyone was tired of their debates, discussions, eavesdropping and magical games, and they were back in their comfortable lounge chairs and enjoyed the scenes outside their windows and rested their jet-lagged minds and bodies. Before they all knew they actually napped for two straight hours and found Mukesh exclaiming at the top of his voice.

"Rise and shine bright lovely students of Hogwarts! We're taking a stop here in city of Surat, in the state of Gujarat, which is geographically placed right under Rajasthan. It's nearly one in the afternoon so let us have some lunch before we carry on with our journey. We'll be on road until the sun sets, so there will be another stop for dinner. And after than we'll take off because our bus would be hard to locate in the sky at night. Alright! Up! Up!"

Some were grumbling and some (Ron) had their tummies grumbling when they got out of the bus, but the moment their eyes laid on the restaurant, jaws dropped, eyes popped and breaths got sucked in chorus. In front of them stood a very modern yet grand restaurant with the letters "The Grand Bhagwati" emblazoned on top of the building. Still in awe, they followed the professors and Mukesh into the building.

After a very sumptuous meal, some burps that followed (mostly by the Gryffindor boys) which caused the girls and Slytherins to scrunch their noses in disgust, they got back on the bus ready for the last of their journey on road.

The Gryffindors played dumb charades with some Bollywood music playing in the background (thanks to Mukesh). The Slytherins went back to taking turns with eavesdropping but got nothing suspicious because little did they know that all the plans were made though a set of magical coins. After a few hours of random fun and eventless eavesdropping, they finally made their stop somewhere outside the city of Gandhinagar (the capital of Gujarat) for their dinner.

This restaurant made a less grand affair of their meal time but the fire ablaze in the middle of circle of low rise chairs was very warm and welcomed by the students for it was a surprisingly chilly night for such a hot day. Cans of butterbeer and Colas were brought out by the Gryffindors and (surprisingly) shared with the Slytherins, the Professors and Mukesh while they had their dinners with much laughter and frolicking. Mukesh entertained them regaling stories of his childhood making everyone roar in laughter. They were so engrossed that no one noticed a person wrapped in a Gryffindor scarf entering the bus quietly for a very devious plan to take place, and then slipping back to her place in the circle around the fire.

Soon everyone returned back to their bus, long after the sun had set into the horizon, bringing the energy level among the bus riders down too. Long after the conniving plan had taken place.

I know, you guys probably wouldn't review. But it would warm my heart if you did. I'd take it as a way to show that you have forgiven me. :')