It was late when she woke; getting on toward noon, on that glitteringly cold first day of the year.
Consciousness came back to her slowly; languidly. Yawning and stretching, a wide, slanting bar of sunlight falling across her, it took her a long, disoriented moment to realize that something was strange.
Opening her eyes confirmed it. This was not her bed, not her room, not her flat at all - not even her nightclothes; the first thing she noticed when she pushed herself into a sitting position was that she was wearing a pair of overlarge black silk pajamas... men's black silk pajamas.
The second thing was that she was sore all over.
Decidedly sore all over... and yet, not entirely unpleasantly so.
No, there was a... an unfamiliar and yet undeniable feeling of contentment that accompanied that soreness. It felt as though she'd just been through one holy hell of a workout. Demanding - but rewarding, too.
Which she had to accept, blushing deeply as she used both hands to push her thick, dark hair out of her face, was more or less exactly what had happened.
Oh, God. Oh, GOD. What have I done?
Yet the thought was not accompanied by the rush of horror she had expected; no, the only emotions that accompanied it at all were astonishment, curiosity, and a dawning, incredulous wonder.
What had she done? She had just experienced the most overwhelmingly intense, physically punishing and yet unabashedly sensuous experience of her entire life. She tried to tot up the number of times she had climaxed the night before, and found that she couldn't. Her blush deepened. She really, honestly couldn't!
Disengaging from the rumpled blankets, she scooted to the edge of the bed; it took a while, this being easily the largest bed she'd ever seen, let alone slept in. Malfoy was neither in the bed beside her, nor anywhere in the room; and although a part of her was relieved to see it, there was another part that was... yes, she might as well own it... disappointed.
I didn't really expect anything different... did I?
She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and stood, one hand pressing lightly, absently, against the flatness of her lower stomach. There was a warm ache there, way deep inside of her. Merlin, that had been some night. The things he... they... had done...
Sleepy, still half in a daze, she drifted toward the living room of the suite, noticing as she went that the pajamas clung to her in a remarkably good fit. Draco was by no means a big, strapping man... but his clothing ought to have been looser on her than this. Had he magicked them into fitting her better than they should have? She didn't have any clear memory of when or how the pajamas had gotten onto her at all, but she couldn't shake the feeling that he had.
What an oddly... attentive thing for him to have done.
Running a hand through her tangled hair, she passed from the bedroom into the living room, where she stopped, her eyes widening in surprise. An elaborate breakfast awaited her on the suite's dining table, and her clothing had been gathered, cleaned, and in the case of the stockings, mended. Gown, underclothes, they were all laid neatly across the table's far end; and atop the lot of them was balanced a small white envelope.
Crossing the room, she plucked up the envelope and sank down at the table, wincing as she settled on the wooden dining chair; God, she really was still sore.
She poured herself a glass of orange juice first; then slitted open the envelope, shook out the single sheet of parchment contained therein, and began to read.
1 January 20--
First I want to say thank you - thank you for relieving me of that bastard of a headache last night, and thank you for everything that followed. Mentally speaking, I was in a bad place last night; a very bad place and consequently I was somewhat less than a gentleman. I apologize for that and, though unfortunately business has called me away, invite you to enjoy breakfast on me this morning. I will return around noon and it would make me happier than I probably deserve to be, in light of my behavior toward you, if I were to find you still at the suite. I would like the opportunity to explain to you why I was in that part of town - and that state of mind. I certainly won't blame you if you are long gone by the time I return, but...
Please at least consider staying.
PS - HOG ANUS. Really, Granger, Tourette's? Really?
Reading the letter, she'd been so single-mindedly absorbed in the words, written in Malfoy's elegant, cultured script, that she hadn't noticed anything else. It was only after she'd lowered it back to the table, now feeling more dazed and conflicted that at any other time since awakening, that she became conscious of the noises emanating from the nearest window. Turning her head slowly, as if in a dream or a trance, she fixed her attention on the source of the disturbance.
There were two owls perched on the windowsill, staring in at her with enormous, luminous golden eyes. Both were fluffed against the frosty January air. The one that was making most of the racket, pecking impatiently on the glass with its beak while hopping from foot to foot in an effort to stay warm, she immediately recognized as Harry's. It had a letter affixed to one leg upon which she could see that Harry had scrawled the word Urgent.
The second owl was Ron's. Not only did it have a letter tied to its leg, but also was holding a rose in its beak and - good Lord, was that what she thought it was? - yes, her engagement ring was dangling from a ribbon that had been looped around its tawny neck.
It was scratching hopefully on the windowpane with the foot that was not burdened with Ron's scroll.
Hermione looked at them for a long time. Both of them had to be freezing, the poor little things. She really ought to let them in. And yet...
Almost against her will, her eyes were drawn back down to the letter in her hands.
There was something so compelling about those words, written right here at this table while she'd slept, in his formal, careful script. Especially when juxtaposed with the way he'd been last night - demanding; unyielding; relentless - all hard angles and bruising hands and nipping teeth and sharp, kinetic energy, as he'd taken her to the brink and then pushed her, pulled her, dragged her over it, willing or not, again - and again - and again. A tantalizing flush of warmth suffused her at the mere memory of it.
It was nearly impossible to reconcile that experience with the letter she now held in her hands. Such entirely different facets of the same person. Malfoy certainly was presenting himself as something of an enigma... (post script aside, of course. That was the same old prat she'd been to school with, recognizable anywhere!)
And if there was one thing Hermione Granger absolutely loved, it was an enigma.
A puzzle to solve.
God help her. She was intrigued.
She looked again at the two cold owls on the windowsill... then back down at the letter.
It was almost noon now; if his letter could be believed, Malfoy would return very soon. Should she send word to Harry and Ron? Should she gather her things and go? Or should she shoo the owls away and wait?
It was a new day, a new year, and some big new decisions were begging to be made.
Again she glanced at the owls, whose avian expressions, by now, had turned decidedly reproachful. Again dropped her gaze to the parchment in her hand.
She took a deep breath.
Pressed her eyes briefly shut.