A/N- This, like many of my stories, is floating around in canon, not really attached to any specific time-period, but I imagine that the earliest it could occur is 6th year. This was a very difficult prompt for me, but I did my best and I think it came out well! Happy Christmas!
Malfoy Manor. Enormous. Impressive. Outlandish. Ginevra Weasley, young and beautiful, glared fiercely at its dark heights, sending out all of her furious thoughts to it in the hopes that it might catch on fire or suddenly collapse in upon itself. Behind the high stone walls and black-shingled towers, the sun was coloring the clouds pink and orange, but to Ginny's eyes, that made it no more beautiful. She would gladly be anywhere else in the world right now, but that simply wasn't an option.
Mrs. Weasley stretched out a hand to her daughter, but suddenly thought better of her comforting gesture and knocked on the door. Earlier, she had had to talk Ginny out of wearing a violently red and gold Gryffindor sweater. Now she was wearing a much less provocative brown blouse that supposedly brought out her chocolate eyes, but she had steadfastly refused to give up her jeans and sneakers. "It won't be very long, Ginny, dear, then we can be on our way and it will be like it never happened." She, too, was unhappy to be here, but had decided that she should come instead of Mr. Weasley to keep the animosity to a minimum.
"I don't know why it has to happen in the first place. Can't Dad get an exception?"
"You know your father, he's a lawful man- as well he should be!- and his job would be in danger if he refused." She smiled sadly and tucked a long strand of fiery copper hair behind her daughter's ear. "It will be over soon. Try to be polite, please?"
"It's a stupid law." Mrs. Weasley chose not to say anything and instead let them wait in anxious and sullen silence before the door opened slowly and a little man in immaculate grey robes ushered them inside with a bow.
Only flickering candles in sconces lit the entrance hall, but they were too far apart to provide continuous light. The rich colors of the paintings and furniture were hard to see and though every surface was perfectly polished, one had the impression that cobwebs hid in the black corners. The man in grey robes held his hands out for Ginny's jacket and Mrs. Weasley's outer shawl. "The Master and Missus are waiting for you in the Gold Sitting Room." His voice was soft and scratchy, like he was afraid to speak too loudly into the dark. "Please follow me." The carpet in the main hall sucked all the sound out of the air, but made a faint swooshing sound when they talked. More paintings in ornate golden frames hung here and brightly colored vases on darkly stained wooden tables displayed freshly cut flowers. Mrs. Weasley nervously straightened Ginny's shoulder seams just before the butler knocked and opened a pair of doors on the left.
The Gold Sitting Room, in direct contrast to the manor they had seen thus far, was so brightly lit that the Weasleys involuntarily squeezed their eyes closed. Sunset light streamed in from the west-facing window and caused every golden object in the ovular room to glitter brightly, which was an astonishing feat. Every surface was gold, ornamented with gold or both; the decorated wallpaper, the heavy brocade curtains and every other stick of gleaming furniture. When the ladies' eyes had adjusted, they followed the butler's guiding arm in.
"Would you like tea?" asked a light, high voice. Mrs. Weasley and Ginny finally realized that all three Malfoys sat side by side on a rich yellow sofa, smiling smugly. Lucius Malfoy sat erect with his hands overlapped on his cane, his perfect black robes complimented by a ruby ornament at his throat. Between his parents sat Draco Malfoy, slouched back in the sofa and staring at the table, his smile looking a little out of place in the context of his body language. Narcissa, dressed in a plain, but sumptuous green gown, gestured toward a beautiful white-porcelain tea service on a golden platter. It was she who had spoken.
"Yes," answered Mrs. Weasley after a pause, brushing imaginary dust off her brown skirt to hide her embarrassment. "Yes please, thank you." Uncertainly, she hovered near a chair until Lucius indicated that she should sit. "You too, Ginevra." Mrs. Weasley only called her that when she was flustered or Ginny was in trouble. Ginny obediently flopped down into the matching chair beside her mother.
The adults tried to make small talk and passed the sugar bowl to one another, but Ginny was only watching Draco. His hair looked as if it had been trimmed only that morning and he was wearing an inky black turtleneck sweater over grey slacks. His head leaned forward in the attitude of a catnap, completely uninterested in what was being said. Ginny accepted a cup of tea from the butler, whose costume also included grey gloves, and sipped it.
"Wouldn't you like sugar?" asked Narcissa Malfoy, eyeing her fingers in case they held her china too strongly.
"No, thank you. I like it plain." For the first time, Draco's stone-grey eyes left the coffee table and acknowledged her existence. For some reason, Ginny felt that this was a victory.
At length, the butler leaned behind Mrs. Malfoy, presumably to inform her of the time as she next glanced at the golden clock on the mantle. "Perhaps it is time for the children to be alone, don't you think?"
"Ah... yes. Good idea. Go along, Ginny." Ginny stood up reluctantly, swinging her brilliant hair over her shoulder, but Lucius had to nudge his son up from the couch to make him follow the servant.
"So tell me, would their children have red hair?" Mrs. Malfoy's light voice was cutoff by the close of the heavy door and the two teenagers were led down the hall and around several corners to the Red Room, as the bronze plaque on the door informed them.
"I will return to collect you in two hours," the butler informed them, then bowed and shut the door behind him.
The Red Room, exactly like the Gold Sitting Room, emulated its name in every possible way. The chairs gathered around a round table covered by a red tablecloth were upholstered in dark red. The plush carpet was vermilion and even all of the flickering candles in silver sconces were crimson. Ginny picked a chair at the table and sat down, still looking around the square room to find all of the red objects. Draco chose the seat opposite her and laced his fingers together on the tabletop. He seemed unwilling to speak first, only staring at his fingertips, devoid of interest. Ginny didn't particularly care what he did, but they had two hours to kill and silence had never been her friend.
"So... why are we here again?" Draco deigned to snort at her ridiculous question. "Don't be like that!" she said hotly, "Mum and Dad won't talk about it much. I thought... since both of your parents are at the Ministry all the time, you would know more."
Draco's handsome face twisted into its familiar smug sneer. Clearly, these were moments he lived for. "Well... If you really must know... the Ministry created this experiment to try to make more purebloods marry."
"'Purebloods marry?' They want more pureblood marriages?" Ginny's eyebrow quirked.
"There are other reasons, too," said Draco trying to conceal a superior smile. "Anyway, each unmarried pureblood is required to spend at least two hours in the presence of another single pureblood and most of that time must be unaccompanied, which is why we've been put here."
"So we're all alone?" said Ginny with surprise. "Knowing how we dislike each other?"
A loud, female cough sounded from behind Ginny, who turned to look at a large painting over an empty fireplace of a slender, blonde woman in a fur mantle. She eyed them with distrust and primly folded her hands in her lap. "The portraits," she said stiffly, "have been instructed to chaperone you, therefore you are not entirely alone."
"Who are you?" asked Ginny, not caring about politeness.
"That is my great, great grandmother, Matron Malfoy," said Draco quietly and with annoyance. "She's the... leader of the other paintings." Draco's great, great grandmother sniffed and looked away as if she couldn't hear him.
Ginny decided that she didn't care and turned away from the painting again, deliberately scooting her chair to one side so that her back was fully facing the ornately decorated portrait. "So what are we supposed to do for the next two hours? Go out for coffee?"
Draco started as though he had a few choice things he would have liked to say, but then he stopped and seemed to consider her question with surprised seriousness. After a moment of thinking during which his fingers twitched amusingly, he answered her, "We could have coffee. I could send a message to the kitchen and have it delivered here."
She frowned. "I didn't really want to be stuck in this room," she said mostly to herself, but Draco answered as if she had spoken to him directly.
"Ok, then we can just go to the kitchen." When her next response was a snort, he flared up. "Look, is everything I say going to piss you off? Because if it is, we can just sit here and do nothing!"
"I didn't even want to be here!" she snarled, "This is the worst idea that anyone ever had!"
"Well, I didn't want you to come here!"
They pushed away from the table at the same time, their chairs making an obscene sound across the carpet that shouldn't have been made at all. Draco's lower jaw protruded defiantly and he crossed his arms, still staring angrily at her. Ginny nearly stuck out her tongue at him, but with great restraint held herself back. Instead, she smiled, showing every last one of her teeth, and leaned back on the back two legs of her chair, swinging her own legs up onto the table and crossed them at the ankles. ("Well, I never!" scoffed the painting.) Idly, she examined her fingernails, frowning occasionally and prying imaginary dirt from under the clean, smooth ovals.
In her peripheral, she watched Draco's jaw tighten bit by bit until his face looked contorted and ugly. The knuckles on his arm were whiter than she had thought possible. A knot formed in her stomach and she turned her chair away so he wouldn't see the change of her expression. Was he really that angry? She knew he didn't want to be here any more than she did, but it didn't occur to her that he would be loathing his time here every bit as much as she, especially since this was his home. She imagined what it would be like to have to be alone with Draco in the Burrow and decided that maybe his position was worse. At the very least, she concluded, they should both be able to suffer through this with minimal pain.
"I'm sorry, Draco," she said, taking her feet off the table to Matron Malfoy's approval. "I know that you were forced into this just the same as I was. We've got an hour and fifteen minutes more together," she continued, glancing at her wristwatch, "so maybe we could thing of something interesting to do until I can leave?" The handsome blonde eyed her winning smile, clearly suspicious of her change in attitude, but uncrossed his arms nonetheless and stood.
"Thank you," he said, inclining his head. "Would you still like coffee?"
"Yes." She also stood. "I would also like to see more of the manor, too."
His thin eyebrows raised into high arches. "Very well. Let's first go to the kitchen, then we can drink it while we walk." He led the way out of the room, but paused to hold the door open for her, which made her blush faintly. From the corner of her eye, Ginny saw Matron Malfoy stand and walk sideways out of her frame the same direction they were going. The chair she left behind was scarlet.
The kitchens were further down the main hall and behind a tall, curving staircase. This back part of the mansion seemed older than the front and when Ginny asked about it, Draco launched into a well-practiced lecture on the history of Malfoy Manor and related an event wherein the original architect built a potions lab near the front of the house.
"So Darius the second's wife sends in hot soup which changes the ambient temperature of the lab and the whole contraption catches on fire. The house elf disapparated with his master supposedly intending to escape, but ends up in Wales somehow and the whole front of the place was burning before his wife figures out something is wrong." He pushed open the door to the kitchen. "The next builder decided to make the front half out of stone in the hopes that it would be less flammable."
"What would the young Master and his Miss like?" A little elf only the height of Draco's knee bustled out from behind a tall, marble counter. She was plump for a house-elf with plentiful hair knotted back in a smart bun. Instead of the dirty pillowcase that Ron and Harry had mentioned the last elf, Dobby, wearing, this elf wore part of a white, linen tablecloth cunningly folded to resemble a toga. Ginny was startled by the appearance of the elf while Draco was taken aback by something else entirely. His lips formed silent words that caused his eyebrows consternation.
"We... we would like coffee, please," said Ginny when an elbow to the upper arm didn't seem to dislodge Draco's brain from it's skipped cycle.
"Of course, miss! Cream or sugar?" She bustled away and climbed a tiny staircase up to a ledge that allowed her to work at the height of the counter. Ginny finally looked around the very white kitchen. She saw a little table off to the side that might be used for informal breakfast and four stools at a center island. An empty silver frame was soon filled by the beautiful Matron Malfoy. She met Ginny's eyes, but said nothing and sat, arranging her mantle.
"Come on," said Ginny, pulling him to the barstools. "Who is the elf?"
Draco's grey eyes flicked up to her. "Oh. Bonna. We bought her from another family after one of theirs had kits."
"I was sad to go," squeaked Bonna good-naturedly, "But I know when it's time to move on. I says it all the time, know when to walk away! Here you are Master, Miss." She slid two big, white mugs across the island counter to them as well as a small pitcher of whole cream and an elegant little sugar bowl. "It's better if you puts the sugar in first so it melts," she advised.
"Thanks," said Ginny.
"Huh? Oh yeah, thanks," he repeated as if the words were new to him.
After a bit more silence due to Draco's cognitive distance, Ginny asked a question that had been on her mind. "Why were we paired together? I mean, the Ministry could have put us with anyone- you could have been with Pansy, her family is pureblood- but they decided that we should go on a date."
"Oh," said Draco, staring awkwardly into his coffee as though he wasn't quite sure what to do with it, "The Weasleys are much older than the Parkinsons, so I guess they decided that older blood was stronger or something. I don't really remember what my father said." She couldn't help but notice that his cheekbones appeared to have more color than before and felt like there was something he wasn't saying.
"Is there something on your mind?"
Her mug made a faint clunk as she set it down. "You don't have to lie to me," she told him lightly. "Let's pretend that after I leave this house, none of this ever existed, so anything that you say or anything that happens doesn't matter. Is there something on your mind now?"
"Well," he said slowly, "Maybe. I haven't decided yet."
"You haven't decided whether or not you're thinking about something?"
"I'm thinking about whether or not I want to talk about it," he said testily. Clearly all of the animosity wasn't gone from their relationship, but the lack of a sneer was a good start.
"I'll tell you what I'm thinking about," she offered temptingly.
He looked at her sharply. Ginny couldn't tell if he was annoyed or curious, but the intensity of his eyes made her swallow. "It's not important," he finally said. "If you want a refill, we can get going around the manor."
The manor was every bit as enormous on the inside as it was on the outside. They didn't even look into every room, only the ones Draco thought were interesting. Ginny wanted to run gleefully back and forth opening and shutting all the doors, but suppressed her inner five-year-old and tried to take interest in the long wall of Malfoy ancestors. Draco told her the names of some of the portraits with more elaborate facial hair, and then took her quickly through the library, which had impressive windows overlooking the gardens before emerging in a more subdued, cozier wing of the mansion.
"Oh. Oh, I didn't mean to come out here." Draco turned around and looked at the door through which they had just come as though it was the doors fault he was turned around in his own home.
"What do you mean? Where are we?" Here, there were little hanging lamps and a cream-colored carpet, which made the light brighter and yet softer than anywhere else. The wallpaper featured pinecones and little bunches of pine needles around which peeked out little red berries. The hallway itself was rather short and all of these doors were single doors.
"We're... uh... in the family wing. This is where our private rooms are."
"Really? Does this mean I get to see your room?"
"Er..." Draco stopped trying to turn them towards the door that lead back to the library and glanced at her eager face. "Well... ok. A quick look." Behind him, Matron Malfoy stood up looking aghast and told him exactly that.
"Draco Malfoy! Having an unmarried girl anywhere near your room? Think of the scandal and her tarnished reputation!"
"Grandma, you are from the 1800's," he said with exasperation. "Times are different now. She can come into my room if she wants to and no one will care. Come on, Ginny." He opened the last door in the hallway and let her enter. The Matron continued to mutter angrily to herself, but found a small painting to settle into in the corner and didn't say anything further to them.
Draco's room was decorated in silvers, greys and green, just as one might expect, but Ginny found that it wasn't oppressively so. There was a twin sized bed pushed against the wall to make room for a large hardwood desk and a handsome iron lamp. A green leather trunk, which was most probably his Hogwarts trunk judging by the Slytherin seal on the lid, stood at the end of the bed, partially open to reveal books, various small items and untidy robes. Past the windows facing the same garden as the library on the opposite wall stood several bookcases displaying family pictures, quidditch paraphernalia, colorful bottles of liquid and one, old stuffed bear. It looked very much like a teenager's room, but with fewer posters on the wall than she had.
Draco sat on a little swivel stool at the desk, put away a few quills and rearranged a few large sheaves of paper. "Sorry," he said with false brightness, "I didn't expect anyone to come here, so I left everything like it was."
"I like it this way. It feels more real than a perfectly clean room." She examined the bottles, trying to guess what was in them. "What's this one?" she asked, pointing to an orange liquid.
"That's actually pumpkin juice. I like keeping snacks in here when I'm... doing... stuff." He closed a leather portfolio case quickly and seemed to feel like he'd said too much.
Ginny sensed an opportunity. "What's that?" She walked up behind him and peeked inside the portfolio.
"No! They're... they're not done yet!"
"I'm sure they're fine. Let me see!"
The case slid off the polished desk surface and fell open on the floor. Most of the pictures stayed in the portfolio, but one slipped out, facedown. Quickly she stooped and picked it up before Draco could get up off the stool.
It was a watercolor painting of the garden. It was the same view outside the window almost exactly as it looked right now, but the sunset colors were lighter. The leaves of the trees were distinct in darker green and she noticed that a little artistic liberty had been taking in creating a pattern of falling petals.
"Draco... it's beautiful." As she handed it back to him, she saw that a little paint had smudged on her finger. "You just did that, didn't you?"
Not looking at her, he nodded. "I was doing it when you got here."
"When did you start painting?" He nervously started talking about how it used to be his mother's hobby and when she started teaching him. He brought his portfolio to the bed and sat beside her while she leafed through them.
"Yeah, my father thinks it's all nonsense. He says I should be learning fencing or... politics or something." Ginny didn't really know what to say to that, so she just straightened the paintings and zipped the portfolio closed. Draco set it casually in the open trunk and sat with his back against the wall so that his feet dangled off the edge of the bed. While she did the same, he kicked off his shoes.
"So," she said, trying to keep the silence from creeping back in, "Are you going to tell me what you were thinking about?"
Draco bit his lip and rearranged a strand of blonde hair with a shaky. "This!" He seized her shoulders and kissed the beautiful lips of her shocked face. Her hands instantly came up and shoved his chest violently, breaking them apart with a loud, wet sound. Her hand cracked across his cheek.
The white-hot fury across her face informed him that he should leave her personal space as soon as possible, which he did with all haste, jumping straight off the bed. "What the hell was that?" she demanded, barely keeping herself from screaming.
"You asked me what I was thinking about!"
"Well yeah, but I expected you to tell me, not just shove your tongue down my throat." Wildly, she looked around the room as though she expected someone else to be standing there, but she didn't. Even the one, lonely picture frame was empty. "She's gone! Matron Malfoy left! Do you think she saw?"
Draco turned to glance at the frame. "I don't know. She might have left earlier- the other portraits always want something from her, but she might also be off to tell my parents." Suddenly, he looked quite anxious. He went to the nearest bookshelf and took down a sheet of completely black parchment. He folded it quickly into a paper airplane and wrote a few words on it in silver ink. Then, he opened the window and hurled it outside. Ginny looked from the window to him. When he noticed her, he said, "Oh. That was a message to the house elf. She's going to see where Matron Malfoy is."
Once again, Ginny refused to let the silence grow. "You were completely out of line."
"I know, I know, but..." Gingerly, he sat down on the edge of his bed, not too close to her in case it angered her, but not terribly far away, either. "You said that after you leave, none of this happened, right?"
"Then does it matter?"
"We would know."
"I'm okay with that," he said instantly.
She looked at him from the corners of her eyes with a scathing expression, but quietly began to think to herself. Before now, she had only known Draco through Harry and Ron's stories and they seemed to have sworn to hate him. She, personally, had learned more about him in the last five minutes than the whole of her time at Hogwarts. Sure, his family was snobby and prejudiced, but he didn't seem to share the complete and total bias of his parents (not exactly a point in his favor, but considering the environment in which he grew up, that was a lot to hope for). In fact, he had treated the house elf far better than she had expected. She also wasn't going to deny that he was handsome; he really was. She was sure that plenty of Gryffindor girls had thought about becoming house traitors if there was a good enough opportunity.
Ginny knew that this wasn't precisely something that she could decide upon through pure logic and justification, but one more thought crossed her mind that sealed her next action: If she didn't do anything, if she walked away, would she regret it more than taking this chance?
Slowly, she took his pale hand. "I think we have 20 minutes left. What wacky hijinks can we get up to that won't exist after that?"
"Really?" His slate-grey eyes widened with surprise.
"Really. No strings attached."
Hardly daring to trust either her or himself, Draco reached out his other hand and drew her close to kiss again- this time without the panic of taboo. His lips were softer than she had expected and his breath, warmer. They were suddenly disturbed by the return of the black airplane, which gently landed on top of Draco's head. He opened it and read the brief message inside, then threw it aside. "She didn't see anything and Bonna's going to keep her in the kitchen for the rest of the time."
"Great!" She seized the front of his turtleneck and planted a hard, passionate kiss on his mouth. Instinctively, his arms encircled her and crushed her body close to his. He felt like he was on fire. His skin was hot to the touch, but she just wanted to touch him more. Her hands followed the outlines of his chest and arms, teasingly tugging at the hem of his shirt. He responded in kind, tracing the collar of her blouse, then daringly dipping down to trace little circles on her breasts. She gasped and stiffened, but his next kiss made her melt in his arms. She even grinned when he swept his thumb over the pert nipple.
Checking her face for approval, his fingers dexterously unbuttoned her jeans and helped her slide them down her hips. "Is... is that a ladybug?"
Ginny looked down and blushed. "Yes. I wasn't really expecting anyone to see my underwear today."
Draco chuckled. "I think it's cute." He moved up beside her and kissed the side of her neck where her heart pounded. His lips tickled her skin, causing her to laugh nervously. "What's wrong?" he asked her earlobe quietly.
"It's just that... well; I've never... done anything past kissing." Her face colored scarlet.
"Really? I'd heard you've had tons of boyfriends." Ginny sat up angrily, but Draco quickly put a calming hand on her shoulder. "I just said I'd heard! I didn't mean anything by it. I'm sorry."
"Well, I have had a few, but that doesn't mean I let them get anywhere."
Draco kissed the back of her hand. "Then I will be duly honored by your trust." He brushed his lips against her cheek and caressed her shoulder. She watched his fingers dance down her body enjoying how they felt through the thin material of her blouse but she once again stiffened when his hand traveled south of her immediate comfort zone and her hands came up to push him away.
"It's ok," he said to her soothingly. "If you're self-conscious, you can close your eyes. I don't want to take advantage of you and if you're really uncomfortable, tell me to stop and I will. Is that ok?" He smiled into her face until she smiled back and nodded. When she closed her eyes, he kissed the lids softly and his hand finally reached between her legs.
He only touched the outside of her panties, slowly stroking her lips in simple lines, but each movement felt intense and exciting. She turned her face into the juncture between Draco's neck and shoulder, sighing with pleasure. The rhythm of his hand refused to vary, stroking her continuously until her knees trembled. He altered the placement of his hand so that his strokes now ran just between her lips. She gasped and clung to his arm.
"Are you ok?" he murmured. She nodded against his neck. "Do you want me to keep going?"
"...Yes," she finally whispered when she thought she would go nuts if he didn't do more.
She felt the band of her panties stretch away from her body and new, firm warmth press against her. Draco's long forefinger gently separated her lips and touched her tender heat.
"If you clamp your legs together, I can't move my hand."
Quickly, the softest part of his finger found her sensitive pearl and teased it, pulling the hood gently from side to side. He began to draw tiny little circles around her center, but slowly. He watched her mouth fall open and heard her breath come in little gasps with the completion of each circle. Finally, after judging that she had grown used to this pace, he allowed his hand to move gradually faster and faster. Now, her breath came in squeaks and her toes curled tightly.
Expertly, he allowed his finger to brush gently against the clit with every pass, which produced the most delicious, throaty moans from the lovely redhead. He felt his forearm begin to ache, but ruthlessly continued his ministrations. His reward was a break in his date's voice followed by her body winding itself tightly and then exploding into waves of ecstatic motion that shook the little bed. He rode through her orgasm until each twitch of his fingers produced a shocked whimper and her body became still.
"Master and Miss!" squeaked a high voice urgently from the doorway. "It's time for the Miss to go! Makes yourselves decent!"
"Ah!" Ginny yelped, falling straight off the bed. She struggled with her jeans and got to her feet, not daring to look at Draco out of embarrassment. He followed her out of the room where Bonna waited for them.
"Are you going to tell my parents?" he asked the elf, trying not to sound like he cared.
"Well..." said Bonna, sizing him up, "Not if they don't asks me. I figures you're old enough to decides what you do for yourself. Nice to meet you, Miss." She winked roguishly and scampered back in the direction of the kitchen.
When they reached the Red Room again, the butler escorted them back to the sitting room where their parents waited, clearly having sat in uncomfortable silence for some time. Draco took her hand and bowed over it politely, then offered to show Ginny and Mrs. Weasley to the front door with utmost politeness. Mrs. Weasley thanked him with surprise and took her shawl from him. "Let's go, Ginny, dear."
"Just a minute, Mom. He has my jacket." She took it from him and smiled, but was taken aback when his face remained completely blank. "D-Draco?"
"A pleasure to see you, Miss Weasley," he responded in an even tone, holding out her jacket for her to put her arms through. She followed her mother, glancing over shoulder at the door her date had just firmly closed.
"How was it, Ginny? Was he polite?" asked Mrs. Weasley anxiously.
"Yeah... Yeah he was... nice." She assumed an expression of complete indifference and shoved her hands in her jacket pockets. "Let's go home." She curled her fists, but felt something foreign and took it out. It was a completely black square of parchment that had been folded in quarters. Surreptitiously, she opened it and read, in silver ink: