Chapter 16: Fondling

Disclaimer: Anything recognizable is Rowling and Meyers. I don't own any of it.

"You're a great, big bloody hypocrite you know that?" Ginny growled, the moment her gaze lifted to see Harry hobble through the door late Monday evening. Though the usual hard glint that shone in her eyes when she used that tone of voice was gone and he found only tenderness in the warmth of her brown depths.

She didn't cry out in relief, even if the tension left her and her body visibly sagged at the sight of him.

In the sterile light she stood out like a beacon calling him home. She was a burst of colour amidst a sea of white; sitting in her bed propped up by a mountain of pillows, covered in starchy hospital blankets.

"You've let them keep me stuck in this bed nearly a month! Yet you get attacked by a bunch of vampires on Friday and you've already escaped the hospital," she grumbled, though only half-heartedly. Even as she berated him, Ginny's hand reached for his.

"Technically, I'm still in hospital," Harry pointed out, a broad smile of his own breaking out across his tired features.

"You mean prison. How did you escape?" Ginny asked, finally clasping her hand with his and heaving him forward.

"Preparation - years of it," he grinned, falling gracelessly onto her bed.

"What?" she laughed, bringing one hand up to cup his cheek as the fingers of her other hand stroked at his temple. Harry's eyes slid closed and he leaned into the feeling. Her hands were soft and warm, her touch a balm that soothed his very soul. He was close enough to inhale the flowery sent of her, to feel the warmth roll from her body and the silky tickle of her hair on his cheeks.

She felt like home. He didn't need to say the words, she already knew.

"The Healers at Braverman's have got nothing on Madam Pomfrey. Leaving was easy," he murmured into the quiet,

"Like I said, you're a great, big hypocrite," Ginny murmured. The warmth of her words fanned out against his skin, the gentle brush of her fingertips tracing the planes of his face bought him closer still, until they were so close they breathed as one.

Her forehead came to rest against his and for a moment they were quiet.

"Edward told me what you did."

The gentle stroke of her fingertips stilled as her hands came to rest on his cheeks. His eyes slid open to look up into hers, soft and warm, just like her hands. A smouldering fire burnt in those depths, so unlike the blazing one he was used to.

"Angry?" He asked, though he knew the answer already.

"Don't be dumb." Her thumbs brushed at the heavy bags beneath his tired eyes.

"Impressed?"

"As if," she scoffed with a roll of her eyes.

"Worried?" He asked and this time it was his hand that stroked along the gentle slope of her cheek.

"'course." Her hands fell away from his face and fell back into her lap and her shoulders lifted in the smallest of shrugs.

"You look like rubbish," she declared after a moment's pause.

She didn't make a fuss. She didn't fawn over the new scars that marred his skin – and she didn't need to. She wasn't that type of girl.

She didn't need to say the words. He already knew.

"All I need's bed rest, doctor's orders," he said, lifting his own shoulders to mimic her casual shrug. He leaned in closer, still, so that their lips were barely a millimetre apart. So close, that he felt her smile, rather than saw it. "And why would I stay in a hospital bed so far away when there's a perfectly decent bed right here?" he whispered, leaning up into the softness of her lips.


It wasn't the passionate and emotionally charged reunion like the ones found in the pages of a Mills and Boon romance, but there was gentleness to the moment, a quiet intimacy about it, that had Hermione slipping silently into the hall.

As she made her way down to the reception area, Hermione wondered whether they had, in all their years at Hogwarts, spent as much time in the hospital as they had in the month they'd been staying in Forks.

She faltered, caught on the edge of indecision. Hermione had a feeling Harry and Ginny would spend the night wrapped up in each other, and she didn't want to intrude on that but she wasn't entirely sure she could leave just yet. She hadn't had a chance to properly talk to Harry about his pinstriped visitor the previous morning, and she still couldn't quite figure out who he was or what the newspaper clippings he'd given Harry meant. She still wanted to know why there were so many vampires in Seattle, too.

Lingering in the back of her mind, there was the fact that she had missed two entire days off school. She shuddered to think of all the things she'd missed out on.

Sighing in defeat, she collapsed onto one of the threadbare couches that lined the nearly deserted waiting room. For some unknown reason, the beat up radio atop the Nurses station played Christmas songs in quiet harmony to the steady beat of rain. Somewhere in the distance she could hear the faint tap of a keyboard, but it was so still, so peaceful – so unlike a hospital that Hermione felt her body sag as her mind whizzed through the possibilities.

She still had the newspapers in her bag but she needed her books – and preferably a Cullen, to tell her why Seattle was host to such a large coven of vampires. Her school books, however, were still at home.

"Have Romeo and Juliet driven you out of their love nest?" Penny's voice drifted up from somewhere behind the tall front desk circling the Nurses Station.

"With gentle caresses and secret smiles," she sighed.

"Wish someone would give me a gentle caress," Penny grumbled. "Can't even get a decent fondle let alone a caress."

"I'm a dab-hand at fondling," a familiar voice spoke from behind her. "Just say the word and these magic hands are yours," George said brightly as he collapsed onto the couch next to Hermione.

"In your dreams," Penny scoffed before turning the Christmas carols up until they were louder than the rain.

"She'll come round," he shrugged, winking at Hermione.

"I'm sure," she replied with a roll of her eyes.

"It's only a matter of time, and these – " he wiggled his fingers in the air " – will be ready and waiting," he finished with a mad little eyebrow dance.

"That's repulsive," Hermione sniffed though there wasn't much heat behind her words.

"No," he began, lowering his hands to look seriously at her. "What's repulsive is what's going on in that room," he said, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder. "Bloke goes to the bathroom for a few minutes and comes back to that," he said, shuddering dramatically.

It was such a typically male thing to say that Hermione couldn't help the way her eyes hardened in his direction. He was so like Ron.

"Harry almost died, they're allowed to have a moment," she said quietly.

"Harry's always almost dying. He doesn't need a moment - he should be used to it by now."

"Between you and Ron I don't know that he ever actually got a moment," she muttered with a roll of her eyes. Though in the next second she realized it was the wrong thing to say when George's expression dropped.

"Ah, Hermione, don't compare me to that Git brother of mine," He groaned, falling back into the cushions. "It's bad enough that I have to see his freckly face when I go home tomorrow, he shouldn't be stealing my Git-free time, too."

She looked at George then, sprawled out on the couch, with his eyes closed and a grimace upon his face, and was rather surprised at the relative mildness of his expression.

"You don't seem too bitter about it. Considering," she probed, watching him carefully.

His chest deflated as he blew out one long, ragged breath before he opened his eyes slowly.

"Contrary to popular belief, I am a complex man."

She rolled her eyes and settled further into the worn cushions, casting him a level look.

"Ah the infamous eye-roll. My day isn't complete without earning one of those from you - though old Edward could give you a run for your money for best-eye-roller."

It was nonsensical babble designed to deflect and so she said, "We don't have to talk about Ron," with a small shrug of her shoulders.

"There's not a lot to talk about," he said quickly.

Their silence seemed to unsettle him though, and the Christmas music playing loudly in the background seemed to only add to the awkwardness.

"Look," he sighed, cracking the knuckles of his fingers. "Ron's a git, the biggest git in the entirety of gits – an even bigger one than Percy. Unfortunately he's still my brother and after Fred..." The words tumbled from him in one rushed breath and he stared resolutely down at his hands, rubbing the pads of his fingertips together. "I don't have to like Ron and maybe one day I'll forgive him, even if I never forget what he's done. I'll never trust him again but..." he sighed, clenching his fists, "He's my brother and I – if you tell anyone this I will deny it to my grave – I love him." He refused to look up at her, and his fists clenched even tighter together. "Which sucks a shit load of arse," he sighed, slumping back to stare up at the ceiling.

It wasn't something George had given up easily and it was more than she had expected him to share. If she were being honest with herself, she never expected the Weasley's to shut Ron out completely. He was family and that had a whole lot more meaning to the Weasley's than it did most people.

"Fred would be disgusted."

A grin broke out across his features, chasing away the awkwardness and lifting his mood instantly.

"Yeah, he would."

"Your Mum would be proud though, you know," Hermione said gently.

"You wouldn't tell her," he smirked, opening his eyes just enough to narrow them at her.

"No, but I wish I could," she sighed.

"She'd never believe you."

"Probably not. Worth a try though."

"She'll be in tomorrow – you can try your luck. Wouldn't mention anything about the party you and Harry had in Seattle, though."

"What did you tell your Mum about Harry's... accident?" asked Hermione, genuinely curious. She could only imagine Mrs Weasley's reaction. Her relationship with the Cullen's was strained at best and there would be no way she'd allow Ginny to stay knowing there were more vampires on the hunt so nearby.

"Nothing. Bill and Dad don't know either." He shrugged his shoulders noncommittally.

"What?" He added at her raised brow. "I've learnt a thing or two from 'The Golden Trio'," he teased.

"Don't," she groaned, hiding her face behind her hands. Out of all the things she had been called, of all the things Harry had been called, that had to be one of the worst.

"Why? I'm just saying, 'The Brightest Witch of Her Age' isn't the only one that can lie."

"Stop," she said, bringing her hands down to glare at his shit-eating grin.

"Does 'The Gryffindor Princess' not like what the public are calling her?" George taunted, his expression turning maniacal now.

"You are an absolute arse, George Weasley," she hissed, shooting daggers at him before leaping from the couch and striding out the door.

The sound of his hooting laughter followed her out in to the pouring rain.

She spent every one of the three minute drive home, cursing The Daily Prophet and their awful team of journalists.

Luna wasn't home when she got there.

Instead, emptiness echoed throughout the house when she walked through the front door. Cast in twilight, shadow lingered and the howling wind seemed almost deafening. The sense of aloneness was almost overwhelming. Her days on the run with Harry had long since passed but the damage had been done. There were few times when she could be alone in the dark now, without the presence of another or the comforting racket of a television.

She stood shivering in the entranceway, weariness and unease eating away at her. She couldn't go back to the hospital, George would annoy her to no end and the churning emptiness in the pit of her stomach longed to be filled - preferably with food not found in a vending machine.

Steeling herself, Hermione slammed the door closed and sprinted to the kitchen with her gumboots still on, flicking on every light switch as she went, global warming be damned. It wasn't that she was scared – she just didn't like the loneliness of the dark or the stillness of the quiet. There was the fact that Harry's pinstriped stranger knew exactly what she was doing the previous morning, lingering in the back of her mind also.

It wasn't until she had lit a fire, flicked on the stereo and muted the television that she finally toed off Rosalie's boots and shucked her raincoat, feeling marginally more comfortable. She lingered at the fire to warm her frozen fingers but it was only a moment before the dull ache in the pit of her stomach pulled her toward the kitchen.

She was definitely no Mrs. Weasley, but pasta bake with an actual oven as opposed to an open campfire, seemed easy enough. Dimly she remembered that George wasn't a huge fan of tuna. It was petty and childish and completely beneath her but her fingers reached for the can of tuna nevertheless. The potent smell of fish wafting up her nostrils was oddly satisfying, though the feeling didn't last long.

It wasn't long before her thoughts flitted back to Ron... to Ginny... to Harry... and then finally back to the pinstriped stranger.

He was obviously an Auror. Apart from the healers, Aurors were the only ones permitted to use magic within the walls of the Infirmary. There was also the fact that Harry mentioned the man worked for Keens; the name of the Head Auror Hermione had remembered reading in the article Harry's healer had given her on 'The European War'.

What kind of an Auror approaches a complete stranger for help? Hermione wondered as she bought the penne to boil.

There was little doubt in her mind that this is what the pinstriped stranger had wanted. Why else would he allude to the fact that the Auror office knew vampires were hunting Muggles by the droves? And judging from the Muggle clippings he'd given Harry, that's exactly what they were doing. Keeping the Statute of Secrecy was one thing but vampires were technically magical creatures and so fell under wizard law. Later, when she had been fed and dropped dinner to the others at the hospital, she would look through her books. She wasn't certain, but there had to be some... rationing on vampiric consumables.

Hermione shuddered at the coldness of the thought. Muggles, muggles not prey for vampires, shouldn't have to be sacrificed by the dozens to feed a coven of hungry vampires. The Cullen's alone were proof enough that it could be done without the loss of human life.

Surely the Department of Magical Creatures would have something to say about it? She thought as she grated cheese over the pasta.

If it could be done, if vampires could survive on blood that wasn't human, then why wasn't it law? And why would the American Ministry allowthe vampires in Seattle - right at their doorstep as the pinstriped stranger had pointed out – to murder so manymuggles? The fact that they were covering up the presence of a large coven of vampires was proved in the issue of Accio that the pinstriped man had given Harry.

"What does it all mean?" Hermione growled out loud, shoving the dish into the oven and slamming the door closed in frustration.

For a brief, guilty moment she wished she had the old Harry back: the conspiracy theorist that always dug deeper. She banished the thought as quickly as it came. She was frustrated at not knowing, being kept in the dark and fed scraps from some mysterious and all knowing stranger but the world was not going to implode.

She could keep for one restless, agonizingly long night and in the morning Harry would be rested and just as curious as her and then they could look through all the books she could find on the subject.

It was as she was nodding her head, trying to convince herself of this, that she noticed the neatly piled stack of notebooks atop the kitchen table. The potent smell of cooking tuna wafted along behind her as she reached for the top sheaf of paper.

It was a note written in flawless cursive:

I know missing two entire days off school must be testing the limits of your sanity. For the sake of your mental wellbeing (and subsequently Harry and Luna's) you'll find enclosed a complete transcript of the classes you've missed; word for word, because I know you would expect nothing less of a vampire repeating his senior year for the eleventh time.

Edward

It was by far one of the sweetest things anyone had ever done for her.


Power; it surged through every fibre of his being, filling him more completely than anything ever had before his turn. It was like air and sunshine and ecstasy all at once. It was life and never had he felt more alive than he did now. He was raw emotion and basic instinct and giving in to that, living like that was freedom. A freedom that he had never felt in all his years as a weak, pathetic human and with her by his side he felt truly unstoppable.

She sat before him, an image of fire and ice; her beauty untouched by time, light or decay. She had given him his power, this freedom – his life – and still she gave him more.

She had chosen him as her own and he coveted that like the prized gift it was because Victoria was wild and untamed. She existed on a plane that was all her own – she could have anything or anyone. She was the coldest, most beautiful creature he had ever seen and she wanted him.

"What would you do for me?" she asked him, with a hand held at the nape of his neck. The answer was simple, whispered into the darkness; words brushed against the smooth alabaster of her thighs.

"Anything."

Everything.

"You would kill for me?"

Her caress at his nape was not tender or gentle, but a pressure that was so heavy he felt her touch in his very bones. On his knees before her, he revelled in the feel of her wrapped above and around him, as hard, as dense and as cold as ice. Everything, everything about her was ice – even her love was so intense, so hard it was almost unbearable.

Almost.

Slowly, deliberately, she pulled the weight of her hand up to brush along the back of his skull and through his hair.

"Yes, I would kill for you. As you would for me," he murmured, laying his cheek against the smooth expanse of her thigh. Her hand on the back of his head stilled and he felt, rather than saw her body tense.

"As I have done for you," she corrected, bringing her fingers to curl tightly around the tufts of hair at the base of his skull. "So many lives I've given to you," she whispered, lowering her head down so her lips brushed along the shell of his earlobe. Her voice, sweet as honey, filled him completely.

"All wasted. So much I've done, given in the service of teaching you and still you cannot resist the thirst long enough to give me what I want... what I need. Have I not given you everything, Riley? Haven't I given you immortality?"

Her hair, like fire cascaded over her knees, over his back, engulfing them both in its cocoon. "Yes," he murmured into her dulcet strands. He wasn't sure whether it was shame he felt, kneeling beneath her with disappointment dripping from her every spoken syllable. She had given him power, beauty, eternal youth and he - he couldn't even give her the protection she so desperately sought.

He felt the power – the power she had given him – surge through his veins.

No, it wasn't shame that boiled beneath the surface – it was rage. His fist clenched and the floorboards beneath his hands turned to dust. He was not weak.

She did not need an army when she had him.

"I can protect you," he declared, lifting his chin to gaze into her eyes. Eyes that looked at him filled with scorn and disappointment. A menacing hiss ripped through his chest and her hand on the back of his skull tightened its grip.

"You can't even protect one human from yourself. How can you possibly protect me from an entire coven?"

There was no love in her gaze and none in her touch. It was only disappointment and disgust that coloured the tone of her voice.

"Why do you keep me if you don't want me? If you do not love me? Why keep me you think me weak?" he growled, moving to pull himself to his feet. Her grip on the back of his skull tightened and this time it was painful.

Rage, unadulterated and boiling, thundered through his veins and before he could think his hands clutched her thighs in his tight grasp. He would rip, he would tear, he would destroy and then she would see just how weak he wasn't.

In the same instant, Victoria's grip on his skull became crushing, so painful that a scream tore burst through his lips and in that instant fear replaced the anger. Her teeth were at his jugular as quick as his hands had tightened around her thighs. Her teeth, sharp and razor like bit into him, pushing... sinking in a bite that was nothing like the ones she'd given him before. This bite wasn't playful. It wasn't born out of pleasure and he found none from it. There was only pain.

She would kill him. She would rip, she would tear and then he would see just how weak he was. He howled, as the venom sunk into his skin, burning its way through him. The pain was blinding and all consuming.

It felt like an eternity before the pain lifted and in place of an endless death he found her lips this time, at his jugular. Then, when he felt the cool line of her tongue tracing along her bite, there was no more fear.

He was so raw, giving in to instinct... to emotion... to want.

"Don't mistake my reluctance for this," she growled, scratching her fingernails across the side of his neck, "as anything more than worry... as anything more than fear."

Again, her nails scratched along his skin, her tongue following their burning path. More than pain, there was pleasure and he gasped as it shuddered through him.

"I keep you because I love you – because I want you. I keep you because I need you. I don't want to die, Riley. There are seven in the Cullen coven. We are only two. Don't let them kill me," she whispered and the warmth of her breath fanned out across his skin.

No, he thought through the foggy haze of arousal.

She did want him. She just didn't want to die but more importantly she loved him. She had given him life and love and he would keep hers.

"I will protect you," he groaned, surrendering to the feel of her as she pushed him back on to the floor.

"Then make me an army. Give me more than just the two of us," she growled, ripping at his clothes, grazing the blunt ends of her teeth along the edge of his jaw.

"Yes, I'll give you more," he groaned, clawing at the ground as she gave him pain... pleasure.

"They have seven, I need more. Something has changed; the urge to flee has intensified in recent weeks. I need an army," she hissed against his skin biting, licking, and kissing her way down his neck.

"I'll make you more than seven. I'll make you twenty, thirty, a hundred," he growled, panting now.

"What would you do for me?" She asked lifting herself above him as her hands followed the trail her lips had traced.

"Anything."

Everything.


A/N: No Edward in this one, sorry folks. I'll make it up to you in the next chapter. I don't actually know how many times Edward's graduated high school, but neither did Google, so that's okay.

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