Chapter Eight

She awoke with a start, her vision hazy in the early morning light spilling through the narrow window overhead. Something . . . something had disturbed her sleep. Something that tied her stomach in knots and lodged an uncomfortable lump in her throat.

Hermione was immediately aware of the two wizards curled around her in slumber. No, whatever had woken her wasn't to do with them.

Then it happened—a deep, forlorn howl tore through the chateau's cellar. She recognized the sound on an instinctive level, it was one of mourning.

And she could no longer detect Fenrir's labored breathing from the other chamber. There was no mistaking what it meant, then, that the white wolf was lamenting a death.

The pounding of her heart against her ribs was sudden, nearly painful, and she burst into motion. Tearing herself out of Thorfinn's sleepy embrace, she tumbled straight off the bed and onto the floor. Just as fast, though, she jumped to her feet and ran to the bend in the wall. She had no capacity for noticing how the commotion had awakened him and Antonin, just then.

"Greyback," she shouted, surprising herself with the screeching tone in her voice. "Greyback!" No, no! This was impossible. He—he was strong, he had to still be there! He had to be okay, somehow.

Still, there was nothing but her own rapid breathing and the howls of the wolf.

She jumped at the feel of hands on her shoulders. Her movements frantic, she tore herself away from that grip. Tears she couldn't account for broke free to spill down her cheeks as she tried pulling at the damnable chain holding her in that chamber.

She couldn't be sad he was gone, she . . . she hated him. She was supposed to be glad he was gone, wasn't she? This was wrong! He was supposed to be alive, and she wasn't supposed to shed tears for someone like him!

Nothing made sense to her around the ache in her chest and the sour tinge in her stomach.

Thorfinn and Antonin exchanged a bewildered glance as the witch growled, her fingers scraping at the manacle around her ankle so hard she might draw blood any moment. Antonin gave the other man a meaningful nod and started for the other chamber.

"Greyback, answer me!" she tried again, her screaming voice taking on an edge of panic.

Thorfinn dropped down beside her, pulling her hands into his. Though he held firm, he was shocked at how strong her attempts to pull out of his grip proved.

"Let me go, Thorfinn! Let me go! I have to see him."

Antonin appeared at the bend in the wall, his features somber. He was cognizant of the way Hermione held her breath as she fell silent, as she turned her head to look up at him, a foolishly hopeful glimmer in her eyes.

Damn, she really had gotten to them, hadn't she? Antonin found he had to force a gulp down his throat. That he had to tear his gaze from hers and fix his attention anywhere else as he explained his findings. "I'm sorry. It looks like, with all those injuries for so long . . . his body finally gave out. He's gone, Hermione."

"No!" She shot to her feet and lunged at him, once more surprising Thorfinn as she ripped her hands out of his. The only thing that kept her from reaching Antonin was the stupid bloody chain. "I don't believe you! He can't be gone! He's the only one who understands!"

Despite her angry movements and her lashing out, Antonin closed the distance between them and threw his arms around her. She was shivering so hard, his own body shook with the force of it. He understood—not the way Greyback would've, clearly, but he understood that she'd never experienced this type of loss, before. Just as he'd predicted, she'd come to see Fenrir as part of her pack, and she was not prepared for that sort of bond to be severed so unexpectedly.

She screamed and raged and stamped her feet, her voice muffled against the fabric of Antonin's robes. Hermione couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so utterly useless. She was barely aware of Thorfinn climbing to his feet behind her, of the way he stepped close, resting his hands over her hips and dropping his cheek down atop her head.

"Now, isn't this a pretty sight?"

All three started at the new Dark Lord's voice slithering into the air of the chamber.

Hermione lifted her head, glaring chestnut eyes that were just a hint paler in color than usual locking on her former best friend. "You!" Again, she was a flurry of motion as the tried to pull free of her wizards. "This is your fault, you sick, sad, twisted thing!"

Piddle actually snickered at her venomous tone. "Well, yes, of course it is. I admit I'd wanted to keep him around a bit longer, in case the first injection didn't take, but . . . ." Those sparking green eyes of his narrowed as he stepped closer to her—but still not quite within her reach—"I see that's no longer a concern."

She unleashed another growl, tearing at the wizards trying to hold her back. But the Dark Lord's attention wasn't on her, anymore. Oh, for a moment there, it had been, but after a scrutinizing look, he shifted his gaze to Thorfinn, and then Antonin.

"I also see someone's not been wholly honest with me about the progress of my experiment."

Antonin swallowed hard, his icy eyes shooting wide. Thorfinn winced, cursing under his breath, and again, the man—if he could be called that—before them noticed.

"And to top it off, someone else was complicit in your deception?"

"They were protecting me," Hermione said in a hissing whisper that seemed too loud in the absence of the wolf's howls—the creature had fallen silent the moment the Dark Lord had appeared, and Hermione couldn't say she blamed her. "I don't know how I know that, but I do. They were protecting me because of the position you put them in! If you don't like it, you've got only yourself to blame!"

"Oh, sweet Hermione." Piddle let out a wistful-sounding sigh. "I can, in fact, blame anyone I like, and what I like is to let those who commit the act bear the blame. And the punishment."

She felt her heart drop into her stomach, even as the thought of them being punished for trying to help her set her blood boiling. "Don't you dare."

"When are you going to learn, no one has command over me. You two upstairs, now."

Even as Antonin and Thorfinn reluctantly moved to follow his orders, Hermione kept her attention locked on him. "If you hurt them, I swear to it, I'll murder you."

The Dark Lord's eyes widened in surprise and he choked out a hearty, genuine chuckle at that. He drew a deep breath, speaking only after he'd sobered from his laughter. "Bearing that in mind, I think I might just . . . whoops, kill them at some point. Hard to say, really."

"You do that, and I'll only make your death more agonizing."

His brows arched upward. "Will you, now?"

She could feel her features tighten in a merciless look as she held his gaze. "It will be so slow, so painful, that you'll wish you could have Fenrir's death."

Hermione wasn't certain what it was, whether it was her tone, or her expression, or some feral gleam in her eyes, but she knew—because after all, that was still Harry's face, and she could still read his expressions, no matter if he liked it, or not—he believed her.

His face twisted into a wrathful look as he turned on his heel and stormed away. "I'll have someone come down here and deal with the body, you know, before it starts to smell too bad."

And then, like that, he was gone. Emitting a soft growl under her breath, she turned and started examining what was in her chamber. She was not going to let this be her fate much longer.

The wolf let out a soft whining sound. Hermione wasn't certain how she understood what the creature was trying to communicate to her, but she did, all the same.

"I'm getting out of here, is what I'm going to do. We both are, Lady Wolf. I'll not let you suffer here."

Hermione crossed to the table where Antonin had performed her examinations. Surely there had to be something . . . .

Her Lady Wolf uttered a little howl, then, short and keening.

Hermione's eyes drifted closed as she felt tears trying to well up, once more. Greyback. "Thank you," she whispered, knowing full well the wolf could hear her. "I'm sorry, too."