Chapter Ten

The night was . . . awkward, to say the least. Hermione was certain it must be her new, sharper awareness of the energy others emitted with their emotional states that made her so keen to the bothersome tension in the air. Tom and Orias seemed content to carry on their conversation about the upcoming Samhein festivities, as thought either of them actually cared. Yet, she could not ignore that every now and again, Tom's gaze turned quite unfriendly when Orias wasn't looking, and there was an edge to certain things Orias said that could not be mistaken for anything other than barely veiled disrespect.

But their mention of the holiday only reminded her that before then, she'd have to go through her first full moon as a werewolf. Her state with her parents—well, with Mother, at the moment—seemed rocky, at best, and whatever was going on in her head, it was on Father to deal with, for the time being.

Neither of them were in a place to handle another new thing hurled at them because of her.

Tom reached over, idly taking her hand in his as he continued whatever he'd been saying to Orias. He didn't even seem to notice the gesture, himself, but she could swear the other wizard flinched, ever so slightly.

Forcing a gulp down her throat, she decided that just now she'd ignore that there was part of her content to sit back and soak in their subtle, territorial anger toward one another. Damn werewolf instincts.

As the other night, she reminded herself werewolves were no longer the maligned creatures of dark folktales they'd once been. Tom had claimed a courtship with her, and she and Orias were . . . well, they were clearly in some sort of relationship if he was feeling jealous.

If any two people in the world might help her keep this from her parents until she was certain they were ready to hear it . . . .

"I've something I need to tell the two of you." She noticed her speech slurring, and paused a moment, setting aside her cup as she gave her head a small shake.

"Sounds like someone's had a bit more than she can handle," Orias said with a snicker.

Tom folded his lips inward on a grin, far too gracious to poke fun at her, just now.

"Nonsense, I'm more sleepy than tipsy, but hush, this serious."

The mountainous wizard's brows shot up. "All right, then."

"Tom, you're probably going to think I should've told you this sooner, but it wasn't an attempt to keep something from you. You did sort of spring the courtship-thing on me without warning, in the first place."

Orias chewed at his lower lip, his gaze fixed on Hermione. She couldn't be about to inform Tom of what they'd done just before tonight's ceremony, because she said it was something she had to tell both of them. Folding his arms across his chest, he nodded for her to go on.

She turned her attention to Tom, waiting for his response.

His brows pinched together as he nodded. "Whatever it is, go ahead."

"Okay . . . okay . . . ." Drawing in a deep breath, she exhaled, slow and shivering. "Okay. The cure that you arranged? The werewolf bite? It, um, it's magic wasn't wholly absorbed in healing me. I went into this knowing there was a chance that might happen, and it turns out it is happening."

Tom's eyes widened. "You're a werewolf?"

She started at the sharpness in his tone, drawing an immediate apologetic look from him. "Not . . . not exactly, yet, but I won't be able to escape it when the full moon comes next week. I haven't—I haven't told my parents, yet."

"So, we're the only ones who know?" Orias asked.

Though she wanted to protect Fenrir—more than wanted to, she felt driven to, likely just another odd werewolf thing, she realized—she understood if it was learned that he knew she was turning and hadn't shared, he might be in trouble with Lord Riddle. Unless there was a reason he hadn't shared. "The one you sent, Fenrir Greyback, he knows. But, that's only because I felt the changes in myself and sought him out to ask him if they meant what I thought they did. I made him promise not to tell anyone."

Orias nodded. So, he'd shagged a werewolf. That was a new one on him. "Secret's safe with me, Little Witch."

Tom nodded, frowning in thought. "I see. And you want us to, what? Help you keep this from your parents?"

Her shoulders slumped at his question. "I wanted you to know, because I wanted you to know. But I would appreciate it if we could keep this to ourselves, for now. Please?"

After another moment of thought, Tom nodded. "All right. What's more . . . . We can make arrangements for you to be away from home for the duration of the next full moon. Something . . . coincidental so they won't piece together the timing."

"Thank you!" Before Hermione realized what she was doing, she'd thrown her arms around Tom's neck in a hug.

It was only when his arms closed around her, as well, and Orias cleared his throat in an awkward grumble of sound, that she started to pull back.

Tom bit his lip, though, catching her eyes with his as he held her in place against him. "In the spirit of full disclosure, then, there is something I must tell the both of you."

The witch's brows shot up as she waited, not at all hating the feel of Tom's body pressed to hers like this.

He looked from Hermione to Orias, and back. Tom dropped his gaze to her mouth, tracing her lips with his gaze before lifting it to her eyes, once more. When he spoke, his voice spilled out in a breathy whisper.

"I know about the two of you."

Her face fell and she blinked a few times in rapid succession before she could rightly process what she'd just heard. "That's . . . but . . . ."

Orias felt a strange rush of protectiveness—Lord or not, Tom Riddle could not possibly think it appropriate to penalize either of them for being together earlier that evening. The snogging just upstairs barely an hour ago? Certainly, but nothing more. "We didn't know you were going to go so heavy-handed and announce your courtship to everyone who matters before even telling the woman you're courting!"

Hermione still in his arms, Tom turned his head to look at Orias. "And had you known, that would've stopped you from pursuing her?"

Orias sat back, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "Sure it would."

Tom arched a brow. "For how long?"

"Five minutes." The blond man shrugged. "Ten if I had been in a really good mood at the time."

Snorting a chuckle, Tom shook his head. "At least you're honest."

"So what does this mean? What are you going to do?"

Returning his attention to the wolf-witch in his arms, Tom shifted his hold on her, pulling her into his lap. The surprise in her expression delighted him, as did the squaring of Orias' jaw he noticed from the corner of his eye.

"Well, I could tell you to never do it again, but I've a feeling such words would fall on deaf ears. A werewolf is drawn to whom they are drawn to for reasons that border on natural laws."

Her brows shot up, a hopeful gleam in her chestnut eyes, even as she noticed that she was rather enjoying the warmth of sitting so intimately with him. Hadn't Fenrir explained as much to her parents before they'd first met? About the role chemistry played in how his kind interacted with people? "You know about werewolves, then?"

Tom nodded, dropping his gaze to rake over her mouth, again. "So much. And what I mean to tell you—Mulciber, come sit over here with us."

"Oh, so, now you're just outright ordering me about?"

Pinning the larger wizard with a glare, Tom bared his teeth as he said, "Come, sit."

Hermione swallowed a gasp. A little, teasing thrill had coursed through her at hearing Tom growl a command that way. She turned with small, trembling movements to watch Orias as he grudgingly stood and crossed to sit on the sofa beside them.

When she returned her attention to Tom, he nodded, slipping a hand around the back of her neck and letting his fingers rest there.

"As I said, I will not try to stop you, as I think that would only create an uncomfortable situation for all three of us. I meant to tell you that in order for this to work, I'm going to set forth some rules."

The wolf in her snapped to attention at that, not liking this notion of being told what to do, at all. "Rules?" she echoed, narrowing her eyes.

"They're necessary," he explained, holding her gaze steadily.

Her eyes narrowed further, still. He'd managed to hit some nerve within her that had her primal instincts governing her behavior. She didn't even care to stop the little growl rumbling in the back of her throat.

Orias' brows shot up as he watched the interaction. He was suddenly not so certain doing as Tom had ordered and coming closer to them had been such a good decision.

Tom shook his head with a sigh. "Really, now?"

Hermione frowned, tipping her head to one side as they stared at each other. "You can talk about these rules of yours, but you can't force me to listen."

"Can't I?" He gripped his fingers into a fist in the hair at the back of her head and pulled tight.

She choked out a gasp as her head tipped back, and he leaned close, inhaling deep at the pulse in her throat. God, he could force her, couldn't he? She could already feel it, the sweet, aching pulse running through her at his brazen and dominating gesture. She could feel her eyes burning, with the same amber glow she'd seen from Fenrir that first night.

"Oh, bollocks," Orias' voice was barely a thread of sound through the room as he noticed it.

Tom straightened enough to meet her gaze. "Now, you see, Hermione, you're making me use what I've learned about werewolves against you. I know what that light in your eyes means, and it will be answered, but first we will discuss these rules. Are you going to be a good girl and listen?"

Swallowing hard, she nodded. He knew what the light meant, then by answering it, he must mean . . . . Oh, dear. She had to will herself not to think on that, or she would not be able to focus on a word he said.

"No one can know about the two of you. Keep things private, and you can carry on as you will. However, for all intents and purposes, are you mine. If anyone were to learn of you two, it would be embarrassing for all three of us, but extremely problematic for me as the leader of the Death Eaters."

She furrowed her brow. "Why?"

"Because the more loyal of them would believe you two have wronged me, and were I not to take action against you both, I would look weak. I inherited the role from my mother, and she ruled with an iron fist. I have managed to maintain order with a gentler touch, yes, but were I to hesitate in dealing with a problem that would presumably distract me from my duties, then my ability to lead will be questioned. I could be challenged." He gave a sideways nod. "Not unlike a wolf pack."

She nodded, though she was beginning to find herself fighting not to get distracted. Her prolonged placement over Tom's lap was making things uncomfortable for him, as well, if the sudden, rather solid warmth beneath her was any indication.

Unlike her, however, he seemed able to remain wholly focused on the discussion, for the moment. "The role of Lord—or Lady, in my mother's case, of course—has never been out of my family line. I don't know if it's true, but I was led to believe it is a magical legacy. I don't know what sort of impact such a shift in leadership could have on our society, as a whole."

"So, that's it, then?" Orias asked, arching his brow. "She and I can keep shagging, and you and her, what?"

Tom smirked, altering his grip on her hair just enough to brush the edge of his thumbnail along the back of her neck. He waited for her response, for her to shiver in his hold before he replied, "We, of course, will do what courting couples do. You seem under the impression that I am a eunuch."

Orias barked out a laugh. "No, no, I just . . . . Well, to be totally honest, you are right to think I'd have carried on however I wanted to, anyway, provided she was on board for it. I just didn't imagine you would be on board for it, My Lord."

Sighing, Tom's shoulders drooped a little, his attention never once having drifted from Hermione all the while. Her cheeks were flushed, and there was a gorgeous, hazy look in those glowing amber eyes. If he didn't give into her soon, she might just turn feral on them in her wolf's drive to get what it wanted.

Holding her gaze, still, he continued talking to Orias, though he leaned closer to her, so his breath whispered over her skin as he spoke. "The day I knew I wanted Hermione to stand beside me as my Lady, I committed myself to the notion of giving her whatever she desires. I had no reason to think the cure had gone and turned her into a she-wolf, at the time, but now . . . . Well, I'm grateful for my studies into the nature of werewolves, to say the least."

Orias narrowed his eyes as he looked from Tom, to Hermione, and back. "Are you really so sure I shouldn't be excusing myself from the room about now?"

At his question, the witch turned her head in Tom's loose hold. She caught Orias' gaze with her own, and damn if she didn't look utterly enticing, all riled up and fiery-eyed like that.

"Her look says otherwise, I think," Tom said, an edge of humor to his words. "You see, Mulciber, funny thing about werewolves. They're like engines that won't give out until they are absolutely spent. Especially the females."

She was dully cognizant of the fact that she should be insulted that she was being spoken of as though she wasn't in the room. But the low, purring pitch of Tom's voice as he held her against him, still, and the completely transfixed expression on Orias' face as he stared back at her, made it impossible to think about anything but how much she wanted Tom to pull away the layers of fabric separating their bodies and sink into her.

How much she wanted Orias to move just a bit nearer, to close his arms around her and rake his teeth along her throat as he held her, pinned for Tom's thrusts.

Her breath came out in a loud, shivering sigh and she could feel the warmth in her cheeks at the mental picture, but she couldn't help it. Her thoughts were absolutely ruled by her desires, right now.

Noticing the wash of color in her face, Tom smirked, dipping his head to catch her earlobe between his teeth. He nipped at the delicate skin for a few heartbeats before he continued, speaking so his lips moved, warm and wet, against her ear. "Once aroused, a werewolf is utterly insatiable until they're given release." Oh, how she was shivering against him just now was nothing short of delicious. "The way she's feeling right now, if we simply . . . leave her alone, there will be no settling down for her. No lessening of how worked up she already is; it will only get worse, leaving her in absolute agony until something soothes her by giving her what she needs."

Orias forced a gulp down his throat, unable to tear his gaze from hers, Lord Riddle's words taking on a strange, mesmerizing cadence as he went on. And damn, if he didn't feel as though whatever was about to happen in this room, he desperately wanted to be part of it.

"So, looking into her eyes, Mulciber," Tom said, not even bothering to hide the wicked grin curving his lips, "tell her, not me . . . . Do you really think you could be one to leave her to such agony?"

Before he even realized what he was doing, Orias had shifted closer. Pulling her back to lean against his chest, he brought his mouth down on hers.