…unded like thunder. . . .” Hermione whispered.

Blue light glittered in the distance and her eyes widened.

“Oh Merlin!” she glanced behind them in horror. “The Storm-Chaser pack!”

There was an explosive crack, louder than a gun-shot, a faint wiff of ozone that raised every hair on her body, and then a blinding jagged blue flash that struck Hati’s back flank. The only thing Hermione could compare it to was the time she’d stuck a fork in the toaster when she was a child, but this was so much worse. It went through her in a shivering, coursing blast, and threw her off Hati’s back. The Warg shrieked, knocked off his own feet and spun almost ninety degrees before he collapsed to the ground.

Hermione didn’t remember hitting the ground. The world tilted and she swooned, her mind quiet and empty. For awhile she floated blissfully in a place where she didn’t even know her own name.

Waking up was painful. Her whole body felt raw, almost burned. Her limbs twitched oddly. She groaned and blinked as light assaulted her eyes. It took her another few minutes to sit up and to slowly become aware of the sounds around her. Her sunstone was lying naked on the ground, providing light. Hati was on his feet though he limped. He was holding his back leg up off the ground. Raziel was standing in front of the giant wolf, its head caught between his hands. He was speaking to it harshly in German but Hati kept snarling and shaking him off.

“I don’t understand this,” Raziel burst out unhappily when Hati slunk away from him again, massive tail between his legs, to sulk. Raziel noticed Hermione staring dazedly at him. “The Wargs have never disobeyed me before.” His face twisted. “Alekos is my second. He has always been loyal! What is happening?”

“Maybe you’re being an asshole and pissing everyone off,” she rasped, and then was surprised at herself.

Raziel regarded her in equal surprise. He strode over and knelt beside her. “How are you feeling?”

“You electrocuted me,” she spat. Unable to add ‘You son of a bitch!’ because it was too ironic. She supposed she’d just learned what it felt like to be tasered. She had no idea how much time had passed. Her throat was raw and scratchy. She licked her lips and croaked fearfully. “Is Draco dead?”

Raziel shook his head. “The hour is not yet up. Here. Drink this.” He held out a water-skin bag to her.

She took it from him and realized stupidly that it was the medicine she’d gotten from the Nefiliod. She shook her head, lowering the bag. “This is for Malfoy.”

“There’s enough for you as well. Take two mouthfuls.”

Hermione hesitated, feeling the weight of the bad, before uncapping the skin. There was no telling what the concoction in the bag was, especially if it came from those awful mud-demons. But Raziel seemed to think it was fine and she didn’t have seven years of drinking nasty potions under her belt for nothing.

She scrunched her eyes, plugged her nose, took a large gulp . . . and was pleasantly surprised. The mixture was slightly milky and chalky but there was an undercurrent of sweet fruit. Like pear.

“The main ingredient is a fruit the Cecrops grow in caves deep underground,” Raziel told her. “The fruit itself is a lot more potent right off the tree, but doesn’t usually survive trips to the aboveground. It also tends to have strange side-effects.”

She stared at him. He was imparting his knowledge to her. So certain of his victory that he was already patching her up and trying to teach her how to survive.

She swallowed and the elixir went down her throat like a cool, numbing wave of relief. Another large swallow and she felt her head un-fog and even her sinuses clear. The tense muscles in her back loosened and aches she hadn’t even known she had melted away as her strength return in a vivid rush that made her inhale sharply.

“Better?” the wolf-lord asked.

Better than better. She felt stronger than she had since she first arrived.

She drew the blade in one quicksilver slash and plunged it towards his chest at point-blank range. The wolf-lord vanished like a ghost and she ended up having to catch herself before she fell. She knelt there, eyes narrowed, listening as hard as she could. He didn’t want to kill her, so she kept the blade close to her body. He couldn’t ambush her if he knew she would injure herself.

He reappeared, landing with a muffled thump a few feet to her right. She reacted instantly, sending a blast of power tearing across the forest floor. Raziel lithely swept to the side and right into Hermione’s path. She sprang up from her knees, dagger clutched horizontal to spear him, a war cry on her lips.

The wolf-king looked amused.

He caught her arms with a condescending sneer only to immediately shove her away from him hard when the knife straining towards him exploded with light and lengthened, the blade surging forward to stab him in the chest. The wolf-lord shouted and stared down in shock at the line of blood that appeared. Hermione fell hard but kept her grip on the knife and grinned with proud triumph, viciously pleased with herself for wiping the smug look off his face.

The bastard had agreed to this thinking he could play with her like a dog with a chew-toy. He was going easy on her, giving her a blatant target only to dance away at the last second. Perhaps he thought he was being kind. After all, what could a poor, pathetic human do against him if he used his full power? Malfoy had only won because he had the element of surprise. And she—well, the dog was foolish to think he knew all her tricks.

Not wanting to give him time to recover, she slashed at him again only to have him side-step the blast easily. She couldn’t do that too many more times. She switched the blade to her left arm. Her right was already numb and she couldn’t catch her breath. Sweat poured down her face, her left arm shaking hard and now throbbing even though she hadn’t used it yet. Her blasts were still less powerful than Malfoy’s had been but the knife was taking more energy from her. Hati was watching from the sidelines, ears pricked, eyes intent. She didn’t think she could count on the Warg for any more interference.

She scrambled to her feet and lunged again but she’d completely lost any element of surprise. Raziel grabbed her and swung her around, at the same time tapping her elbow with his open palm. The dagger flew from her hands.

Hermione gaped dumbly at how easily he’d gotten her to drop the blade. With a snarl, she ripped herself from his grip and dove for the knife, but he merely pushed her out of the way and sent her sprawling to the ground.

Breathing hard and face down in the dirt she slowly turned to look up at the wolf-lord standing over her. She was exhausted. The knife had drained her to the point of light-headedness.

“You did well,” Raziel told her and his eyes held something like possessive pride. “Much better than I had believed you could. Had I been human, you could have won. But we’ve spent too long out here. It’s time to end this foolishness.”

Gaze locked on hers, he reached down to grasp the knife. Hermione couldn’t breathe. His fingers curled around the hilt and the knife roared.

There was an explosion of light and Raziel collapsed to his knees screaming as the blade lit up, burning with white and yellow and blue and arcing with electricity. No, the electricity was being sucked into it. The wolf-lord shrieked, clawing at the hand that held the knife, unable to let go.

Hermione pushed herself up and turned over, propped up on her elbows to watch. Raziel bucked and lurched as if struggling against an invisible enemy. He squirmed and fought like an animal caught in a trap. But he couldn’t let go. Blood dripped from the hand holding the knife, his fingers locked helplessly around the hilt and squeezing against his will, taut like rigor mortis.

His head snapped forward with a howl of agony and rage. His teeth closed on the knife, biting it the way an animal would bite something that had hurt it. It was odd to see a human being doing it. He ripped the knife from his own hand, snarling and shaking the blade like it was offending prey. The knife let out a metallic ringing squeal, shooting spellfire and burning sparks into the wolf-man’s face. Raziel screamed, spitting it from his mouth and scuttling back before collapsing ungracefully.

The blade wasn’t finished though and Raziel slapped his ruined hands over his ears as the dagger started resonating a head-splitting, high-pitched shriek like metal twisting and deforming. Hati flattened his ears, sat back on his haunches and howled mournfully. With a last blinding belch of light and magic the blade took its new shape.

Hermione weakly got to her feet and limped to where it lay still shining and sparking slightly. The hilt was now bone, smooth ivory. A thin, clawed paw shaped out of silvery metal wrapped around it and coated the end of the hilt and the flared part just beneath the blade. Two metal rings, one hooked on the other, hung off the base of the hilt. The blade was gently curving, thinner and longer then in its last form. It looked almost delicate.

Hermione wasn’t fooled. The hilt was still bloody. Her face remained impassive but her fingers trembled when they brushed the stock. When nothing happened, she steeled herself and grabbed it. The sensation was like frozen wolf jaws snapping onto her arm. She jerked and barely kept herself from screaming. She wouldn’t be able to hold it for long.

Her arm held stiffly out to the side, she closed in on Raziel, who lay shuddering and dazed on the forest floor, blood dripping from his lips as he licked his wounds. He was lucky to have been able to break the knife’s hold. Had he been anyone less powerful, he’d be dead. Hermione could feel the sickening bloated pleasure and satisfaction from the blade. It was well fed.

Raziel looked up in startled confusion as she put the blade to his throat.

“You said I might have won if you were human. Well you’re not human, and I still win.” She spoke slowly and deliberately, eyes alight with terrible promise.

The words sank in and rage suffused Raziel’s face but he dared not move. “You little fool! If we don’t kill him. . . .”

“NO!” Hermione screamed it, cutting him off with all the anger and frustration this whole horrible situation provoked and valiantly covering that part of her that was so exhausted she wanted to collapse to the ground and cry. “I don’t want to hear it! Shut up! Shut up or I’ll kill you!”

The white wolf shut up, stunned.

She steadied herself, pushing down the overwhelming anger. “We’re doing this my way now. You understand? You lost, so you have to let me give Malfoy his medicine. And if you go back on your word, I’ll do just like Alekos said I would. I’ll tear your pack apart!” the last was a harsh growl spat hysterically into Raziel’s face. “No, shut up!” she yelled when it looked like he was going to speak. “Then we’re going to sleep and then, you and Alekos are going to tell me every single damned thing you know, or think or thought you knew about this God and this Curse and those awful words and what it all has to do with me and Malfoy.”

“Hermione. . . .”

“Swear it.” The blade dug into his throat. “Swear it or I’ll kill you! I’ll slice your head clean off and laugh while I do it!” There was no hesitation now, only a roaring inside her just as mean and heartless and ready for the slaughter as any predator.

Raziel licked his bloody lips, pondering his options. He was too weak to fight at the moment, but he could still press the issue later. If he killed Malfoy and turned her, she’d kill him if it was the last thing she did. She made damn well sure he could see that in her eyes.

“I swear it.” He said finally.

“You’re going to listen to Alekos, and if he really does have an all-important reason why Malfoy needs to live, you’re going to swear never to hurt him.” She pushed her short sweaty locks out of her face with her free hand, remembered her butchered hair and fought not to cry. That part was Alekos’ fault.

“That is not a hard thing,” the wolf agreed.

“And you’re going to leave us alone. You’re just going to leave us the hell alone!” she screamed.

“Yes” he whispered, watching her eyes with animal stillness. There was no fear on his face and she suddenly and pointlessly remembered some documentary about wolves she’d once seen on the science channel and wondered if she’d just alpha’d the alpha male.

“Do we have a deal? Your life for our safety? Otherwise I’m going to slice your throat. That’s the law of the jungle isn’t it? I beat you, so I can kill you if I want.”

“Yes. We have a deal.”

“And Alekos and I will make you sorry if you break your word.”

“Put the blade away, Hermione. Before it kills you.”

“Shut your mouth!” she screamed. “Don’t you patronize me!” Her hands shook like leaves, and she fumblingly sheathed the blade. There was an instant of panic as her fingers remained locked around the hilt and she thought it might be too late, but then her fingers uncurled, stiffly and painfully and she released the dagger. The relief was instant and exhausting.

She slumped to her knees.

“You knew I couldn’t hold the blade,” Raziel said after a moment, still recovering and almost too weak to move.

Her head snapped up, eyes dark with fury. “Just like you knew what your bite would do to Malfoy!” she hissed viciously.

His eyebrows rose. Merlin, if he laughed now, she’d kill him. Screw morality and not kicking a man when he was down.

She shook her head, sniffling and wiping away tears, though she didn’t seem to be crying. “I wasn’t sure.” She admitted. “Historically a Subtle Knife has had one and only one handler. I think only Malfoy and I can hold it in relative safety. Sort of. I mean, it’s not real safe anymore. I got the idea from Malfoy. The other day he told me how it sucked your energy out when he fought you. I figured it had gotten a taste of you, of your magic and your blood, the other night, and I promised it that if it let Alekos hold it without hurting him then it could have as much of you as it could get.” She paused thoughtfully. “I don’t let it kill, and that’s what it really wants.”

“You should get rid of it.”

“No. Not yet.”

Raziel crawled painfully upright and, as if that were a signal, Hati bounded into the clearing to sniff at him, whimpering and whining. “Oh, now you like me,” the wolf king muttered, grasping the large muzzle and petting. Hati wagged his tail.

Hermione slowly gathered her things, tucking the medicine and the sunstone back into her fur pouch.

“Come.” Raziel held out his hand. “Hati will take us back to your camp.”

Hermione tentatively put her hand in his, not sure if she really wanted him to touch her. He drew her forward in a smooth, powerful motion and quickly lifted her as Hati dropped his belly to the ground. He settled her on the wolf’s back and slid on behind her, clasping an arm around her waist. She grabbed at the arm reflexively, opening her mouth to tell him to let go but the Warg stood and leapt off into the trees. She grabbed onto its fur instead and just held on.

The Warg’s pace was almost leisurely, but she was too tired to complain and tried to enjoy it instead. This was probably the last time ever she’d get to ride a giant wolf.

“Hermione, I have a favor to ask you,” Raziel said quietly after some silence.

“What is that?” she asked.

“You’ve weakened me drastically. I will not recover my full strength for some time. You were right when you told me ‘the law of the jungle’ as you call it. Had you been a wolf, you could have killed me and taken my place. As it is, some of my younger pack males will see this as a grand opportunity to raise their place in the hierarchy. They are young and stupid and do not have the experience to properly lead this pack. It will not stop them from trying to kill me and they may gather together in a group to do it. If that happens my pack will fall into disarray and we will be easy prey for many creatures that lie beyond our borders.”

“Including this God you spoke of.”

“. . . Yes.”

“What do you want from me?”

“You beat me in battle. They will be confused and afraid of you. Allow me and my faithful to bed down beside you for the next few nights, until your Malfoy awakens. Help us fight if the young decide to rebel.”

“You’re asking a lot.”

“It is not just my life on the line.”

Hermione considered this. If the young males killed Raziel, they’d kill her and Malfoy next, or change them. “Alright,” she agreed finally, knowing it was beneficial to her to keep the pack around until Malfoy woke anyway.

The arm around her waist squeezed slightly in what might have been gratitude. Or might have been a subduing hold, she realized a second later when his other hand tilted her chin gently and the wet swath of Raziel’s tongue cut across her throat. Her body went rigid screaming alarm just before razor teeth sank into the side of her throat near her shoulder.

She screamed in distress and pain, fighting, kicking and bucking, against the grip holding her. Raziel shoved her forward, using his weight to pin her to Hati’s back before they could fall off. The teeth held as the wolf tasted her then released her as suddenly as they came. Raziel sat them back up, licking the mark soothingly but Hermione reached back and struck his head away.

“What did you do? What the hell did you do?” she shrieked hysterically, voice trembling and breaking. “Oh Merlin, did you change me? Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Did you change me!” She grabbed for the knife, ready to plunge it straight through his heart but he grabbed her hands.

“No. No. Shh. I’m sorry. I knew if I suggested it, you would reject the idea.”

“What did you do?” she howled out in anguish.

“It is only protection!” Raziel yelled back, shocking her into silence. He continued in a quieter voice. “You offered me protection, I give it back. It is a physical and magical mark. It is not much, but it will give you a measure of protection against other creatures you may meet. They will think twice about attacking you off hand. Natural and magical wolves will avoid troubling you, they may even help you.”

“Is that all it is?”

“Yes.” But she heard the moment’s hesitation.

“Your word?”

“My word.” He assured her.

She nodded finally, knowing if he was hiding something she couldn’t do much to drag it from him. “Don’t ever touch me like that again,” she hissed bitterly.

“You have my apologies, Hermione.” He said softly and she thought he might even mean it.

The fire was burning low when they stepped back into the campsite. It was obvious the fight had continued while they were away. Alekos was sporting a black-eye and torn clothes. The other three looked a bit worse for wear themselves but they were still successfully holding him down.

“Hermione!” Alekos wheezed out in despair as he saw the two of them step into view, leaving Hati in the woods.

“Ridya?” Raziel asked.

“The boy lives,” the dark wolf told them, stalking over to greet his king. “Alekos tried to take him and flee but we kept him at bay.” Red-eyes did a double-take at Hermione, staring piercingly at her bloodied neck for several seconds before the wolf-man settled back on his heels calmly.

“Well,” Moriel said, grinning savagely. Hermione could almost see his tail wagging. “Are we going to kill the boy now? Can we feed him to the marsh trolls afterwards?” He glanced at Hermione wickedly. “Maybe we can play with his head.”

“We’re not killing the boy,” Raziel cut in sharply.

There was stunned silence. Moriel’s grin faltered. “W-what? But what about. . . .” he trailed off looking between his master and the girl.

“We’re not killing the boy,” Raziel repeated. “She won.” He looked like he really hadn’t wanted to add that part.

“She WHAT?”

Leliel sat up quickly in confusion, inadvertently releasing Alekos. She sputtered, “That can’t be, can it? How could. . . .”

Raziel glared at them. “Draco Malfoy is now under my protection and will not be harmed. . . .”

“You must be joking!” Moriel roared, suddenly on his feet. “She’s a weak little human. She’s a field mouse. One bite from my jaws and. . . .”

Raziel backhanded him and the young wolf flew backwards so hard that when he slammed into a tree something cracked. He fell to the ground, grabbing his side and struggling for breath.

“She bested me in battle,” Raziel said calmly. “The boy is spared.”

Moriel stared at her in horror and confusion.

Alekos sat up slowly. “You’re not joking, are you?” he whispered. “She really did it? She really won? How?”

“She set a trap and executed it masterfully.”

Alekos seemed to slump in relief. “Then they’re both safe.”

Raziel nodded and the two wolves looked over to where Hermione had Malfoy’s head propped up in her lap. Ridya was holding the medicine bag, tipping it gently to spill the liquid into the boy’s slack mouth. Hermione massaged Draco’s throat, helping him swallow.

“A little bit at a time,” Ridya was saying in his deep rumbley voice. “He does not need to drink it all at once. Perhaps only a third now and another third in a few hours.”

Raziel glanced at Alekos. “Your betrayal is not yet forgiven. But you will be given a chance to explain. We agreed on that. I warn you, if you cannot convince both her and me that the boy’s life is imperative, he will be killed.”

Alekos shut his eyes. “It is more than I had hoped for.”

Raziel showed his teeth. “Also we will address the utter madness that prompted you to send her to the borderlands. That was perhaps the most foolish course of action you could have taken. She’s lucky to be alive.”

Alekos wilted, looking sad and tired. “The God should have no special interest in her. She’s not involved.”

“She wouldn’t be here if she weren’t involved,” Raziel reprimanded coldly.

Hermione yawned hugely. Hati had come over to investigate Malfoy. He poked at the still body with his nose until Hermione swatted him. The huge Warg backed away in shocked insult and sneezed before making himself comfortable and laying down by the fire. Drooping and eyes already closed, Hermione crawled over and curled up next to the animal, mumbling something about fleas.

“I’ll watch over him while you sleep,” Ridya assured her.

Hermione nodded without opening her eyes.

Raziel and Alekos looked on.

“We shall see where this leads,” the wolf-lord whispered.

-to be continued-

Next Time: A small peek at what happened in the meeting between Dumbledore and Lucius. Draco wakes up. The Servants of the God come to play and Alekos has a whole hell of a lot of explaining to do.


Nefiliod are made up

Cecrops is a greek creature

Dormiriad is a made up word. Dormir is to sleep in Spanish.

Hati is a name from Norse Mythology. It’s the name of the evil wolf, Skoll’s, brother. Skoll forever chases the sun. Hati will eat the moon during Ragnaro

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