This chapter was betaed by the wonderful brissygirl to provide a smoother reading experience. All remaining mistakes are my own. See the first chapter for disclaimers/additional warnings/summaries.

RECAP: Harry and Quinn are in the thick of a soulbond activation still. Theo and Charlie meet Ethan's chaotic family and find themselves happily accepted into the Hartwoods warmth. Quinn suffers from his end of the incomplete soulbond.

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It would haunt him.

There was no way he'd ever forget something said so earnestly and honestly. Quinn was sure that Harry didn't even know what was real at that point and what was just in his mindscape. He could he? This was new to him. At least, Quinn was almost sure that it was. Harry's words rattled around in his head, growing considerably louder the more he tried to push them away.

They'd been so simple, spoken so softly and sadly, as if the one thing that Harry wanted—and had literally asked him for—was the only thing that Quinn would deny him.

It hurt his heart.

It pierced his soul.

The awful ache throbbed again, burning in his chest as he lay atop the covers, protectively curled around Harry. He didn't want to leave. He didn't think he could. Just the thought of it made him dizzy with horror. The thought that Harry would be alone and unprotected because his Bonded were elsewhere. It was impossible to ignore this kind of instinctive pull.

It was also a terrible reminder that he was deathly close to a Submissive with open and active soulbonds, most of which were probably muted from the entirety of the crazy seals set into his body.

Even though he'd done his best to be sure that he could get them all removed, it was all taking so long. He'd had several requests expedited and rushed straight to certain family clans and yet the lacklustre response was too obvious to miss. And Quinn was there, heart open and bleeding, it seemed, just doing his best not to reach back for what he wanted.

It was too real. Too tempting. Too much of a good thing and-!

Harry was still there, trying his best, even with all of those seals around him. Quinn could just feel the magic thrumming and growing inside of him, a magical core that was gratefully restoring itself with the gentle assistance of the healing trance. It was just what Harry needed, even if the whole soulbond activation might have put a slight hiccup in the whole thing.

He hoped it wasn't too much of an interruption. Given the way that the magic had pulled and guided them together, he was sure that whatever would happen next from there, would take a lot of understanding on both parts. Maybe even more talking.

There were so many of those seals, after all, and just keeping track of all of the overlapping effects and the long-term complications that could arise from unsealed bonds—well, that'd been part of the reasoning behind suppressing his own connection. There were other reasons, yes, and maybe he hadn't been thinking properly when he'd reacted so poorly, but it'd caught him off guard.

He'd been too tired to notice at first or else he wouldn't have put himself in such a compromising position. It was a good thing that Dyshoka had taken over Harry's patient status as an official Healer.

It meant that there were cleared legal channels now. He could have a chance, maybe.

The Healer's Council had never quite given up on regulating his every single breath since renouncing his rank. Insisting on vetting his potential suitors had been a deciding factor in keeping to himself for the past few years.

There was no point in courting, after all, when he had so little to offer and so much baggage to bring along. His eyes closed and Quinn let himself drift off to the kinder planes of empty dreams.

A half-hearted little wish escaped his mind, the thought that maybe, it would've been a nice dream for the lonelier nights he spent while on rotation at various clinics. A happy little daydream where he could wonder what it would be like to have Harry as his chosen Submissive and the rest of his Bonded around him—Charlie's steady warmth, Theo's sharp, but fierce presence and Ethan's calm. It was so new and so—strange—and yet, he wanted.

Oh, how he wanted!



Theo was actually kind of getting used to it.

Being pulled and yanked all across the realms, sometimes a little more viciously than necessary, but usually because of the seriousness of the matter.

It was largely why he wasn't surprised at all when the 'portal came for him. The shock was more in the lack of warning and zero time to properly acclimate himself in time for the inevitable pull.

After all, he'd worked hard on instilling the importance of asking for help into Harry as best as he could.

Maybe it wasn't the best way to handle his worries, but it was a core principle of being Dragel. To reach out into the extensive family and friendship networks forged from childhood and beyond, to find someone who could help—or who knew someone who wanted to help.

There was always someone who could reach back. Someone who was willing to spare time or magic to help right whatever had gone wrong. It was that sense of belonging that had helped him trust Ilsa in the aftermath of his Inheritance coming in.

The moment where he'd realized that his entire life was a lie, stuck as nothing more than his father's pawn and Malfoy's sometimes-friend. He was expected to follow in Death Eater footsteps. Expected to turn into some sort of slightly lower-classed social presence beneath the Malfoys and more.

Nothing good.

Nothing grand.

Nothing like where he was now.

So, he'd done his best. It wasn't what anyone else would do. He was sure there were a dozen things he could've done better. He was still young. He was still learning.

And that was the case with all of them.

Theo closed his eyes against the brightness and let it take it him. There was no point in fighting it. He released his hold on the glamour he'd kept up for the sake of meeting Ethan's parents with a neutral front.

There was too much worry weighing on him and he hadn't wanted it to show through. No one had mentioned it, so he guessed that it'd worked out alright for the moment.

He sighed.

The portal was long—he couldn't see the end—but it was gentle and softly lit. A warm golden glow wrapped around him from head to toe, cradling his entire body as if he were precious cargo being gently transported from one end of the realm to the next.

A gentle, steadying sort of magic.

It reminded him a little bit of Ilsa, if he was honest. The same grounding and steady presence that always seemed to surround her, no matter what her temperament or the current situation.

It was kind of nice.

He'd rather expected this to happen at some point in the future. Especially after Ilsa's rewiring of his Password and the reminder that his Alpha responsibilities would ask more of him than Harry would ever realize. There were duties and responsibilities that every Alpha had to bear. Protect and provide was the core of their rank, after all.

It wasn't fair to tell Harry to reach out, when he was exempting himself from being one of those options. He wasn't exempt at all. But it did mean making sacrifices. Especially with Harry's Empathic gift, where it obviously meant spillover feedback and excess energy.

It meant feeling, experiencing and witnessing emotions and energies that he wouldn't have chosen to go near in a million years.

Because this was Harry.

His wonderful, brilliant, incredible Harry, with a heart so much stronger and kinder than anyone he'd ever encountered.

No one had ever warned him how much excess magic would be channelled back into his person while his Circle settled. He'd expected a doubling or even a tripling, but this was wild and unrestrained.

As if Harry was a wellspring of raw, wild magic that could not be contained.

Should not be contained—and ah!

The portal ended.

Theo flew out from the portal as if he'd been shot straight out of a cannon. He squinted into the wild rush of cool air and the jarring shift in light to recognize the reason for his abrupt change in the situation.

He was directly over the Kalzik property.

Scales rushed along his arms, wings wanting out as he clenched his jaw and shifted enough to call them out. It wasn't a bad drop from the current height, but it would be a solid landing.

The ground rushed to meet him as the overhead wards parted like an iridescent curtain, splitting down the middle with shimmers of rainbow flickering over him as he landed in a crouch on the dry dirt, thin bits of grass puffing out from around his black-booted feet.

Wings flared out around him, Theo grimaced, standing up to his full height. He shook his wings out, folding them back in with the ease borne of regular use and familiarity.

The scales stayed.

Given the change in location, his instincts burning beneath his skin and the way his magic crackled over his entire body—they'd stay for a while. Harry had called him—consciously or not—and he was here. There was no point in trying to force the scales to disappear. The Kalziks would understand, he was sure. They were healers after all.

Whatever had caused this whole issue would likely require his full attention.

And probably whatever dominant urges simmered in his veins.

His jaw throbbed, a definite ache registering as he strolled up the smooth stoned walkway, his fangs growing larger to allow his Alpha-traits some free reign. It hadn't escaped his notice that the soulbond had grabbed him—not Charlie or Ethan—and pulled him straight through to where Harry was. Or at least, as close as he could get without upsetting necessary wards and all of that important magic.

Curious, but also rather telling. A hint that his Alpha rank or aura was either needed or desired. From what he'd seen and sensed from Harry that morning and through the night, it had to be a subconscious reaction or something else taking place. Harry's bond had been rather calm and soft for the most part—a gentle thrumming that suggested whatever he was dreaming or experiencing in his healing trance was either deeply satisfying or emotionally fulfilling.

It was enough to keep him from fretting about it, because as much as he wanted to trust the healers and the Kadels and all of that, he couldn't help but worry. Harry had been through so much already and it felt as if they were on the cusp of a new edge. Of some kind of brilliant transformation that would give Harry the boost of power and confidence that he needed to take charge of his gleaming new future.

He wanted that for him. Wanted it so badly, just to see the way those emerald eyes would light up with fire and feel the sharp feedback of magic exchanged through their bonds. Oh, he'd felt little bits and pieces of it—when Harry had used his password, when he'd taught him how to use his element when he'd watched Harry forge his first earthstone.

It'd been great. He wanted that feeling, that optimism and persistence—to stay. Bolstering Harry and encouraging him to explore what Nevarah had to offer and to look at the possible prospects that were available. The soulbonded thing had definitely caught him by surprise—just a little bit—but he had to admit that he was more content with it now, then he'd originally expected.

Building a Circle was something that could take years at times. Different elements and personalities grew, twisting and clashing, as they learned about each other and how to coexist in a way that was mutually beneficial. A soulbond would definitely help with that—if Harry's potential Intended weren't too stubborn.

Knowing his luck—and Harry's—Theo had a feeling that they would all be that way. Stubborn to a fault and possibly—quite possibly—significantly powerful. Just thinking about it right now was enough to start the first pangs of a headache.

Arielle. He really needed to work on some stress management. Or some stress release. Maybe he could nudge Charlie and Ethan into house hunting for sure. He wouldn't blame them for wanting to come and check on Harry themselves, but he'd wanted to find a place that they could call their own. Quinn's hospitality aside—and really, it was a shame that he wasn't interested in courting—it wasn't fair to impose.

The Hunt was a busy time and he'd already seen how efficient the Kalziks' were. But Dahlia and Dyshoka were newly bonded and if he knew anything about the Hunt, well, a new bonding meant celebrations and parties, engagement announcements and bonding ceremonies—he was sure the Kalziks—and the Deveraines—wouldn't pass up the chance to celebrate.

In fact, the Twins would probably dive wholeheartedly into the entire mess, probably without a single breath between the whole Clan-War-with-the-Vaughns and all that. His lip curled at the thought and he wondered if maybe, he should've asked Ilsa for a few more details.

Yes, he was technically better of not knowing what they were truly up to, but he knew Ilsa. Knew Bhindi and Bahn, just a little bit—and they were a bloodthirsty sort of Circle. Sure, it was properly disguised by different things and they weren't exactly an active Military Circle—balanced out with enough Pareya and secondary ranks to make sure of it—but Ilsa was a Blood Title.

So was Greta. They wouldn't be settling anything outside of the courts and whatever took place within their hidden walls, well, it was sure to be a bloodbath. An expensive one, but a bloodbath just the same.

Maybe it was a good thing that Harry wasn't awake to hear the finer points of it. He'd probably be doubly upset at the whole court summons, then the Deveraines' on a rampage and Arielle knew what else. Theo sighed, softly to himself. What a mess.

He'd just have to deal with it all at some point. For now, Theo took the worry curling through his mind and neatly bundled it up, shoving it in the back of his head for later.

Much, much later.

Harry needed him in some way or another and for now, that was the only thing that needed to be in his focus.

The silence of the Kalzik estate was almost disconcerting, as he realized there were different silencing wards actively engaged throughout the property. Likely to keep any unnecessary magic and sounds from disrupting any other patients in the surrounding guesthouses. He hurried up the stone walkway, the neatly trimmed grass skimming underfoot as he hurried up the two stone steps, hand poised to knock.

The front door sprang open before he even needed to touch it, admitting him to the guesthouse with very little ceremony.

He banished his outer robes to his hands, draping them over the nearest sofa as he passed through the open sitting room. The house was deathly quiet, though he could sense several dragels.


Even though Quinn and Harry were supposed to be the only ones there.

A low rumbling growl built in his chest. Theo let the sound rattle out through his throat, lips curled back over his aching fangs. He wanted to bite something, but if Quinn had asked for help—a specialist perhaps?—then he needed to be careful.

Cautious, maybe.

He checked Harry's bond again, frowning at the change in emotion and magical strength. Harry's bond was sad, but not frightened. Whatever had startled him, hadn't meant to do so or at least, it hadn't intended anything of ill-will. There was just a sharp sense of loss, mixed with a definite pang of dread.

An underlying sense of hopelessness as if whatever had happened had only reinforced whatever was bothering Harry.

And something was bothering him.

Theo meant to have so many little conversations with Harry lately and yet, between all of the moving, the figuring, and social meetings—it felt as if they were being rushed along at a ridiculous space in so short of a time.

He wanted it to be slower, quieter—easier, for Harry's sake, if nothing else. Surely nothing would go wrong if they didn't rush towards the inevitable end at breakneck speed.

Or perhaps that was his own wishful thinking.

He channelled a bit of deliberate calm through their bonds, sending a bit of it through Charlie and Ethan's bonds as well. They were likely just as surprised and worried as he'd been.

Probably a little more, since he hadn't been able to tell them anything before the 'portal had whisked him away.

He wondered if Charlie would insist on following him or if Ethan would. A faint smile teased at the corners of his mouth as he made his way through the guesthouse.

It really was much larger on the inside, despite the small outer appearance. Magical living really was wonderful.

He tugged gently on Charlie and Ethan's bonds, making sure they couldn't mistake the request for what he meant it to be. Yes, he would like some time with Harry—he always would—but whatever had startled him from inside of an actual healing trance, well, Theo wouldn't mind some backup this time.

"Quinn?" He called out, pulling his aura tightly around him. He'd noticed Quinn's slight reactions to his rank and he didn't want to make him uncomfortable.

Especially not since Harry seemed to really want a friendship—or more—with the quiet healer. Quinn was really a huge help and especially with his volunteering to keep Harry company so they could venture out to meet Ethan's family.

It was a good connection and seeing Ethan relax—a tiny bit—in the closeness of his family was something that he could recognize and appreciate it. A gentle balm on the chaos that had followed them since he'd joined their little Circle.

Theo frowned the overwhelming levels of fluctuating energy that reached out to him from deep within the guesthouse. That was new. He hadn't felt anything like that when they'd left.

His instincts flipped over to hyper-awareness. It was almost as if there was a new dominant presence that hadn't been there before.


The only dragel that should be there was Quinn.

Unless of course, he had called in a specialist, but Theo didn't understand why a specialist would be projecting their own rank and authority so loud and brash.

"Quinn, it's Theo. Is something wrong with Harry?" Theo rounded the corner to the large sitting room where they'd all camped out on the floor the night before.

It was the shortest path to their room—to Harry.

He froze in place upon seeing Hiram staring at him, a finger to his lips from where he stood a few feet away in the center of the room.

It took a half-second to quell the instinctive irritation that surfaced at being told what to do when he was so close to a full alert. It must've shown on his face, because Hiram immediately adjusted his posture to something significantly less threatening.

Theo scowled.

Hiram held up a hand to stall him, then gestured something to someone out of view—sign language?—before moving away from the hallway entrance and gliding over to Theo.

A privacy spell went up with a secondary set of personal wards, before Hiram finally spoke.

"…Harry called you?" He asked, hesitantly. "Or did you sense something?"

Theo stretched his neck, a subtle display of the still visible scales lining his face and neck. It didn't matter if Hiram wasn't challenging him or if he meant well—one wrong word was enough to set him off, it seemed.

And Theo really didn't want to fight anyone today.

"He did," he said, carefully. "Did something happen? There was a lot of—feedback. Some pain. Some light. A lot of magic. Thought I'd have a killer migraine and yet—here we are."

Hiram's brow furrowed. He was careful not to look back towards the entryway, but his concern was too obvious to mask. "Quinn reacted," he said, slowly. "It happened when Kyle came over to help—as far as we can tell. Did you—was there anything odd this morning?"

"Everyone was fine," Theo said, slowly. "Quinn told us to go on and enjoy the Hunt a bit, because he'd be happy to keep an eye on Harry while he worked. He was doing paperwork."

"Yes. With Kyle."

"Dahlia's Kyle?" Theo frowned. "Don't they do that all the time? Something happened then?" He guessed, recalling the Healer-and-Medic relationship the two shared besides their adopted-sibling dynamic.

"…yes," Hiram said, slowly.

"Spit it out," Patrick said, wearily. He stepped into the privacy bubble, gently nudging Hiram out. "Theo, I apologize for the bluntness of this, but there really isn't a way to politely explain that I believe my son suppressed his soulbonded connection to Harry and because of the close proximity and likely on account of Harry's empathy, it's activating. Or at least, partially activated at this point. He's currently keeping everyone out of the room, his magic is—unpredictable and right now, it is definitely-"

"Quinn?" Theo interrupted, bristling. A hot wave of irritation washed over him. His dominant instincts did not like the way that Patrick had just phrased that troublesome bit of information. No wonder his head had nearly split open in two. Charlie and Ethan would likely have their own reactions once that bit of news was properly relayed.

Hiram nodded, cautiously.

Theo only stared.

He was too surprised to be upset straightaway. It wasn't a bad turn of events, but if Quinn had hidden that—then he'd done so deliberately and likely as soon as he'd discovered the connection.

Which meant that it had been early.

Probably when they'd visit the Clinic. Arielle.

"Are you serious?" he asked, at last. He didn't know what else to say, except to acknowledge the first bits of anger surfacing as he recalled their conversation that morning.

Quinn had emphatically said that he wasn't hunting. He'd specifically said that he wasn't interested.

Sweet mother of Ergen.

Theo dug his claws into the palms of his hands, wishing that he could release the energy building inside of him and morph straight into a full-dragon shift so he could scream out some of the excess emotion raging through him.

Maybe it was a side effect of Harry's empathy.

Maybe it was something else.

Either way, he was starting to feel very, very irritated. The kind of irritation that made him want to sink his fangs into any available neck and carve his claws into something that would bleed.

Dominant instincts, he realized. The kind that wanted him to throw his rank around and remind any ranks around him, that he wasn't helpless and was more than capable of taking care of his own.

The kind of instinctive urges that would probably cost him friends, if he ever let himself give into them.

His jaw creaked, ominously as he ground his fangs together to keep from blurting out the mess of details in his head. It wouldn't be the first time he was dealing with a less-than-ideal situation, but Harry was involved this time.

And he couldn't let anything happen to Harry.

Or the idiot that Harry had probably started having feelings for. Arielle. This would be a mess.

"You're sure?" he ground out.

Patrick held his gaze, sharpened eyes narrowing even further. "I am," he said, firmly. "There's all the evidence of a soulbond, there's the residual feedback and all of that magic that you're reacting to right now? It's soul magic."

Theo hissed.

Patrick bristled, scales flaring up to the surface along his face and jawline. An instinctive response to the ill-concealed challenge. "…he is my son and for that, I would ask your consideration, despite his poor handling of his end of the soulbond—I'm sure there is more to the story."

Theo bared his fangs in answer, slivers of righteous fury rushing through him until it was nothing more than a white-hot blinding rage. Somehow, he managed to stay where he was, instead of clawing out.

"He told Harry that he wasn't interested in hunting and now you're telling me that he's activated an apparent soulbond? You do realise what this sounds like, yes?"

Patrick averted his gaze, though his posture remained braced and defensive. It was hard to miss that he was standing with his back to the empty hallway, blocking Theo from continuing further into the guesthouse. "I understand that this is not an ideal situation, but it is what it—is."

A snarl caught in his throat and Theo manfully swallowed it down.

There was so much to unpack in that and he wanted none of it. The faintest hint of smoke and sandalwood curled through the air, teasing at the corners of his senses.

Quinn's scent.

More sandalwood than smoke. Definitely not like Charlie's smoky scent or Ethan's warm spice, yet it was still vaguely sort of familiar. Earthier than he'd ever remembered it before.

"Harry's in a healing trance," Theo said, strained.

There were too many little details escaping him and he did not like it. Harry had been fine not so long ago—Quinn had even shown them proof of that.

"…yes," Patrick said, carefully. "He still is."

Theo drew himself up to his full height, even though it didn't seem to amount to much, compared to Patrick's significant frame. "So, explain to me how this is working right now. Is he in there with Harry?"

Patrick started, faintly, as Hiram's hand clamped down on his shoulder, gently pulling him to the side, so he could re-enter the privacy bubble. "Hiram, it's better if I explain this. You're already agitated and if both of you are-"

"It's fine. I'll handle it. He's our son too and that was not the best way for him to handle what they'll all have to deal with right now," Hiram said, sternly. "Help Jini ward. You know what kinds of wards that he'll need if he's going to stay in that form for longer than a few hours. I know you mean well, but Theo needs to be able to-"

Patrick whined.

Theo hissed, drawing their attention back to him. He didn't quite mind the possibility of more Bonded, especially another Earth-Elemental bonded—no, that wasn't the issue.

It was the whole trust and hidden secrets that hit right where it hurt.

Quinn had hidden a soulbond.

An entire soulbond—from them—from Harry. Theo already knew how that would hit. He was almost certain that if close proximity hadn't triggered it, then there was no telling whether Quinn would've ever acted on it.

At all.

That burned in a way that Theo hadn't expected to ever experience. The thought that someone had the possibility of joining the light and strength that was Harry—and somehow, had decided that it wasn't worth it.

That Harry wasn't worth it.

Oh, that bit—it burned. It fuelled the rage that wanted out and Theo struggled not to give in to that temptation. He'd held some respect for Quinn, despite the slightly rocky start with the way he'd kicked them out of the examination room during that first appointment. Oh, that had set his fangs on edge then and now, he could see it in a different light.

No wonder Quinn had wanted him out of the room. Wanted both him and Charlie out of the room. Even if he wasn't dragel-raised, Theo knew that Charlie would've spotted any unusual spellwork in a hurry—he would've questioned anything that Quinn would've done to hide that connection.

Except for Harry hadn't mentioned anything. He hadn't even reacted negatively to the appointment or Quinn's handling of the situation. He'd been upset but had gotten over it rather quickly.

His fangs ached again. Theo ran his tongue along the sharpened tips, wishing his natural healing would help to take the edge off of the thing.

There was still a lot he wanted to work out in his head and there was literally no time for it. Harry had counted Quinn as a friend and if he did anything to that fragile friendship as it was—no, wait. Theo sucked in a deep breath and felt it rattle down to his very bones with the sheer potency of the wild magic running through the entirety of the guesthouse.

There was so much Earth magic swirling around him that he was certain he could call up an earthquake and it wouldn't take more than a handful of seconds to wreak pure havoc.

Not that he would.

Destruction because he couldn't control his conflicting emotions was a stupid thing to do. It would only make a mess of the current situation and wind up giving him some sort of terrible headache weeks into the future.

Not to mention from the sound of things, the Kalziks' would wind up as their in-laws, given the whole Quinn-is-a-soulmate thing.

Theo pinched the bridge of his nose, forcefully tamping down on his simmering fury yet again.

Yes, he was an Alpha. Yes, there were dominant instincts at play. Yes, he would have to look at all of this rationally and logically, no matter how much he wanted to roar and rage.

Hiram was still watching him, silently, posture still relaxed, aura carefully hidden. He was projecting himself as a healer and not as an Alpha trying to force him back.

He could work with that.


"You have wards?" Theo asked, briskly. "Make sure they are keyed for Charlie and Ethan."

Sidestepping Hiram and Patrick, Theo started for the bedroom again. He was immediately stalled by both men rushing in front of them, worry and panic mixing together as they both held out their hands to stall him.

"Theo, it might be better if you-" Hiram began.

"Theo, if you interrupt them right now-" Patrick tried.

He stared them down, before arching a perfect eyebrow in a silent request.

Patrick's hands fell back to his side and he shuffled a few steps away. It took a moment longer with Hiram, but the worry shifted to irritation.

"I don't think you understand what's happening here," Hiram said, tightly. "This is not a common occurrence and soulbonds can be extremely delicate when they aren't properly managed and-"

"You've all had your turn at helping Harry," Theo said, mildly. "And we are greatly indebted to you for your assistance and continued support. However—Harry? My Harry—currently in there—with your Quinn—reached out to me. Believe me, I would not be here if Harry hadn't called me. Whether he's awake to do so or not, isn't the point. Just like whether Quinn chose to tell us about his soulbond or not, hm?"

Patrick winced.

Another wave of magic rippled out from the bedroom.

Theo sighed. "Excuse me," he said, quietly.

He shook off Hiram's hand on his arm and sidestepped around Patrick's worrying form, making his way through the hallway entrance.

Surajini's head snapped up in surprise as she stared at him in a mixture of worry and shock. "Theo," she said. "So that was you! I didn't realise—I wasn't. Wait! Where are you—I—I don't believe it is a good idea if you were to enter right now, it might upset something—Quinn's not in the best mood-"

"He'll get over it," Theo said, matter-of-factly. "And I really don't want to have to remind either of you that you're not his officially assigned Healer and that you can't legally stop me from going in there."

"he's fine, Theo! I assure you, he's fine. It's just-" Surajini twisted her hands together, golden eyes darkening to a light hazel. "Maybe it would be best if you went in," she said, slowly. "I just—I don't know if I can help if you go in there and something happens-"

"Then that's on me and it's my choice." Theo rolled his shoulders back, fighting another wave of irritation. He wanted to see Harry.

Needed to see him. Needed to be sure that he was alright.

He released the tight hold on his Alpha Aura, a slight twinge of regret registering in the way that Surajini flinched, then bristled instinctively.

"I mean them no harm," he said, softly. "Both of them." He slipped around her, reaching for the doorknob.

"Theodore, please-!" Surajini stopped short of reaching for him, her expression stricken.

He paused, waiting.

The pain reflected in her golden eyes was something that tugged at his heartstrings.

Slowly—he reached out and squeezed her outstretched hand, lightly. "I mean them no harm," he repeated. "I am not going in there to cause a problem. I am going in there to fix one. Can't you trust me for that? Won't you at least give me a chance?" He pressed his free hand to his chest, rubbing faintly over his heart. "Because I can feel Harry right here—and I can feel how it hurts. Right now, Quinn can't feel any of that. Especially not if he's been—unavailable up until now."

Surajini's eyes shimmered faintly. She gently pulled her hand free of his, moving two steps back. "The hardest part of this is always knowing that I cannot control their choices, no matter how much I might disagree with them. Quinn is-"

"His own person with his own tastes, likes and dislikes," Theo said, mildly. "And if he wishes to be a part of our Circle, then he will also need to answer to me. Right now, I am worried about Harry. I will extend that same worry to your Quinn, if he is receptive to it."

"…I understand," Surajini said, softly. Her lips twitched, faintly. "He's always been the most troublesome one and yet, it wouldn't be him if he wasn't. I apologize if we seem overprotective-"

"You have good reason to be," Theo said, easily. "But so do I."


A faint spiced scent tickled at Quinn's nose, startling him out of his sleepy haze and shifting all of his instincts to high alert. That wasn't a scent that'd been there before and it meant that someone new was there.

Someone that he could almost place, but not quite.

It niggled at the back of his brain, reminding him that scents noticeable enough to pick apart were usually higher ranked than him. At least, since giving up his rank, it was impossible to ignore.

Someone with a scent he could pick out that clearly was someone he needed to be careful of.

His long, scaled tail whipped out, curling more securely around Harry's sleeping form, reinforcing the protective position he'd taken up around him. The entire conversation in Harry's apparent mindscape had shaken him considerably and he did not want to think about it for at least a month.

There was too much in there that had hit too close to the open wounds in his heart and it didn't matter if Harry had wanted him, because Quinn couldn't find it in his heart to explain what a burden, he would be to such a young, new Circle.

They didn't really want him. He was nothing more than a hindrance. There was so much that followed him, his family's obligations aside and it didn't seem fair to dump all of that on Harry and his Bonded.

Not to mention all the time and effort he'd put into building his Healer career. He was aiming for the Master Healer title, just like his mother. He was intending to work at the faults that had cropped up during some of his field training.

Things that would take time and effort, responsibilities that would definitely cut into his duties as a Bonded individual in a new Circle. Of course, there were other things too.

Personal preferences that he'd never dared to voice aloud. Very specific preferences that had always been carefully hidden away, because he just—it'd never felt right.

No, he'd never quite felt brave enough to voice them to anyone other than her and that had gone out the window the moment he'd given into the stupid urge to fight Kyle for flirting with Dyshoka.

Oh, his life was a mess.

Harry deserved so many good things and it wasn't fair to expect him to accept things that he'd never even told anyone else about.

At least, not in so many words.

It wasn't like they wouldn't accept him. He knew they would. His family would, at the very least. It was just never something that had ever come up. So he'd never mentioned it.

Even when opportunities had presented themselves, he'd bite his tongue and keep his silence, because there was no point in giving some siblings yet another thing to throw his way.

Maybe Alejandro wouldn't hold it against him, really, but Quinn had never quite wanted to find out. Losing his Alpha rank had shifted so many things for him in such a short time and none of it had been pleasant or easy.

Some of those memories still hurt too much to acknowledge properly. It was easier to hide himself—his true likes and dislikes—and hoard the knowledge of the changed person that he was, rather than to allow that vulnerability even in the safety of family.

That was what family meant to them, after all. He was a Kalzik. They were closer than most were.

Dyshoka was proof of that.

His tail lashed out again, skimming across the silken cover of the blankets. The spiced scent was growing stronger now, he could pick it out as something familiar and he wasn't sure he liked that.

There were secrets he'd intended to keep forever, maybe.

It would be too easy to blame things on his healer training or the loss of his rank after The Incident. Too easy to fall back on ordering them around, even when he didn't have that right. Too easy to say low sex drive and ignore the real root of things underneath.

After all, it was practically expected of his rank and he'd seen the affection shared between all of them already. They were touchy-feely and kissy-kissy and it wasn't fair to them.

Yet, even as he tried to talk himself out of the possible reality in front of him, Quinn couldn't push the guilt away. It stayed, puddled in the depths of his stomach, pulling him further and further away from the thin bubbles of happiness that had initially blossomed when he'd first realized the truth.

Sure, he could tell them.

He could try to tell them. It would take—more bravery than he'd used in a long time, but he could try.

Maybe they'd listen. Maybe they'd care. Maybe it wouldn't be half as bad as he was thinking it would, but—he didn't know if he could handle another round of rejection.

It wouldn't be the first and it probably wouldn't be the last, given how his luck seemed to run, but hoping and wishing never did anything for anyone. Only action.

True, genuine intention and the actions that backed it.

It wouldn't be fair for Harry not to know what he was getting into, so maybe, he could just tell Harry. Could just explain to him that sometimes, he really didn't feel like all of that.

All of the physical intimacy that made his scales curl and his mind hide away. Oh, he'd tried.

He'd definitely tried. He was once a young Alpha, after all, and despite his experiments and panic, he'd finally decided to just look for someone like him.

Someone who had matched.

So, he'd found her. She'd matched.

Together, they'd decided that everything would work out and maybe, it would have—until he'd been stupid and let his instincts get in the way of his happiness and her father had decided that someone so violent wasn't right for his precious daughter.

He couldn't blame her father. He knew how it looked. But he hated having let her down. She'd been counting on the safety and the secret between them. It'd been easier that way.

For both of them.

He still wished that they were friends. That he'd been able to have that much, at least. Someone to talk to who didn't make him feel as if there was something wrong with him.

Because there wasn't.

She'd taught him that.

And yet, he'd gone and hidden it away again, taking care never to let anything slip, no matter whether it was friend or family. A secret he'd intended to keep and yet, here he was now.

Secrets hurt far more than he'd ever thought they could.

Quinn was not prepared for the bedroom door to open and Theodore Nott to step on through, his eyes bright shining gold and his expression so perfectly neutral that it immediately set him on guard.

The powerful aura blanketing the room immediately set him off, hackles raised as he realized that it wasn't just Theo's strong, tempered magic, but also his Alpha aura, seeping in at the corners, unmistakable and impossible to avoid.

That was bad.

Very, very bad.

He couldn't read him.

He couldn't read a single emotion off of the stoic young Alpha and oh, that burrowed under his skin and burned!

The dryness in his throat grew worse as Quinn fought the urge to look away from those hypnotizing golden eyes and break the stare. He couldn't show weakness—he couldn't!

And yet, if he kept on staring, he wouldn't be able to check on Harry and be sure that he was alright.

They were practically cuddling now.

Harry curled up around his dragon-form, half draped over his shoulders, cheek pressed against his scales, body limp and warm in sleep. There was still the faintest hint of a greenish-tinged glow enveloping his body, but Harry hadn't spoken since the original words that had spooked him.

Not since the conversation in the shared mindscape.

He'd moved, just a little bit, to make Harry more comfortable. Lengthening his body and allowing the dragon transformation to twist and grow, until he could properly support Harry's sleeping form.

Theo stepped into the room, shutting the door behind him—and also cutting off the view of Surajini's worried face.

Quinn bristled but stayed in place. He didn't want to worry his Mama, but he couldn't do anything about that right now. She would just have to wait and trust him.

He knew she would. She always had.

Outside, he could sense the rest of his parental triad shuffling and moving together just out of sight, but within calling distance, if needed.

It was a kind gesture, but one that he did not want just yet.

This was all so—embarrassing and frustrating at the same time. He hadn't meant to ever let out any of this soulbond stuff and yet, here it was and he was at its mercy.

Resisting the pull was a losing battle and that made it even worse now, as he tried to think of a way to end everything without hurting Harry and found himself thinking the entire situation into a more tangled knot than before.

He couldn't imagine that important conversation turning out in his favour, no matter what he did. The end was always the same, an expected rejection and a hurt that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

He didn't know if it was worth that.

Anything he did, short of erasing Harry's memory—and Arielle, he'd never do that—would hurt.

It would hurt him. It would hurt Harry. It would just be terrible.

For everyone involved, not just him and Harry. A Circle was more than just two, after all and hadn't Harry just added a Pareya? Right. A Pareya.

Ethan Hartwood.

A proper strong Pareya from a strong Earth Clan. Someone who was a good match for their needs, someone without a lot of baggage tagging along behind him and someone who was clearly also a soulbonded match.

Quinn shrank down on the bed, his snout half-buried in the lumpy folds of the fluffy blanket tucked around Harry. He clacked his fangs together in agitation, wishing for the millionth time that he had his voice back.

That he could say what was on his mind and get it all out of his head and out in the open.

Even now, his thoughts were split in half as he tried to reason out what Theo was doing in the room. He'd gone off with Charlie and Ethan. Surely it wasn't dinnertime yet!

He hadn't even cooked! He was a terrible potential Intended. He couldn't cook, he sucked at guarding—and no, wait. That wasn't the kind of thoughts he needed to be focusing on.

In the back of his mind, he could hear Surajini's voice reminding him that everyone was different and that included different preferences, tastes and personalities. Her gentle, chiding reminder had come to him on a day when he'd been frustrated over vexing patients and overbearing test proctors.

He huffed, wishing he could set the blankets on fire or something.

"Quinn?" Theo's voice was deceptively mild.

He sounded closer than Quinn had tracked him from the doorway.

Quinn's head popped up at once, his teal-eyes half-narrowed in on Theo's placid stare. Theo was standing halfway between the door and the bed, his aura a bit more muted than before.

A tiny sliver of curiosity got the better of him and Quinn whuffled inquisitively.

"There you are," Theo said, pleasantly. His eyes remained a bright golden hue. "I heard that you have some interesting news to share. You're one of Harry's soulbonded?"

Quinn froze.

And he was back to wallowing in the blankets again.

His parents must've told Theo the moment they'd seen him! How awful! He couldn't even think of a way to ease Theo into it—especially after that embarrassing conversation earlier that morning—and he certainly wouldn't be able to stop the activation from latching on with so many witnesses.

It wasn't fair!

Morosely, he twisted around, just enough to hide his face, but also keeping Theo within his line of sight. He didn't like the thought that the Alpha was standing up there so high—taller than him!—and watching him so intently.

Those golden eyes were unsettling and he did not like them!

No. Nope. Not at all!

They were so judgmental and razor-sharp. The kind of eyes that would stare straight through him and gouge out all of the soft fuzzy parts, turning him into nothing more than a mere rag suitable for nothing more than—and he was doing it again.

Quinn huffed, annoyed. Sometimes he wished the white walls of the room were filled with bright colours, paintings and anything that would distract him from his awful thoughts.

He spiralled too easily when he let his mind run away with him because his instincts were at war with each other and riding too close to the surface. No one ever told him to expect that sort of mental muddling when they'd removed his rank.

There was too much to distract him when he wasn't paying attention and then it all went sideways by the time, he realized what was happening. It was never quite right when he was this worked up.

There was a soft, quiet click from Theo. A deliberate sound meant to draw attention.

Quinn eyed him, flickers of annoyance making themselves known as he watched Theo stand, hands in the pockets of his trousers, a hint of warmth in his golden gaze.

The tension in the room seemed to grow heavier by the minute and again, Quinn did not want to be the one to break the awkward stare down. His claws curled faintly, digging into the fabric of the blanket under his paws.

"Harry called," Theo said, lightly. He turned away from the bed, starting for one of the armchairs in the corner near the little table in the corner of the bedroom.

He didn't seem to care at all about turning his back to Quinn, even in his dragon form—why, he could slash his throat open with his claws! Nice, big claws with sharp, sturdy nails that could definitely—Quinn froze.

Theo was staring at him again, before resting a hand on one of the soft, orange-upholstered armchairs.

It was just a simple chair. Orange colour. Flat cushion. Smooth fabric, nice and soft under hands, not paws. Just the right height for the small table in the corner.

Probably even the same chair he'd sat on before.

And yet—yet, Quinn did not like that. Nope. Definitely did not like-!


He wasn't sitting.


That was—unexpected.

Quinn tracked Theo's movements all the way back to the door where Theo gave a little sigh and then eased down to sit—on the floor? His head snapped up from the blankets and he flinched when Theo met his gaze again.


Gold eyes held the faintest hint of warmth and a definite sense of amusement.

Oh, if he could blush in his current form, Quinn knew he'd be a flushed mess. There was something about that tiny little smirk that made him think that Theo had seen—or understood something—from their little interaction.

More than he'd gotten out of it, anyway.

What, Quinn didn't know, because it was just a stupid chair and there was nothing to read into a chair and a table, but that look on his face was just-!

"Harry seems alright though," Theo continued. "Unless you're tired of being a pillow?"

Quinn shook his head, quickly, freezing in place when the bed shook with the vigorousness of such movement.

A glint of laughter flickered in Theo's eyes, but he only settled comfortably in his chosen spot, back to the wall, cross-legged on the wooden floor.

He looked all too comfortable there, as if he could stay in exactly that position for the foreseeable future and—oh.

Quinn shrank down on the bed again. He did not like the place that his brain had gone. It was too close to the possible truth.

He was a healer. He knew these kinds of tricks.

Theo was sitting by the door.

The bedroom door.

The only entrance in or out of the room.


Theo sat comfortably on the floor, hands resting on his knees, robe elsewhere, crisp black dress shirt fitting perfectly to his slender frame, accented by fancy trousers and forest green socks.

Simply put, he looked good.

Golden earrings gleamed in his ears, sharp jawline, dark hair waved and set just right. Robes shucked off somewhere, so he was just in his crisp dress shirt and trim-fitting trousers. His bonding ring gleamed on his hand, showing off the sleek metal and the notches carved in place for each of his Bonded.

Nice. Elegant. Perfect.

Just like everything else that he'd known about Theo, except for the whole tangled-up issue with his password, handing over his Alpha rights and then, of course, the mess of his Caspers and whatnot.

Quinn wheezed out a breath, trying not to focus on Theo's incredibly distracting presence and instead, to stay mindful of Harry's resting form curled comfortably over him.

It was hard.

Harder than he'd thought possible.

Yes, Harry was warm, soothing and his magic was even just as reassuring as Harry's actual charming self, but the muted energy made it hard to stay focused.

Especially when Theo's aura remained so obvious and impossible to ignore.

It was—many things.

The more Quinn tried to break it apart, the more it wore on him. An Alpha's aura was used to show dominance, offer comfort or command a room. Yes, there were dozens of other uses for it, but it was mainly used to command attention and either comfort or reprimand.

He wasn't sure he liked knowing the distinction, even if he was sort of sure that Theo wouldn't try anything that stupid with him.

He didn't need comfort, least of all from a young Alpha like Theo and he certainly wasn't in need of any sort of reprimand—really, he'd just come in to check on Harry and that whole soulbond thing had happened by itself.


All by itself.


Absolutely not because he was anywhere near Harry and hoping, desperately for a little piece of that perfection that he'd seen in the way that Theo, Charlie and Ethan fussed over him.

Nope. Absolutely not!

And it wasn't like he didn't know Theo was there. Theo was very obviously right there! He was in full view of the door and everything. Quinn couldn't ignore him if he tried!

And he was trying. Definitely trying.

So far, it wasn't working.

New scents tickled at his nose and Quinn sat up in a hurry, tail lashing out, snout pointed. He didn't know all of those new scents and there were a lot of them out there!

New voices too. Several new auras that he couldn't quite pinpoint, but gentle energies that were almost reminiscent of his own parental triad.

Another triad, perhaps? Quinn tilted his head to the side, annoyed at having to deal with even more intruders. Didn't they know that Harry was trying to rest?

He was in a healing trance for Arielle's sake! He did not need distractions and neither did Quinn, thank you very much. He was guarding and doing a fantastic job of it too.

Well, except for the part where Theo hadn't found him intimidating at all and had chosen to not only enter the room, but stay and sit on the floor and-!

There was a quiet knock on the door, before it opened just a crack, allowing the sound in the room to increase.

Huh. Perhaps Theo had cast some sound and privacy wards when he'd entered. That was nice. Considerate, even.

Not that Quinn had asked for any of that, though.

"Oh?" Theo perked up. "Well, that's very kind of them. Tell them thank you," Theo said, smoothly. "And yes, I'll take two of them. Maybe ask Surajini to look it over, just in case? I'm not sure what he would prefer right now."

There was an affirmative murmur from the other side of the door, before it clicked shut.

Smiling warmly, Theo held his gaze until Quinn couldn't bear it and had to look away, tail whipping about in agitation as he lost yet another stare down.

This was really becoming quite ridiculous!

"Ethan's parents brought him and Charlie over," Theo said, calmly. "And since we're missing the fancy lunch, we were supposed to have, they brought it for us. I told Ethan you wouldn't mind having your share in here."

Quinn shook himself all over, wishing he could stretch his cramped legs from where they were tucked into the softness of the bed. He tried his best not to jostle Harry too much, but the mention of food was right on cue.

His stomach grumbled in confirmation.

Food would be a lovely thing.

"They're lovely people," Theo said, inspecting his nails. "Very well-read and well-versed. They also care a great deal about family and there's quite a dynamic between them. Ethan's siblings are also a rather energetic bunch. They mean well, I'm sure. Harry would love to meet them, I think. They were very interested in meeting up again, as soon as he was out of the healing trance."

Quinn snorted. The Hartwoods were alright, but sometimes a little boring in his opinion. They were always involved with books, studies and all sorts of other random things.

They also tended to turn out fairly respectable and dependable Pareyas that were often invaluable in their connections, networking abilities and occasional rare spellwork combinations.

Truly a fascinating Clan and also—very friendly.

His tail twitched again, clawed tips digging a bit too hard into the blankets and drawing a slight pop.

He flinched, surprised at the sound and dismayed at the sudden puff of filling now inches away from his snout.

A quiet snicker was immediately stifled.

Quinn's head whipped in the direction of the sound, before he opened his mouth and chk-chk-chk'd at Theo in disapproval.

The corners of Theo's mouth turned up in a smile. "Repair spell?" He asked pleasantly. "I don't mind."

Quinn hissed. He did mind! Letting Theo's magic so close to him when they were already in close quarters was not something that he wanted to even consider when—oh. The door was opening again.

Theo turned automatically to receive a plastic bag with two take-out containers and paper-covered eating utensils included. "Thank you, Ethan," he said, smiling up at him and crooking a finger—beckoning.

Quinn frowned—as best as a dragon could—and watched as a bewildered Ethan leaned into the room, brow creased in confusion.

He hid his face in the blankets at Ethan's resulting blush when Theo leaned up to kiss him in thanks. The first kiss wasn't too bad, but by the second and third, well, Quinn wanted out of the room.

If they wanted to do all of that, they could do it elsewhere so Harry could rest in peace! And away from him and the burst pillow on the bedspread, because really—in front of him and that feathered mess?

The angry chuff he released was noted though because the door clicked shut a few minutes later and Theo turned a mildly amused look in his direction.

"Sorry if that bothered you, but he really is a very good Pareya and I don't want him to think I didn't notice how well he's doing with the current situation. Oretta told me that I need to be more specific with my cues. That I'm not clarifying what I mean, so—well. I'm sure you can read between the lines there."

Setting the plastic baggie on the floor in front of him, Theo rooted through the contents, taking out the utensils and setting them aside, before fishing out the two take-out containers.

He opened both of them, checking the contents, before selecting one for himself. Setting the other one on the floor in front of him, he pushed it towards the bed with the unwrapped utensils, then flicked the packet over to the container.

"It's hot and it looks good," he said, gesturing at it. "You're welcome to come on down and eat. Harry will be fine up there, I'm sure. We're both in the room and I know we won't let anything happen to him."

Quinn cocked his head to the side, sensing a trap in there somewhere and not quite sure where the catch was. He tossed his head.

Theo rolled his eyes. "You're not eating on the bed," he said, sternly. "You'll make a mess—especially in that form. You can come down and eat or you stay up there until you feel like it."


Quinn most certainly did not feel like it. He bared his fangs in a showy display, but Theo didn't pay him any mind at all. Instead, he was too busy digging into his belated lunch, happily shovelling warm, spicy mouthfuls of fried noodles into his mouth, his face wearing an expression of pure bliss.

Clacking his fangs together, Quinn tried to think of whether he could float the utensils over to the bed, along with the second container.

It irritated him to realize that in his current state, that wasn't anywhere near enough food. It would be best if he could shift into his two-legged form and then back when he was finished.

Even if he didn't want to admit that Theo was right—he was right.

Magic curled lazily around him. Quinn reached for it, unhappy at the prospect of having to move. He didn't want to displace Harry and he really did want to eat something.

His stomach growled again.

Theo perked a brow. "You can come eat," he said, nodding towards the second take-out container. "Harry will be fine. There's enough wards on this whole room—not to mention the entire property—he'll be fine."

Quinn's dragon form shrank in, shifting to a smaller version as he tried to ease out from under Harry's slumbering form. If his control was good enough to float the container all the way over to the-!

"Don't," Theo said, firmly. He held steady eye contact without so much as a twitch. "No food on the bed. I know you're capable of understanding what I'm asking right now. Don't try to scheme it up there another way."

Quinn turned his face away, snout pointed to the ceiling, the perfect picture of innocence.

A quiet scoff made him duck.

"No scheming," Theo said, flatly.

The food grew cold.

Even when Theo cast a preservation charm over it, Quinn remained seated unhappily on the bed.

He couldn't give up his spot guarding Harry. He just couldn't. It wasn't right and Theo wasn't being fair with his whole no-food-on-the-bed thing.

Lunch had long since passed and Quinn disliked the entire standoff even more now that he could make out little bits of laughter filtering through the wards.

It sounded like Charlie, Ethan and the others were all getting along quite wonderfully with his parents. He wasn't sure whether he should be happy for that or sad that he wasn't joining in on it.

Even if that would probably be awkward.

He couldn't believe that they were staying while he was cooped up inside of the bedroom on guard duty, suffering. It wasn't fair and it was all Theo's fault. They probably didn't even care that he was locked inside here with Theo.

He whined, softly, ever-so-softly.

Theo glanced up at him and clicked in reassurance.

Quinn turned away, annoyed at the response and frustrated when his instincts calmed at once. It didn't seem to matter that he wasn't intending for Theo to ever be his Alpha, his instincts didn't have a problem trusting him.

Stupid instincts.

He inched a little closer to the edge of the bed, his tail carefully wrapped around Harry. Maybe he could reach the container if he just-!

"Quinn," Theo said, firmly. "No. You know better."

He scowled—or tried to—at Theo. It was hard when he could only sort of glare with his head twisted to one side.

Again, his stomach growled.

But the food was right there and he was hungry!

He had a schedule to follow and he could already tell that the second container of take-out was filled with more roasted vegetables and thick chunks of browned meat that would suit his Healer's diet perfectly.

Likely the work of his Mama, he couldn't help but feel happy that she'd taken the time to make sure that he could stick to his dietary regimen.

It was nice.

Unlike Theo.

Who was not nice.

Quinn glanced back to Harry still resting peacefully, leaning against him, clinging to a fat pillow. He really should eat on schedule and maybe, Theo was right.

He could trust that.

After all, it was just a few minutes. He could eat in ten minutes. What were ten minutes in the grand scheme of everything?

Mind made up, Quinn stretched up, arching his body as he uncurled from the guarding position he'd held for the past few hours. It was best to just shift down and grab the food, eat the food and—oh.

Oh no.

Quinn froze, halfway off the bed, his shift not quite complete as he realized two very important details.

One, Theo was definitely sitting quite comfortably on the ground, even if his arms were folded across his chest and he wasn't looking at Quinn's awkward descent.

Two, if he actually did reach that food—if he actually touched it—something would change. That was absolutely unavoidable, because the moment he did, his head would be lower than Theo's.

Oh no.

Quinn absolutely did not like that. What a manipulative bastard!

That wasn't fair at all.

It was forcing his hand—and his acknowledgment of Theo as Alpha.

As if they were in a Bonded Circle.

As if—as if-!

Quinn flinched, violently, yanking himself back up onto the bed and curling tightly around Harry, his dragon morph in full form. He hissed loudly at Theo, showing his displeasure with a steady rumble.

Theo merely looked up from where he appeared to have half-dozed off, chin almost touching his chest. There was a definite gleam in his golden gaze as he looked at Quinn and then at the untouched food.

"Not hungry?"

Quinn snarled at him.

But Theo only smiled, allowing his head to fall forward again, slipping back into his apparent nap.

Quinn growled, snarled and glared until his throat grew dry.

"He didn't eat anything?" Ethan asked, alarmed when Theo passed the full take-out container through the door. "Is he alright? Surajini said that he liked this and we ordered plenty of other sides in the-"

"He's fine," Theo said, warmly. "You're fussing and that's also fine, but he's a healer. He knows his limits. I think."

There was a low growl from the bed. Quinn's colourful snout appeared from behind one of the fat pillows, his teal eyes glaring balefully at both of them.

Theo laughed. "I don't think he likes me very much at the moment."

"…what'd you do?" Ethan asked, frowning.

"Nothing," Theo said, handing over the rest of the takeout trash. "I told him not to eat on the bed."

Ethan snorted, golden eyes glimmering with amusement. "So, you're one of those?"

"Crumbs are the worst," Theo said, lightly. "And I want Harry to be comfortable."

"Of course," Ethan said, mildly. But he shot Theo a look before the door closed as if he was trying to puzzle something out and not quite grasping it just yet.

Not that it did any good, Quinn noted, because Theo merely shrugged and went back to pretending to sleep near the door. Quinn didn't like it. He really didn't like it, but he could wait. He could wait them all out. Theo would have to leave at some point.

Either to eat dinner—unless he tried the same stupid trick again—or to shower and get ready for the night. He'd have to leave.

He'd have to.

Quinn was almost sure of it.

And then those piercing golden eyes were fixed on him, pinning him in place. He didn't dare breathe.

All of a sudden, he wasn't so sure of it.

Not anymore.

Hours ticked by and Quinn dozed, lightly. There was nothing else to do and he hated the faint thread of tension that hung in the room. An unmistakable reminder that Theo was there—and present.

As an Alpha.

Quinn barely shifted on the bed when the door cracked open again, this time to show Charlie in the doorway, looking concerned as he nodded down at Theo. That was good. Maybe Charlie would be easier to deal with than Theo's grumpy self. Quinn tried not to appear too interested, but a spike of hopefulness ran through him.

"Charlie, guard the door, would you?" Theo asked, stretching up to his feet with a groan. Joints creaked and groaned as they settled into place. "I'm going to take a bath. Quinn's worried about it."

Quinn sat up in disbelief. He wasn't! He really wasn't! The nerve of that-!

"Sure," Charlie said, smiling easily. "Hi, Quinn. Thanks for looking out for Harry today. I don't know what we would've done if you weren't able to help out."

And Quinn couldn't say anything to that.

Charlie was just too nice.

He flopped back on his paws, tail readjusting Harry more comfortably, before smoothing over the pillows and blankets he'd piled around him.

It wasn't fair.

It just wasn't fair.

Maybe—maybe he could sneak past Charlie anyway and—but Charlie was smiling at him so gently and moving over to sit on one of the armchairs.

"I'm not Theo, so I'm sitting on the chair," he said, laughing. "When you're out in nature constantly through the day, like back at the reserves in Romania, you can't help but be grateful for the simple creature comforts." Charlie's head tipped to the side, shiny gleaming hair almost flickering over his shoulders, a fanged earring dangling from one visible ear.

Quinn huffed, miserably. He could just get up. Shift back into his other form. Climb off of the bed and walk out of the door.

But that would be giving up.

That would be acknowledging that—that he was—that he wasn't going to—that they weren't-!

And he knew, that he couldn't.

He just couldn't.


The image of Quinn faded out to nothingness, leaving Harry grasping at shadows, his heart twisted up in the kind of knot that he knew he'd need help to unravel.

He bit his lip, waiting for a long, moment.

Hoping, just hoping, that Quinn would come back. That the strange truce would have returned and he'd be able to reach out to that familiar face and warm presence.

"...Harry?" Maury's voice was kind but soft as his presence reasserted itself.

The mindscape shifted and twisted, returning to the strange odd, softly lit darkness that had surrounded them before.

He turned, straight into the hug that he just knew would be there. "Oret," he whispered, sinking into the proffered comfort.

Maury sighed, folding him into his arms, chin resting atop his head as he patted Harry's back in a steady, calming rhythm. "So that was your Quinn?"

"I think I made him cry," Harry said, his voice muffled. "What was I supposed to do there? I tried to—I couldn't reach him. Was he in my head? I didn't know I could do that. Where did you go?"

"You are not responsible for the emotions or emotional health of those you come into contact with," Maury said, patiently. "You can only control what you say and what you do. How they react is up to them."

"He looked so—he was so young. Then so—different." Harry pulled away, easing down to sit on the shapeless nothingness that surrounded them. "His dragon form was very—pretty. I've never seen one of them with so many colors."

Maury offered a faint smile, settling comfortably cross-legged beside him, shoulder to shoulder. "It's the pretty scales that catch our eyes sometimes," he said, easily. "We're even happier when there's a pretty personality to go with it."

"It's the best," Harry said, quietly. "I don't know if he really believes that though. He was so—different as a child. I met his child self. In my head. Oret!"

"Empath," Maury reminded him. "You do get something of a level up as far as mental magics and connections are concerned. Some theorize it's because you need more mental headspace, but the end result is that you wind up with some fairly strong shields and some unusual experiences."

"I guess that'd explain all the different forms then," Harry said, wryly. "I saw little Quinn, Dragon Quinn, and—regular Quinn."

"Did you like them?"

"Very much. I kind of wish he was still here so we could talk. He's so easy to talk to. I didn't realize that until just now. Every version of him was so—different, but the same? I just felt at home. That I could be there, beside him and just, be."

"I had a Bonded like that," Maury said, fondly. "He was part avian. His name was Beaker. I always teased him that he had more fluff than brains because he was a great big featherbrain. Blue-black feathers for miles and the cleverest streak of mischief you'd ever find. I always knew when he was up to something because it was so elaborate."

"Avian?" Harry perked up. "Like birds? Big birds?"

"Exactly like big birds. They retain some dragon traits—the long tongue, the clawed feet, thicker, almost-scaled skin, but feathers with that same durability. I'm no expert, but I learned from living with him. I was caught in a blizzard once and he sort of rescued me and kept me for a little while."

"Kept you?"

"Avians have something of a cycle where every couple of years, they just sort of fall straight into their instincts. It's all about flying, preening, nesting and hunting. All of that sort of stuff. Not a care for anything else. If they happen to find someone while they're in that phase, they'll just sort of adopt you. Look after you until they come back to themselves and they'll either apologize or if they've really taken a liking to you, will ask to court."

Harry found himself nodding along. "You courted him?"

"Oh yes. It was great fun. We all learned a lot that decade." Maury stifled a laugh. "Your Quinn reminds me of him a little bit. Soft-spoken, but with a hint of a temper and a very sensitive heart underneath all of those very strict standards he holds himself to."

"I think he has Surajini's temper," Harry said, half to himself. "He worries a lot though. Likes to fuss—I don't mind as much as I thought I would. There's something about him that feels right. Even though I feel—even though it's new? It's—I want him?"

" you think he'd accept if you asked to court him?" Maury asked.

Harry leaned a little harder into him, shaking his head, slowly. "I don't think he would. I-I wish he was my soulmate, you know? So I could just ask and not-"

"Not suffer through the rejection?" Maury filled in. "But you don't know that, Harry. You haven't asked. He hasn't asked either. You don't know if he feels the same way or if he's thinking in the same terms of not bothering to ask, because he doesn't have any clue that you'd agree to accept a courtship. That's not fair to either of you."

"Then what am I supposed to do? What would I even do to court him though? We don't have much of anything. I mean, I know we've got some stuff—but we don't even have a place to stay!"

"Pretty sure your Theo is working on that," Maury said, amused. "Though that's something that is easily fixed. If you don't have much now, it's easier to move, because you aren't packing and unpacking and all of that. I almost moved out of Emerald Hollow once. I was sure I wanted this cliffside house, near the water, you know? The Twins whined and growled and grumbled for weeks, before they agreed to move, if I did the packing."

Harry stifled a snort. He could guess where this was headed. "That bad?"

"Terrible. Even with packing charms. We stayed in Emerald Hollow and I sold it to a different Shadow clan a few years later."

"He came to make sure we had a place to stay," Harry said, slowly. "And he—just now? When I could almost touch him, it was like he had something to say."

"Well, he's not saying a lot right now," Maury said, mildly.


"You're in a trance, but that doesn't mean you can't take a look outside of your body every now and then. Listen. Tell yourself to listen and then wait for the sound to reach you."

Harry hesitated for all of a single second before he shrugged. He'd already tried enough weird things since landing in Nevarah, what was another one added to the list?

Maury's large hand settled atop his head, rubbing gently and Harry couldn't find the energy to be embarrassed about the slight purr that escaped as he let himself drift and drift and drift right into—oh.

So that was what Maury meant.

He was right. Quinn was doing a lot of—posturing? It was hard to tell. What was easy to see was the reason for said posturing.


Theo was in the bedroom—if sitting on the floor by the door counted—and he was happily stuffing his face with those tasty fried noodles from that food vendor they'd visited before their first clinic appointment.

Memories of the perfectly salty-spicy taste drew a smile to his face as Harry watched the scene unfolding in front of him. It was odd to realize that he was curled up on the bed, using Dragon Quinn as a headrest, but there was no denying how safe and warm he felt in his company.

Maybe Maury did have a point and assuming the worst was really unfair to both of them. After all, there was no need for Quinn to literally guard him while he slept off the healing trance—and most certainly no reason to surrender to being a living pillow.

Harry felt a shiver of excitement run through him. If Theo was here, that meant that he could talk to Quinn!

It'd definitely help if they could get a little closer than they were at present. He had a feeling that Theo's general reluctance to let anyone in was probably not doing him any favors in encouraging Quinn to reach for something more.

Then again, Quinn had once been an Alpha. There was probably some shadow of his originally ranked instincts present. Maybe. Harry could only guess, but he hoped he was wrong.

Quinn was someone he wanted. That meant finding some common ground and looking for mutual commonalities. He strained to see a bit clearer from his awkward position half-draped over Quinn's very warm and smoothly scaled body.

The faintest hint of a growl sent a bolt of worry through him, until he realized that Quinn's stomach was growling.

"You should eat," Harry told him, even though he knew his voice couldn't be heard by either of them. "I'm sure Theo has extras. It kind of looks like he has a second container there—I can't see it from this angle, but you should eat something. Have you even moved since you've come in here?"


He jumped at the sound of Maury's voice so close to him. The room's surroundings blurred away and he was back in the strange, emptiness of his mindscape before he could protest.

"Oret!" He sighed. "I almost had it there."

"You were kind of—flickering," Maury said, delicately. "We really do need to get all of these seals off of you. It's even affecting your mindscape."

Harry wilted. "I know. I'd like them off too. Even if it—scares me a little. I don't know what to expect."

"Energy," Maury said, simply. "You'll have a lot of energy and you'll need places to put it. I recommend spending some time bonding with your Circle and maybe trying some group activities—outdoor games, flying, swimming, that sort of thing. Something that uses a lot of physical energy."

Harry slapped a hand over his face, ears burning. "Oret!"

"...while that's not a bad idea either, that wasn't what I meant. I'm serious. Flying takes a lot of effort and practice. You should pay attention to your wings too. Maybe go visit the Dive again? Didn't you say you felt something there?"

"I think?" Harry twisted to the side, hunkered down to hug his knees to his chest. He grinned when Maury dropped to a crouch beside him. "It'd be kind of fun to have one of every element, don't you think?"

Maury's lips twitched. "It'd be a lot of work and a lot of mediating," he said, fondly. "But it isn't impossible. I'd just say to make sure you don't tip your elemental makeup too far in one direction or another or you'll have Bonded that feel distinctly uncomfortable all the time. They can't help the way they're hardwired, so giving them things that are familiar and maybe even their own personal wing, will go a long way in making them feel at home. If you don't pay attention to those cues, they won't feel respected or appreciated."

Harry winced. "Definitely don't want to do that," he said. "I don't know what cues to look for though?"

"You have Ethan and Charlie and Theo," Maury reminded him. "Watch them now. They aren't unbalanced, because you're serving as a counter to Charlie's fire, while Theo and Ethan are connecting through their shared element. You can pay attention to how that feels when you're awake and settled in your body. You'll know how they feel if you look for it. Once you're sure, make your decisions based on what you can sense is true."

A rush of energy knocked Harry over on his arse. He sat down on hard on the strange floor of nothingness.

"What was that?"

"...I'm not sure. I could check," Maury said, slowly. "I'd almost say that felt like your Theo, but I don't understand why he'd be reacting so strongly to—Harry, Harry, I need you to go back."

"Go back? Into where? What?" Harry reached for him, horrified when his hands slipped right through Maury's rapidly paling form. "Oret!"

"It's alright. I'm a Casper, remember? I'm just shifting forms. You might not be able to hold up this mindscape without me here. Let go of it. I'll pull you out again, if we need to talk. I'd better step out right now and make sure that everything's alright."

"And if it isn't?" Harry asked, voice small.

"...then I'll do my best to remedy that."

"Promise?" Harry couldn't help asking, even though it felt childish at the moment.

"I swear it."


Theo emerged from the bathroom towelling his hair and hiding a smile at the silent standoff taking place in front of him. The bath had certainly helped with his aching muscles and a good hot meal earlier, had helped to even out his cranky tempers.

Quinn, however, didn't seem to be faring any better than when Theo had left.

Not that he'd expected otherwise. It was half of the reason he'd called Charlie in, after all. It wasn't fair to ask Charlie to host for Ethan's family—or for the Kalziks' to take over so Ethan could join them now, but maybe later.

Depending on how long Quinn wanted this to go on.

Still, it wasn't really a silent standoff, given that Charlie was talking enthusiastically and dragon-Quinn was still growling and grumbling from his position on the bed where he was still wrapped around Harry.

Maybe it was a bit underhanded of him, but he hadn't missed the way that Quinn was still responding to instinctive cues. Trying to keep his head higher than Theo's, growling at him and forgoing all use of any other kind of communication spell—not to mention the way his magic and aura had blanketed the room before Theo had first appeared.

The last straw was the way he was wrapped around Harry and that had definitely taken more willpower to ignore than he would ever admit. It helped to know that Harry was safe, but it had pushed the limits of his self-control to stay calm and indifferent.

At least he'd hoped that was the way it came off.

It was too obvious to ignore everything else after that and the way that Quinn had continued to posture at him was more of a challenge than he'd expected from the quiet healer.

Still, it wasn't fair to drag it on that long.

He wasn't cruel, after all. Manipulative—eh, probably. It came with the rank and he was Slytherin, after all.

"Theo?" Charlie looked at him, expectant. "Ethan said his folks are leaving for the night. I think Surajini offered for them to stay at the main house, but they said they'd rather head home."

"No dinner?" Theo asked, humming.

"Ethan said something about an awards ceremony?" Charlie shrugged. "I think they were supposed to be somewhere else and they postponed the initial pre-party or something to escort us here."

"We'll have to thank them," Theo said, mildly. He spelled the wet towel back to the bathroom drying rack and then crossed over to the bed.

He stopped a few feet away when Quinn automatically reared up on his front paws, glowering at him as best as a dragon could.

"You're just going to be stubborn about this, aren't you?" Theo murmured, half to himself.

"What?" Charlie stood, peering over his shoulder. "Who?"

"Nothing, my dragon heart," Theo said, simply. He turned, as if to kiss Charlie's cheek, then paused.

Quinn was bristling all over, the continuous growl taking on a different sort of edge.


"If you say so," Charlie said, amused. He nuzzled Theo's temple and left with a slight wave of his hand to Quinn.

Theo watched him leave and then studied Quinn, this time his gaze more contemplative than before. "You're upset about something," he said, slowly. "And you don't want to deal with it now. You think it's—bad?"

Quinn ignored him.

"…I see. Well. Let me make this easy for you—and easy on both of us. Harry likes you. A lot. Ethan and Charlie seem to think that you're wonderful. I don't know what exactly your parents or Ethan's have told them about this whole thing, but I do know that I'm not very happy with you right now."

Teal eyes blinked up at him.

"You, out of everyone, know what Harry's going through. You understand the difference a single Bonded could make. Yet, you chose to suppress that. Hide it away. Even though you could've just outright refused it and severed the connection instead of carrying this around with you like some secret little-"

Quinn tossed his head, fiery letters appearing over his head in disjointed words. Refusing a connection isn't an easy thing! It would've hurt him more than you could possibly-!

"And ignoring the possibility of what you could have, of giving him some closure and-"

Closure? What about my closure? It affects me too! My life, my choice—my right.

"I'm not saying otherwise," Theo said, quietly. "I am saying that if you meant to keep this as a secret, then you could've put some effort behind it. You wouldn't have ever put yourself in a position where things would've gotten worse."

Shiny colourful scales gleamed in the soft light of the bedroom. The nighttime ambiance lent a different air to the moment.

I didn't plan for this to happen!

"No, but you haven't been subtle either. You've helped him. More than anyone would've expected. You even showed up now, volunteering for him when we came out of the Hound's territory. What am I supposed to read into that, Quinn? Tell me, because right now—you've activated something and Harry isn't in a position to consent or refuse and-"

I would never-! Quinn sat up in a hurry and the shift was instantaneous. He went from dragon-self to two-legged humanesque form in the space of a heartbeat.

Teal eyes flashed with meaning.

I would never take advantage of him!

"I didn't say that you would, but I did mean to infer that playing with his heart is just as bad," Theo said, darkly. "He's an Empath. He feels things. How do you think he feels now? He's not even properly awake or aware to process all of this happening around him—and you're practically staking a claim. You think I haven't noticed what you're doing?"

Quinn's hands clenched at his sides. I'm not trying to do anything! I swear, I didn't plan for any of this to happen. I-I don't know. I don't know, alright? I-I'm not a good match for you. Not for your Circle and not for him, so stop trying to push me into some kind of-

"Why would you think you're not a good match?" Theo asked, plainly. "Because I don't see anything with the potential." He held up a hand. "And if you dare think to say that I don't like you or we won't get along or something equally shallow, don't expect to be sitting on that bed for much longer."


Aracle stepped into the side room facing the sunlight streaming through the large, floor-to-ceiling windows. It was one of the Twins' favourites, within the manor, whenever it came to shopping and tailoring.

There was enough room for natural light to showcase whatever they wanted to model from their current spots on the measuring platform. Light pastel colours painted the room in a soothingly bland colour scheme, a nod to the Twins' ability to change the atmosphere of any room they chose.

From the sheer amount of stuff everywhere, it was clear that the Twins had called in their favourite tailors and ordered far more material than necessary.

He skirted the mounds of fabric, half-opened shipping parcels and various trinkets scattered all around the floor and furniture. There were a few brand-names he recognized—jewellery stores and fabric imports—the rest were a delightful tangle of packing paper and sparkly things.

He sighed.

Identical heads of blond hair snapped in his direction. Bhindi's scowl was noticeably darker than Bahn's, but neither twin looked particularly happy to see him.

Another sigh on the tip of his tongue was swallowed down. Instead, he eased into a tiny open space at the edge of one of the large padded benches and waited. Whatever they were upset about was sure to come out, if he simply gave them the time.

There were nearly a dozen Elven tailors flitting around the room, two of them measuring each twin, while the others were gathering types of fabric and translating patterns onto a pale blue holographic screen off to the side, projected on the largest wall.

Sueh, Alma and Bu were currently being fitted and Okahn had apparently just finished, as he was finally guided down to stand on the floor and given a fluffy dressing robe to lounge in.

The subtle tug on his bonds was the main reason he'd actually bothered to show his face here, and Aracle could now see that the reason for it was their wanting to get him all matching and fancy like the rest of them.

He wondered how much of the finery was necessary and how much was Elven pettiness in regards to making their respective Alphas suffer for insisting on some measure of restraint.

Another sigh worked its way up his throat. They wanted to be set free to wreak havoc and create chaos.

Quite frankly, he wished they would go all out for it.

Propriety and inter-realm etiquette would insist otherwise.

So would the promise of their respective Alpha's disapproval, despite how mild of a deterrent it actually was.

The Twins were good—when they wanted to be. This was not one of those moments. They'd been gearing up for something big for quite some time and he hadn't bothered to pay them any mind, until now.

He fought the urge to shift uncomfortably in the odd silence. Experience had taught him that silence meant scheming and where the Twins were concerned, scheming was never really good for anyone.

"Ilsa's gone?" Bahn asked, his tone clipped. The way he grimaced as he spoke, suggested that he already knew the answer and simply wanted confirmation.

"And no time frame, yes?" Bhindi added. She flipped her blonde braids over one slender shoulder. "Did you pass Callistair on the way in? It's his turn next—and yours too. You need to be fitted at some point. Now's fine, actually. Strip and get up on one of those stools."

Aracle pinned her with a look.

Silver eyes gave an exaggerated roll, before Bhindi spread her arms in exaggerated motions. "Please take your clothes off and kindly stand on the measuring platform, so you can be properly outfitted like everyone else!"

He nodded, simply.

It was best to hold his tongue when she was in that kind of a mood.

"Aracle," Bahn said, warningly. He was far too familiar with Aracle's method of handling things—which wasn't actually handling anything at all.

"Yes, Ilsa's off-realm," he said, easily. Tugging his shirt off, he banished the rest of his clothes in short order, standing where directed atop the measuring platform. "She requested company from our illustrious in-laws-to-be."

"The Kalziks?" Bahn guessed. "What would she want with one of their—they don't even have a Gheyo, do they?"

"They do," Bhindi said, grumpily. "The nice looking one with those—the hair?" she gestured behind her, holding one arm out so it could be measured.

"Oh, right! The Joker, right? Yes. Him. But why would she need him? Why not take one of ours?"

"I don't know. They get on her nerves. So she gets out of their way. She's always been like that," Bhindi said, carelessly.

Bahn sighed. He turned obediently on the platform as the measuring spell continued to note down his measurements in a neat list beside the platform. "That's-" he exchanged a look with Bhindi. "Unusual."

Bhindi rolled her eyes. "Do we have to care? I don't see why we have to care. I mean, I'd rather she wasn't cavorting around the realms to burn off some nervous energy, but I'm not about to tell her that. You're welcome to try."

"She's already on edge," Bahn said, slowly. "And I don't think she'd care to listen to me right now." He smoothed a hand over his baby bump. "You're going to let out your robes too?"

Bhindi wrinkled her nose. "Yeah. We should match so it confuses them."

Bahn smirked. "You do know me so well," he said, humming. "Is Koury going to handle hair or do you want to make an appointment with-"

"Koury," Bhindi said, easily. "That way we don't have to leave the house and then come back. The less appearances we make before the case is presented, the better it'll be. They won't be able to pin anything on us for existing because we won't be seen."

"Good point," Bahn said, humming. "What was Ilsa doing with the Kalziks, Aracle? You didn't say.

"She's handling transferred Alpha Rights," Aracle said, smoothly. He held still as the Elven tailors flitted around him, measuring, positioning and repositioning him to their liking.

Bhindi clicked her tongue dismissively. "She's our ACE and we could actually use her here!"

"She won't come back," Loren said, slinking into the room, his hair flickering softly in red flames.

There was a beat of silence, before Bhindi's sharp eyes were focused on him. "And what did you say to her?"

"I didn't say anything to-"

"And I didn't have to tell Takar to drag you in here," she shot back. There was a flap of her hand at the doorway, where a tired Takar merely gave a shake of his head. "Where's Greta and the others?"

"Right here, lovey," Greta murmured. She sauntered in, sweaty hair plastered to her forehead, a slight sheen on her toned body from the obvious physical exertion. Her workout jumpsuit highlighted all the best curves in simple white and purple stripes.

Now it was Bahn's turn to take over. "You didn't stop her?"

Greta twitched. "I'm not her keeper to-"

"You're her King," Bhindi said, flippantly. "And that does have a measure of opinion attached to it. Did she ask? Did you even volunteer?"

Greta looked away.

The Twins exchanged a glance.

"If you want to talk to her that badly, then just call," Aracle said, before his mind could catch up to his mouth. "I'm sure she'd love to hear what you have to say."

She wouldn't, he knew, but she'd also brought that on herself.

The Twins shrugged in perfect unison.

"I'll message, you talk," Bahn said.


Inter-realm connection to the immediate vicinity of Ilsa Gorgens-Deveraine, Blood Title XXXX, accept transmission? Connection accepted. Private line secured. Commence with necessary communications.

Ilsa's face came into view, looking harried and irritated in equal parts. Her two-toned hair stuck up all over at the corners, her trademark scowl surfacing as she recognized the message's intent.

"What," she growled. "There'd better be something happening for you to call me all the way in-"

"What are you doing?" Bhindi was quicker and therefore, the first to speak. "You're off-realm. You didn't tell me. You didn't tell any of us. Don't you think that's kind of important? Or were you so antsy, you couldn't sit still and had to work that restlessness out of your system, hmm?"

Ilsa looked away, guiltily.

"No, wait. Did you even think to check-in? Or are you having so much fun, you can't be bothered to? Because there's a difference between what you're doing now and what we've agreed on-"

"I'm taking care of business," Ilsa ground out. Her golden eyes were a steady, dark brown, dangerously close to black.

In the background, Bharin Kalzik was visible, poking through what looked like a large bookshelf in the middle of a strange room that could've passed for an office.

"Oh?" Bahn's voice was deceptively light. "Do tell."

"He's a bloody Torvak," Ilsa hissed. Her eyes flashed even darker. "I was just coming here to check on something and instead, I found—a Torvak. Running the school. Running a school for children."

Bhindi sighed. She inspected her claws with a disinterested air. "Not that I can't read your mind, because it's startlingly easy, darling—but maybe you could try explaining so we're all on the same page?"

Ilsa grimaced. "Theo mentioned—it's come up a few times. The school—where he went to? Where Harry attended? Both of them were—unhappy with the headmaster. Theo said-" Ilsa hesitated. "There was a spell? At the start of the year. Something to trigger creature traits. Force them to surface."

Loren hissed, recoiling in the background. The sound was muffled at once by a quick privacy spell from Bhindi.

"He cast it over an entire school. Dozens of children! All different ages and creature types and-" Ilsa quivered, as if barely holding herself together. "This isn't just an issue with Theo anymore, it's inter-realm!"

"Are they dragel?" Bhindi wanted to know.

Ilsa's brow furrowed. "Well, no. Not likely. I think there's a handful of them? Maybe? I can't pinpoint for certain, but Theo, Draco and all of them—that whole set were so-"

The Twins exchanged another glance with their odd little expressions.

"Alright," Bahn said, at last. "Then we'll mention it to Queen Arista. Perhaps she can make herself useful in the meantime before the trial."

"It's probably across the spectrum," Ilsa said, quietly. She moved around the office, whirling bits of gold and gleaming metal visible in the ground.

"Then we'll pass the word to the other realms and their protective service teams can handle it," Bahn said, briskly. "It's not your problem."

"Bahn, it's serious-"

"And it is not your problem," he repeated, sterner than before. "You know what your problem is?"

Ilsa did not answer.

"It is with us, at our side, dealing with the aftermath of an incident that should not have occurred, particularly if you were where you belonged and not off-realm handling-" Bhindi's lip curled.

A tiny, whistling noise filtered through the connection, before Ilsa's expression grew pained. "Bhindi, that's not-"

"I want you home. Now." The words were sharp and stiff, but the order was absolute.

Ilsa twitched, a hint of rebellion showing through. "The others are there. No one can get through the wards. Everyone will be fine-"

"That's not what I said."


"Tell me, Ilsa, why is it that you can insist on closing ranks and expect it to be followed to the letter and yet—yet, here we are. Everyone coming home. Dragging in every loose end and confining us to the headache of each other's company, while you're off gallivanting across the realms for the sake of your mentored student because you-"

"It's for a good cause-"

"And I don't care!" Bhindi snapped. "Let the Royals handle it! Give a report to the Inter-Realm Agencies. Pass it onto your father for all I care. You are a Blood Title, are you not? Surely you can use your brain without-" She stopped at Bahn's hand on her arm.

He frowned at Ilsa's averted gaze, one hand resting on his baby bump. "She's right," he said, quietly. "Home. Now, please. And if you're so wired that you cannot stay still and contained within the estate, might I remind you that you have an entire Suite at your disposal? I am sure they would be more than willing to accommodate you in whatever way you asked of them."

Ilsa jerked, her eyes flaring gold and meeting his stare squarely. "They are not heartless blades without feeling or-"

"Heart has nothing to do with it. They are your Suite and you have neglected them. I don't particularly care how you work out the finer points of your dynamics, so as long as they are worked out. Do not leave your heavy lifting to Greta, because you are too afraid to make up your mind."

"And whose fault is that!" Ilsa snapped. She started, violently, when Bharin interrupted them with a hand on her arm and a finger to her lips. "What—did you hear something? I don't hear—charms—throw up charms!"

The scenery blurred until it showed both Gheyos standing by large, ornately panelled windows overlooking castle grounds.

Shadowy dark figures could be seen descending from the sky.

"What is that?" Ilsa demanded, her hackles up at once. Scales shone and glittered along the sides of her face and the backs of her hands as she pointed at something out of the frame of the message bubble.

Bharin held up a hand, tugging on thin, glowing threads, before leaning in to listen to something. "...she says it's a Dementor."

"It certainly looks demented," Ilsa muttered. "What is it doing here? What's it supposed to-" she shuddered. "That's too close to Fabrine."

"A lesser form of it, maybe," Bharin said, calmly. "Don't stay to figure it out. I don't want you wrapped up in another inter-realm incident with your Circle all ready to start-"

"Something's in the water down there," Ilsa said, brushing his hand away. She squinted at something in the distance through the paned glass window. "Look—down there. Did you see that?"

"…no." Bharin shuffled her to the side, frowning. "That's a lake, right?"

"I thought it was, but then there should be—do you think there's merfolk down there?"

"I don't know. There could be. Usually are in most deep bodies of water. Even a large pond could host something."

Ilsa twitched. "If he's a Torvak, what do you want to bet that there's something in there that might need to be—that probably shouldn't be?"

Bharin hissed. "I hate the way your mind works. You just automatically think up the worst of everyone and everything?"

"Not all the time," Ilsa said, her laugh a tad strained. "I just—I've seen the worst of it. So it's hard to unsee it."

"Maybe you should return to Nevarah—your Circle, I mean. If there's something serious there, then I'll call in some help and we'll handle it."

There was obvious reluctance in every line of Ilsa's body as she scowled. "This is just a guess. An educated guess, but that doesn't mean that-"

"Ilsa," Bhindi's voice was oddly quiet. "I need you. Here. Beside me. With us. Please?"

There was a sharp, hitched breath, before Ilsa's pinked face disappeared from view.

Murmured exchanges were had, before Bharin's agreement filtered on through. "I wish you luck, Lady Deveraine," he said, mildly amused. "Happy hunting. I'll be sure to keep you informed."

A/N: Merry Christmas you guys! I wish you a lovely holiday, if you celebrate and a happy end of year, if you don't. Thank you so much for your support of this monster of a story throughout 2021. I appreciate you so much! How did you like the new format? Ch 114 was me trying out a new format in response to some feedback from the last chapter and some super helpful suggestions from my patrons. Hope you enjoyed it! I'll be tweaking this for probably the next couple of chapters, until I find a format that sticks/works well with my writing style.

Anyhow, thank you for reading through all these years and being so patient about my updates! Be safe and take care! I'll see you in 2022~! -Scion

I was asked to include a short ranking summary in a recent comment, so here we go for quick reference!

• ALPHA — the dominant authority figure, equal to the Submissive, within a bonded dragel Circle. One corner of the operating triad.
• BETA — Mediator between the Alpha and Submissive. Usually acts on the Alpha's behalf, when needed. One corner of the operating triad.
• SUBMISSIVE — the heart of a dragel Circle and generally the shortest. One corner of the operating triad.
• PAREYA — the protector within a Circle, usually attuned to the Submissive and proficient in defensive magic
• GHEYO — the fighter within a Circle, usually attuned to the Pareyas and proficient in offensive magic. Gheyos have multiple titles within their ranks, denoting special fighting skills and establishing a clear authority figure. A Circle with all Gheyo ranks filled is referenced as having a full Suite. They are ACE, King, Queen, Prince, Princess, Knight, Page, Trainee
• MAGE - A magic-oriented fighter within a Circle that does not follow Gheyo ranking or authority. They are known for having tremendous magical ability and control.
Additional ranks include, HEALER, ADVISOR, RHEYO, ROYAL, COMPANION, and CARRIER.

Find me online as Chera Carmichael for updates on all kinds of dragel stuff. I also have a Tumblr for chapter update progress, random fandom slash and some AU fic teasers at Scioneeris.