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 Theo talk. Hadrian has a breakthrough about the Hallows. Quinn comes to a realization and feels are had.


A SHORT CONVERSATION – THEO / Kadel Residence – Entrance


Theo wasted no time at all in leaving the Kalzik ancestral property and hurrying out to the main road, where he could cast a long-distance 'portal without any complications or interruptions.

Their last encounter with Maia Kadel replayed over and over in his head, a memory of her concern and how genuine it'd seemed at the time.

Except—except—she saw the future.

Or variations of it.

Surely, she must've seen this. A moment where he'd reach out to Harry and Harry would reach back, despite the healing trance. The instance where they would meet in spirit and soul, together in Harry's mindscape.

It felt so significant now.

A warm, steadying feeling that thrummed contentedly beside his heart, as if it were a living representation of the connection to Harry and all of his Bonded.

Yes.

It was definitely better than what it had been. Whatever Harry had done or whatever he'd learned, whiling away the time in his mindscape with his Caspered mentor for company. At least, Theo knew he was alright.

Still missed him though.

A gentle pulse of calm and encouragement filtered through from Charlie and Ethan in tandem. Theo managed a smile as the 'portal sucked him in, a pillar of white-blue light that shot down from the sky.

It didn't take long to 'port off to the residence of one Maia Kadel.

Enveloping him entirely in a solid pillar of warm light and gentle magic, it yanked him from the grassy strip beside the road leading up to the Kalzik property and flung him out overhead, into a receiving draft above another ancestral property line.

The Kadel residence, he knew, as he drifted down, floating slowly and carefully in a contained, controlled fall.

It was their Air element, but used far more deliberately than the sharpness that he'd grown accustomed to with the Deveraines. The Kadel residence had a deliberately crafted ward that was set to act like a buffer for all incoming spellwork. Something that would gently lower all guests down to the ground, instead of allowing the possibility of being splattered on the protective wards or the rock-solid ground.

The Deveraines had a bit more daredevil in them.

If he was going to be splattered on the wards, then perhaps, he didn't need to be there in the first place. It was a subtle, but almost amusing distinction. If they ever did find their own place, he'd be sure to use something similar.

Maybe a gentle touch at first and then something bone-breaking for any unnecessary intruders. A layered ward, perhaps? He'd have to check with Harry, when he was up again.

It was possible that his Empathy could be tempered or far-reaching. Either option would need some outside help, so overwhelm or withdrawal wouldn't cause problems.

He wondered, a tad wistfully, what Harry would really be like, if his Empathy was honed, sharpened and wrapped around him to be wielded as a weapon or a shield, depending on what the situation called for.

It would be wonderful and somehow, uniquely Harry.

Theo leaned into the winds ruffling his hair and blowing around his face. He probably needed to call Ilsa first, before hashing anything out with Maia. There was definitely the possibility of Aracle lending a hand, even if it could be tricky.

It was Aracle he had to thank for the two years he'd accumulated in between of the shuffling from the Deveraine Estate and running across the realms at Ilsa's side.

They had been very kind to him, especially since Ilsa's mentorship of him was completely unexpected.

On one claw now, he wished he was able to stand with them or at least in their defense. Lending his Circle, his magic and his resources to help with the Clan War.

Not that they needed it, of course. He'd only be standing with them in spirit. Something they would doubtless return when the trial came up.

It burned that none of the contacts he'd tried to reach for, had answered. Sure, some of it could be chalked up to the busyness of the Hunt, but he'd hoped that someone would come to stand in Harry's stead.

They were dragel, for Ergen's sake! Dragels had deep roots and large families. Harry would absolutely flourish with the right kind of attention, encouragement and support.

And if he was being honest, it would take a weight off of his shoulder and perhaps, even offer something for Ethan and Charlie. There was still so much to keep track of and all the social juggling they would have start doing the moment Harry was awake.

The slight throb in his head was manfully pushed aside, because he could have a headache later. Right now, he had work to do.

Freefalling was good for thinking, but not necessarily the calmest way to enter a property that he'd never visited before.

Of course, no sooner had he arrived at that conclusion, the winds swirling around him—changed.

His feet were gently tucked under him, the soft drag of invisible hands buoying his upper body until he was standing on his own power. It was a different sort of landing, one that he thought Harry would probably like.

Maybe he should take him flying sometime soon.

They'd sort of had a good time at The Dive, except for that moment of whatever it'd been before they'd had to leave. Even meeting a random Gheyo had been interesting and not too much of a problem.

Gheyos were something they'd have to start thinking about soon. Figuring out what preferences Harry had, that meshed well with the rest of them. A Gheyo ACE would be the first step and one of the most important ones.

He hadn't exactly seen many that had caught his attention, much less held it for longer than a short conversation. Some were too harsh and others seemed as if they would think their little Circle to be a hassle.

Those were absolutely not worth his time or thought. So far, Harry had good taste though. Maybe it was the soulbond's side effects.

Oh well.

It wasn't like he was complaining.

He'd originally hoped that perhaps, they could venture to one of the upper floors in The Dive where watchful Pareya aided with controlled winds and air flow, to help younger dragels figure out their wings or have a safe flight without requiring constant parental supervision.

It was a light-hearted place and he'd spent hours there before, usually with Ariki Deveraine in tow and sometimes a few of the Deveraine Pareyas, like Sueh and Alma. They would watch from the upper floors and cheer for them, as they figured out wings and aerial manoeuvres.

Ariki was a natural-born flier and he'd happily thrown himself headfirst into learning everything that came with his new wings.

Theo was reasonably sure that teaching him to fly was the main reason that Ariki had chosen to become a flight instructor. Despite his light-hearted personality and general cheerfulness, Ariki had long, beautiful wings that were well-suited to flying and a brimming curiosity on how to use them.

A smile registered, briefly.

They'd certainly had fun together. He'd learned and grown right along with Dahlia, Soula and Ariki, with Ilsa's watchful eye from a distance. Good memories, however brief and short, were still good.

He hoped the same would ring true for Harry, even if all he would ever have of Maurice Elswood was a caspered shade that was only a sliver of what the man had been in real life. He was certainly protective enough and Theo was glad to see it.

The ground underfoot was solid and promising now, the rest of the Kadel estate shrouded in large blocks of shimmering grey fog that didn't seem to overlap properly. A different type of ward, perhaps, one meant to keep out prying eyes from seeing things they shouldn't.

The Kadel estate took shape around him as he made his way up a paved, white-stone walkway to a low brick wall that led to a curved archway and gleaming silver gates.

A silver Circle crest was emblazoned on the front, over a coat of arms.

The Kadel Crest..

It bore an hourglass and twinkling stars around it, with clouds wrapped around both, as if to symbolize their ability to see through time and the future. A lovely bit of symbolism, even if it was rather tongue-in-cheek.

He hesitated, before stepping back to call Ilsa. It was best to get the conversation over with before starting another mental thread he'd have to keep track of.

Two privacy bubbles later, the call connected, showing Ilsa's harried expression and stern gaze. She looked windswept and worried, dressed in one of her duller sets of armour.

"Theodore?"

"Oretta," he greeted. "I have a favour to ask and you are completely free to refuse without explanation. I must ask you anyway, as our options are limited now."

Ilsa grunted. "Go on."

"Information first. If Harry wanted to speed up his healing trance, would you be able to help?"

"You want Aracle to help him?" Ilsa guessed. The background shifted behind her, displaying the familiar hallways of the Deveraine estate. She'd answered his call in transit, it'd seemed. "I don't know off-hand, Theo. He's magic sensitive and it could complicate things for him later. Those kinds of alterations are dangerous."

"I know, but I'm asking anyway. Is it an option?"

"What are your other options?" Ilsa asked, instead. "You could use some wards, anchor the realm's protection, request a sort of—"

"Oretta."

"No, I don't think we can. As much as I'd like to, it's best if we don't. He's just been anchored to the realm and that kind of magic—it'll strain him. He's been through enough already. There has to be other options, Theo. Just because one way is the fastest, doesn't mean it's the best."

"I know," Theo said, biting back a sigh of frustration. "It's just that we don't have a lot of time and in between of everything with the upcoming trial, we could use all the time that we-"

"You always have exactly as much time as you need," Ilsa said, firmly. "Do it right the first time, so you don't have to do it a second time with less resources than the first. I can ask Aracle, but I'm reasonably sure his answer will be the same as mine, probably less—tempered. He doesn't like to see that as the only way forward."

Reluctantly, Theo nodded.

Ilsa's expression softened. "I know you're worrying about him, but staying in a healing trance isn't the worst. He'll be fine. He'll come out of it better for the rest and repair, even if it does make your timeline a little tighter. You're clever enough to handle it, Theo. You know this."

He nodded, once.

"Who put him in the trance anyway. Wasn't it one of the Kalziks? They won't reverse it for you? I could ask Surajini or ask Bahn to ask her, if that's a problem?"

"Not the Kalziks. It was Maia Kadel," he said, simply. "She came to the Shadow section for it remember?"

Ilsa stopped in her tracks, a grim glint in her eye. "Then ask her to undo it."

"...she probably won't."

"And you asked?"

Theo made a soft sound in his throat.

"...I see. Alright. Ask her. If you don't get the result you're looking for, we can try something else. There's more options than just a shift forward. Arielle, even a Rune master could anchor him enough for someone else to perform an awakening or retrieval, keep your mind open and your options available."

"They wouldn't answer a request at this point in the Hunt, would they?" Theo asked. He automatically strengthened the privacy ward out of habit, a restless feeling curling around him.

It didn't feel right to have this sort of conversation on the doorstep of someone else's house.

"Point," Ilsa allowed. "Would it help if I sent my father? You'd be in good hands. He liked Harry and he'd definitely be able to help, even if it's just to lend a presence to the area. His Earth element is quite strong and it'll definitely be a boost to the Kalziks on top of it."

"Would you really ask him? He's probably got better things to do than drop in to make sure that we're not self-destructing somehow."

"He wouldn't mind and he'll be able to help, you just have to ask him," she said, firmly. "You might get smothered though. He'll fuss because I'm not there." A faint smirk flickered across her face, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared.

Theo hesitated. "If you're absolutely sure—then it would help."

"Alright. I'll let him know. Call me again, if you need me. I'm just between places right now. I have to be the face of our Circle for a little while, on account of my Blood Title, but since our complications are scheduled before yours. I'll be free in between of them."

"I'll try not to disturb you," Theo said, lightly.

Ilsa shot him a look. "And that's exactly not what I was going for," she said, briskly. "Bother. Disturb. Raise the dead, if you must, though I'd prefer if you didn't because that's just messy with the undead walking around. But don't let my scheduling be an issue if you need me. It just means shorter conversations and keeping to the point, understand?"

"Yes."

"You're a good soul, Theo. Don't let yourself get weighed down by everything else happening around you. It's all noise. Just noise. Block it out and follow the plan you've set in motion, alright?"

"...will you call him now? I'm literally on the Kadels' doorstep. Ethan and Charlie are over there though."

"I'll call. He'll probably 'port straight to the Kalzik's though. Is there anyone else there who can meet him? Who's with you? Preferably a Kalzik, so the wards don't buckle."

"Everyone is there," Theo said, simply.

"Theo!"

"It's faster if it's just me, Oretta. You know that."

"It's called a Circle, because everything supports and feeds into itself," she said, frowning. "Lean on them. It's alright to have someone on hand, even if they aren't a copy of you."

"I know."

"Alright. Call if you need me."

The message bubble burst then, leaving Theo standing on the stone landing of the Kadel estate, feeling wearier than when he'd arrived.

It wasn't that he minded Thomas Gorgens, but he also knew just how much his wonderful mentor was like her father. He hoped Charlie and Ethan would be alright with a little bit of outside help.

He had a feeling that Quinn might think differently, but hopefully, he'd be a good host anyway. After all, Ilsa was right.

Thomas had seemed to like Harry very much, as almost if he'd assigned him grandchild-status, much like he had with Theo.


SOMETHING IN THE LAKE - HOGWARTS - BHARIN


There was something in the lake.

He felt it in the way that a sudden sense of unfathomable dread crept over him from head to toe, as if someone had poured a bucket of darkness over the entire realm and then shook it around, to watch it settle.

Horrible. Disgusting. Nasty.

A dull warning echoed in the back of his head. As if the very shadows around him were trying to push him out of his current hiding place and deeper into the Hogwarts Castle.

He was riveted to the floor though, watching the sleek surface of the lake and the way that it began to shimmer and darken. As if something was hidden underneath and about to breach the surface.

It was the hint of otherworldly magic that set the tone for something troublesome.

And he didn't like it at all.

Maybe he should send a message back to Nevarah, so they could pull him back and prepare if there was an issue.

Waterways—all waterways, really—were portals to the Merrow Waters. There was a reason the Merrow were the only necessary line of defence for attacks off-realm.

Merrow were everywhere, just like water was everywhere.

And they wasted no time in separating friend or foe with very little overlap. It was the kind of thing dealt with in stealth and silence, but an efficient system that had flourished for years.

Unlike land walking dragels, Merrow were always steeped in their element and it allowed them a different depth and strength of magic that they readily took advantage of.

A shadow seemed to waver at the corner of his gaze and Bharin didn't bother to tamp down the burst of suspicion that bloomed at once. He was an Earth element and no one else had come after them.

Ilsa shared that element and despite her own Caspers and her Caspered inheritance of Ergen, himself, there was no shadow manipulation involved. Which meant that there was either someone with a Shadow specialty nearby.

Or he'd set off some sort of ward or trap.

Neither option was good.

He backed away from the large window, taking stock of the cluttered office once more. The Headmaster's quarters were somewhere close—he could sense the guarding magic set up to hide and protect it—but there was something else lurking there.

Something darker and more sinister.

As tempting as it was to explore, he didn't want to do it alone. That was just asking for trouble and despite his own specialty, there were limits.

Surajini would probably kill him—and revive him, hopefully—if he was stupid enough to stick his neck where his nose wanted to go. The odds were slightly in his favour, but the difference was too great.

Starting something now when he had no one to back him up would likely result in heavy property destruction.

And a lot of wild magic.

Oops.

Definitely not a good idea.

Curious, but cautious, Bharin set threads into everything as he eased out of the office. Whatever was hidden there would have to wait for later—or at least—until someone else was either stupid or brave enough to take it on.

Stupidity hadn't gotten him very far in life though, but a healthy sense of self-preservation had. As Bharin made his way through the old magical castle, he moved slowly enough to let his threads settle into old stone and ancient plaster.

It seemed kind of odd that there was really no one around.

But he couldn't decide if it was because of the castle reaching to him protectively or if there was something else at play. The creepy moving portraits didn't quite sit right with him either.

They were different than the lively colourful holograms he was used to seeing throughout Nevarah and in various homes. Surajini preferred to have things painted the old-fashioned way, with holo references stamped along the bottom.

He'd gotten used to the fact that each painting captured a single, unmoving scene and in time, it'd grown on him.

To see the portraits here—he was almost certain they were communicating with each other as if they were actually alive.

Instead of just replicas or tiny slivers of personal energy from the portrait subjects themselves. It conjured a disturbing scenario in his head and Bharin stubbornly shifted his thoughts elsewhere.

He could figure that out later, there was something else more pressing now. Whatever was happening outside could cause problems. He paused at a few stops, adding some of his invisible threads to points in the castles here and there.

Partially to help with the growing unease that there was something terrible wrong happening or about to happen.

Bharin frowned to himself, adding a second layer of silencing charms to his feet as he moved through the dusty corridors. For a fancy wizard school, he'd kind of expected more.

Not the modern efficiency and amenities of somewhere like Noir Academy, but at least, something a bit—cleaner. There was a dampness in the air and a darkness that seemed to cling to the corners.

As if even the walls had seen things that they shouldn't.

They'd been in the Headmaster's office, poking through his things and not really finding much in the way of obvious clues, but he hadn't expected any more than that.

No clever person would leave anything incriminating out in the open, especially if they were powerful enough to have this sort of effect on the place where they lived.

He could definitely sense that. It was too hard to miss.

The Headmaster was not dragel, but he was certainly something dangerous. Someone who might have done something quite terrible, beyond what Ilsa had told him.

He didn't particularly mind that Ilsa had skulked off to take care of her Circle. He'd seen that ending coming miles away, long before the single-minded Gheyo had allowed any hint of it to interrupt her hunt.

It was no wonder she was a Blood Title, given that kind of hunting focus. He hadn't been able to decide whether she was upset about what the horrible woman had done to Harry or if there was something else lurking under the surface of her bristling anger.

She was spoiling for a fight and definitely out for blood, so he hadn't seen a reason not to accompany her off-realm.

An agitated Gheyo was a recipe for bloodshed and disaster, if not properly curbed or at least, pacified. He knew the urges all too well himself, having given up a large portion of his own bloodthirstiness upon joining the Kalzik Circle.

He was meant to fight and push against everything in the realms. A Circle certainly helped with grounding and staying centred, but if he didn't actively work at building and maintaining the relationships within it—well, he'd probably end up like her.

Fraying at the edges and worrying herself half to death about trying to keep them all safe without showing weakness in the way that she struggled. At least he was able to help her.

Even if he didn't trust himself to investigate without starting something else on the side—well, at least he could say that he'd tried.

Too soon, he found himself outside via a service entrance at the side of the castle, opening out into the vast castle grounds. It was the typical white-cobblestoned courtyards and low walls, with vast greenery spread all around it and the dark, smooth surface of the lake glistening in the distance.

At the foot of one end was a large hut and something like a shed. Greenhouses were just visible over another point. Lots of greenhouses. A thick treeline bordered off most of it.

Bharin couldn't shake the feeling that there were far too many eyes on him. He slipped down from the castle, picking his way along the steep rocky path with the intention of getting to the hut.

He could privately 'port from there.

Maybe.

Perhaps he should reach out to Surajini and the others first. He might need to have a little extra help on his side. It certainly couldn't hurt to reach out to her a little earlier than expected.

After all, there was no telling what kind of delay was between Earth and Nevarah…


KALZIK MAIN ESTATE : QUINN & SURAJINI


Quinn studied his hands, the nails and fingertips dyed a reddish tint. He could feel the magic tingling through each finger, little threads of energy sparking up his arms and traveling to his heart.

His Mama's magic had always been powerful, even more so as the years had gone by. He knew that to be true now, because the anxiousness in his soul was slowly settling into a manageable calm.

Yes, he still had worries.

But, he also had someone who had listened patiently and without judgement. That had set his mind and heart at ease on a level that he hadn't thought was possible.

That much relief had left his mind whirling and his thoughts regrouping again. Her last words were repeating over and over on a loop in his head.

She was right, of course.

She was always right when it came to that sort of thing.

He did deserve that same level of care and generosity he tried to show to those around him, family included.

Still. It didn't feel—fair?

It felt like too much of a hassle. More trouble than it was worth to set things straight and then to experience the inevitable heartbreak.

He didn't want to start or enter a Pareyic coven. Renouncing his rank once had been more times than he'd wanted to. The thought of doing it a second time made him want to crawl into the realm's core and dissolve there.

Claiming solitary was far too lonely. He'd wanted the company and liveliness of a full Circle. Finding someone with his particular preference was also tricky. He'd found one—sort of—and then the Incident had happened and he'd stopped looking.

It was too much.

Even now, that felt like too much.

But Harry, with his open soul and his strong magic, called to him. Had somehow seen something inside of him that it'd deemed him worthy of a Soulbonded match.

Arielle and the stars above.

"You should speak to your Uncle Vikram," Surajini said, lightly. "I can feel you thinking yourself in circles, even if I can't see your face." She tugged on his left ear, gently.

I don't want any of the options in front of me. He shifted, minutely. I want something that is—different.

"And? Quinn, darling, you know there is more than one way to bond into a Circle. You know this. They cover it in every year of healer studies. It's just a matter of knowing what you want."

Well, yes, but-

"And no way is more powerful or better than the other."

I know, but-

"It's blood, magic and soul. None of that requires any forced physical intimacy. The soulbond adjusts according to the holders."

Yes, but Mama. His soul. I've seen his soul. I've been so close to it and I—I can't just—I feel like I don't deserve that!

"Oh, sweetheart."

His shoulders drooped.

"So, you'll just write him off, because you've read his soul in a single instant and believe that you know more about him than he knows about himself?"

Quinn twitched, faintly. I do know more than he knows—he didn't know he had seals on him or magic trapped inside of those seals or even how those could have-

"Quinten."

What?

"Don't do that to yourself or Harry. Do not take this at face value. You haven't talked to him and you don't know what he'll see. Suppose you do ask him and he says it's fine?"

He wouldn't—he—I-I don't know.

"Think about it. He seems fairly sure of what he wants or at least, he knows what he doesn't want. You might be building up some fantastic arguments in your head for something that absolutely won't happen."

Surajini tapped Quinn's bared shoulders, so he would lean forward a little more, so the overhead light would illuminate the delicate scrolls painted down his back.

It wasn't rune magic, per se, but it was very much along those lines.

Like Rangoli art, colourful displays meant to bring good luck and prosperity to the home and heart—this was silvery threads of magically infused oils and powdered pigment mixed into a spreadable paste.

Silver, until the activation took, and then the colours would come through. The patterns painted were one of a kind. Never quite replicated or repeated again. A simple, silent blessing of sorts for the recipient created in a moment of harmony.

I'm not taking anything at face value. I'm just saying that I know what he wanted. I couldn't have ignored it if I'd tried. I'm not what he's looking for. I'm not what he wants. He's young and hopeful and-

"And you're old, grizzled and set in your ways?" Surajini said, dryly. "I honestly thought I'd be having this conversation with one of your older sisters. They're overdue for it."

Quinn huffed. I'm serious!

"I don't doubt that you are, but I also believe that you're close to the situation and you're not seeing what's right there in front of you. You can't guess at what someone thinks or feels, even if you're a telepath or an empath. You can make a pretty good guess, but you're not them. In that moment, in that instant, maybe you get a glimpse. You see past what they're projecting. What they want you to see. But there's always a problem with that. Do you know what it is?"

He shook his head, slightly.

"The gap. There's always what they thought, what you thought they thought and then what they were really thinking."

That's confusing.

Her lips quirked in a fond smile. "It does seem that way, doesn't it? Can't possibly be any more confusing than guessing without even trying to talk to him first?"

…Mama.

"You've had a good sense about yourself since that fight. Growing pains are sometimes more painful than other things, but that doesn't mean that we can't learn without it being hard."

I have learned to-

"To be easier on yourself? You were always pushing yourself hard, even back then. What for, Quinn? What are you trying to reach for that is so far out of reach, you feel that you've got to suffer for it?"

Shock radiated through him for a split-second, before the words settled deep inside, swimming along with every other little piece of information that he hadn't quite reconciled inside of him before.

A sharp hiss ruined the moment.

Surajini sat bolt upright, protectively gathering him into a half-hug, his face squished to her shoulder.

Mama? He tried to wriggle free, experimentally, but her grip was tight and the sudden flare of her magic froze him in place.

Her hands shifted, one to rest on his back—a secondary shielding spell burning at her fingertips. The other hand came up to cradle his head, her cheek pressed against the top of it.

"Don't move."

Obediently, he froze in place. His magic flared cautiously at the edges. Anything that had startled his Mama was potentially dangerous to the extreme.

"It's—it's alright. It's not an attack—here. It's-" Surajini faltered.

Quinn pressed his forehead a little harder into the curve of her shoulder. It's what? What is it, Mama?

"Hush. I need to—trace that. It's—it's far away. I think something's off with—Bharin? That doesn't make any sense. I thought he was with Lady Deveraine for some sort of filing of Alpha rights—why would he be reaching out without a—oh Bharin."

What's wrong? What's happened? Is he alright? Mama!

Surajini rumbled reassuringly, the sound vibrating through the room, forcefully calming the tension around them. "It's fine. I think he's fine at the moment. He feels fine. But I'm not sure why he feels so uncertain about it. He reached out. He doesn't usually do that."

…you said he was looking into Alpha Rights?

Quinn chewed on his lower lip, not liking the combination that his mind was providing.

"Yes. Something he's done before. It's—to do with his secondary gift. I know he's usually fine on his own, but I think we might need to actually—ah. There we go." She patted his head, allowing her arms to slip back to her sides so Quinn could sit up on his own.

What happened? Mama?

"It's fine, darling. It's alright. He went—off-realm with Lady—with Ilsa Deveraine. He should've been fine, but he's reaching out and—he doesn't normally do that, so it caught me off-guard. He was—insistent. I think he thought the message wouldn't come through, but it did." Surajini rose gracefully to her feet, offering Quinn a hand.

He took it, confused. What are you going to do?

"He doesn't call unless it's necessary. Which means something must be necessary, though from the feel of it, he's just being careful right now."

Surajini snapped her fingers in front of her face, three times.

A clothes swapping spell immediately replaced her cosy home tracksuit with the official robes of her healer status—the heavily warded set with the extra overrode and ultra-detailed runic borders in gold along every hem.

Quinn eyed her warily. He knew the difference in her healer's garb and what robes provided the best protection in a hurry.

Mama…

Twin knocks sounded on the door of the small meditation room, before Hiram and Patrick's voices filtered through the privacy ward.

"Surajini?" Hiram called out.

"Jini?" Patrick called. "Was that Bharin?"

"The first one, yes. The second one was me. Door's open. Come in." Surajini flipped her long braid of hair over her shoulders, spelling it up into an appropriate style. "Something's happened wherever he's been or it's actually about to happen. He hasn't decided yet on the specifics of it, but that was the closest I've ever had to an actual call from him. We should go, if we can."

Hiram and Patrick exchanged a glance, but it was Hiram who shrugged. "Your call," he said, quietly.

Quinn shifted uncertainly. They were all quite serious and that was the most obvious hint that something much larger was happening somewhere, than in Surajini's little meditation room right there.

Surajini softened. "We're fine. It's Bharin. Can you sense him?"

Hiram looked to Patrick, who already had a faraway look in his eyes, as if he was reaching out past the realms to zero in on their missing Bonded.

"Patrick will find him. He's a little faint to my reach right now, but I think it's because you're right. He's not sure yet, whatever it is. Perhaps we shouldn't wait for him to verify that. Quinn, is everything alright?" There was concern in his face as he looked over both of them with a critical view.

Quinn hesitated. He shrugged in lieu of an answer.

Hiram sighed. "A shrug is not an answer," he said, firmly. "Remember to use your words, no matter what the occasion is. It's harder to misinterpret what you've said compared to what you've supposedly implied. Jini?"

"He's fine, Hiram. Just having a little bit of a crisis," Surajini said, a small smile on her face. "And he's figuring it out fine on his own." She leaned over, pressing a kiss to Quinn's cheek. "You heart is where it wants to be. Go and stay with him, alright? Spend some time getting to know Theo, Charlie and Ethan. If that's what you want, if that's where you want to be—find out how you fit together. There's nothing wrong with that and if you want to bond to them- "

Hiram perked up, interestedly.

What if it doesn't work?

Surajini smiled, gently. "Why wouldn't it? How could it not? A Circle works just like breathing. You don't have to worry if it'll work or not, it just happens. Things grow and stretch and so do you right along with it. And soon, you don't even have to think about it, you just know that it's happening and that you're a part of it."

Hiram nodded, faintly. "Your mother's right. A Circle is a circle because it is everything giving and receiving at the same time. You lean into each other and you are leaned on in turn. Just like every other relationship in your life. It takes work, you know that."

Slowly, Quinn nodded.

Surajini smoothed a hand over his fluffy hair again, cupping his cheek. "Go on, then. Stay inside—or indoors—until we're back."

You're leaving?

"It's probably best if we're somewhere that Bharin can reach us, if he needs to," Hiram said, gently. "I take it this is about Harry?"

Quinn flushed.

Does everyone know except me?

Hiram smiled, faintly. "I think that's all on your mother. She knows things even a Casper wouldn't. That's just who she is. Come on, let's give them some space. Patrick?"

There was a faint whine from Patrick, whose eyes remained heavily glazed over, blue-and-teal scales surfacing along his pale neck and face.

His hair took on a decidedly more bluish tint than before, a different sort of magic permeating the air, a wilder, less restrained aura sweeping through the meditation room and spilling over into the hallway.

"Patrick?" Surajini leaned to the side to see him better. Her lips pursed, faintly. "Hiram?"

"He's fine. He's still searching. Give him a moment. I've already called Thomas. He's available. Anything else?"

Her golden eyes swept over Quinn from head to toe. She sighed, reaching out and folding him into one more warm, tight hug. "Do not think for a moment, mister—that this conversation can't be picked up at any moment in time whenever you are ready for it, hm?"

There was a slight hitch in his breath, before Quinn fairly melted into the hug, tucking his face in the crook of her neck to hide from the world for a few more heartbeats.

When he pulled away at last, Surajini just grinned at him. She turned him around and gave him a little push towards his fathers.

Patrick jolted back to himself with a self-satisfied air. "He's fine. I think he could use the help though. Hiram?"

"He'll have the help," Hiram said, his attention shifting to Quinn.

He offered a wry smile and a one-armed hug, while Patrick squeezed him hard enough to choke out a little huff. Quinn ducked—or tried to—dodge the hair ruffles and light ear tugs, but they were given anyway.

"Listen to your Mera," Hiram said, knowingly. "She's the smartest one when it comes to things like this." He tapped Quinn's chest, directly over his heart.

"Definitely listen to her," Patrick said, straightening Quinn's collar. "Hiram's saving grace is his sheer stubbornness and that really isn't what you want to emulate right now."

"Oi-!" Hiram reached over to swat at Patrick's shoulder. "Don't give him the wrong idea about- "

"But you are stubborn. Very stubborn. We love you for it anyway," Patrick said, easily dodging the intended swat. "You know I'm right."

"Thomas is answering," Surajini said, abruptly. She smoothed down the front of her Healer's robes. "Quinn—go now, please. Stay inside, unless you have to be out. I will be asking for extra grounding, if needed, it will be more powerful if you are on Kalzik land."

Yes, Mama. Quinn ducked through the hands urging him out into the hallway. He didn't wait to see or hear what would happen next.


A FAVOR FOR A FRIEND — THOMAS GORGENS


Thomas felt the message before it actually arrived. He'd spent years cultivating a lovely friendship with his fellow Clan Chiefs throughout the years, maintaining those relationships with ease.

It wasn't unexpected for one of them to ask for help, even if that help only amounted to hosting a large dinner party or attending a new Inheritance to see that it came through safely for a child.

But this was something else. Something different, sharper than expected.

The message ran through the Gorgens' main house, an echoing chime that reverberated through the high hallways and instantly put all of his Bonded on high alert.

Surajini rarely ever called at an impolite hour. Her messages were usually things to find out about the general well-being of his Circle and occasionally, to ask for the use of his Gheyos.

He never minded that at all, though sometimes it made him sad to think that her requests were ones she felt she could not ask of her own family Clan.

It wasn't that the Kalzik bloodline never birthed a Gheyo, but more of the fact that they were strict regulations and guidelines in place for those that were.

Often, a Kalzik Gheyo Circle was exclusively only for settling Kalzik family affairs.

He couldn't presume to know what would classify one event as official over another, but he trusted her judgment and over the years, had come to understand that she only ever came to him when necessary.

The message bubble popped into existence, chiming throughout his front sitting room, where he'd been having tea with Gloria and Mason. His Bonded exchanged a worried glance with him, before he accepted the message.

"Surajini?"

"Thomas-!" She exclaimed, breathless. "Thank Ergen, you answered! Something's happening. I-I don't know what it is exactly, but Bharin just—he sent something very close to summons. He's never done that in all the time that we've been Bonded and I really think that we should- "

Thomas straightened up at once, setting down his teacup. From what he knew of the solemn Gheyo, that was highly unusual.

"Bharin? When? Just now?"

"A few minutes. I've called as soon as I rounded up my own. We're going to 'port directly to his side and I cannot—I shouldn't ask, but I must. I wouldn't ask it of the family, but- "

"Ask. It's fine. I've told you a thousand times before, my Suite is yours. I know you would never mistreat them or request them idly. Any idea about where? How?" He waved at Mason, trying to think of how to get him up and moving.

But Mason was already on his feet and summoning the rest of his Suite, his expression grave. Gloria looked worried as she moved closer to be seen beside him in the message bubble's window.

Surajini didn't even seem to notice. She was busy tying on the second set of thinner, but sturdier rune-reinforced robes over her standard-issue Healer wear.

"He went to Earth, with Ilsa Deveraine. They were taking care of some Gheyo business—she had a request. Taking over Alpha rights from Theodore—you remember Ilsa's Theodore, right?"

Thomas nodded, slowly. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like where any of this was going.

Especially knowing that Theodore was involved—that little Alpha had the same tenacity as Ilsa and a penchant for getting stuck in the craziest sorts of situations.

"Well, that's what they were doing. On Earth. Something must've happened, because Bharin called in and he never does that."

"So, you said." Thomas gave a grim smile to his gathering Suite. A few of the Pareyas trickled in after him, trying not to crowd as they assembled silently. They would only accompany him if he asked.

"No, you don't understand. I've told him to call before. I've made sure he knows the different summons. This is for a healer summon. This is a last resort call."

Thomas swore. "They'll be right there. To your side?"

"That'd be easiest," Surajini said, lightly. "I-I hate to ask on top of everything else- "

"Just ask!" Gloria snapped. "You're always fussing about propriety, but for Ergen's sake, woman, would you just speak your mind-!"

"Gloria-!" Thomas scowled at her, but the words were already heard.

Surajini's eyes glowed gold, before fluxing to a deep bright teal blue. It was distinctly unnerving on her.

"Indeed," she said, her voice sounding echo-like and otherworldly. "For there are rules and regulations that we must not forfeit. To my side. My Pareyas are casting our portal, it will be anchored on Kalzik land."

"We'll be right there," Thomas said. "The rest of us—we could watch the estate if you want? My darling Ilsa asked that I keep an eye on her Theo and Harry-"

"Don't forget their Beta, Charlie. He's quiet, but he is there. Quiet for a Fire type, but no less for it. Harry has a Pareya now," Surajini said, distantly. The room around her began to blur and shift. "An Ethan Hartwood. A very nice young man. Extremely polite, well-versed in keeping his element grounded. You're alright with the Hartwoods, aren't you? They've been over here for a little bit, but they had to leave. Something about academic obligation. It's not that I need someone here, it's more of—it'd be better if there was."

"If there was what? You're not making much sense," Thomas said, slowly. He strained to see the blurred background behind her. "What's happened that you can't ask me-?"

"Theo's not here right now. He's—taking care of business. Harry's in a healing trance. There's been a—a reaction," Surajini said, bluntly.

"Reaction?" Gloria frowned. "What kind of a reaction? There isn't anything that could interrupt a trance unless you have some kind of a- "

Thomas nudged her away from the message bubble, half-pushing her to the edge of the sofa. "Go get ready," he said, annoyed. "My conversation. Not yours."

"Thomas-!"

"Alpha, please," he said, flatly.

Gloria's expression grew pained. She wouldn't ignore the use of her ranked title, but it didn't mean she had to like it either. She sighed. "If that's what you want, fine. Let me know if you need other than- "

"Don't I always? Go, please!" Thomas waved her off, waiting until she was through the doorway.

He hastily cast a few privacy charms, keeping one of them visible enough so Surajini would know their conversation was now private. His Bonded would understand that.

"Is anyone else close enough to help? It sounds like you need grounding. Who's still at home?" Thomas asked. He rose from the sofa and circled around to see his Suite, taking the message bubble with him so he could mirror what was in front of him. "Is this armour good?"

The message bubble swivelled to show his entire Suite all kitted out and ready to go. The ACE, King and Queen were heavily armoured, while the others were more in a medium-strength set.

Surajini's eyes glowed again, before she gave a stiff, jerky nod. "That's wonderful. Are they alright in the earth magic? Do I need to adjust for that?"

"All runed. The usual," he said, easily. "Ready?"

Mason gave him a nod, stepping forward to kiss his cheek. He murmured something about how to summon them back, in case of an emergency and Thomas nodded.

That was standard for them.

He watched the portal whisk them away as his Pareyas crowded close, preparing for their turn. Gloria would be back in a minute or so and then they could leave.

Surajini's form wavered again, as if there was too much energy contained within her. "They're here," she said, distorted. "Thank you, Thomas. You are the very best friend, we've ever had."

"You're a good friend yourself," he said, lightly. "Let me know if there's anything else I can do. We'll 'port to the estate and stay there, if that works? Let me know if something changes."

"Yes…please do. Go to the occupied guesthouse on the property near the East end. Harry and the others are there—and Thomas—be kind. He is practically one of my own."

The message bubble cracked and dissolved into nothing.


KALZIK GUESTHOUSE W/HARRY AND CO. + QUINN & THOMAS AND GLORIA GORGENS


When he'd asked Surajini if there was anyone else home, Thomas was not expecting Quinn. The front door to the designated guest cottage swung open to show a very solemn faced Quinn, his teal-eyes ringed with red, almost as if he'd been crying.

Well.

That couldn't be good.

Not a single other Kalzik was visible behind him and Thomas couldn't sense any other presences in the hallway, which meant that the rest of Harry's Bonded were likely hovering nearby.

Even the new Ethan Hartwood, apparently.

The faint hint of sandalwood curled through the air, even as the muted, tempered Earth energy seeped out from the open front door. Quinn hesitated—just a fraction of a second—and only because Thomas was looking for it, before he stepped back.

Fiery letters burned to life in the space in front of him, using the pale colour of his healer robes as a backdrop.

Did my mother send you?

"Yes. She asked us to come, because of a reaction with a healing trance. She didn't quite have time to explain more than that, so if you could fill us in, that would help. My Suite is with her right now. She will be fine."

Quinn's furrowed brow seemed to deepen even more.

I see. Please come in. Is it just the two of you?

"Yes. I thought it might be too much if we all descended at once without some kind of warning. My Pareyas are within summoning reach outside of the estate. If you'd prefer to have them here-"

Quinn huffed, but stepped back gesturing into the entryway.

Then you may as well come in.

Gloria hovered behind him, impatiently as they stood on the doorstep, her Alpha instincts riled and his temper fraying a bit at the edges.

He managed to nod politely, before stepping through the doorway—and the powerful Kalzik wards surrounding the cottage—and into the calmness of the front hall.

Gloria was right behind him, one of her hands firmly resting atop his shoulder, her worry easy to see.

He patted her hand, reassuringly, but let it stay where it was. If it kept her grounded, that was fine. He never wanted to worry her, really.

She was his steady rock in the middle of everything.

And right now, everything seemed as if it was happening so quickly and he didn't know how to help beyond what he'd already done. Mason and the others would let him know if he needed to do anything else, but they were honestly better off without his interference.

They knew how to work with each other without compromising an objective. Surajini would be able to work easily with them, as she always ever had.

"Quinn?" Charlie poked his head through the living room entryway, stopping short when his bright blue eyes landed on Thomas. "Hello," he said, slowly. "You're—Ilsa's father, right?"

"Yes. Thomas Gorgens," Thomas said, offering his standard smile. "Ilsa and Surajini asked me to come over here to help, though I'm not quite sure what for, since we didn't get that far in our conversation- "

Quinn huffed again, his face tinting pink. His hands fluttered at his sides, before he stalked across the room and disappeared down another hallway.

Charlie winced. "He's working through some things—why don't you come in and have a seat?" He leaned back to call over his shoulder. "Ethan, Thomas Gorgens is here and- "

"Thomas who?" A warm voice filtered through the air, bringing a fresh thread of steady earth energy with it.

Ethan Hartwood, it seemed, was a strong, sturdy young man of medium build, decent muscle and riveting golden eyes that lit up the moment they landed on him.

"Sir!" Ethan exclaimed. "I didn't realize—I guess I should've put that together. You know one of my parents, Kunal?"

Thomas found himself relaxing even further as he accepted the outstretched hand. Familiar memories flooded his mind as he thought of the Hartwoods he'd interacted with in the past years.

There was a slight resemblance now and he could see in the slope of Ethan's brow and the familiar twist of his lips and hands. Habits that were very much like one Kunal Hartwood.

"You're Kunal's?"

"Yes sir! He talks very highly of you."

"Please, skip the formalities. Call me Thomas, it'll be easier for us all."

Ethan's smile grew wider. "Thank you," he said, simply. "And this would be your-?"

"My Alpha. Gloria," he said, smoothly.

Gloria returned the handshake, her own wariness seeming to settle as if Ethan had simply brought a bubble of calm with him and generously spread it all around them.

"Pleasure," Ethan said. "Harry's in a healing trance at present and Theo's gone to—look into some options for getting him out of it early. Charlie and I were here with Quinn, but it seems like there's a-"

Thomas smiled. "We're happy to help, if we can. Has something happened to Harry? Do you need additional assistance by way of magic or legalities? I can call Prince Raspen or King Edgar if something needs to be rushed to-"

Harry's fine.

Quinn's projected words sliced through the air, smouldering away to nothing, as he stood at the far end of the living room, a wide tea tray in hand, filled with the appropriate refreshments.

Charlie pinched the bridge of his nose, an exasperated flicker in his deep blue eyes. "Quinn's having the reaction," he said, lightly. "Please don't take any of it personally." He waved them towards the couches, seating himself on the side closest to the hallway, presumably, where Harry's room was.

Thomas took the opposite couch, patting the space beside him to coax Gloria to sit as well, instead of looming behind him.

It's not a reaction!

Quinn set the tea tray down with a thump, his teal eyes blazing.

And it's not half as simple as you all are making it out to be! I've explained this to you already and just because-

"It's simple enough," Ethan said, calmly. He hovered across from Quinn, cataloguing the teas and snacks on the tray. "And when Harry agrees with me, I'm going to tell you that I told you so."

Quinn went from pink to red, a slight tremor moving through his hands. He sat down, alone, in the armchair at the head of the coffee table. Perched on the edge, he served the tea and snacks with quick, efficient spells. His jaw clenched.

"Would you mind if I asked what kind of a reaction?" Thomas dared to ask. "Surajini didn't tell me."

"Soulmate," Ethan said, easily. He flashed a grin at Quinn that had him stuffing an entire vanilla biscuit in his mouth. "It's a soulmate reaction. Unfortunately, because Harry's still in a healing trance, interactions are limited and- "

"And if it isn't completed or addressed, there can be harmful effects to both parties," Thomas finished. "I see. Have you tried connecting with him?"

Quinn set his cup down with a loud clink. He set it on the edge of the coffee table, his glare turning quite ferocious.

I have! I did. This is not something that requires outside meddling to-

"It's alright if you're embarrassed," Charlie said, quite calmly. He didn't seem to even realize that he'd said something, until all eyes turned to him.

Quinn's scowl was directed to him, doubling in ferocity.

Inwardly, Thomas winced. The flare of Earth magic rippled through the entire house, thought he couldn't tell if it was tempered by Ethan's presence or so agitated because Quinn was so close to losing his temper.

Charlie, however, remained supremely unbothered.

"I mean, you weren't expecting it, right?" Charlie waved his hand towards the room. "You thought you'd made up your mind and everything was fine. You were just going to deal with it the way you'd dealt with it already and then something changes."

"Dealt with it…?" Thomas trailed off. Magic flared at his fingertips and he tried to reign it back. "Do you mean to tell me that you were aware of a soul bond connection and you actively- "

"We've covered that," Charlie said, smoothly. "There's no need to lecture." A protective gleam flickered in his blue eyes.

Ethan picked up right where he'd left off. "And right now, we're working on convincing him to go in there—and talk to Harry. I'm pretty sure his Caspered Mentor, Maurice—can help with the whole facilitating a conversation thing."

Frustrated, Quinn popped up from his armchair, only for one of Charlie's broad, tanned arms to snake out and catch him by the wrist.

"It's fine if you're embarrassed," Charlie said again, his tone quieter, but firmer. "And it's alright to admit that there's more than a couple of feelings coming up all at the same time. I get that. I'm sure Harry would understand too. But if you don't do something about this now—when it's critical, apparently—when will you?"

Quinn pulled his arm free, his head bowed, a slight shadow washing away any trace of a blush. His shoulders drooped, as if an entire realm had been placed on his shoulders.

"You don't strike me as the kind of guy that would want something like that hanging over his head for the rest of his life," Ethan said, lightly. "So, will you at least go and try to talk to him? Maurice is there, he'll hear you if you call out."

I can't just- Quinn tried, his hands fidgeting with the sleeves of his healer robes. Magic sparked and crackled around him, visible in tiny little pops of white and gold light.

"You can," Charlie said, firmly. "I trust that you're only having a conversation. Not trying to seal anything off or- "

I wouldn't! Quinn's head snapped up, his eyes shimmering again. I-I wouldn't. Not without his—permission. I-I never should've done it the first time, like that. I should've asked. It is as much his choice, as it is mine—I—I was just-

"Scared?" Gloria asked, quietly. Compassion shone through on her face as she leaned forward in her seat, a hand on Thomas' knee. "Facing our true feelings, especially acknowledging that we have them is a pretty big step sometimes. But if you don't try, you'll never know. It's a difficult thing to live your life wondering if there might've been something there after all."

Quinn heaved a sigh.

A long moment of silence passed, before he gave a tiny shrug and left the room, heading in the direction of Harry's bedroom.

Charlie and Ethan slumped in relief, shooting each other identical looks of amusement.

"Thanks," Ethan said, swiping a second serving of vanilla cookies onto his snack plate. "We've been talking ourselves in circles since Theo left. He's just—he's kind of all over the place—but I think he really needs to talk to him. To Harry."

"Even if that's currently the thing terrifying him right now," Charlie said, softly. "I know where he's coming from, but—Theo and Ebony pretty much drilled it into my head that it's important to consider everyone. All sides, all feelings, even if it's just to verify that incompatibility."

"He must really care then," Gloria said, softly. "I was pretty much a wreck when I realized that Thomas was serious about me. I thought I'd been imagining the entire thing and then he walks right up to me and says that if I can't tell when I'm being courted, to please just say that outright, instead of- "

Thomas coughed into his napkin, his face flushing. "That was not what I said. You were just the most oblivious-"

She nudged him, lightly with one knee. "A variation of that, then. I remember the blushing, the stammering and the euphoria that I had to be hearing things for you to be asking me to be your Alpha."

Charlie's smile softened and he stared into his tea cup with an expression of sadness so profound, that Thomas couldn't help but speak up.

"Something on your mind?"

"It's really nothing," Charlie said, his smile turning rueful. "You just reminded me of my parents, that's all."

"Oh, are they here for the Hunt as well?" Gloria asked. She offered tea refills as she refilled her own cup. "They must be very proud of your Bonding. Which Clan did you come from again?"

Charlie hesitated.

"Prewitt," Ethan said, slipping one of his biscuits onto Charlie's plate. "One of the Earth and Fire clans?"

"Oh, you mean Sadara? I didn't realize she was your mother. I thought I knew all of her children."

"Sadara?" Charlie coughed. He set his cup and plate down on the table. "My mother is Molly."

"Molly? There isn't a Molly in the Prewitts, is there?" Gloria asked, nibbling on a biscuit. "I mean, there's Sadara and her twins are kind of famous. She might've had a daughter or two, but it would've been so long ago, I don't remember. The twins though, everyone knows them. Gideon and Fabian. That ring a bell?"

Charlie paled. "Gideon and Fabian?" He asked, faintly.

"Yes, they're actually kind of famous for the work they've done within the archaeology community and—Charlie? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"You said they're here for the Hunt?" Charlie asked, starting when Ethan reached out to place a hand on his arm. "I'm fine, Ethan. I just—Theo told me that he was looking into things and so did Ebony. I-I knew they were around, but- "

Gloria coughed, her smile rueful. "I'm guessing you haven't met them?"

"I haven't met any of my family on my mother's side since I've come to Nevarah," Charlie said. "My father's side is Torvak, so it's pretty much out of the question."

Thomas frowned. "That's not entirely true," he said, slowly. "You wouldn't be dragel from just that. Are you sure your father is pure Torvak? No dragel or other creature blood in him? Dragel is usually the more dominate nature to come out, but in some cases, usually it's null. The two sides will cancel out and nothing happens. An elemental affinity might be possible or a creature affinity, if the other side isn't Torvak, but in your case, it'd likely be fire. Particularly if your bearer is from a fire elemental clan as powerful as the Prewitts."

Charlie hesitated. "I don't actually know," he said, quietly. "It wasn't a conversation we were able to have before I came to Nevarah."

"I'm sorry," Thomas offered. "Perhaps you can ask him, the next time you meet."

"Or you could just ask Sadara," Gloria said. "She is here for the Hunt. I've seen her in passing. Going about in the city and such. I'm sure she'd listen to a request for an audience. Especially if you're a grandchild or great-grandchild or something of the sort."

"Tact, darling," Thomas said, softly.

Gloria softened. "That's only if you want to," she said, warmly. "But they are good people and I'm sure that they would at least be polite, if not noticeably welcoming. Sadara's Clan is known for a Nameless affinity—family magic. It means they value family above all and sometimes, even at the expense of their own selves. You would be welcomed, even more so, if it turns out you have a direct blood relation."

"Are there other—Clans?"

"Of course. I don't know them all, Sadara is the only one I've seen semi-regularly, I guess? She sometimes blesses different bonding ceremonies and the like. There's charm work and spells for occasions like that. When cast with family magic, it boosts things like fertility, general health and wellbeing, or amplifies certain elements for easier bonding between different creature types. Fascinating branch of magic, really."

Thomas smiled, fondly. "She blessed our bonding ceremony," he said. "It was to help smooth things over after surprising our family with a courtship out of nowhere."

"You mean it gave both of our parental triads something else to focus on other than the fact that neither of us wanted the proposed courtships they had intended for us." Gloria shook her head, mirroring Thomas' fond look. "We gave them quite a bit of a headache, didn't we?"

"Don't look at me," Thomas said, primly. "I was a model son and caspered heir."

Gloria laughed. She added a biscuit to his plate. "So was I, of course. Minus the Casper."

They shared a smile then, a soft, gentle aura spreading out and filling the entire room. It left a deliberate sense of warmth, safety and hope nestled together, pressing up to the ceiling and even into the corners.

Ethan made a soft sound in his throat, reaching for Charlie's hand, blindly as his eyes slid shut. He sat silently for a long moment, just basking in the magic that was so warm and open, swirling around both of them.

He started faintly when Charlie shifted closer to him.

Gloria's smile grew. "I'd apologize, but you don't seem to mind," she said. "That happens on occasion, since our bonding day."

"It's something of a side effect," Thomas said, dryly. "If you are ever considering a formal bonding ceremony, I do recommend it. For the early years, it comes in quite handy. Amplifies some of the feelings so you don't get all caught up in your own little world and forget that there's more than one or two Bonded to keep up with now."

"We'll keep it in mind," Charlie said, squeezing Ethan's hand. His flames flickered faintly in his hair, soft crackles and pops to add to the warmth surrounding them. "I don't know that Theo or Harry had much time to think about that, since we've come here."

"There's options," Gloria said, perking up. "Plenty of good ones, actually. You don't have to do a lot of planning during the Hunt. There's pre-decorated venues and really good catering packages."

Ethan cracked open an eye. "Really?"

"My sister runs one of the venues, it's down by the Merrow Waters," Gloria said. "Beautiful place and a good mix of elements too. She's excellent at what she does and really good at honouring specific elements and requirements..."


Thomas found Quinn outside of the bedroom, sitting on the floor by the door, his expression pensive, his hands twisting together, golden hair half-hiding his face from view.

It was out of sight of the living room doorway, but empty in the way that Quinn seemed to feel as he sat on the hard wooden floor, knees drawn up to his chest. He didn't even bother to look up at Thomas' presence.

"Didn't work up the nerve yet?" Thomas asked, standing across from him in the hallway.

Not a lot of nerve to work up. I'm just—I have to explain something that I haven't explained in a very long time.

"That doesn't sound too bad."

It isn't. Not really. I-I just don't feel that it's right to do that in a mindscape, but time is running out and—the open bond might cause more harm than help at this point.

"Ah. A serious concern then."

Quinn lifted his head from where he'd folded his arms atop his knees. I want this to be right. To be able to ask him and share—to tell him the truth. But I don't want him to feel obligated to-

"You can suppose all you like about someone else, but you'll never know unless you ask or you try," Thomas said. He eased onto the floor across from Quinn. "Can I tell you a story?"

Quinn shrugged. If you want.

"You know my daughter, Ilsa?"

I think there's very few who don't.

Thomas chuckled. "True. She has made quite an effort in being noticed. When she was courting into the Deveraines, it was quite a loud and messy affair. They wanted her. She didn't want to be wanted by them, but—there was more to it than that. It took a lot of communication. A lot of open hearts, hurt feelings and hands reaching out to figure out what would make things right between them. In the end, it worked out. They're still working at it today, in their own way, but now there's a common ground to it. She's happy and so are they."

How does that help me? Quinn shot him a look, irritated. Harry is not like any of them in any-

"Ilsa is someone who is meticulously aware of how she is received and perceived by those around her. It's part of being a Gheyo, I think. Knowing and being able to gauge your opponents in a heartbeat, but living like that for years? It pushed her further and further away from herself. From knowing what she liked and what she wanted, because she was so far out of touch with her own heart. Granted, there were a lot of other things in there, but- "

Respectfully, sir, I don't understand what you're trying to-

"Like you said, there's probably very few people that don't know of Ilsa," Thomas said, quietly. "The same way there's probably very few who don't know what happened with you and your voice- "

Quinn grew rigid. His teal eyes flashed dangerously.

"And you've spent a lot of time working on your healing skills, your Soul Casting ability and building a reputation for yourself to overwrite everything else. You've neglected your own side of- "

You don't know that!

"I don't," Thomas said, calmly. "But I can guess and you wouldn't be so defensive about it, if I wasn't at least, a little right."

Quinn lurched to his feet, eyes blazing. You're wrong. You don't know half of what I've been through and it's not the-

"Am I?" Thomas asked, with a little smile.

Quinn glared at him and stormed into the bedroom, door slamming behind him—almost. It closed quietly at the last second, before three sets of wards popped up in quick succession.

Thomas laughed softly. "I didn't think that was what would get you go in there," he said, to himself. "But I guess that was close enough."

He folded his arms across his chest, tapping his chin in thought.

"Thomas?" Gloria called from the living room. "I can feel you thinking from all the way out here. What's going on?"

"Quinn," he said, simply. He moved to stand in the doorway of the living room, one arm braced on the door frame. "If he's talking to Harry in his mindscape, what exactly does that entail and should we be supervising?"

Ethan exchanged a look with Charlie. "We can go," he said, tugging on Charlie's hand. "Right? Just for support."

Charlie let himself be tugged up from the couch, his expression less conflicted than before. "Just for support," he echoed. "Thank you—both of you."

Thomas dipped his head, lightly. He watched them pass by and pause in front of the door.

Ethan knocked twice, and hearing no answer, they both entered.

He caught a glimpse of a large, comfortable bed with a blanket-wrapped figure in the centre and a chair close to the bed, that seemed to have Quinn curled up, one hand-reaching out.

The bedroom door clicked shut.

He tamped down the thread of worry that threatened to rear its head.

Gloria came up beside him with a soft sigh. "They'll be fine. We're not close enough to them to offer anything more. Quinn likes you, but that's it."

"I know," Thomas said, quietly. He reached up to pat her hand that had come to rest on his shoulder. "That doesn't stop me from wanting to do more. They're so young."

"We were all young once," she said, leaning down to kiss his cheek. "Come. Let's clear up the place a little bit. I have a vague idea of how Surajini normally keeps her spaces. We can at least be useful while we wait."

"Useful?" Thomas echoed. "Or keeping me from worrying myself into a mess?"

"That too," she said, amused. "That too. It never hurts to keep your hands busy with something good, just to feel productive. Sometimes that's all we need."

Humming, Thomas followed her back to the living room. He paused just long enough to cast a protective shield around the room—what he could sense of it.

A little extra privacy wouldn't hurt.


HARRY'S MINDSCAPE: HARRY & MAURY — ANOTHER CHAT


"How did it go?" Maury asked, wisping into substance in a single heartbeat. His caspered form curled around Harry, briefly, as he settled.

"He'll try find a way to get me out of this," Harry said, waiting until Maury was comfortable, before leaning into him for comfort. "He's so stressed, Oret. I wish there was more I could do…I'm just—stuck here."

"And in the meantime, you'll make the most of it," Maury said, easily. "There's no sense in worrying yourself to death over it—and worrying him with the emotional spill over—and then just compounding the entire thing until it's a mess."

"But-!"

"What did I tell you about emotions?"

"…they have power?"

Maury smiled, kindly. "Indeed. Remember our little technique? Try listing three of them right now. What are you feeling and how can we be productive about it?"

"I feel—frustrated?" Harry tried. He rubbed his chin, brow furrowing a bit. "And tired and sad."

"Alright. That's a good start. Break it down for me."

Harry huffed. "Frustrated because—I feel like I'm not doing enough?"

Maury nodded his approval. "Good core focus. But why is that true or false?"

"True because I'm—no, wait. False, because I'm in a healing trance. I can't do anything. Literally."

"Very well done," Maury said, proudly.

Harry's ears grew warm and he tried to fight the silly grin threatening to surface. "Tired because—well, I've been tired a lot since this whole dragel thing. I feel like all I do is sleep. I didn't even have productive dreams until this trance—until you."

"I'm happy to help," Maury said, easily. "And sometimes dreams are productive, because it shows what we're thinking of. What scares us, what encourages us and what we yearn for, even when we're not sure of it ourselves. I'll give you that one, because honestly, a creature inheritance of any sort is extremely taxing. Both physically, mentally and energetically."

Harry nodded. "No one ever mentions that. I thought it was bad enough making it through my fourth and fifth year, but this is just—exhausting. I guess that's why the healing trance works?"

"Something like that."

"…I asked him to shorten it. To try and wake me up." Harry bit his lip. "Is that—do you mind?"

"It's your life, Harry. How could I mind? I probably would've suggested letting it run its course, but that's only because I think you could use the rest. It's nothing you can't make up later with good food, decent sleep and some exercise thrown in there, so your wings don't wind up atrophied."

"Really?"

"Really," Maury said, simply. "If your Theo manages to cut this short, we'll have to work out a different method of communication though. I can't just manifest in the visible plane all the time. That takes far too much energy and while I am bound to you in spirit, I would not burden you with my soul. I wish for it to move on when it is time."

"Sad because of that," Harry said, softly. "I wish—I wish I'd known you when you were alive, Oret."

Maury's eyes shimmered with a soft, silvery-tinted glow as if they really were filled with tears. "Oh Harry," he murmured. "You would've been one of my own."

Harry melted into the hug that followed, grateful to have the shared moment between them, even though there were even more emotions bubbling up to the surface because of it.

"Oret? Could Quinn really have never done anything about his end of the soul bond and I'd never know?"

Maury hummed. "That honestly depends on what kinds of seals you still have on you and whether he reacted to your original soul cry before. It was a soulscream, as best as we can figure, right? But muted, with the seals that downgraded it to a soul cry."

"Yes."

"See, the problem with soulcries and soulscreams are the intensity behind them and the reasons they don't reach. A soul cry could stop, if the Submissive died before it was completed or if the threat was eliminated and they went feral before. Seals could mute or distort it, but there's dozens of little factors that might trip it up a bit too. It sounds like your Quinn had a few things sealed on his own. Maybe to make it easier for his healer work or- "

"Because of his soul cast ability?"

"I'd imagine he'd have to protect his own soul while casting. Seems kind of reckless not to. So, he'd definitely see the stirrings or the beginnings of a soul connection forming and he'd know how to handle it."

"By hiding it?" Harry startled faintly when Maury deposited two shiny blue-green marbles in his hand.

"Fidget with those instead of chewing your hands into nothing," Maury said, lightly. "Don't think yourself in circles. Look at it simply. Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. Your Quinn is very busy, isn't he? I get the impression that he loves his family and his work as a Healer."

"He does. He definitely does," Harry said. He squeezed the marbles in his hand and then began to poke at each one in turn.

"First, you give an Intended time and space, especially if they've asked for it. Make sure your intentions are clear. Demonstrate it by giving the traditional courting gifts of clothes, a weapon, a favourite food and so on. Make sure that you show them how you want them in your life. In your Circle."

"You had Healers in yours, right? You said something about twins?"

"I had two Medics—well, later on two healers and one Medic—but yes. Fire Twins. From the Ankh Clan. They were very—unique and old-fashioned. I loved them dearly and they certainly burned brightly for me."

"I can tell," Harry said, smiling. "So, they studied to be Healers while they were Bonded to you?"

"After we took in our first ward, actually. They worried about not being able to get to a Healer in time, so they took turns studying and supporting each other to shift from Medic to Healer. It took a lot of hard work and in the end, it was good for all of us."

"I thought Healers weren't supposed to fight or something?" Harry frowned, thinking back to the issue with the alteration and Dyshoka that day in the main city.

"That depends on what type of Healer you are and whether you're practicing publicly. The Twins stayed as our private Healers within the Circle, so there was never any need for that to be an issue. Because they were both Fire elementals, they simply used their flames to fill in any power gaps that arose when they were casting specific spells."

"…how did you pick them?"

"Honestly? I was looking for Pareyas. I'd just Bonded with Ryuusen and the others and they were just a great big mess of rough-and-tough Gheyos that needed nothing. It meant a lot of extra work for me and a lot of difficult adjustments at the time, but the most obvious one was that I sucked at keeping house—and they were wonderful at making a mess. A bloody mess, most of the time. I got it in my head that I'd court a Pareya that liked to keep things clean and tidy."

Harry winced. He was sure he had a good idea where this story was headed.

Maury chuckled at the expression on his face. "That expression is correct for what happened. I did court them and in the end, contracts aside, it went really well. I then learned that they were not the particular kind of Pareya that cared to keep house or maintain a kitchen and that they both had very strong Gheyic leanings, which turned out to be rather beneficial for our entire Circle, but a complete surprise to me."

"What did you do?"

"Talked to them. Explained what I'd been looking for and why. Asked if they'd be alright adding another- "

"They weren't?"

"Some twins, especially same-ranked twins, prefer not to split or share. They won't trust a third in the same rank unless they were there first."

"Why?"

"Because they are two halves of a whole. Granted, every pair of twins is different, but some of them—especially in Fire types—are territorial. They don't want to share and they will likely challenge each other every so often, to be sure that they're fine with just the two of them."

"Didn't that—stress you out?"

"Oh, of course. Sometimes I wanted to knock their heads together," Maury said, laughing. "But that's what having an entire Circle is for. When I couldn't handle something or when someone else needed to—there was enough of us there. Most of the time, it was because they weren't fully exercising their Gheyic sides—not enough fighting or duelling—a chance to use their flames offensively instead of defensively—that sort of thing. There's different kinds of spells, you know. The magic might seem the same going in, but it's always different coming out."

"And then they were alright?"

"Something like that. Their names were Cole and Shar Ankh. They come from one of the older families. A very powerful earth-and-fire elemental Clan. Strong earth roots and beautiful flames. They were both very proud, fierce and loyal. I loved them both a great deal. It was returned more than tenfold."

"…and you never took anymore Pareya?"

"I never needed more. Once I added them—I couldn't help but feel safe. Even if they did have a bit of a tough love tendency to my very delicate empathy."

Harry winced.

"It wasn't that bad," Maury amended. "I didn't know everything about my empathy at that point, so their rather pragmatic approach helped more than I thought. They were always respectful of my feelings and I can't tell you how many times I had to talk something out, to try and explain where I was coming from, only to learn that it wasn't what I'd though it was at all."

Harry twirled the marbles around again, trying not to think too hard about a pair of redheaded twins.

Fred and George had listened to him, for sure. Paid attention to some of his other habits and needs—like when they'd gifted him the Marauder's map—when they'd left Hogwarts with such a fancy and outrageous jab at that awful witch. He wasn't even sure why they'd come back.

It wasn't like they'd come for him.

The thought was hastily shoved away just as quickly.

He didn't even know if they were dragel too—well, on account of Charlie, there was a possibility—but maybe it wouldn't work. Maybe there'd be too much of—something.

It'd seemed like his entire presence and inheritance had torn their family apart and he'd been trying not to think of that. Trying not to wrap his mind around the fact that maybe, it could've been his-

Maury poked him lightly on the forehead. "Whatever you're thinking about, stop it," he said, lightly. "You don't need to be thinking of it, if it's going to make you look like that. Now, you were asking about Quinn, weren't you? What for?"

Harry perked up. "Do you think he'd come back to talk to me? While I'm like—this?"

"…it's possible. If he's still here, I could ask."

"He left?"

"Can you sense him?" Maury countered. "I only stayed out long enough to make sure that your Theo got back to his body. He did, so I came back. I heard a few bits and pieces of them moving about. I think they were trying to settle on a plan of action."

"He was going to talk to Ilsa or maybe it was Maia? Both of them, I think."

"Maybe she can help, though it might be better to get it reversed by Maia Kadel. She's the one who put you in here, after all."

"It's probably going to cost us our favour," Harry said, softly. "I think that's the part that worried Theo. He wouldn't want to trade it—it's a big deal, isn't it? A favour from the Kadel's?"

Maury shrugged. "That doesn't mean it's the only favour you'll ever get. It means it's the first favour you've gotten from Maia Kadel. Her family Clan is large. You might meet more of them through the years and they might extend favours or gestures of friendship. You might feel encouraged to do the same."

"But it isn't the same."

"Isn't it? What were you going to use it for that's so important?"

"The prophecy, remember?" Harry flopped from his half-snuggled spot at Maury's side to flat-out sprawling on the floor of the mindscape. He stared up at the shadowy ceiling, brow furrowed.

Maury didn't hesitate to pick a spot next to him, tucking his hands behind his head as they stared up at nothing.

"I know I don't have to—worry about the prophecy. I don't have to be taking on all of that, but there's still a lot. I mean, it'll take a while to not instantly want to—you know. I just—I would've liked to know."

"And Theo won't purchase a reading for you?"

"…what?"

"Using a favour would just be making it free," Maury said, slowly. "You can still purchase the Kadel services for the requested price. That's what they do for a living. Everything related to spirits, prophecies, the astral plane, that sort of thing. There's the Myglere Clan too, but they tend to be more in the Exorcist side of things. Less up in the air, if you know what I mean and more—stab you in the dark of the night. They'd be able to help with rogue spirits, new Caspers, like myself and possessions. Most call on them for spirit or banishing help."

"There's a whole other Clan for that?" Harry asked, incredulous. "Do they all just specialize?"

"Oh no, there's definitely some overlap and I'm sure that both sides can do a great deal more than they advertise. But it's a matter of not stepping on each other's claws. Remember, just because that's what they're known for, doesn't mean that's all that they do."

"I guess," Harry said, slowly. "I don't even really know how the money works around here. Not that I don't want to. I trust Theo knows—I mean, I kind of thought it was a pureblood thing, you know? How to manage estates and Wizarding world investments and stuff. It was kind of a shock to realize that he was trying to keep our things together when we were leaving to come here. I didn't even know how much I had to worry about and he did. He just did it automatically. I didn't have to ask—I wouldn't have known how to ask."

"That's the thing about Alphas. They're usually trying their best to think a few steps ahead and beyond. They want to make sure that we have everything we could possibly want or need."

Harry rolled on his side, the marbles set on the mindscape floor between them. He flicked one marble over to Maury's side.

"I'm worried," he said, plainly. "I'm worried that I'm the only one who knows what's really happening over there and that people I care about—some of the first friends I've known—will be trapped over there. Stuck. Confused. Afraid. They won't know what's happening or why and—I won't be able to help them. Because I'm here and I don't know about it."

"But does it have to be you?" Maury untucked one hand from behind his head to roll the marble back to Harry. "You have made new friends here, Harry. There are people who care greatly for you and even with your newest connections, there are people who will gladly step out on your behalf."

"I-I don't want to ask them to risk their- "

"But you don't know that. You don't know that it's a risk. What might be hard for you could be easy for someone else. You don't know. There isn't a way to know on such short time, but that doesn't mean they don't care for you and that they won't want to help. They will. Especially those like the Deveraines that see you as an extension of Theo, from what you've told me. They treat you as if you are one of their own."

Harry blushed, rolling back to stare up at the ceiling again. "Yeah—I guess they do. Oret? There are enough different ways to bond without a bite, right?"

Maury stifled a smile. "He's a Healer, Harry. I'm sure he knows every single possible way."

Harry grinned. "Good. I really—really—hope he wants this. In some ways, it feels like I've known him forever and in others, I know it hasn't been long at all, but I'd really—really—like to have him in my Circle."

"That's just fine, Harry. It's how a soul bond works. It's your soul, recognizing his soul and thinking—yes, that matches too. It's alright to want."

"…yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Thanks, Oret."


HARRY'S MINSCAPE: QUINN AND HARRY


Perched on the edge of the wooden chair, Quinn stretched out a hand towards Harry's, where he lay beneath the blankets on the bed. If he didn't do this now, he'd talk himself out of it and that would be it.

Oh, he knew all the benefits and risks. It was hard not to. He was a Healer after all, but above all of that, he'd once been an Alpha.

Once had the instinctive drive that compelled him to seek comfort and luxury for every single potential Intended that he might someday court or call his own.

An urge now, that lingered somewhere deep beneath everything he'd renounced, but still filled his heart with a sense of longing. A wish that Harry would have everything he ever wanted or needed, as long as it was within his power to grant it.

And that was where it came in, wasn't it?

He could give him this, if that was what was wanted. He could offer something that wouldn't ever be found anywhere else—himself and the skills he had cultivated in the past decade. Deliberate skills and talents that he'd worked hard to perfect, so his own shortcomings wouldn't seem so unattractive when trying to initiate a courtship.

His fingers—tentative and trembling—brushed against the back of Harry's hand, warm and solid, resting ever so lightly atop the neatened blankets.

Quinn took one deep breath and then another, leaning forward from the chair, until his forehead rested atop the blankets. Sitting back would risk the chance of falling over or sliding down from his seat, when connecting to Harry's mindscape.

Especially since there was no one there to watch for him, unlike when Theo had reached out to join minds.

One more shaky breath.

One more steady one.

And then his lips moved in the soundless spell that would bring their minds together.


It happened as easy as breathing.

One instance, he was in the room and alone, focusing on the feel of the blankets under his hand, Harry's presence and the hardness of the wooden chair.

The next, he was swimming in a sea of darkness, falling—freefalling—into nothing, surrounded by strange shadows on all sides, but also, blanketed in a sense of something that was so uniquely Harry.

He fell until the ground came to meet him. A gentle puff of softness caught him and rolled him up to his feet.

In front of him, a pale stream of light shone downwards, illuminating a small, tiny door with a worn knob on the front. A wooden door, maybe, scratched and chipped at some points.

Too small to be a proper door, but big enough for a person to fit through. A Harry-sized person.

Quinn frowned, but drew nearer. It kind of reminded him of a cupboard door, if he was being honest, though that made no sense at all.

Most mindscape doors were supposed to look like things familiar to the vessel and reinforced based on their personal life experiences.

He knocked, politely.

The sound echoed all around him, as if he were pounding on a door leading into some vast open space on the other side. Quiet chimes rang out, echoing until it built to a ringing crescendo that had his hands reaching for his ears—until the door cracked open.

Quinn's heart stuttered.

It showed a darling little boy with a smudged face, broken glasses, and a shaved head of hair. A tiny lightning bolt-shaped scar adorned one forehead, as the little boy seemed to drown in oversized pyjamas.

He stared solemnly up at Quinn.

Silence trickled by.

And slowly, Quinn knelt in front of the door, offering a kind smile and a hint of his own magic. He saw the crackle and pop of the flaming energy that would shape itself into his words.

Harry?

The little boy shifted uncertainly back and forth on his feet. He watched the letters form in mid-air with an ill-concealed air of delight.

My name is Quinn. Can I talk to you for a little bit?

"Is that magic?" The little Harry-version asked. His voice was quiet and scratchy.

Yes. I got into a fight when I was younger and I lost my voice. So now I have to use magic letters to talk. Quinn touched his throat, tilting his head up to show off the scars that he kept hidden more often than not.

"M'Harry," came little Harry's quiet voice. "I can't talk a lot 'cause Aunt 'tuna doesn't like me to."

Quinn blinked. Really?

"…she says my voice is as ugly as my hair." Little Harry's green eyes watered and he stared down at the shadowed floor, one small hand coming up to rub at the angry red tracks across his newly shaved skull.

That's—not very nice of her.

Quinn struggled to keep his hands to himself. He wanted to reach out and smother Little Harry in a hug to keep from wanting to curse out whoever that horrid 'Aunt tuna' was that thought treating a child like that was perfectly fine.

"She's not nice," Little Harry said, matter-of-factly.

I think you have a nice voice.

"Thank you?" Little Harry pushed the door open wider, standing in the open space as he watched Quinn with wary eyes. "You had a nice voice too?"

…my mother thought so. She still hopes that there might be a Healer somewhere who could repair all of this. He gestured at the scarring and let his head tip back down to his chest. I don't mind it anymore. It's just—a part of me now.

"Is she nice?"

She's very nice.

"Are you here to talk to me?"

…if that's alright, yes. I would very much like to.

Little Harry sighed. He pushed the door open a little wider and studied Quinn with those strangely haunted green eyes. Slowly, he held out a hand.

"I'll take you."

Quinn accepted the small hand, rising to his feet. He tried not to notice how small the hand was in his own or how quiet Little Harry was as he led him through the door and to a narrow, shadowed hall.

They walked and walked, until the spot of light in the far distance grew large enough to open out into a strange sort of space. It was warm and light, but still dark at the edges.

Hints of green and white brightened it up significantly.

And in the centre of it, lying on the floor, were two people.

One was the Harry he knew—exactly as he lay on the bed now—and another was the very familiar face and form of one Maurice Elswood.

He was surprised they hadn't noticed him yet.

Until a green marble rolled his way, bumping against his foot where it stood just outside of the circular space, having stopped with Little Harry who was staring up at him with a contemplative expression.

"—and it hasn't been long at all, but I'd really—really—like to have him in my Circle- "

And Quinn's knees buckled.

He clutched at the side of the shadowy hallway, trying to keep himself upright, even as a new wave of foreign emotion washed over him.

He had heard it right, after all.

There was no mistaking it. Harry did want him—even knowing what little he did about him, of what he was and what he'd done and still—still—he wanted him.

Small, cool hands patted at his face and head, never straying towards his neck or his scars.

Little Harry's concerned face filled his vision. "S'alright," he told him, anxiously. "It's alright."

I guess it is, Quinn managed. His hands flexed at his sides. I—Harry—can I hug you?

Little Harry stared at him, silently for a long moment. Then he gave a tiny shrug, as if it didn't matter at all and leaned into Quinn with a trusting lilt.

Slowly, cautiously, Quinn wrapped his arms around him.

The coolness bled to warmth and in that warmth, a fierce little bubble of determination welled up.

A sliver of hope that was beaten, bloody and battered, but rising up to meet his tired heart once again.

Little Harry gave a quiet sigh of contentment. "You can go now," he said, leaning a little harder into the embrace. "We can talk now."

And Quinn looked up to see that the space had rearranged itself.

That Maurice was gone and now—standing just a few feet away—was Harry. The Harry that he knew, all grown-up and smiling down at him in that familiar, kind way.

"Quinn," he said, warmly. "You came! I hoped you would."

Quinn started as Little Harry squirmed out of his arms and bolted to Harry's side. He watched as Harry smiled, sadly, and gently smoothed a hand over that shaved head, until thick, dark tufts of hair grew in.

"There's marbles over there," Harry said, pointing back to the glowing centre where he'd been only moments ago. "Think you can find them all?"

And Little Harry was off like a flash without a backward glance. He vanished into the shadowy scape of Harry's mindscape, right before his very eyes.

"Hi," Harry said, softly. He shifted to a crouch and then sat down on the shadowy nothingness, hands twisting together in his lap. "You came on purpose, this time, yeah?"

Y-yes.

"Good. I guess we're even now." Harry offered a mischievous grin. "You were a cute kid."

Quinn blinked at him, even as the blush started low and worked its way up. He couldn't have stopped it, even if he wanted to.

I-I was—that was not-!

Harry laughed. "Even," he said, simply. "We're even now."

Silence stretched out.

"…you have to talk to me," Harry said, after a long moment. "I already said what I wanted to—mostly. It's your turn now. That's why you're here, isn't it?"

Yes! I had to—I need to—I don't know where to start and-

"Simply, I think." Harry scooted a little closer across the floor, until he could almost reach out to touch him.

Quinn's breath hitched, faintly. If—if you're very serious about this, Harry. About w-wanting me as part of your Circle-

"I am."

The warm flush burned into his cheeks, before cooling into a steady thrum of acceptance, that settled in his belly. A simple assurance that he was wanted and appreciated.

Harry-

"Oret said I had to ask plainly, so you wouldn't be confused. So— Quinten Kalzik—I would like you to join my Circle. Would you let me court you?"

A hand went to Quinn's mouth, though no sound came out of it. His teal eyes shimmered, briefly.

Before I answer that, I need to tell you something. Because it isn't fair to answer without giving you a chance to—why me?

The question slipped out before he could stop it. Quinn winced. He hadn't meant to ask that.

"Why not?" Harry countered; his expression serious. "Alright. I like you." A faint dusting of pink gave evidence to his words. "You've been kind, courteous and unfailingly patient. I came over here—and right into the Clinic—without knowing anything, really. You didn't—treat me poorly for it. Or refuse treatment or even make fun of me for not- "

Quinn bristled.

Harry held up a hand. "I know now, that you wouldn't have. I didn't, back then. I just thought that it was strange that for someone who knew nothing of me—to be so kind. You really didn't have to. I realized later, that you could be different too. Sterner, a little more forceful and so—powerful. Do you know what your magic feels like to me?"

Slowly, Quinn shook his head. His own hands twisted together in his lap, but from where he sat on the floor like Harry, he inched forward—just a tiny bit.

"Like home. A real home. Not—not like where I actually grew up, but where I felt—safe. That's what you feel like to me. A place that is warm, steady and strong. That's how I see you. Everything you do—everything that I've seen from you and your family since we've met—it just makes me wish I had someone like you."

Quinn's expression grew pained.

Harry-

"Not yet. Still my turn."

Quinn slumped; his expression uncertain.

"Because every time my empathy reaches out? You're reaching back. It's faint—so faint, I barely realized that's what it was—I thought I was feeling something else. But it's you. It's quiet, calm and steady. Just like you."

Harry fidgeted for a moment. He stared off into the shadowed distance, his mindscape form seeming to grow and age in the space of a few seconds.

"And then I spoke to you and got to know you a little bit. Spent time with your family and saw how far they were willing to go to help someone like me—a stranger, they didn't even know. Just because you asked them to. They had all right to hate me. I've been hated for a lot less. But instead, they welcomed me. Treated me as if I was one of you. I—I can't explain how that made me feel. Even if I tried, I don't think I could put it into words."

Quinn chewed on his lower lip, giving a jerky nod of understanding.

"And then the more I saw of you, the more I wanted to reach out. To be able to give back to you that little bit of home that you gave to me without even realizing it." Harry offered a teary smile. "I wanted you to know how good you were. Especially when I saw you like how you are now."

Quinn startled.

But Harry's smile remained. "You always look so surprised. As if you can't understand how you mean so much to everyone around you." He hesitated. "I—I don't have much of a reason beyond that. I just—I guess I really like you. That's all there is to it. I hope—I hope it's enough."

Quinn sniffled. He looked to the side, swiping nervous fingers at his face, blinking back possible tears.

Harry—you are enough. Even if I'm not—no matter what I am or what I say or do—you're an incredible person exactly as you are and it's got nothing to do with what you can give back. Not to me or my family or anyone. You're just—that's who you are. It's something that I—that I like about you.

Harry stared at him, green eyes glistening, his expression solemn.

W-when you say you want me to join your Circle—what are you expecting?

"Home," Harry said, simply. "Whatever it is you want to add to this—to us. Nothing more than what you want to give. I-I don't know a whole lot about this courting stuff. And what I'm supposed to do—I know there's gifts involved and I don't have any to give you right now—but I'll definitely buy some and- "

A tiny huff—a near laugh—came from Quinn.

If—if I never want to—no. That's not right. I should do this properly. You're doing it honestly. I can at least return the same, right?

"Quinn?"

I'm asexual. If I join your Circle, Harry—I am not—I would not be interested in sex at any given point in our relationship. I don't—feel or experience physical attraction the way that others would. There's a lot of different ways that might be true or not for others, but for me—I'm just. I'm not interested. I don't know that I'll ever be interested. From a healer's standpoint, I know all about it. What goes where, how it works, why it works, what it's for and-

"Alright."

Quinn froze.

What?

"Alright," Harry repeated. "What else?"

…what else?

"That's not what made me like you. That's not what made me want you."

Harry—I-

"When I say want—I mean, I'd really like to have you around. I'd really like to—be able to turn to you and know that you're there. Maybe—maybe sometimes, I would like to kiss you, but—if you're not comfortable with- "

I am. With kisses, I mean. Just kisses. Hugs. Cuddles. Just not—anything else.

Quinn hesitated, studying Harry's face with careful attention. Searching for something to shift the conversation down one definite path over another.

I might never want anything else and maybe one day, there could be-

"Alright," Harry said, simply.

Quinn started.

Harry-!

"It's fine if you never want to, it's fine if maybe you decide you want to try something someday. I-it's your choice, right?" Harry twisted his hands together some more, the tips becoming more clawed. "I don't want something that you don't want to give me, Quinn. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable or obligated to do something, just because you think I want you to. I-I want you to be you. However, that is. That's all."

Quinn swallowed hard.

That's far more than anyone's ever considered giving me.

"Then they were bloody idiots that didn't deserve you."

I—you're probably right.

"What else?" Harry shifted in place.

…if I bonded into your Circle, I'd need to know that the rest of your—our—Bonded, would be alright with that.

"I'll ask. I think they'd be fine," Harry said, thoughtfully. "Besides, there's a—lot of us right now. I think we'd be more interested in making sure you're happy and comfortable with us, instead of—trying to, well, you know."

Quinn's lips twitched, faintly.

There's also the issue of my voice.

Harry frowned. "I can learn sign language or—that whistle language. It might take me awhile, if you don't want to use those cuffs and- "

No, no, no! That's not it. I was—I mean, a mental connection might be useful. My family has it—some of them anyway—as permanent connections. I-I wouldn't insist on it, but it would probably-

"Yes!" Harry said, relieved. "That would help. I-I wasn't sure if you just didn't like having that or- "

It's something that can be muted on both sides, so you don't have to worry about me always hearing things I shouldn't—or when you're otherwise occupied.

Harry nodded. "And when you're busy with patients and things too. That's good to know."

…Theo was right. You don't even know how incredible you are, do you? I would like to continue to practice as a Healer, officially and all that. If that's alright with you?

"Of course, it's fine!" Harry said, indignantly. "You're the Healer! Why would I stop you from doing something that you obviously love- "

Some Circles would see me as a leverage point. My Soul Cast ability is rare and my joining a Circle means that they could order me to only use my ability for-

"That's wrong!" Harry said, sitting up straight. "You're not a tool or some kind of—pawn! It's your ability and you should have the right to use it however you want. That shouldn't be something that can be forced or controlled."

Every Circle is different. Healers are a general rank. It means that I would have to abide by the decisions of the more dominant ranks in a case of a majority ruling.

Harry huffed. "Well, Theo won't make you do anything. He won't! And if he does, I'll- "

I know he wouldn't. You wouldn't either. Pretty sure Charlie and Ethan are the same. I've just—it's nice to know that.

"…did other people ask you that?"

Quinn shrugged.

Some. You'd be surprised at what some people would ask during a courtship meet. That said—please don't insist on adding a mental link to everyone? I'd rather it was their own choice.

Harry frowned. "How will they talk to you then? I mean, that doesn't sound very fair to you."

Yes, but you'll have Gheyos, won't you? Having a mental link or connection to them of any sort could be a definite weak point that will be exploited for sure, if they land in the kind of trouble that would take advantage of that. It would leave me incapacitated and them fighting at a disadvantage. Besides, there are other methods of communicating and those cuffs are still an option. A simple one, to be sure, but an option just the same.

"…I guess," Harry said, reluctantly.

Besides, there are many other ways to communicate and we've managed fairly well without a direct link, haven't we?

Harry nodded, slowly.

Alright then. My parental triad would have to help with creating and anchoring those links, mostly because they'll be stronger if it's done with their magic instead of mine. If that's alright? I know it would mean allowing them into your mindscape, briefly-

"Alright. What else?"

Mama will probably want a Bonding ceremony.

Harry blinked. "Really?"

Most likely. I think she's planned everyone's own since we were babes. Some of it might seem very frivolous and there's bound to be a lot of rituals, both Kalzik Clan, some Indian and others—just general bonding things.

"I haven't had one before. It kind of sounds fun."

It can get overwhelming. If you agree to that—all of you—then please promise that you would tell me the moment it gets to be too much?

"Promise," Harry said, easily.

…as the only Healer, I'd be a little—selfish in asking that you not add a second Healer to the Circle? A medic is fine. Medic-training or even a completed healer course is fine, but I—I'd rather not have a second Healer.

"Is that—a healer thing or…"

A Quinn thing. I-I don't like to share like that.

Harry grinned. "Alright. I don't know that I'd want another Healer. You're the only one for me."

What about you? Is there anything you'd ask of me?

"Is it alright to say that I don't know yet? I mean, I'm glad you know what you want and I'm glad those are things that I'm alright with, but—I don't know if there is anything. Yet."

You're more than welcome to bring up any concerns or preferences. Right up until the bonding, at which point—it is no longer a conversation between the two of us, but a Circle discussion with advocates on both sides. That's usually how it tends to work.

"Oh. Alright. That doesn't sound too bad."

It isn't. It's easier than it sounds.

Harry nodded, slowly. "What about bonding though? I mean—you have the Healer's blood thing—and there's other ways, right?"

Quinn huffed out a laugh.

Plenty of other ways. What might work best is a chain-cast-claim. It would require everyone and can be done at the bonding ceremony—or cast earlier and renewed at the ceremony. It will use a lot of magic, but because it'll be fed into everyone at once, it'll even out. Might just take a nap or two to recharge.

"And it can't be erased?" Harry asked.

Definitely can't be erased. Will only be broken in death—and will rewrite itself, if that's the case, so that the magic doesn't bleed out.

"And we can add more?"

Of course. As many as you like.

Harry gave a happy little wriggle in place. "Good!"

Got your eye on anyone? Anyone I might know?

Harry groaned. "Not you too! I don't know yet! I mean, I know—but I—Quinn!"

Oh?

Quinn perked a brow.

"Oret," Harry said, waving a hand absently over one shoulder. "He's not here right now. He said he'd give us some privacy."

Silence settled between them in a comfortable lull. Quite different from what it'd been before.

"So—you're—that's a yes, right?" Harry asked. "I-I asked Theo and everything. He said it was fine. I-I don't think Ethan and Charlie mind, but I'll ask them as soon as I can!"

They don't seem to mind, considering that they were not-so-subtly hinting that I should come in here and talk to you.

"Really?"

Really. It's a yes, though. My answer is yes. Thank you for considering and accepting me. Exactly as I am.

"I think that goes both ways," Harry said, rubbing his arm. "Thank you for—this. I know we're a new Circle and everything, but- "

That's perfectly fine with me. There's also a—well, I don't know how much of this you're aware of right now—and I definitely want to make sure we're on the same page when you're awake and not—in a healing trance—but-

Harry laughed. "That makes two of us. I'd—still want to make sure, you know?"

That's more than fine with me.

"So, what was it?"

...we have an open soulbond right now. I'd really like to seal it, because I'm worried about the effects it'll have on you if it stays open like it is right now.

"What kind of effects?"

Depends. It'll vary from dragel to dragel, but it's usually not good. It might be affecting your magic right now or even, dulling your reception to other possible soul bonds. It's not something that I would wish on anyone.

"Did I—not use it right?" Harry asked, quietly. "The soulbond? I didn't know it could stay open and-

No! It's fine. You're fine. I—I was the one that stopped it.

Harry was silent for a moment.

...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have just blocked it off without asking you about it or even mentioning that-

"Would you ever have told me?"

Misery painted itself across Quinn's face. His head bowed.

I don't know. I don't think I would've told anyone if—if it hadn't activated like it did when I got close to you.

Harry took a deep breath. He squared his shoulders. "I don't know that I would've found the courage to say something so openly if you weren't—if you hadn't reached out. So, I guess that makes two of us."

…you're not upset?

"Do you want me to be upset?"

No. I—I am sorry though.

"Would you do it again? Hide something that affects me—both of us—and never tell me?"

Even if I say no, would you trust that?

"Yes."

How?

"Because I trust you," Harry said, simply. "It probably shocked you, didn't it? When I came into the Clinic. I didn't know anything. There were all of those seals and then you had to perform a Soul Cast on Theo, because I used his password. There was so much happening. I can't really blame you for not wanting to be involved with- "

I was being selfish—and afraid. I—was so sure that you wouldn't want anything to do with me, I rejected all of you without even giving you a chance. You don't have to make excuses for-

"But you're here now," Harry said, softly. "Oret said that it's not just the words that matter, but the actions that back them up. Are you here because the soulbond might cause a problem or because you want to be?"

Because I want to be! There's a dozen ways that the soulbond can be-

"Alright then."

What?

"That's good enough for me. You're forgiven," Harry said, with a crooked smile. "I don't think I could be upset when you've been carrying enough of that for both of us. Do I wish you'd at least talked to me? Yes. But that's done now. Don't—do it again, alright?"

I wouldn't. I definitely wouldn't.

"Good. I'll hold you to that," Harry said. His smile trembled. "I know what it's like to want something good and feel like I'm the last person who should have it." He rubbed at his chest. "I know that now—and it feels rotten. I like the other feelings best. The ones where it feels like there's hope, goodness and a future where I don't have to—where everyone isn't expecting me to be their saviour."

That sounds much better.

"It is. Do you want that—with me? I know you said, yes, but- "

Yes. Yes, I do.

"…good."

Quinn twisted his fingers together, before slowly—cautiously—opening his arms.

…can I have a hug?

"As many as you like."

Harry smiled faintly, shifting to bridge the gap between them.

It took a little bit of manoeuvring, but they were close enough to make it happen. He gave a happy sigh as he twined his arms around Quinn's broad shoulders, forehead pressed against his shoulder.

There wasn't a single feeling in all the realms that could compare to how he felt right then. Nothing could compare to the lightness and rightness of it all. He wondered if it was possible for a soul bond to connect, even when they were in his mindscape.

It'd kind of be nice.

Even if he'd have to have a lot of conversations very quickly with his Bonded, he was pretty sure they'd all feel the same way. He could feel them now, as bubbles of warmth in his chest, feeding him calmness and love in ways that were uniquely them.

It was wonderful.

And he'd be adding Quinn to that wonderfulness.

Oh Arielle.

Quinn's sigh and the firm press of his cheek to the top of Harry's head, made him feel all happy and wonderful all over again. The steady warmth, the gentle magic and the knowing that something precious had just been initiated and accepted on both sides.

Twist. Shift. CLICK.


A/N: Hey everyone! Here's the bonus chapter/surprise update, I promised last month! It's a little longer than recent chapters-it kind of deviates from the recent format, but that's just for this story arc. I wanted to wrap up the Quinn/Harry bit, so we can shift into the upcoming Trial and things going on with Harry, Jun, etc.

YES. They are soulbonded now. There will be a secondary confirmation of that when Harry's awake-so they can have claim marks on each other-but they are together! I hope you enjoyed their story arc, it was very near and dear to me.

Thank you for the well-wishes for my Mom! She is recovering nicely and we spent a lovely mother's day together and I am so grateful for that. Ch 117 is probably going to be a little while in coming now, as I'm off-schedule. Oop. We now have a Discord! It's very new, but I do pop-in when I can. If you want to talk dragel-things, check it out!-there's a link in the forums as FFN eats them.

Anyway, as always-Enjoy the read! and I'll see you next chapter! -Scion


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

DRAGEL CIRCLE -RANKS
• 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.