This chapter was betaed by the wonderful brissygirl to provide a smoother reading experience (and this chapter's title!). All remaining mistakes are my own, especially since I forgot to send the character snippet. See first chapter for disclaimers/additional warnings/summaries.

This chapter is dedicated to all my loyal readers, who have read and re-read this fic over and over again, since my last update. Your reviews made me work harder to get this chapter together!

RECAP: Harry and Co. see a different side of the Royals, while Riven Cairothe makes an appearance. Ethan begins to settle in a bit, cautiously feeling his way in his new Circle as Theo and Charlie have accepted them. Plans are made for the Cunninghams to track down things in Harry's past, while Cedrella Black is revealed to be a Dragel, as she tries her best to protect her family from a conspiracy that may kill them all. Jun and her Circle stop by her father's home to discover that everything may not be what it seems...keep reading more fun and plenty of drama! ;)


Mariana stood unnaturally still atop the shimmering sky-blue energy medallion cast directly over the house. She hugged her arms to herself, a renewed blackness in her eyes. She hadn't moved in nearly five minutes-an unnatural stillness having claimed her upon learning the disturbing news of the Death Seal. "Milord?"

Lord Cunningham glanced down.

"If the seal wouldn't kill them, I think I'd remedy that myself."

There was a slight pause and then he moved to pull her into his arms. He'd let her be for a minute, but perhaps it had been a minute too long. "I'd let you." he said, simply. The magical replay of the events that had taken place at the house, had prompted deeper investigation. Having a Rune Master helped, for they'd simply requested a rapid time-lapse from the first day Harry had arrived at that residence.

It had started out strangely and ended—terribly.

From the musty, cramped cupboard beneath the stairs—to the distinct lack of food as Harry grew older. From the sharp words and slaps from an Aunt—to the angry tirades and swinging belt of his Uncle. Dudley's lies that resulted in Harry's new punishments and the occasional burst of magic—that wasn't always Harry.

Unfair. Uneven. Wrong.

Small instances. Fractured memories. Each building upon the last. The cooking and cleaning, as if he were a servant. The reaction for when the Hogwarts Letter had arrived. The bars on the window. The hurtful rumours circulating about his 'questionable' parentage and current education.

Hurtful at best, abusive at the worst.

Now, both lord and lady were torn between barely concealed rage and measured concern. Neither of them were particularly inclined to have the traumatic history replayed among more eyes than present, but it also begged the question of proper retribution, now that it had been acknowledged.

And of course, the detail of what would happen to the occupants of the house.

"He was only a child." Mariana said, at last.

"Not everyone sees it that way." Lord Cunningham soothed, but the underlying hint of pain his own voice, spoke of the shared secrets between them.

Mariana trembled. "…if they didn't want him, couldn't they have given him to someone who would have? Children are not-things. They are-precious."

He pressed his cheek atop her head, squeezing gently to offer warmth to her stiff, cold form. He could sense the roiling shadows trapped inside of her, magic beginning to blister and burn beneath a surface that was nothing more than a mere shield. "That's how we think. It's what we would have done. Humans are-not bad creatures, but for every good one, sometimes it seems they are hopelessly outnumbered."

Mariana made a noise of disagreement. "He was a baby—how can you leave a baby on a doorstep?"

"I know." Lord Cunningham said, simply. "I know. And I doubt he wants the entire realm to know any of this."

She half-laughed. "He can't hide it. Any of it."

"Perhaps not, but he thinks he can. He thinks he must, at any rate. He hasn't thought of what would happen, if it came out."

"Nothing would happen." Mariana said, fiercely. "He'd be—smothered, a bit, granted. We can't help that and it'd probably do him good."

"Ah, but he doesn't know that. He's only thinking the worst."

"We'll be discreet then."

"Mariana, when someone trips and falls, what is the first thing they do?"

"...look to see who noticed." Her shoulders slumped. "Milord—they should know."

"It explains a little bit," Lord Cunningham offered. "It is not our secret to tell. Perhaps he will tell them in his own time. You cannot force these things."

"It only says why his eyes are so dark when you look into them," Mariana threw back. Her hands clenched and unclenched, the clawed tips finally showing through. She scowled. "I still don't like him."

He laughed, a warm sound in the emptiness around them. "You don't have to like him. You don't like anybody."

"Except you," she corrected.

"Except me," he agreed. "Maybe a few others."

"Maybe." She shivered again, as her scales surfaced. "It will haunt him." The shadows inside of her twisted again, straining to be free of her control.

"Until he confronts it, yes."

"They don't always do that. Sometimes, they try to bury it." Mariana twisted, testing the strength of his embrace. "...I cannot leave this alone."

"I would never ask that of you, dear lady."

She nearly smiled. "But you would ask me for something?"

"Ask your blood price," he whispered, leaning forward to touch his lips to her ear. "And see that it is paid in full." He released her. "But, as you've said—this is not something that can be hidden away."

"I don't want to spare them."

"I don't want you to spare them," he countered. "The choice is not ours."

She grimaced. He was right, of course. Blood relatives. The natural order of the courts. True dragel justice—in the way of bringing closure to all involved. A quiet, but vicious death here, would do nothing but pique her bloodlust.

"I should."

"And I should let you," he hummed.

She did smile, this time. Their expressions mirrored each other.

The medallion flared and burned, time stopped in their small bubble.

To the far corner, studiously not looking in their direction, Scout's fangs clicked together. They'd all seen the replay and now, they all wanted blood for the sorrowful history of Harry's childhood.

It wouldn't be paid straightaway, but Scout had seen that look before. Lady Mariana always had her way.


"Will he send someone?" their Gheyo Prince stood tall over Mariana's left shoulder. The message had gone through to Prince Raspen-they'd all watched it vanish into nothingness. Now it was simply a matter of waiting. Undoing a Death Seal would mean bracing for future impact.

Especially with Mad Maury as the caster and the key sacrifice beneath it all, Healers would have to be on hand, regardless of whether the price was paid or not. The remains would have to be handled, or the body set into a secondary stasis for proper burial rites.

And of course, healing the brave ones who dared to unravel such a thing.

"He'll do something," Lord Cunningham said, carefully. "What he will do, I have no idea."

"Speculating won't help anyone or anything," Mariana murmured. She began to twist her hair into a functional braid, preferring to do it herself than to ask it of her Bonded. It gave her hands something to do, lest the dark spells burning inside of her, dared to break free before she allowed them.

Their ACE appeared between them, hand over heart in a mock bow.

She barely glanced over. "Did you trace everything I asked for?"

"I know better than that," the ACE said, wryly. "I prefer not to guess at what will be and yes, milady, we have. It's definitely an unplottable location. Take a look at these coordinates, I think you'll find they're familiar."


"Scout's checking on the seal's depth as well, she'll be here in a moment." He handed over the paper and waited.

His lady was nothing, if not thorough and they'd done exactly as she'd requested and then some. It was why he was hoping she would at least allow him to accompany her. He was definitely looking forward to the revenge and destruction sure to rain on certain unfortunate souls.

Mariana didn't answer, but she studied the fading coordinates for a long moment. There was a pause of silence before the scrap of paper burst into flame and disintegrated at her fingertips.


"An old friend, Milord," Mariana said, quietly. "And perhaps old wounds that may come with it. Send a warning, I would not come to them unaware."

Lord Cunningham made no comment, but he did move closer.

Their ACE bowed once more, skipping back a step to do as requested. A hand held to the sky, summoned a shadowy bird of their kind. A message was whispered over the featured thing, before it was released, with a destination in mind.

Mariana watched until it vanished from sight, gone to where it needed to be. She clicked her tongue, twice—beckoning for their ranks to shore up a bit closer.

There's definitely four trapped in the seal. Scout said, approaching Mariana at a gesture from their ACE. She'd investigated the Death Seal more closely and now; her own shadows were agitated beyond simple measures. This was much worse than what she'd expected for the sad-eyed brunet in the Royal's room.

"You've verified?"

Every way possible. Scout agreed. There is a child, he seems Halfling and feral-judging by appearance. I'd wager his parents are the two around him, which means that the body we can't set eyes on below-is Maurice. We can extract the three of them, but it's a layered seal. The levels are too tightly stacked to read anything clearly out of it.

"Of course," Mariana said, half to herself. "Only he would think nothing of dropping a hundred feet below ground to activate a layered seal at the expense of his own short life. The stupid man."

Lord Cunningham hid a smile.

Annoyance flickered across her face and she shuffled, restlessly. A magical ripple swapped out her current set of armour, calling her preferred traveling set into existence. "Hadrian's coming."

"Is he?"

"I told him to stay. He doesn't listen."

"Maybe he has a message." Lord Cunningham suggested. He'd figured that was what would happen, once the message had been sent. The little Earth prince had been suitably understanding of what they were-for the time being and given their current status, he hadn't wanted to break that fragile trust.

Not yet, anyway.

"Maybe that's Raspen's answer," Mariana shot back. "Stay meant stay. He's too dark to be crossing realms and times as he is right now. Arielle knows what kind of tear in the fabric of reality he's leaving in his wake."

"Barring him from the arenas won't help that."

"It's not meant to help it," Mariana huffed. "It's meant to drive him mad, until he stops focusing so much on the outward and thinks a bit inward. It won't register unless he stops moving long enough for his demons to catch up and I'm tired of explaining that to him. If he can't learn from words, then Arielle help me, I'll beat it into his thick skull."

"He's running from them for a reason."

"And he won't be fit for anything until he deals with them!" Mariana bristled. "Remind me to take the fines out of his allowance. Better yet, don't tell me which Realmwalker will catch him when he comes gallivanting through on his way here!"

Lord Cunningham hummed in answer. Hadrian was Mariana's project, this time around. The last few temporaries had been his choices and therefore his responsibility. He was mildly amused at their interactions, for Hadrian was recently taking great care not to offend or irritate his lovely lady in any way-and somehow managing to do so anyway.

"Portal incoming-!" Their Rune Master called out.

"Brace!" their ACE barked. A fierce chill signalled the breach and the portal opened up to devour him.

"Raspen sent me," were the first words that came tumbling out of Hadrian's mouth as he materialized before them. He didn't resist as he was tackled to the ground and held there.

The ACE darted forward to seal and mend the rip in the portal, while fortifying the protections in their little bubble.

Lord Cunningham swallowed back the irrational burst of laughter that threatened to emerge. Mariana looked like a veritable thundercloud of wrath and fury wrapped into one. He mentally counted Hadrian as lucky that the rest of his Bonded had leapt forward to cushion his arrival-sort of. If it wasn't for the time and circumstance, he was fairly certain that Mariana meant to have her way with something before the end of the night.

"I don't think it matters who sent you," said the Gheyo King, readjusting his arm for the headlock. He'd been pleased that Hadrian hadn't fought. It was standard procedure, given that the time-bubble they occupied, was carefully measured. Unauthorized portals were dangerous for both parties.

Strong magic on both sides, helped a great deal.

Hadrian resisted the urge to roll his eyes. It wouldn't help, given that neither lord nor lady had said a word as yet, but he could tell that crossing the realms had been just as much of a headache as he'd expected.

And also equally troublesome in that he was sure he'd landed himself in another spot of trouble all over again. His shoulders slumped in defeat. There wasn't much more that could be restricted at this point—once he'd been barred from the arenas.

Mariana's glare didn't let up, as she gave a jerk of her head for the Rune Master to mark him into their respective time. Hadrian had been smart enough to 'port to her side and accept that it wouldn't be a complete portal, but he would still need to be brought to the same time as the rest of them. She rolled her shoulders back. Her armour creaked and glittered with the movement.

"Complete," the Rune Master muttered, stepping back, the blue runes glowing on Hadrian's cheek and forehead.

Hadrian gritted his teeth against the influx of pain, the time-runes needed a skin contact point and he was too heavily armoured for them to bother with anything else than his face. It wasn't worth the hassle.

"Visor next time," the Gheyo King said, amused. They could mark other places, if a visor was too tricky to remove. He'd done this hundreds of times. "Hurts less."

This time, Hadrian did roll his eyes. The movement was not worth it. Now it did hurt. He ignored the laugh it prompted.

"He sent a message?" Lord Cunningham prompted. "Raspen?"

"He's sending Riven Cairothe," Hadrian explained, gingerly easing up as he was allowed. The Gheyo Princess hauled him up to his feet. "He'll unravel the seal. Raspen's asked him to."

"Any others?" Mariana asked, tersely. Cairothe, she could deal with it—their family, though eccentric—had always honoured the friendship bonds between their Circles.

That aside, the last thing she needed was an entire royal posse descending on their marked off section of Surrey. The hesitant look on Hadrian's face meant that he had more to share and thought that she wouldn't like it.

A well-timed glare made him swallow and continue his report. "Harry wants to come. Which means the he won't come alone, if allowed." Hadrian paused. "They also have a new Bonded as of a few hours ago-first Pareya, an Ethan Hartwood."

"Inter-realm travel with a newly bonded?" Lord Cunningham shook his head. "Not—the wisest of moves. Tell me they tried to dissuade him?"

Hadrian resisted the urge to shrug. "They were still speaking of it when I left. That's all I have to report."

"You said a Hartwood?" Mariana checked her clawed hands, frowning. "Which one?"

"…The archive scholar. He was with Harry in the Library archives and they were referencing one of his family tapestries. Harry's side." Hadrian clarified.

"Evansons?" Mariana muttered, half to herself. She wasn't particularly fond of the Peverells, but their own Advisor had taken a few hours for necessary research so there wouldn't be any unexpected social faux pas between them.


"Lovely." Mariana spun on her heel. Now the rest of it clicked into place. The Peverells would be the Sire's side and the Evansons—well. No wonder her Alpha had subtly suggested she leave them alive.

His knowing smile suggested that he knew she'd finally reasoned out what he'd already pieced together.

She ignored him. "Scout—?" She'd wondered how long it would take Harry to find the first Pareya. The sooner his fledgling Circle filled in a few more Pareyic slots, the sooner they could attract a few useful ranks-namely, Gheyos. Arielle knew the little brunet could use them...

Milady, they've discovered a fresher trail on the East side of the house. Scout said, appearing at her elbow. We should follow as soon as possible-it ends too abruptly, but there's an energy trail. Others have been here, recently—and masked themselves out of the replay.

"Can you track it?"

I can track anything you ask of me, Milady.

"I ask it."

As you wish.

"…thank you, Scout. Round up a good hunting party. We'll split straight down the middle."

Yes, milady. Scout shimmered, not quite phasing out.

"Anything else?"

The seal?

Mariana wrinkled her nose. It took all of two-seconds to decide, for she'd already made her mind up since they'd first arrived. "Raise the Seal!" She snapped out. "If we break it, we break it. I'm not waiting on some Cairothe and a little royal to crash this site."

Lord Cunningham's brow furrowed. He could hear the unspoken question to handle the three in the house. Mariana's sole focus was Maurice. "Will you have enough time? I can manipulate it if you'd rather leave with some sort of-"

"Doesn't matter if we do or not. We'd have to raise it anyway," Mariana said, critically. "They'd have to raise it to break it and the more people we drag through time and space, the bigger the chance of something going wrong."

"Oh?" A smirk settled on Lord Cunningham's face. "No other reason?"

Her lips twitched. "Fine. You can raise it." She leaned over to kiss his upturned cheek. "It's just what you like, anyway. Raise it and break it. I do not care. Might as well do it without an audience. It's probably best to disrupt the beacon after we've set off."

"I intend to. I highly doubt you'd have the patience to spare, if you wait around." His dark eyes glittered, meaningfully.

"Point," Mariana allowed. "Tell Maury I would have stayed, if I could. He'll understand—if—if it's not too late."

"I will. What's been done here should never have happened." Lord Cunningham cast an appraising glance to the two forming groups of his Bonded before him.

He would have suggested a split of his own if Mariana hadn't. They were all present and that meant there were enough hands to do the work. There was no sense in red tape and royal formalities complicating an already complicated mess. He could already guess the ones on the left were those who weren't yet caught up in the battlelust. Those that were, would follow Mariana, as they always did.

"Make it worth your while," he said, lightly. "I expect a full report."

She snorted. "Burn the house. We'll be even."

Hadrian looked between them, a growing sense of dread pooling in the pit of his stomach. He had a feeling he'd come in on the tail end of an important conversation and was somehow missing the vital bits that would help it all make sense. "…what's wrong with the house?" he asked, before he could help himself.

Mariana smirked. The blackness grew in her eyes, wiping away the earlier hint of sadness. "See the window up there? The one with the bars?" she asked, lightly.

Too lightly, Hadrian thought. He followed the tilt of her head to the window in question. His stomach twisted. The darkness he kept bottled in the darkest corner of his soul—rattled. "What am I looking for?"

"Look for magical residue." Mariana prompted. "Feel for it. Anywhere in the house."

Strange as the request was, Hadrian tried. He stretched his shadows to the door and allowed them to climb up the brick walls and slither in past the odd bars on the window and into a small, cramped bedroom. He could see through their eyes and felt the first stirrings of horror-register.

"Happy hunting," Lord Cunningham said, simply.

She turned to him for the expected, farewell kiss. A pleased hum sent a ripple of cheer through their shared bonds, as the kiss deepened to something more. "The house?" she asked, pulling away. If she could not have blood, she would settle for fire.

For now, anyway.

"I will not leave it standing," He stroked her cheek with one, gentle hand. "Shadows be with you."

"And mine with yours," she murmured, touching their foreheads together.

A moment of silence passed, before they broke apart, turning away, eyes averted. There would be plenty of time for this—later.

"Circle up!" Mariana growled.

"Guard in front!" the ACE barked. The chosen group settled into formation and Scout unravelled the magical beacon.

Like a slipknot, coming free—the magic screamed and screeched, before streaking off into the darkened sky.

Mariana's group moved as one, leaping after it.

Hadrian yanked his shadows back, bracing himself as the wild magic tore out of the confined form and continued to stream through the area.

He was troubled and furious—so when the pulsing blue strand of ice magic came rushing straight to him—he threw up his shadows and watched them devour it whole. The taste of Torvak magic was filthy and twisted—the intent unforgivably warped.

"This is the Death Seal?" Hadrian growled. He didn't bother to temper the irritation rising to the surface. Anger was barely contained by a thin veneer of respect for the man he knew could bring him to heel, if need be.

Darkness and death lurked at the edges of his fingertips and for once, he didn't see the reason in holding it back-it wanted to be free and he wanted to release it, if only to ease the sense of wrongness that grew larger by the minute. The magical replay set on the house, began to swirl and rewind, as if to start over from the beginning.

Hadrian didn't want to see it. He turned away, to a far more disturbing sight.

Lord Cunningham wore a truly terrifying smile, all darknessand pure fang. "Hadrian, seeing as you're staying with us—why don't you raise the seal? I'm sure you'd enjoy it and it'd be a good way to burn off that excess magic..."

Raising a seal was exactly as difficult as it sounded.

At least, to anyone who wasn't Hadrian.

As it was, Hadrian had raised plenty of seals in his lifetime and at this point, currently had enough emotion and magic twisted up inside of him to make a fantastical mess of the entire thing.

Sheer luck kept disaster at bay.

His hands shook with the effort and magnitude of probing the Death Seal. There was something more beneath the surface that lurked out of reach. He had yet to actually touch on it and something told him that he wouldn't like the way it would pan out.

There was something that was simply too—easy—about the whole thing.

From the smirk on Lord Cunningham's face, he knew there was something important that he would miss if he'd simply dived straight into pulling the magic up to the surface. He'd stood back, as they'd extracted three cocooned bodies, set into stasis and prepped for a return portal.

And then it was his turn and he'd found himself at a loss.

Death Magic as a whole, ought not to be cast about so liberally and definitely was not something that was easily manipulated. He held a healthy respect for any Military Circle that had earned a name for themselves, and the thought of Ryker's Bane and Maurice himself, was enough to give him pause.

What he knew of Ryker's Bane, was not a pleasant sort of history.

At least, not the kind of a history that was told over tea cups and at dinner parties. It was the sharp, fierce tales the Gheyos traded amongst each other at night, bathed in a glow of a watchful campfire, with short, barks of laughter to punctuate each twist and turn of the tale.

Known for their stealth and their poison, there was one precious detail that made Ryker's Bane so famous. Maurice Elswood held the right and power of a singular Immortal blade, forged by one of the twenty Immortals themselves.

A brilliant blade with a sickly green glow as deadly as the wielder himself.

With that in his hands, many had come to a grisly and painful end.

Legend proclaimed that only Maurice could summon the blade and make use of its full potential.

Hadrian willed the irritating thoughts away and made himself focus on the matter at hand. The Seal's reading was almost complete. There were important things at stake here. Important things and important people.

Harry, for one.

And the rest of his little Circle, for others.

They were curious enough, at least, to him, on the outside looking in. He couldn't help wondering if they'd make it through a full Hunting Season and if they'd actually stay in Nevarah. The little Alpha looked like the easily stressed sort, with their clueless Beta being a bit too clueless, but then now they had a Hartwood on their side and if Harry's tenacity was anything to be aware of, Hadrian wagered that it wouldn't be long before they were all tightly knitted together and on the same page.

Empathy went a long way.

Magic made up the rest of the distance.

The shadows swirled mightily around him as Hadrian threw his head back, rolling his shoulders to allow better range of movement. He breathed in the thick, night air and summoned his element to the very veins of his body.

It filled him like liquid darkness, pooling in his mouth, dribbling down to his belly and dripping down to his fingertips. He felt it as pure ice on his feet, working its way to the crown of his head until everything was a solid mass of sensation.

Magic. Wild magic. Shadow Magic.

"Need an anchor?" Lord Cunningham's voice was sharp and too close.

Hadrian twitched, resisting the urge to flinch, even as his body betrayed him. He'd missed the detail of the older dragel drawing closer to him. Too close, almost. "Anchored enough," he muttered, thickly.

Speech was harder in this form, especially as his fangs grew in and the second row of teeth emerged. A grating, grinding sound was unpleasant enough, but proof that the rest of his physique was changing as it ought to. Stretching up to the sky, spine lengthening, limbs double-jointing, jaw dropping, unhinged.

This was the ugly part.

The hidden side of the shadow.

The darkened face that would reflect in a cursed mirror, if he ever chose to show it.

He smiled as the Seal quivered beneath his feet.

"Perimeter secured. Pillars in place," The Rune Master said, coming to stand beside Lord Cunningham. There was a quiet whistle of appreciation at Hadrian's shadows gathering around him, preparing for the task at hand. It was rare to see such calm control of such an unpredictable element.

"How are you monitoring them?" Lord Cunningham glanced around the marked off section. Now he could see the barely-there shimmers of a tell-tale magical barrier set in place. Isolating their little section from the rest of the world and holding it tight in a time-secured space.

"Joker at every pillar," came the immediate reply. "All of them linked to each other. I'll be up there," the Rune Master tilted his head back, squinting up where the pillar's magic collected and gathered. "If something shatters-"

"If Hadrian shatters this, I'll shatter him," Lord Cunningham said, pleasantly. "Do hold it together until he's through?" Scales rippled up and down the sides of his face. His clawed hands hidden inside the oversized sleeves of his casting robe—unlike the rest of them, he did not wear armour. Not for this. Not tonight.

There was an answering snort, before the Rune Master leapt into the air, his wings carrying him soundlessly upwards and nearly out of view. He would regulate the massive amounts of magic needed to keep this little hiccupping timeline from a disastrous end. He always had, after all.

Hadrian twitched, faintly, at the sideways scold.

Personally, he'd rather nothing was shattered, but there were things he'd agreed to when he'd joined the Cunningham's' and this was one of them.

His shadows danced around him, merrily. Ready and waiting to do his bidding. They were excited to destroy. To grab hold of something dark and wretched, to swallow it whole.

And now, they gathered him up, carrying him over to the small house, directly overhead. For a moment, it was a solid structure. Brick and mortar and all that.

And then, it became translucent.

Placeholders of silvery-white outlined where walls, doors and floors would be.

Instead, the Death Seal shone outwards and upwards.

A writhing dark mass of tainted energy, continually locked into existence by a pure, heavenly light surrounding Maurice Elswood.

Hadrian felt his chest tighten. From the lifeless glimpse of the figure, the man was dead.

A living sacrifice given to ensure that one Harry Potter, would live to see a brighter future—somehow.

Sorrow wrought its cruel touch, making his hands quiver once, as Hadrian gathered his shadows tightly around him, preparing for the work below.

He took three quick breaths and dropped.

Straight down from the sky to the seven stories below ground.

There was no dirt or coldness here. Just magic. The silvery white specks that let him know he was underground and of course, the massive, sprawling seal itself.

It was a beautiful thing to behold, in spite of its ugly reason for existence.

Maurice had been an extremely talented Gheyo and it showed in the delicately wrought anchoring of the seal itself. A giant, spinning circle of rich purples and whites, tangled together in an ever-present spinning circle. There were symbols and swirls, inscribed in various places—the seal itself was seven layers—or seven circles, nested together, each spinning in a different direction than the ones surrounding it.

The inscriptions made his heart clench, as Hadrian gingerly touched down to stand on the seal. He shuddered, violently, as the magical backlash rippled through him. This seal had been set with permanence. It was not to be unravelled.

Perhaps Lord Cunningham was right.

Something would have to be shattered.

His shadows went to work.

Picking and plucking at the topmost inscriptions. Hadrian pressed his hands together, palm to palm, head bowed. He began the first string of chants that would undo the customary holdings of the seal itself.

It would be foolish to try and unravel the seal below ground. Best to raise it to ground level first.

The scream that tore from his lips, did the trick.

Arms outstretched, shadows streaking around his face, Hadrian brought it up.

In all of its magnificent, dark glory, the Death Seal did as it was bid.

The first level nearly encompassed the two houses next-door and those across the street.

Hadrian was silently grateful that their Rune Master had taken such expansions into consideration and extended their time-measured barrier well beyond it.

Angry whispers streamed through his ears and he silently forced himself to focus.

It was a good layered seal.

A lesser Gheyo would fall prey to such poisonous things. The Seal did not want to be broken or disturbed and the protections wrought over it meant to kill anyone who dared otherwise.

Such a thought brought a wicked grin to his face.

For a Blood Title was forged in blood and he meant to make full use of his.

He began to chant once more, even as the house began to reform around him. Perhaps they should have torn the structure down from the start, but it was much too late for that now.

The first circular layer screeched and screamed, spinning wildly and viciously—but unable to claim any additional lives, as Hadrian's magic overpowered it, holding fast.

It took a few minutes to catch his breath, before the Seal spun about, reorienting itself.

The ground trembled.

Hadrian hissed. "Don't you dare!" He snarled at the shadows creeping along the edge of the seal. He knew which ones were his and those were not his.

Those were not welcome here.

Not yet.

The temperature dropped.

Ice crackled at the edges of the second Seal layer.

Hadrian trembled.

But he bowed his head and put his hands together once more, summoning magic between them.

Like a breath of spring, the light sprang from his hands, silvery and fierce. It streaked about the Seal, melting the crackling ice and forcefully unravelling the blocks holding the second layer in place.

More screaming. More screeching.

Something dark had gone into the Seal.

Something far less—honourable—than Maurice.

Hadrian paid no mind to the new shadows that twined playfully around him. Some were darker than his own and others were more vicious. Unfettered, they sought a new victim or master, whichever would have them.

Lord Cunningham had thrown up a secondary barrier of his own, his magic rich and potent, in the way that it kept all of the Seal's influence contained and with Hadrian.

A detail, though irritating, was not entirely unwelcome.

It wasn't hard to force them into his service. Hadrian rolled his neck to the side. And broke open the second layer.

The third layer was far easier than the previous two. Almost as if it had been crafted out of necessity than practicality. Wind lashed and blew about, tearing at his face and clothes.

Minute slashes and scrapes covered him as he stood, unmoving.

Now, he could feel it.

The pulsing, gasping beat of the Seal itself.

Damn Maurice.

Hadrian sucked in a breath and dropped to one knee. Pressing one hand to the still-glimmering surface, he continued to pull the shadows to him, forcing them into his service, before pouring them back into the seal. It was time-consuming and mentally-exhausting.

The Seal throbbed and hummed.

With a brilliant rush of scarlet fire, the third level of Seal, burned away.

The fourth layer was almost more golden than the expected, vivid purple. But it was angrier and pricklier than the previous ones. Hadrian stripped off his armoured gloves and pressed his bare hands flat against the seal. He strained, mightily, to keep them from melding directly into the swirling depths and only barely succeeded.

This was harder than he'd expected.

An image of Harry's soulful green eyes flickered through his mind.

For one split-second, his concentration wavered.

Hadrian hissed, feeling the skin peeling from his hands as he drew on every ounce of his strength to pull himself back from the seal. He toppled over on his rear, as the seal released him and cracked down the middle.

Layer four was gone.

It crumbled beneath him and pain sang in its wake.

He scrabbled at his ears, even though it was much too late.

The echoing, awful sound rattled around in his head.

And then, he couldn't hear anything else.

Like a vacuum.

Empty silence. And angry visuals.

He could see the fifth layer of the Seal and in his fury, tore it to shreds without a single care.

Blood trickled down his mangled hands and busted eardrums.

Dragel healing had yet to catch up.

It splattered, unevenly on the sixth layer of the seal and demanded that it open.

The seventh layer roared to life as the sixth faded away in a fury of scorching water—leaving him soaked and battered. The original intent had been to drown the one who dared to break the Seal. To drown in a landlocked place where there was no body of water for miles.

And then, there he was.

Hadrian gasped and choked, heaving himself forward to stand, a bit unsteadily on his own two feet.

There, several feet in front of him, lay the unseeing, frozen figure of Maurice Elswood. Partially still embedded in the seal, his face and hands were visible, but unseeing and unmoving.

A closer look showed that his eyes were white and unblinking, glowing the same eerie purple as the Seal itself. Purple fire—ancient magic—crackled at his upturned palms.

It didn't take an expert to see that Maurice had used himself for the Seal's anchor. No wonder it'd been so troublesome to unravel.

Hadrian swore.

There was no way the man was alive.


"Why?" Theo asked, simply. "They can be brought here-there's no need for us to return to Earth for this. We'd likely be in the way and you're still hunting-"

"You said we'd go back." Harry's eyes narrowed. "You said so, Theo."

"I also said 'within reason'," Theo's voice remained perfectly calm. "Harry, telling a Royal that you'll be-"

"Why do you want to go?" Charlie interrupted, he held up a hand to still Theo's scold. It'd be easier to sort this out if they were all on the same page. "Harry-I'm with Theo on this. I don't think there's a reason for us to return to Earth right this very second. Especially with the lockdown and everything-and you still hunting-it probably won't be easy to come back."

"And if I don't want to come back?" Harry asked, in a small voice. He tried not to twist his hands together in his lap, but he needed to do something-anything-other than not look at Theo.

"You don't want to come back?" Theo asked, quietly.

Harry swallowed. The pause meant that Theo was waiting for his answer-and to meet his gaze—something that he simply couldn't do. Yet. "It's-family." He said, lamely. And not, what he wanted to say-which was something along the lines of 'no-don't bring them into this good place' and if that meant returning to Earth to deal with them, then he would.

Every good thing in his life had come anywhere else but from the Dursleys and the last thing he wanted, was to see them brought to this realm. They'd ruin it. Somehow. Just like they'd always done for him.

Harry didn't know what would change with his being there at Privet drive, but the thought of someone poking through the house-and seeing how he'd lived-or rather, how he hadn't, made his skin crawl.

There was a soft sigh before Ethan came into Harry's line of sight. His movements, as usual, were careful and measured as if he was making an extra effort to be as welcoming and non-threatening as possible "Alright, you three. That's enough questions with everyone on different sides. Come here, Harry," Ethan coaxed, reaching out to him. "Charlie-over here. Theo-would you?" He moved to sit at the head of the bed and placed a fluffy pillow on his lap. "Harry?"

He didn't want to-but the pillow was inviting and this was Ethan. Harry swallowed. Ethan who had listened patiently and without judging, offering advice and simply being there. And there was a wall of warmth-Charlie-who was always there, steady, warm and alive. Listening to him and also puzzling his way through the whole dragel thing. And of course, Theo. His precious, precious Theo.

"Harry-love," Theo's soft voice had dropped to a near whisper as he stretched over to nuzzle Harry's shoulder. It was all the encouragement he needed.

Slowly, Harry inched over Ethan and gingerly settled, curling up against the fat fluffy pillow in Ethan's lap.

"There we are," Ethan murmured. He gave Harry plenty of time to move away if he wanted, but when Harry didn't budge, it earned him a smile. Combing his fingers through Harry's sweat-dampened mop, Ethan waited as Charlie and Theo found their places, bracketing Harry.

"I-I just-I-" Harry's voice cracked. He startled when Theo's arms slipped around him from behind, followed almost instantly by Charlie's from in front. There was warmth and near silence.

"You're worrying," Ethan said, simply. "And you're worrying about something you don't want to share, because either it will worry us or you'd simply rather we didn't know." He paused. "Either option isn't exactly ideal-but, I-we-respect your privacy."

Harry swallowed again. His eyes burned, but no tears came. He felt tired, frustrated and hot all over as his mind whirled a million-miles a minute without any chance of—oh.

Ethan cast a cooling charm.

Harry went limp with relief. The simple fact that all of his Bonded where there and with him, calmed the frantic, sparking spirals of his magic. Gradually, his empathy settled as well, his instincts simmering along the surface.

"I wouldn't push you on this," Theo said, carefully. He caught one of Harry's hands in his, then held it over Harry's heart. "Except that it's making you so miserable to the point that you're like this."

Harry squirmed. "What's wrong with me?"

"Nothing's wrong with you," Charlie cut in. "You're just being you-and stubborn." He took Harry's other hand, holding it between his own, cool blue flames dancing around them.

"M'not-!" Harry protested.

"You know," Charlie began, conversationally. "The Twins once told me an interesting story."

Harry stilled.

"About how they'd rescued you from your relatives-because there were bars on your window. They'd gone with Ron, to pick you up. Flying Dad's magic car to Surrey and back."

"T-that's not-it's not what you think it is," Harry said, quickly. "It was just-"

"The interesting thing is, it bothered George so much that he had Mum send you snacks every year-on your birthday-because he couldn't think of any other excuse to send food."

Harry's tiny squeak of distress was answered by Theo's deep rumble of reassurance.

Charlie pushed on, never releasing Harry's hand. "George later told me he hated feeling so helpless that he couldn't do anything good for you. Fred, also, once said the same. Coming from the twins, that's the closest you'll ever see them to wearing their hearts on their sleeves," Charlie said, wryly. "But Harry-they never would've told me this, if-"

"It's not true. Whatever they said-it's not. That's not why-it's-!" The words tangled together and Harry jerked upright, pulling hard to move away from them. "They weren't-they weren't…" he faltered.

Fabric scraps exploded out onto the bed and Ethan's massive wings snapped open with a leathery rustle. They circled around the bed, adding privacy, blocking light and changing the atmosphere at once.

Theo shot halfway up, his eyes pitched to near black, as Charlie also jolted into into protective mode, on full-alert. A vaguely apologetic expression flickered across Ethan's face, before he bared his teeth, making a soft clicking sound with his tongue.

Harry flinched. Scales rippled up and down his face, eyes darting to search for the nearest escape-only for the sound to repeat itself. He hissed.

Ethan trilled in answer.

Claws came out. Harry's shoulders twitched, agitatedly. His gaze darted around the makeshift space, trying to map out a quick way to the door. "Stop trying to-"

"It's meant to calm, not control." Ethan said, firmly. "I know you can think this through, without running away, Harry. Running doesn't fix anything."

"I'm not running!"

"No, you just look ready to bolt."

"You don't know me-!"

"I don't know you well enough-yet." Ethan corrected. "We're both starting from the same place, Harry. You don't know me any more than I know you-at this point. There's so much more ahead of us and I want to see it all the way through-so please. Stay."

"I'm not-!"

"Please, Harry?" Theo added. His own scales rippled along the sides of his face, disappearing behind his shirt collar.

"...I can't." The words choked. Harry hugged his arms to himself, curling forward only to find that Charlie was right there. With his steady, ever-present warmth-he was there, reaching out and folding Harry into arms that were infinitely stronger and warmer than anything Harry could've hoped for, at that point. "Charlie-!"

Rubbing his cheek atop Harry's head, Charlie struggled to focus and push the shaky calmness he'd cobbled together, back through their shared bonds. He started, faintly, when one of Ethan's beautiful wings, circled around his left shoulder.

Theo half-smiled. He could feel the other wing, behind him, hovering close, but not touching-respecting his space. Ethan was certainly a fast learner; he'd give him that. He watched as Harry all but burrowed into the embrace Charlie offered, looking so lost and miserable that it made him want to tear his hair out.

From Charlie's story, he could piece the rest together. That was what his lovely mentor had hinted at that day when she'd sent Charlie and Harry off to complete their bonding. Her words—that she'd never asked his secrets of him, but the pain behind such a promise—now registered.

She'd nearly lost her famous temper over the fact that someone had sealed Harry—tempered only by the fact that she meant to assist them first and scold later. Theo felt his heart burn and ache. Badgering Harry wouldn't produce any good results whatsoever, but maybe, being there and staying there, would help. He knew Harry would only open up when he was ready to and that made the ache even worse.

Ilsa once said that Harry flinched, for no good reason-but Theo, himself, knew what that meant. After all, hadn't he done the same? When his drunken father would decide that it wasn't enough to torture his wife, but that perhaps, he ought to ensure that Theo would turn out as twisted as he was.

Ethan's right wing curled around Theo's shoulder and he startled-faintly. He couldn't avoid Ethan's knowing gaze and gave into what was offered, when Ethan carefully eased close enough to reach him. He turned, burying his face in that warm neck and simply breathing.

"Empathy," Ethan murmured, voice barely audible for Theo's ears. "Just feel it and release it."

Theo gave a small nod and focused on pushing the memories away. He dredged up the earliest days he could remember-days with Ithycar and Ilsa. Meeting Bahn and Bhindi, playing with Dahlia, Ariki and Soula, learning to fly and receiving his three caspers.
It worked. The familiar light of the good memories served to remind him of all the good that had come out of the mess that had once seemed so impossible.

"...they never wanted me," Harry said, softly. "Not once."

That, Theo thought, was a good place to start.

"He's exhausted," Theo commented, smoothing a hand down Harry's side, where he lay, curled up between Charlie and Ethan. At one point, he'd had to leave the bed and take up pacing to manage the absolute rage that had coiled inside of him, to think of those miserable muggles and what they'd done to his Harry.

Well, their Harry.

Theo gave him a look, mollified when it prompted a slight duck of the head in deference. He was starting to understand that a lot of Harry's emotional spillover was translating into the perpetual headaches that he hadn't quite been able to shake off since arriving in Nevarah. Perhaps Charlie had been right. Maybe he was taking too much of it on his own shoulders, it was just hard to trust. Period.

Not that he didn't want to trust them—he did, but it was still hard. Theo scowled again. That was why he had a headache.

Ethan gave a wry smile. "Calmer now?"

"They just-all this time. I-he-why would-?" Theo wished the words would string themselves together properly.

"He's Harry. He thinks of everyone else, before himself," Ethan said. "Or so I'm starting to see. Has he always been this way?"

Theo smiled, the scowl vanishing. "Always," he said, fondly. "I have to say, nearly everything I knew of him—before we were anything to each other—he was always looking out for someone else. Standing up for someone who couldn't manage it on his own."

"Ah," Ethan smiled down at the napping Harry in his lap. "Then there must be some other reason he wants to return to Earth? Specifically, to the house? I would think he wouldn't want to return at all. Ever. Unless there's something else."

"Like what?" Charlie stretched, carefully. "Harry cares about people, not things."

"Maybe he wants to be there for Maury?" Ethan suggested.

"He doesn't know him. Never even saw him," Theo said. "And we don't even know if he's alive, he's more likely dead at this point. There's no reason for Harry to be there-even if by some miracle, he's alive, it's not likely to be an instant connection. There's things required of both of them-they'd have to take the vow of mentorship, and with all the seals on Harry, they probably won't react well, not to mention if Maury is in his right mind, I can't imagine that he'll be happy about how anything has happened since Harry's inheritance."

"He won't mind you, if that's what you're thinking," Ethan said. " Empaths do not force-bond with people. You're exactly what Harry needs. Someone he can push against, without breaking himself or you-and still be there for him."

Theo sighed, heavily. "It doesn't always feel like that." He eyed the Pareya, noting that Ethan's eyes were a steady shade of amber-brown-they'd never changed since the entire issue had begun. That was certainly worth noting. "Any Nameless talents, I should know about?"

Ethan stifled a laugh. "No. Not an empath, if that's what you're asking. I'm simply-it's a Pareya thing. We can't leave well enough alone, when we're reasonably sure we can fix or alleviate the problem."

"You thought you could fix it?" Theo made his way back to the bed, easing down to sit on the far end, where he wouldn't jostle Harry.

"No, I thought it'd be best for all of you, if Harry had the chance to speak his mind."

"...I don't want him back on Earth." Theo admitted. "I don't think it's safe and I know him-he'll want to stay and help. To check up on all his friends. To make sure that everything's alright and then he won't be able to leave it alone. He'll want to do more than help and it'll all-"

"His saving people thing," Charlie supplied. "That's what Fred called it, once, when he heard from Ron, what all they were up to when they were at Hogwarts." He shuddered. "It makes what they were up to-look like child's play."

"Really?" Ethan frowned. "How?" He'd heard bits and pieces from Harry, but not much of anything before Nevarah.

Theo and Charlie exchanged a glance, then both held their hands out, for a mind transfer. After a brief hesitation, Ethan took them.

He was painfully silent for several long minutes afterward, before he leaned forward and kissed the top of Harry's head-the easiest part of him, he could reach. "No one should have to endure all of that," Ethan said, quietly. "Knowing that, I'd rather he didn't return either."

"Maybe it's not that he wants to return," Charlie suggested. "Maybe he just has a feeling."

"Empaths wouldn't follow that sort of feeling off-world," Theo said, slowly. "Not that I know of."

"Yes, but none of us are empaths and none of us know empaths," Charlie said. "We're not giving him the full benefit of the doubt."

"Are you worried you can't protect him or that he'll want to stay?" Ethan asked. "Pick one or the other," he added, when it looked as if Theo was about to answer otherwise.

"That he'll stay."

"Then ask him to return," Ethan said, calmly. "Harry, you don't mind returning after the seal is broken, right?"

"He's awake?" Theo was torn between glaring and looking concerned. "Stop that."

"He never fell asleep," Harry muttered, face red. He'd feigned sleep and figured he'd done a decent job if Theo was too distracted to notice that he was faking it. He sat up, ignoring Ethan's attempt to hide a smile. "I don't want to stay there. I like it. I like-everyone. I like not having this-pressure. I mean, I'm still-I don't want to-do you mind?"

"That's good enough for now," Theo said. "I don't mind at all."

"Great," Harry slumped back into the pillows. "Can we sleep now?"

Charlie laughed. He curled an arm around Harry and pulled him over for a cuddle. "We can sleep now," he agreed.

Ethan's expression softened. He held a hand out to Theo, relieved when it was taken, before they rearranged themselves together, to surround Harry as they'd done before.

A short nap couldn't hurt, really…


"Father?" Jun called out. The entire interior was completely deserted, as far as she could tell. There was no sign of life and no stable sense of magic. Only the wispy, ugly sensation of Fabrine crawling about the place, even as Rian cut down everything that darted in front of them.

Briar was doing his share, swallowing them whole as they slipped past Rian.

"Focus, Jun!" Rian snapped. "You're leaving yourself wide-" he stopped when she viciously hacked a sizeable slash of energy straight into an oncoming enemy to her left. "On the other hand…"

"I don't sense anyone," Briar growled out. "There's nothing here."

"I can feel something up ahead, but I can't pinpoint it," Jun muttered. "It's almost as if-" she stumbled, catching her balance with Rian's hand on her arm and Briar's teeth in her shoulder. "Ow. I'm fine."

Briar growled, but carefully released her shoulder.

All three flinched at the collective snap of magic that sparked outward from nothingness in front of them, to a hazy, wavering image of former earth Clan Chief, Evanson Senior.

"J-Juniper-i-if you're seeing this message then-it's-all-all gone-wrong. I've set a-a-a t-timer for f-five y-years-with an automatic trigger if something t-trips it a-afterward."

The audio garbled, the images twisting viciously.

Jun took a deep breath. "Briar-Rian."

Briar whined. Rian growled. Neither complained at her stabilization spell that forcefully rippled out within seconds of her warning. The flickering images stilled. The interior walls began to repair itself. A swirling golden bubble came to life around them, keeping the final vestiges of Fabrine, at bay.

" shouldn't have left." Evanson Senior said, gruffly. "...should not have left and I-I apologize if I had any part in forcing you to feel as if you had no other choice, but to leave. You're a bright girl. Take too much after your mother, but there's nothing wrong with that. Anyway, it's a trap. I think. Or a trick of some sort. It's not real. I've been trying to contact you and nothing is going through. I don't understand. Your mother will try something-her own kind of magic. However, it works. It's always worked better for you two than the rest of us. If it reaches you, good. If it doesn't...I'm sorry. I love you. Take care of yourself-and your rascal of Submissive. He's a sneaky slippery thing, but you fit together well enough and that's what matters. We're dispersing in about twenty minutes from the time of this recording. We're headed to-" the audio garbled again. "-which is probably marked as an unplottable location. If you didn't hear that, it means the location is active and I can't tell you, where we are or where we went, as it is, when you see this. I only hope that we return-before this message is necessary." He hesitated. "It's early. Too early. If we don't make it back-tell the Royals-the Immortals are waking."

The message ended.

A pressing wave of sadness flared through their shared bonds as Jun pressed a hand to her mouth, her green eyes shimmering with unshed tears. Her free hand twitched, calling up a multitude of spells as she cast them one after another, trying to determine the authenticity of the message.

"Hey," Rian caught her hand, gently. "I'm sure he's-"

"He's not fine." Jun allowed him to pull her into a one-armed hug. The awful emptiness burrowing into her, now made sense. She could not possibly imagine a way for them to have survived. Magic did as magic was bid and this message, was a final, parting note. "You said that you haven't had any interaction with them, all these past years. No notice. Just word that my mother had passed and she was buried in the hall of remembrance."

"Shhh-there has to be an explanation beyond-"

"There should be enough for a replay," Briar said, shaking himself out, a rumbling growl working up in his belly. "Cover your ears."

The warning was scarcely given, when he threw his head back and howled. The anguished sound echoed eerily throughout the empty halls, shaking the magical bubble and freezing all the Fabrine in their tracks.

Colour and light swirled to life around them.

"Briar?" Gardenia's voice could be heard, faintly, from somewhere behind them. "Think you could do that again?"

He howled in answer.

The lights continued swirling and magic rose.

His summoning magic gave enough pause for their Gheyos to come through, swinging. It took mere minutes to tear and shred the final Fabrine to nothing. The protective bubble faded away as the swirling came to a stop.

Rian didn't protest when Jun pulled away, stumbling a few feet further. He was staring too.

The magical replay of the last time life was within the estate halls, was achingly familiar-and old. It showed Evanson Senior recording the message and setting it to play, should the need arise. It showed his late wife, Lady Evanson, with her famous, flame-coloured robes and the fancy golden jewellery of her station. Cupped in her hands was the eternal flame she guarded, one of the active keys for waking the Immortal their Clan was destined to guard.

The hazy images flickered and blurred, as time sped up in the replay, showing a vicious and frantic fight. There were plenty of Fabrine present and a handful of indistinguishable figures.

"Seriously?" Leif growled, his armour rippled, morphing into a heavier set.

"'s enough," Jun said, quietly. "Turn it off." she twitched when Briar nosed at her. "Turn it off, Briar. Now. Gardenia, call someone. Whoever you think can handle this discreetly. I'm tired of this. All this stupid running and selflessness. It's cost me more than I've wanted to pay. Than I've ever agreed to."


"Alcandor?" Kieran hovered just within the doorway to the Merrow King's private quarters. "A word?"

A disinterested glance was thrown his way before Alcandor handed off the glittering shell, with his signed signature at the bottom, in glowing, golden script. He murmured something, softly, in their native Merrow tongue, before gliding over to Kieran. "Something important? Or may I have your head this evening?"

"You may have it whenever it so pleases you, your majesty," Kieran snapped, irritated. "If you don't mind—?" He gestured into the room.

Alcandor sighed, but moved on through with a twitch of his fingers to call his assigned bodyguards through.

Kieran growled at the slight, but ignored it. If Alcandor wanted to be petty, he could. He was the King after all and this was the sort of news that would require quick action. Sort of.

"Whatever is it now?" Alcandor watched as his advisor locked and barred the door, casting up several additional spells to his private chamber. "Don't tell me you've discovered some awful and terrible secret about an assassin that means to take my life and make it into a-"

"They've found blood," Kieran said, abruptly. He turned, dark eyes glittering with barely concealed excitement. "They've found a scale and blood. There's a trace. The very faintest of traces, but-"

"But they found it." Alcandor said, finishing the sentence. The feral smirk that settled over his face was unnerving, coupled with the sudden paleness that stole over his features. "How quick of them. I'd thought it would take longer."

Kieran didn't answer. He only folded his hands and gave a little bow of acknowledgement.

"Delightful," Alcandor drawled. "Absolutely delightful." He tapped his chin with one bejewelled finger. "Hm. Send Alec to take a look, would you?"

"Oh?" Kieran's voice was deceptively light. "You would entrust that to him?"

Alcandor laughed. "…let us merely say that I-trust—that he has learned his lesson and that he will be more careful this time around." He moved over to the glowing, underwater window and watched as Goonter swam lazily by, keeping close to his quarters. "Mischief, when well-executed, is always—amusing to those of us who are watching."

"Of course," Kieran murmured. "Any specifics?"

"If I should have to tell him what I need, then I daresay he doesn't actually need the head sitting upon his cowardly shoulders."

Kieran remained silent, but his folded hands clenched, briefly.

"…he will know what to do. Send him quickly. I want a report as soon as there is one to be had and—oh, Kieran?"


Alcandor stifled a laugh. "Ever so respectful, aren't you?" He muttered, half to himself. "I suspect our dear Prince Raspen is about to involve himself in the kind of situation that a Royal ought not to be so close to. Should he decide to step off-realm for a spell, let me know."

"…of course, your highness." Kieran's brow furrowed, delicately. "Would you wish to be alerted if there were any other—activities?"

"I do not care what Raspen does in his spare time. I do care if he ventures out of Nevarah while we are on lockdown because he is running away from something he doesn't wish to acknowledge," Alcandor hummed. "So yes, I do wish to be alerted. In any way possible at whatever time you should learn something of importance. If at all possible, keep him here and if he must, if he absolutely must venture off-realm, then ease his passage."

"Your highness?" Kieran's surprise was too genuine to mask.

"He is first and foremost a friend, Kieran. First and foremost a friend. I owe him enough that I should keep my hands out of his business, except that he is a friend and for his own sake I would wish to spare him unnecessary anguish at his own, confused hands."

"…as you wish."

"Mmm. I wish. You may leave me. Send in the Messenger from the Pearl Capital. I have a message for my Night Council."

"He will be in shortly," Kieran said. He inclined his hand, hands unfolding and dropping to his side. He glided to the door and stepped through.

Alcandor's shoulders slumped, his head bowed. He crooked a finger to draw the attention of one of his Eight bodyguards. "Eyes and ears," he murmured, faintly. "Be quick about it."

That was enough, he knew, for the stealthy Merrow to phase at once to the Royal's quarters and gather as much information as possible.

"An hour and a half or until it disperses," he instructed. The wave of dismissal was unnecessary, but also habit. He didn't turn to see when and how the guard vanished. He simply glanced at the timepiece on the wall and then at the window, where Goonter was settling down for a nap.

Kieran was fast, he'd give him that. For if Goonter was settling down, then it meant Alec was out and about…


Riven stifled a shudder. He was grateful for the borrowed guestroom and the hot bath, as Raspen had promised.

But his magic tore viciously at him, inside and out, staining the bathwater a tell-tale pink. The bloodied bandages were wadded up into a ball, at the corner of the floor near the sink.

He shouldn't have come so hastily.

A single breath allowed him to duck beneath the water and hold himself together there, working on forcing out another healing and coaxing his body to accept it.

Inter-realm travel and future-time-travel, was still in his immediate future and it would take its toll as it always had. He surfaced with a slight sputter and shook his wet braids as a gentle hair-cleaning spell rippled over them. He took another minute longer, before rising and exiting the bath.

The tub drained behind him, and a twitch of his fingers had a slight scrubbing set about to remove any trace of his presence. He slung a towel about his hips and went about slathering on the usual healing lotions on his person. He grimaced at a few of the scars that remained and wouldn't fade, in spite of his careful attention to them. He'd have to make time to visit a Healer soon, perhaps even one of the Kalzik ones, else what little attractiveness he possessed would be marred beyond all hope.

With a sigh, he set about drying and rebraiding his hair, when a flicker of magical presence drew his awareness.

Ah. Raspen. He thought, grumpily. It was still something of a shock and a tad disconcerting to have a Royal for his mentored student, but, somehow, in spite of them, it worked. He tapped on the door, to announce his exit and stepped through to find that he'd been right.

Perched in the centre of his borrowed bed, was one worried Prince Raspen and his favourite pillow.

Riven sighed. Loudly.

Prince Raspen ducked his head. "Sorry."

"Better to ask forgiveness than permission?" Riven countered. He dressed himself in the appropriate sleepwear with a single gesture. His hair was still setting itself to rights as he moved over to the bed. His grimorie came flying to his outstretched hand and he held it out to Raspen.

"But Oret-!"

"Study," came the flat reply. "Two pages before anything else."

Prince Raspen huffed, but after a moment, scooted back up to the pile of pillows at the head of the bed. He settled in comfortably and cracked open the book, searching for where he'd last left off. It was few and far in between, the times that he was gifted this particular privilege.

A well-battered book, the size of two respectable dinner plates, with well-oiled bindings, and no two-pages looking alike. The words were all handwritten. Some pages were made of natural parchment, others from various skins and wings. The magic itself was raw and potent, straining almost, within its confines.

Prince Raspen read silently for near a half-hour, before he'd finally completed the requested two pages. He handed the book over to Riven's expectant hand and watched as it was absorbed back into the Spellcaster.

"Now then?" Riven prompted. "Why are you here and not…elsewhere?"

"Father," Prince Raspen said, simply. "He's—upset."

"Ah. About the Cunningham's?"

"I don't know. I don't think so, but probably."

"Are we still speaking to him?"

"He's my father, I can't not speak to him."

Riven snorted. "He's the King and I still manage to not see him or speak to him, unless I absolutely have to. So I repeat—are we still-?"

"Only as the King. He's—too busy these days."

"Too busy? He hasn't handed over the crown to you yet."

"No, just every single duty that I can perform without."


Prince Raspen coloured. "…perhaps?"

"A little then," Riven allowed. "You should speak to him. He was once a wise man."

"And now?"

"…now he irritates me." Riven said, abruptly. "What was it you needed?"

"Lady Evanson is back."

Riven twisted around to stare at him, uncomprehending. "…and?"

"Her Sire and his Circle have been gone for some time."


"No, Oret. They've been gone for years. At least two Gheyo seasons and one Hunt."

"Fifteen years?"

"Maybe. I don't know exactly. I can't ask things without other things becoming all tangled up in it."

"You think your father-?"

"I don't know, I-" Prince Raspen's voice cracked. He drew his knees up to his chest, his head pillowed atop them. "She was happy to be back. Told me all these things I'd never even known was happening behind the scenes and-" he stopped again.

Riven gave a long sigh. He turned out the lights and moved around to settle on the bed, beside Raspen. He allowed the cuddle, for what it was, feeling the very war taking place inside. Royals didn't necessarily cry.

At least, not before an audience.

"She was headed off to see her father—and her Circle."

Riven twitched.

"You know. I have so much to worry about and really, they belong to Ebony, sort of. Lady Evanson—her mother—was a fire heiress. They've graced Ebony's courts, but when I asked her—you know—when they'd last seen them." His words caught in his throat.

"Raspen, you're not responsible for-"

"Don't. Please don't tell me that. I should-"

"They are one of the twenty, yes?"

Prince Raspen hiccupped.

"Ah. So out of all the Immortals, are there any left to wake?"

Another hiccup.

Riven grimaced. "Shall I speak to your father?"

"…shouting won't help."

There as a short bark of laughter. "I will endeavour not to shout, then."

Prince Raspen managed a half-laugh of his own.

"Honestly, what is he thinking? He's supposed to be helping and supporting you, unless-" Riven frowned.


"…how is the state of everything else?" Riven gave a slight squeeze to the arm he had around Prince Raspen's shoulders. "Do not tell me anything other than what you actually can. I ask as to, our treaties with the neighbouring realms, our standings with the Fae, the Elves and of course, the Vampires."

There was a long pause. Prince Raspen was quiet in thought before he finally wriggled a bit, beneath the warm arm keeping him close. "I think we're fine with the Fae, I mean, they're coming for the Hunt. The Elves are—proud—as ever, but the Deveraines, they still wish for peace and so peace is had. Their people will not cross them."

Riven smiled to himself at that. The Deveraine twins had given up Royal titles to accept the Nevarean citizenship, but they were still Royalty in every way and the Air Royals had always taken care to that fact.

"And the Vampires?"

Prince Raspen hesitated. "Father was upset about something, a couple months ago. I was busy for the Hunt—all the preparations you know—and he wasn't happy, but I didn't know what about. I thought that perhaps—"

"Shh. Don't tell me." Riven said, calmly. "Speak to him as soon as you can manage it. He cares for you a great deal you know."

"…I know." Prince Raspen nestled closer. "I just wish he'd stop hinting that a Circle would fix everything. It won't."

Riven laughed, softly. "All fathers are alike there," he said, cheerfully. "Mine still thinks that will fix my wandering habits."

Prince Raspen shook with silent laughter. "As if."

"True. Very true. Now then. Sleep? Tomorrow is to be a very busy day."

"…thank you, Oret."

Riven nuzzled the top of his head in acknowledgment.


Ethan stirred, eyelids fluttering open as he registered a faint spike of surprise and hope along the fledgling shared Bonds he now had. This particular emotion he could trace down the line that went to Harry and upon opening his eyes fully, he could make out the adorable, sleepy face within reach.

Hazy emerald eyes were blinking at him in slow-motion, as the rest of Harry tried to reason out the fact of the new face in their shared bed.

It was sweet and heart-warming, in a way.

Just enough that Ethan wanted to wipe the uncertainty away and replace it with something better. He wanted this to be a familiar occurrence—not something to worry over.

"Morning," Ethan hummed. Taking his time, he stretched out one arm to curl around Harry's waist. He didn't pull him closer straight away, but rather let his arm rest, stroking up and down on Harry's side, attempting to settle and soothe.

It worked nicely, because Harry burrowed closer of his own accord, muffling a yawn into the now-shared pillow.


Ethan grinned at the simple greeting. He'd wondered how Harry woke—quietly or noisily. Or even, perhaps—fully articulate. It seemed to be the opposite, if the single word was to be believed. "Hi." He returned, moving enough to nuzzle the side of Harry's temple. "Sleep well?"

Harry attempted a shrug. It was hard to answer that question, but he didn't think of it too much. He was happy to be asked the question in the first place—not that Theo and Charlie didn't ask, but this was Ethan. It was a first.

A first of many, Harry hoped.

"I guess," he offered, after a pause. His dreams had been hazy and somewhat tormented. It was almost as if he couldn't have a single, peaceful night's rest, because of some shadowy spectre hanging just out of sight somewhere.

"No dreams then?"

"Kind of." Harry hedged. He didn't want to talk about the shadowed darker-than-darkness. The piercing feelings of hopelessness and abandonment. The agonized, muffled cries. And definitely not the glowing, blood-red eyes. Nope. Not today. He snuggled closer instead. At one point, he could have sworn that it was Hadrian in his dreams. Hadrian in great pain and surrounded by very dark, very powerful magic. Disturbing dreams and strange emotions he couldn't put into words just yet.

"That's good then," Ethan said, simply. He gathered Harry fully into his arms, tangling their legs together for a proper snuggle.

It took a second, but then they all felt it.

The sudden, fierce pulse of love and belonging that fairly radiated out of Harry, surging through their shared bonds. He was happy, for the moment and grateful.

They stayed like that, enjoying each other's company and the closeness of their other Bonded. Sharing warmth and the quietness of the morning that was only there when newly awakened.

"You sleep well?" Harry prompted, after a moment's thought.

Ethan nuzzled his face, silently asking for a kiss. When it was given, he hummed in answer. "Good enough. Restless. Think I was too wired to sleep."

That was good enough, so Harry left it alone. When he yawned again, he squirmed, twisting over in Ethan's arms to look at Theo. Their cuddle opportunities had been rather sparse, since they'd been shuffled around upon arriving in Nevarah.

He liked waking up like this—feeling Ethan's smooth, warm hands slipping under his shirt and stroking his belly. A comforting touch that remained just that.

Theo's face, though slack in sleep, still somehow retained the aura of solemnity and the creases of worry on his pale brow.

Harry bit his lip. His empathy flip-flopped, tamping down on the earlier outburst of warmth and happiness, to finely tuned worry and carefully contained insecurity. Last night had been a long-overdue conversation about all sorts of things. Now, in the daylight, he could see it for the good it had done him and yet, still. Some things lingered.

"He worries a lot, doesn't he?" Ethan asked, rubbing his chin atop Harry's bedhead.

Harry wriggled a bit, but pushed back into the still-there embrace. Ethan's arms were long enough to let him move around a bit, but still secure. "About me." He said, quietly.

"About everyone and everything," Ethan corrected. "He will always worry for you, the same as you will always worry for him. Do not hold yourself responsible for things that are out of your control. It is not your fault that he's stressing."

Harry snuffled, turning that thought over in his head. It sounded right, but it was hard to believe. "He just—he looks—tired. He didn't always look like that—before—this. Me. Everything."

"You've been through quite a bit. We've been through a lot and I say that lightly, because if you all have been through what I've witnessed in such a short time, I doubt either of you have taken time for appropriate self-care—or of each other."

"We've managed alright." Harry reminded him, but it was a half-hearted protest. They'd managed, if that was what he could call their present state. Ethan was a different sort of energy in their exhausted dynamic.

"And I'm glad for that. Because I know I can be absent-minded when something's caught my attention—a new book or another dissertation, but with what you told me about your Alignment and the non-existent Resting Period—if you're not resting enough. All of you—then you'll have less energy, feel greater physical strain and will likely double your Alignment Cycle by the time it comes around again."

Harry frowned. "I don't think we can afford that."

"You won't have a choice," Ethan explained. "Your body will react. You can't have all of this massive power and magic, without some sort of catch. That's not the way the universe works."

"Universe?" Harry gave him a look.

Ethan laughed. "It's my favourite dissertation topic, so don't start me off unless you'd like to hear all about it. Anyhow, keeping track of your resting period is always a good starting point. It'll let you know when your magic is at a natural high, so you can use it for something specific—raising power, rebuilding things or crafting certain spells—loads of things. But it's always a good idea to chart it and make sure that you're taking care of yourself. Short periods of disruption or changes like a new Bonded will certainly shuffle things a bit, but it usually settles down within a Cycle or two."

"Too complicated," Harry huffed. But his mind danced back to when this topic had last come up. "…Terius sort of figured mine out for me. Him and Theo."

"Theo, who is awake and can hear everything you're not whispering about," came Theo's sleepy grumble. "If we're awake, then we're awake, but if we're sleeping, then I'd rather be sleeping without all of the—"

"Morning," Harry chirped, breaking free of Ethan's nice hands to reach for his Alpha and draw him closer. "The-o."

There was an unintelligible murmur in answer, followed by a disgruntled chirr. Harry ignored it, opting to rearrange the Sleepy Theo into a more likable position, mimicking what Ethan had done a few minutes before.

Theo roused himself enough, exhausted golden eyes focusing on his two, wide-awake Bonded. He seemed to melt even further into the soft bed, the lines on his face growing a bit sharper. His body grew pliant in Harry's arms and he sighed.

"Are we up?" Charlie asked, his voice raspy. He stretched languidly beneath the covers, shifting a bit closer to Ethan. They'd opted to have Harry and Ethan in the middle of the bed last night, so he'd settled behind Ethan and allowed Theo to slip in behind Harry. Now, his warmth simmered and spilled over, blanketing all of them at once. "I'm almost worried to be awake."

"Hmm?" Ethan prompted. He rolled over enough to reach for him, exchanging morning greetings in much the same way he had with Harry.

"If today is anything like yesterday…" Charlie let his words trail off. He squinted over at Harry and Theo, who seemed to be communicating in grunts and whispers. His lips quirked into a smile, that turned into a full-fledged grin when Ethan nuzzled at his shoulder. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"

"I've survived half of one," Ethan said, amused. "I'm curious to see how the rest of it plays out." He purred softly when Charlie returned the nuzzle with an open-mouthed bite, offering the pressure but no fangs. "You can bite, if you like."

A look of surprise flickered on Charlie's face. He hesitated.

Ethan grinned. He tugged down the collar of his pyjama jacket and pressed himself a little closer.

Charlie hummed. He didn't hesitate to bite. It took a split-second to feel their new bonds snap into place with a slight quiver. Joy and contentment rippled through their connection, renewed now, apparently by the act between them. He drank easily, but slowly, until he felt the slight tip of bloodlust, fading away. Ethan hadn't stopped him and the luxury of a longer drink had sated him in a way he hadn't thought possible.

Hazy, but now almost giddy, Charlie withdrew, licking his lips.

Ethan's look was nearly indulgent now. He slid one hand out from the covers to cup Charlie's cheek, smoothing a thumb over his blood-flecked lips. "Messy drinker?" he teased, stretching up to remedy that.

Charlie blinked, lazily. He purred into the kisses and held Ethan close, marvelling at the ease and connection. He'd never expected it to simply—work.

Ethan gifted him one more nibbling kiss, before he snuggled close, tucking his head beneath Charlie's chin. Almost as if reading his thoughts, he purred again. "It's supposed to work. That's where the instinct comes in, that's where the magic works. It's gaps and puzzle pieces."

"Fitting together?" Harry wanted to know. He sidled closer, drawing Theo with him. He liked this. All four of them cuddled up together.

And he wanted more, but didn't know exactly how to request it.

Theo pinched his stomach, drawing a squeak and a squirm. A definite strand of absolute want streamed through their shared bonds. Theo's golden eyes burned brightly. Charlie's hair flickered into soft flames. Harry wriggled again, unable to contain the cheerful sensations filtering through him. He'd never felt this light before.

Ethan chuckled, softly. "Is that what we're up for?"

It was, apparently.

From teasing kisses to testing bites, the morning progressed quite pleasurably.

Harry was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ethan didn't care who topped or who didn't. In fact, he gave Harry every possible choice and consideration. His long, elegant hands, made beautiful work and left Harry in a gasping, pleasured mess within a matter of minutes.

Instead of wondering how it would work, Harry was amazed to discover that it simply did.

Almost, without words—if the occasional rumbling burr or contented purr—could be called words, they took turns.

Theo, of course, assumed his Alpha's rights and Ethan whole-heartedly gave into them.

It was impossible to be anything other than happy and proud of each other, as Charlie took over and then it was Harry's turn.

Surrounded by them and smothered in the best of ways, by their loving attention and protective magic, he could only bask. It was perfect.

Their kind of perfect.

Looping his arms over Ethan's dark shoulders, Harry pulled him close for another mind-blowing kiss. He gasped softly, as Theo's magic hands toyed with him and Charlie's flames danced over his skin. It was just the right amount of heat and just a touch too much magic.

If this was what he had to wake up to, every morning—he was definitely going to bed on time forever and ever.

Two brisk knocks on the door, alerted them to the fact that their Hosts were up and awake.

Ethan untangled himself from the bed, clothing himself in one of the fat dressing robes, as he went to answer it. He stepped out into the hallway, barely opening the door wide enough to slip out.

Theo caught a glimpse of Vincent, before the Pareya had focused on Ethan.

Charlie yawned, cracking his jaw. He sat up in bed, scrubbing a clawed hand carefully through his still-flaming locks. "Shower?" He prompted, nudging Harry with one knee.

Peacefully blissed out, Harry mimicked the yawn, stretching luxuriously with a slight squeak as dragel healing caught up to a few important points. It had been a very delightful morning.

"Good?" Theo asked, leaning over, one clawed hand poised over Harry's stomach.

"Yeah." Harry tilted his face to the side for the expected kiss. It eased the slight twinge of pain as Theo's claws sliced into the softness of his stomach, drawing blood for the rune healings he'd used so many times before. It healed over almost at once, with the last evidence of their lovemaking fading away to a pleasant memory.

Charlie's stomach growled. He grimaced and gave it a commiserating pat. Breakfast was likely to be somewhere long off in the future.

Ethan appeared a few seconds later, materializing inside of the room, rather than walking through the door. A glowing blue orb was in one open hand and a fat paper bag in the other. "Breakfast and news," he announced. "Time to be up, sleepyheads."

Harry wriggled out from the covers almost at once, sitting up expectantly. He happily took the large bag of food and Theo received the message.

A gesture had Ethan dressed in a hurry, the fluffy dressing robe replaced in its usual spot. The soft scent of coconut and citrus filled the room. Touches to his ears, neck and wrists, brought out the jewellery he'd worn the previous day.

"If I may take the liberty?" he asked, grandly.

Harry shrugged. He couldn't hold back the delighted laugh at Ethan's magic tickling around him and bringing out a new suit of clothes and some bits and bobs of finery, he hadn't seen before. He chirred and preened at the sight of the glittering golden cuffs and the matching necklace. Almost automatically, he reached up to touch his bare ears, brows furrowed together.

"No earrings," Ethan hummed. "Your ears aren't pierced." He circled around the bed, hands outstretched to Harry.

Happily handing over the bag to Charlie, Harry went to him. He was vaguely aware of Ethan's magic continuing on beyond and around him, the bed making itself up and Charlie and Theo dressed in matching outfits. That, he decided, was a good thing and that he definitely liked having a Pareya.

"Breakfast in the bag, I figured you'd want to be in a hurry." Ethan fussed over Harry's hair and clothes for a moment. Tugging things straight and smoothing them back in alternate motions. "Vincent says that's a note from Henry and Cora. They've gone off to Hunt, something about a few connections that needed to be renewed. There's no other messages, so either we can simply show up at the Royal's receiving hall or Prince Raspen will send for us."

"No crumbs on the bed," Theo mumbled, half to himself, as Charlie continued to unpack the carryout bag on the fluffy, pristine duvet. "That's about what it says. Henry's heading off to the Alpha courts to take care of some other business and Cora's checking out their factories. Says that the rest of their Circle, save for Vincent and Lewis, will be present here."

Ethan stifled a snicker at Charlie's exasperated expression and answering spell that would indeed keep the bed crumb-free. "Lewis is already gone. Cora's called for him and Vincent, I believe, is waiting on us to leave, before he reports to wherever he's supposed to be."

"Is it that serious?" Harry asked. He scooted back to sit more comfortably on the bed.

Ethan moved to help Charlie, opening the food containers and checking the contents. He started to fix plates for each of them, occasionally pausing to feed Charlie a mouthful or two. "I'd think it is. It's fairly rare that a Circle isn't attending the Hunt. Either they don't want to be bothered and then, they won't attend the ceremonies, but they'll visit the markets, and attend a few things, concerts and the cage matches with the Gheyos. That sort of thing. There's a reason it happens every ten years, not to mention that there's a lot of new Circles being made and formed. New relationships and all that. If they're choosing to avoid it—"

"But can't they skip, since they aren't Hunting?" Harry accepted his plate, balancing Theo's own as well.

"This isn't that kind of skipping," Theo explained. He slid out from the bed and patted the covers behind him. The message orb had vanished and he was halfway circling around the room, before another one popped into existence.

Message for Theodore Gorgens-Nott, immediate vicinity. Prince Raspen requests your presence as soon as convenient. Thank you.

It fizzled out before asking for a return reply.

Theo frowned. "Breakfast and then business." He said. "Good?"

Charlie and Harry nodded.

"I'll tell Vincent," Ethan offered. He took Theo's plate from Harry and offered it to him. "I'll cast the 'portal too, so no need to worry of that. I'd think we'd have plenty of time though. Aren't we having to step back into time, because of the realm-difference?"

Theo hesitated. "Yes. I'm hoping we can merge them at some point."

"Harry needs to be older," Ethan said, at once. "No offence." He softened the words with a smile.

"Why?" Harry accepted a cup of tea, pulling a face when Ethan added a potion to it. "What's that?"

"Vitamins. It tastes like Vanilla and you won't even know it's in there. Drink up." Ethan nudged the cup upwards. "And growing. You're still growing. I'm sure you'll be taller, if you keep up your nutrients. At least until you've settled into your majority, it isn't a good idea to merge timelines."

"Can you merge more than one?" Charlie asked. He obediently accepted another tidbit, nibbling on Ethan's fingers.

It prompted a warm smile and a slight poke. "Only if you intend to travel back and forth between them on a regular basis," Ethan explained. "It's really not worth the trouble, and if you eat and sleep well before leaping between two timelines, you won't really notice the price of it."

"Exhaustion and confusion?" Harry joked.

Ethan grinned. "Exactly—times it about ten or twenty and you'll have what it feels like."

"I've been feeling tired and confused since I've arrived in Nevarah."

"Hopefully a little less so, now?"

"A little," Harry allowed. His smile wavered. "We should still hurry though; I mean—we don't want to keep Prince Raspen waiting. He's been—really nice to us. He didn't have to."

"Royals take care of their own," Theo said, kindly. He took a sip of Harry's tea and made a complicated face. "Sweet."

Harry perked up and tested it for himself. He fairly beamed a mouthful later. "Vanilla."

"Told you." Ethan teased. "Now hurry up and eat up you three. If it's alright with everyone, I need to send a message to my family to let them know of our Bonding."

Harry stilled. "…w-will they be happy?"

"Ecstatic," Ethan reminded him. "They'd love to meet you and I'm sure they'll lend a hand, should you ask it of them, Theo."

A regal nod confirmed that Theo understood. He added another slice of toast to his plate and moved to sit at the chair with the vanity set, beside the bed.

"Anything else on your mind?" Ethan prompted.

Theo hesitated. This time, he wanted to do this right. No waiting to be absolutely sure, but rather, trusting the strength and depth of emotion that was singing through his newest Bond. This was something he could trust. Something he should trust. Instinct told him it was right and the tiny tinge of uncertainty let him know that it was alright. He turned away from the vanity set and held out a hand.

Ethan went to him at once, both hands outstretched. He knelt when prompted and gave a happy sigh when Theo produced a shimmering scale. "Thank you, Alpha." He murmured. For a moment, his golden eyes were just as bright as Theo's, glimmering with emotion.

"I am happy to give it," Theo said, simply. He leaned forward and kissed Ethan's temple. "Thank you for joining us." This time, there was a definite sincerity behind his words and from the not-quite-a-tear in Ethan's eye, Theo knew he'd said the right thing at the right time.

"Mine too!" Harry exclaimed, hurrying to set his plate down and finish his drink. "I mean—just now."

Charlie sputtered a laugh, even as he focused to produce a scale of his own.

Ethan's warm chuckle set them all at ease. There was plenty of time to exchange scales all the way around. Ethan's beautiful tri-coloured scales were two shades on one side and one shade on the other.

"We owe you a ring too," Charlie observed, as Ethan added his scale to the spun cord around his neck. "Right Theo?"

"We'll commission it today, if we pass through that way," Theo agreed.

Harry couldn't help the smile that stayed on his face. In spite of the shadow of the previous day, he could only feel unbearably excited for what was to come. Even as Ethan's arms wrapped around him for a tight hug, with Charlie's laughing face beside him and Theo's knowing look from the vanity—somehow, it came together.

And it felt, just right.

A/N: This chapter has been SO long in coming. I've written and rewritten and I think half of the headers are wrong. lol. I'll poke at it tomorrow, bc I want to post this chapter before I head off to bed. Typos will be corrected before this is posted on AO3, but I'll try to do that this weekend. Firstly, thank you for your patience and for still reading this monster of a fic after all this time. Welcome to the new readers and thank you for the warm wishes.

I am currently doing a little bit better this week, though I've come down with an ear infection and a headache that won't go away. As some of you know from my forum posts, I've dealt with several recent deaths in the family, coworkers I was close to and an extremely stressful series of holidays, between the funerals and various family visits. I am slowly settling into my new year, with hopes for more writing being a focus point this year (and taking better care of myself, as being sick has given me renewed motivation to take better care of myself. Whew.

Anyhow, as always, updates for this FIC are in the TBDH Forum. (link my bio!) and on my tumblr page!

Many, many thanks to brissygirl who always does a fabulous job of beta-ing these monster chapters. She is an absolute darling! (and had a birthday this past week-everyone wish her happy birthday! :) )

Thanks for your support and kind reviews here on TBDH and my indie project, The Dragel's Song! I am still working on Book 5 and plan to release it this year, time permitting.

REVIEW RESPONSES WILL BE POSTED as I have the time to spare-and I honestly haven't had the time for a while now. I'm truly very sorry for that, but I still treasure every review-thank you for your comments and encouragement!


Harry, Ethan, Theo, Charlie-(with each other, back at the guest room in the Peverell's traveling house)

Royals (Alcandor, Raspen, etc), in their personal quarters.

Cunninghams and Hadrian, (On earth, and dispersing to take care of business)

Snape Circle (in a new apartment, courtesy of Terius)

Deveraine Circle members-(at the Hunt)

George (with Jun and the Evansons)