See first chapter for disclaimers/additional warnings/summaries.
Link to TBDH Forum is in my profile. !NEW POLL IN FORUM! This chapter was betaed by the wonderful brissygirl to provide a smoother reading experience. All remaining mistakes are my own.
RECAP:Harry and Co., the Deveraines and Ilsa's father, Thomas, the Chief of the Earth Clan, the Royals (minus the Merrow King) and Lord Cunningham and Hadrian have gathered at the dining room of Terius' mother, Lady Baronsworth, for an impromptu dinner party, after sorting through the paperwork that revealed the identity of Harry's Missing Mentor, a lone dragel from a tragic incident, known as "Mad Maury" Elswood.
NEVARAH – FRIDAY AFTERNOON – ROYALS' QUARTERS
"Lady Baronsworth will be hosting for us tonight." Princess Dawne said, smoothly. They were all lined up outside of a formal dining room, having been escorted up by several Gheyos who had been guarding Ebony's private rooms.
"Lady Baronsworth?" Ebony repeated. She stopped and then stopped Charlie beside her with a well-timed elbow. "Wasn't she throwing things earlier? Sharp things?"
Princess Dawne smiled. A smile that was entirely too bright and cheerful, given the conversation of the past hour or so. "Indeed."
Ebony stared at her for a moment longer, pale eyes narrowing before she smirked. "Oh. Oh. What did she break?"
"Nothing of consequence," Princess Dawne sniffed. "Merely the uncharmed teapot that Mother may have given me for my coronation event last Hunt and the ceremonial knives used during said coronation."
Ebony blinked. She had wondered when Dawne had said sharp things. "Oh that's wicked." She shook her head. That was more than a mere trinket, the magical and sentimental value was not too great, but it had held some significance. The knives were an entirely different story, as they were extremely important and would always be the tool to draw out Dawne's specific blood magic, as they had been forged with her in mind, to lay hands on them was a serious crime. At present, Ebony did not pity Lady Baronsworth—the woman was a high-born, short-tempered Gheyo with a hefty dose of stubbornness, often brought to heel by the reigning royal of her element, a duty that now fell to Dawne. This would surely be an interesting evening. "A full course meal then?"
"With entertainment, hopefully." Princess Dawne said, quite calmly. "I told her to make sure that she'd settled her temper by then, because we might be in need of a change of pace." That was, of course, not all that she'd said to Lady Baronsworth, but the rest of it was private and Princess Dawne saw no need to share it with their present company.
The doors swung open and the Princesses entered the formal dining room with the grace and elegance imparted to them since birth. They glided in on the arms of the respective Gheyo bodyguards who had escorted them there.
Prince Raspen was trailing behind, speaking to Thomas about reinforcement spells and checking the receiving room for the last of the scheduled arrivals. Nevarah was well and truly closed off from all outside contact in preparation for something known as the Night of a Thousand Prophecies.
Harry tried not to listen, because he didn't think his head could handle any other information. In all honesty, he didn't quite want to suffer through a formal dinner—and that was the way it was sounding like it would end up—he wanted to call it an early night and sleep like the dead until the morning. There was so much new information swirling around in his head that he wasn't sure when or how he'd be able to sort through all of it to find out anything useful. It had been a busy day with many things happening to and around him, from all sides with little to no recourse. He'd been through more things in a single day than most individuals handled in a week—maybe even a month.
Harry huffed, softly. He'd have to start pulling himself together in spite of it all—from the looks of things, he would not be given a chance to do so, not if fate intended to see him perpetually kept off balance. Perhaps he could kick it in the face for picking on him all the time. He was certainly in a good place to play up his Slytherin side. Nevarah was a strong, magical realm and no one seemed to bat an eye over ridiculous displays of magic, drama or weaponry—if the existence of Gheyos were anything to take note of. It hadn't escaped his attention that the raw power swirling around the older, bonded dragels projected something that he'd never even caught a glimpse of around Dumbledore.
These were strong individuals who knew to lean on each other and reach inside themselves at the same time. These were people that could teach him—perhaps—if he asked. Dumbledore had never given him that sort of feeling or sense of security, now that he thought of it. In fact, the one memory that stood out the worst, was during Fourth Year when that blasted goblet had vomited his name into that wretched tournament. Harry would never forget the look of complete utter fury he'd seen in the older wizard's face.
He'd been terrified, but doubly so when Dumbledore had practically shoved him into a desk and demanded to know if he'd put his name in the goblet. Of course he hadn't. Why would he? He had enough life-threatening experiences to deal with on a yearly basis, there was no earthly reason for him to deliberately subject himself to something that was so obviously designed to kill foolhardly young witches and wizards before their twentieth birthday.
But that memory lingered the longest, because it was the first moment that Harry could actively recall where he was one-hundred percent, absolutely, positively, most definitely afraid of Albus Dumbledore.
Shoving those thoughts further back into his head—again—Harry made himself focus. He needed to survive this formal dinner with whatever dignity he still possessed and then beat a hasty retreat to the beach house where he could decompress in privacy with the safety of his Bonded nearby.
Harry silently mused to himself, wondering how long this mentor-hunt would take. He hadn't realized that the mention of sending a scount was an actual woman by the name of Scout, a woman that was apparently mute or deaf, as she hadn't spoken a single word and now that he thought of it, Harry realized that Lord Cunningham had spoken to her only when she was looking directly at him. In fact, the same had been true for Mariana.
Harry scowled. He had a feeling he might not like the mouthy submissive, even if she had been the only one brave enough to speak up about the whole charmed death thing. It was something he honestly did not want to know, but was glad to be informed of. Mariana did have something of a point—he'd honestly never considered himself as having family, much less a future and yet, now that he had them and that bright future seemed just within reach, Harry understood why some would sacrifice all. If it came down to his Circle, his Theo, his Charlie—Harry knew that there would be no contest. Screw the wizarding world. He'd found his slice of happiness and Merlin be damned, but he'd cling to it with every scrap of strength that he could.
Knowing that he had Theo and Charlie by his side, knowing that with them came Ilsa, Bahn, Thomas, the Kalziks and the Peverells, for the first time in his young life, Harry felt that he might have a chance. Not a very big one and perhaps not a very promising chance either, but he had one, just the same and that was more than he'd ever felt before.
Facing off against Voldemort had always seemed like some giant, insurmountable obstacle that would surely require his life—his very life and everything that made it—blood, magic, his rag-tag, mismatched family, the essence of what made Harry Potter.
Harry sighed. He was supposed to be focusing on the present, keeping things together and making a conscious effort not to accidentally make a spectacle of himself. Of course, given that now everyone in their little party knew about the absence of his mentor, he had a feeling that they would not call him out on any social faux pas, but that they would temper their disapproval instead of being obvious about it.
Reaching up to tug at his hair and then at his ear, Harry snuck a look at Theo. His Alpha glided along beside him, silent, golden gaze fixed straight ahead, never wavering. Harry had to admire that. Theo was definitely a true Slytherin and Harry was glad to know that Theo was his.
As he mused, Harry found himself wondering how long things would take. Scout hadn't been gone long, but he wanted her back already. He wanted to know what had happened to Maurice and what she had found. He wanted to know how far she would go and how deeply she'd dig into what she found at Privet Drive. From the way things had progressed, he had a feeling that Scout was a very well-trained operative, who would no doubt put together a thorough report before returning.
He hoped she wouldn't venture into the house—surely Maurice hadn't made it inside—and that would mean that his secrets would remain safe, at least for now. He certainly hadn't seen or felt Maurice, so it was likely that perhaps Scout would find some sinister trap outdoors and report back.
He hoped. Harry rolled his eyes to himself. It wasn't very likely, but he did not want to think about this. There were some things he hadn't been able to tell Theo and Charlie. Not yet. Not them. Perhaps not ever. It seemed like so long ago and he'd been hoping that it would stay that way—buried and forgotten.
A dark laugh bubbled in his chest as he thought of Rita Skeeter—the madwoman would surely have a field day if news of his wretched childhood years ever reached the Daily Prophet. That one interview with him during the tournament, the telling phrase where she'd dragged him into a broom closet and mentioned that he'd feel right at home, it rankled even now. He'd never been able to figure out how she'd known and he was too shocked to give much of a reaction when she'd said it, so that was one secret that stayed a secret—for the time being.
The Wizarding public would surely despise their hero once they learned the truth—not that they were particularly welcoming to him at present. This very year, his return had been heralded by more lies in print and Skeeter's smirking face from her byline.
But surely some secrets could stay buried, Harry mused. It didn't seem fair. He had tried his best to stand up for himself, but it had always brought such harsh consequences that it was almost never worth it. Almost. Some things, like blowing up Aunt Marge, for one, had been liberating. Though, now that he did consider it, Harry did not want to think of the reactions that would come from his new 'family members.' He hadn't quite seen the full extent of his Bonded's temper, but he had experienced a few minutes of their extreme protectiveness. Knowing what he did of the Weasley temperament and Slytherin possessiveness, Harry knew that if they truly understood the depth of what the Dursleys had done, then it was very unlikely that said Dursleys would live to see another day.
Theo could be vicious, if he had a mind to—Harry had seen glimpses of it. Charlie might not outright kill them, but Harry knew for certain that Charlie would not stop Theo from killing them. His stomach twisted at that thought and even though they had twisted his childhood into a nightmare that still haunted him, a tiny sliver of his heart begged for their lives. They were cruel and undeserving of mercy, but he did not want to be the judge, jury and executioner.
Not for them.
And then he realized that Theo had an equally bloodthirsty, short-tempered mentor—Ilsa, and now Charlie had a decidedly hot-headed, powerful royal for a mentor—Ebony, either way, the Dursleys were doomed. Harry was sure that neither woman would allow any inkling of injustice to pass, unpunished, especially if they learned of how they'd treated him.
Suddenly, he didn't want to be thinking of those differences. Instead, he thunked his head against Theo's shoulder, wishing that he could be closer to his Alpha than he was at present. Theo still had yet to let him go and managed to walk smoothly with an arm around Harry's waist without breaking his stride, but it wasn't close enough.
Strangely, Harry hadn't really cared. He welcomed the touch and the warmth that came with it, watching Charlie who awkwardly fell into his new role as a mentored student, walking two steps just behind Ebony. He hoped that Charlie would settle in alright. "M'fine, Theo." He said, softly, when he felt those golden eyes flicker over him once more—right along with Charlie's lovely blue ones. He wasn't really, but he also didn't want them to worry for him. Tonight, he could share his worries and they would handle it together, but for now, he was fine. As fine as could be. He could practically taste Theo's concern, rolling off of him in waves and Charlie's barely disguised worry was kept at bay only because he could see that Theo was there.
"Home?" Theo asked, softly. He wished that they could leave without seeming rude. It had been a long day and he knew that not only Harry, but Charlie as well, would benefit from an early night and some private time with just the three of them. The day had been filled with more shocks and surprises than he'd ever weathered in a single Hogwarts session—but he had a disturbing feeling that it was quite normal for his charming, green-eyed Submissive. Gently, he squeezed Harry's shoulders, drawing him a fraction closer to him as they continued the walk up to the dining hall.
Harry half-smiled. Of course Theo would understand. A flicker of contentment filtered through their shared bonds as he thanked whatever fates that were, that Theo was his Alpha. "Yes." He wished he was home and calling it an early night. He didn't care if there was plenty of an evening left up to him or whatever. He just wanted a break and he wanted to enjoy that break. Maybe even sort those troublesome favors. He sighed.
"Soon." Theo murmured. "We'll stay only as long as necessary. I would—but." He stopped.
Harry smiled at him, fully. He understood the hesitation there, even if he didn't particularly care for social politics. It would be very rude of them to refuse a royal invitation, especially seeing as said royals had been rather instrumental in finding out about his missing mentor and seeing that appropriate action was taken to retrieve him. "It's fine." He said. "I understand."
"We could skip dessert." Theo teased, half-heartedly.
"No way!" Harry protested. "If I'm sitting through dinner, I want my treacle tart."
"Treacle tart?" Theo perked a brow.
Harry grinned, impishly. "Two of them."
Theo chuckled softly, before his face smoothly slipped into his pureblooded mask. "Smile." He said, speaking through his teeth. "I think we're about to meet the Mother-in-Law of my illustrious head of house."
Harry puzzled that out in time to make the connection between Snape, Terius and Lady Baronsworth, before he was filing in to a cozy dining room with a large square table laden with food and set with exquisite china and golden utensils. Theo's matter-of-fact summary was the only warning he had before he saw the evidence before them. Standing behind their respective seats, Harry caught sight of a glowering Severus Snape, a pained Terius Snape, a stony-faced Draco Snape and a serene, pregnant Calida.
He swallowed. Oh Merlin!
When Harry Potter and his charming triad waltzed through the doors of the dining room, Severus Snape wished that he had a time turner at his disposal. He would have used it to rewind everything back to the pivotal point in history when his mother had decided to screw up his life by marrying Tobias Snape. At that point, he might have killed her and thus erased his own miserable existence—no, wait—he would have engineered a brighter, more powerful future for himself and left Britain before the miserable wretch of a Dark Lord ever surfaced—he would make sure to kill him and then, perhaps, everything else would work out.
Such morbid thoughts did little to improve his already strained good-temper—not that he actually had much to spare—and Severus Snape would deny to his last breath, just how ill-equipped he was to deal with the current company before him. He really wished he had a time turner when Terius gave an odd little whimper, a reaction he hadn't been able to temper. He flinched, inwardly, a reflexive action that he could not fight.
It tugged on his Alpha nature and reminded him that while his Pareya had been brave and very quick on his feet to save them all, he had also left behind one incapacitated Hermione Granger, a detail that was sure to interest one Harry Potter. Severus had been able to check back at their flat and found absolutely nothing. There were no hints as to who had taken her and where she had gone, but Severus Snape had not been a spy for nothing. He'd weathered and hardened himself over long, dreary years and now it seemed, that he would have to conduct himself as the bastard that everyone expected him to be, even when he would really rather smuggle his entire Circle far away—forever.
Experience had taught him that Harry Potter was definitely stronger and more powerful than he appeared to be. In spite of his mediocre study habits and occasional skiving off, he could be surprisingly intelligent every once in a while. His potions work—a standard by which Severus often judged most people, after all, potions had never failed him—was abysmal when his Slytherins simply took turns ensuring that Harry seldom completed a satisfactory brew, but he expected it of them. After all, half of the dunderheaded brats had parents in precarious positions in Dumbledore's ridiculous war of Light and Dark. Technically, Harry should have been at least an average brewer, considering that Lily had eventually managed to become a competent brewer with his tutoring.
Severus clenched and unclenched his wand hand, five times in quick succession, before holding himself perfectly still. He had his own little tricks for keeping his temper neatly under wraps and after a few hours of agonizing silence and clipped, one-word answers to the annoying woman now known as Lady Baronsworth, he could feel the first stirrings of a headache. It would be by sheer dumb luck or every ounce of skill and finesse that he possessed, for them to make it through this evening, relatively unscathed.
This dinner was sure to be a recipe for disaster. The moment that the real reason for their presence within these quarters was publicly broadcasted, Harry Potter would lose what little stability and peace of mind he had, if at all. Hermione Granger had been one of his first friends, even if they had been a bit distracted and distant that year. Harry, in the goodness of his Gryffindor heart, would be horrified to learn of her abduction—horrified, right before he let his recklessness take over.
In that way, Harry was most definitely Lily's son, for hell hath no fury like a redhead's temper.
It didn't matter that Harry's hair wasn't the slightest shade of red—he'd Bonded to a great brute of a redhead—and Severus remembered Charlie Weasley quite well from his Hogwarts days. A gentle giant with an uncanny knack for handling animals with a tempered edge that even Hagrid didn't possess, in addition to an eerily perceptive manner for a Weasley.
Severus didn't bother to temper the sour look that he knew was forming over his face. This was not the way he'd intended to spend the first day of this ridiculous Hunt. Draco shifted uncertainly beside him and Severus resisted the urge to look at him, checking their bonds instead and forcing whatever tendrils of calmness through it, that he could manage to dredge up from his dreary thoughts. He could still feel those damned eyes of Lady Baronsworth drilling through him, her very real anger over their incomplete triad and frustration when she realized what responsibilities Terius was shouldering.
It had resulted in a rather spectacular row and he was thankful for his quick reflexes honed from both Dumbledore, Voldemort's Death Eater practices and his own years growing up with the odd scrap here and there, the Marauders notwithstanding. It had fashioned his vindictive style of dueling into a more refined skill that also took his own talent into consideration. There was, after all, more than simply a healthy curiosity behind his fascination with the dark arts—he'd found a kinship in it, the kind that only a rare few were privileged to know, the kinship where it did not devour his soul, but rather, courted it.
Calida shifted on her feet, one hand on her rounded stomach, a hint of fang peeking over her lower lip, betraying her nervousness. She'd certainly had quite an exciting time since she'd joined them and Severus had a feeling it would only become more complicated as time went on. It was at that moment that he caught sight of Theo's carefully blank face and Charlie's neutral expression.
Oh. That was definitely not good. Not good at all.
He recalled that Theo had sent him a message the previous day, inquiring about Granger and whether there had been any changes. He had not sent a reply, as there was nothing to say and Terius and Draco had chosen that day to wear on his nerves. He'd spent the majority of the day soothing tempers, playing mediator and attempting to brew a potion that he thought might have been of some use to Granger. He had meant to send a reply when the potion was complete and if it worked. He certainly wasn't about to report on his own failures, but then things had become complicated in their usual way and he hadn't the time to send a message at all.
An oversight that would now rear its ugly head and only served to reinforce his Alpha instincts. He could already see the glint in Theo's golden eyes that meant he would have to play nice.
And Severus Snape hated playing nice. It was such a waste of wit.
With a hasty flicker of his magic, he gently pushed two short bursts through their shared bonds, projecting Hermione and then a deliberate shake of his head in the split-second that his Bonded looked at him. No matter what, they would need to skirt the issue for the time being. There was no conceivable way he would be sharing that bit of news with the present company.
When the dinner was over, he would conduct an investigation of his own when they were safely settled in a new home—they were most certainly not returning to their flat again—and then he'd break the news as carefully as he could. Perhaps by that time he would have managed to dig up Granger's whereabouts or at least some useful hints as to where she was.
Besides, there was no safe way to announce that Hermione Granger had been abducted by a hellhound. Honestly, Severus Snape did keep his wits about him, thank you very much.
Introductions happened quickly and neatly, the polite chatter kept to a minimum and then they were all seated along the table. In typical hostess fashion, Princess Dawne occupied one head of the table and Lady Baronsworth, the other.
Harry found himself seated near the end of the table, closer to Lady Baronsworth than Princess Dawne, with Theo on his right and Charlie on his left, with Ebony on Charlie's left. He made sense of the seating arrangements a moment later as he realized that the Royals were quite strategically placed so that they were not grouped together. He wondered if there was a specific reason for it and then chalked it to royal protocols of some sort.
A faint weight settled over him and Harry instinctively looked up to find the pitch black eyes of Severus Snape resting on him.
He shifted beneath the scrutiny, then lifted his chin, meeting the man's gaze squarely. Before he could think to react to the penetrating stare, Snape looked away and the tension was broken. A murmured ripple made its way around the table and Harry found himself holding hands with Theo and Charlie, everyone linking hands as the Royals bowed their head.
"Shokesaneh," the blessing was uttered.
Magic rippled through the joined hands and then Harry blinked. Food was magically served, a delightful feast blinking into existence. He glanced at Theo to verify that he knew which utensils went with what and bit back the protest that came when Charlie automatically filled his plate. It seemed that his Bonded would be a bit more protective of him for a little while longer—not that he was about to complain.
As if sensing what he thought, Theo shared a smile as he snuck a brightly colored portion of steamed veggies on his plate, lips twitching at the faint grimace that Harry afforded him. A general conversation started up about the rest of the Nevarean history in the past thirty years and any Torvak sightings since then.
Harry listened with half an ear, even when Ebony took enough of a break from the politics of the conversation to explain the basic etiquette of their dining to Charlie, in her quick, brisk way. Her explanation made it easy for him to follow and he gradually relaxed as the meal went on.
A low growl of frustration slipped out before Harry could check himself. He'd been trying to ask about Hermione for the past half-hour, but it seemed that neither of the Snapes were inclined to allow him an opening in the dinner conversation and whenever he did manage to start his question, someone else would speak up and he'd have to wait again.
His empathy hackles had already begun to stir and he spared a single thought for worrying and wondering how long the suppression spell Kyle had cast, would last him. He'd hoped at least until they were home, but he could feel the faintest touches of a headache teasing at his head.
The next opening he had in the conversation, Harry mustered up every ounce of loathing he could manage and glared at Draco. It wasn't too hard, considering the past they had shared. Even if he liked—or rather, could tolerate—the blond in the capacity of a fellow Submissive, he was starting to feel his magic stir in tandem with his temper. Quite aware that he would make a scene if he did not calm down, Harry pinched his thigh, using it as a focal point as he kept his glare on Draco, waiting to be noticed.
He could tell the moment that Draco registered his scrutiny, because the polite mask on his face wavered for a fraction of a moment, before puzzled silvery eyes turned to meet Harry's gaze. Draco blinked in surprise, silver eyes growing wide as he took in Harry's entire glower and then the fact that no one else had noticed yet.
A small portion of Harry relished in the knowledge that he could make the blond squirm this time around—just as Draco had done to him in past years at Hogwarts. At least, in Harry's case, he had a legitimate reason for his animosity for this evening and he wasn't about to watch his one chance for information slip away. After all, Theo had sent a message and they'd never received a reply and considering that Draco was a pureblood and Terius was likely the same, Harry didn't understand how they could stomach such a terrible breach of manners.
For a moment, he had the horrible thought that the message had gone to Snape and in true Snape-fashion, the dour man had deliberately ignored it, before Harry reassured himself that Theo had sent the message. Not him. Surely Snape wouldn't refuse a message from one of his own Snakes. He'd always favored his Slytherins and Harry was sure that he wouldn't change now, even if Hogwarts and Houses were no longer involved in their current circumstances.
"Excuse me," Harry didn't bother to keep the ice from his voice. "Could one of you kindly tell me who is watching Hermione, seeing as you're all here?"
"…her hound came for her!" Draco blurted out, standing straight up from his chair and nearly knocking it over. Distress was etched in every line of worry on his pale face and his body grew rigid. He paled even more as his words seemed to register and his silver eyes darkened to a very obvious grey. One hand went to his throat and he licked his lips, conscious of everyone staring at him, the immediate object of attention.
An awkward silence settled over the table for a moment, then Princess Dawne set her fork down and delicately blotted at her mouth, before smiling gently at them. "Hound?"
"We have no idea where she is." Draco lifted his chin, even as his shoulders began to hunch forward. "There was nothing we could do." He looked down at the table, then his head jerked to the side where he met his Alpha's unfathomable eyes.
Severus Snape was holding true to his usual impression of an inscrutable statue and now, he had slowly risen to stand beside Draco, when it was apparent that his Submissive had no intention of sitting down again. He said absolutely nothing when Draco began to babble and remained silent, even as the magic in the room began to grow agitated. For one hushed moment, their eyes met.
A sound of distress bubbled out of Draco's throat and he threw his napkin atop his half-eaten dinner, whirling away from his Alpha. "Excuse me—begging your royal pardons." A sharp wind rustled through the room before Draco turned and bolted.
"Draco-!" Terius leapt from his seat, knocking over his own chair as he rushed to intercept Draco and missed by a few inches. He paused long enough to throw a Look at Severus and frown at Calida, before he streaked off after him.
Silence reigned for a tense moment, before Calida moaned and pressed a hand to her mouth.
Before she could lurch out of her chair, Severus' hand snapped out and dragged it back from the table. The petite Carrier squeaked and doubled over, only to be caught and gently cradled to his side, while he produced a calming draught from the voluminous folds of his severe black robes. He bit the cork off and upended the phial in her mouth, with ease born of practice, obviously having done it before, as he managed to pry her hands from her mouth and coax the potion down her throat before her dinner could resurface.
After a few seconds, her eyes darkened a few shades and she stood up on her own, a very obvious scowl on her face. "Arielle, what is he doing?" She rubbed at her stomach, smoothing the fabric over her slight baby bump. "Remind me to give him all the symptoms tonight." Her scowl deepened.
"Do you need any-"
"No. Your potions work wonders," Calida cracked her neck to the side. "Aren't we supposed to dash out after them?"
Severus merely perked a brow.
She rolled her eyes and turned back to the dinner table, offering a deep bow. "Do excuse us. There's been a bit of a crisis." She frowned. "Severus?"
He offered his arm and a faint breeze rippled through the room. "Indeed."
"He's terrified of you." Lady Baronsworth's voice cut through the shocked silence. She was glaring at Severus as if she would like to hack his head off with the silver steak knife clenched in one hand. Her eyes were a near black and she quivered faintly. "I knew it. What kind of Alpha are you? He's terrified of you."
Severus favored her with a glare. "I will thank you to keep your comments about my Circle, to yourself, Madam."
"I didn't raise my son to be a cowering-"
"-he walked out of this room on his own two feet."
"-your own submissive ran from you and you're standing here debating how he ran? Whatever is wrong with you? What have you done to-"
"Contrary to your belief, I have never raised a hand to either of-!"
"If you don't find yourself a Beta before this Hunt is over, I'll find you one myself. You're so unbalanced just watching you makes me dizzy!"
"You will do no such thing!"
"Enough!" Lord Baronsworth inserted himself before a suddenly glowering Severus Snape and his wife, before the lady Gheyo could launch herself at him. "This is not—you have an audience." He snapped. "Conduct yourselves accordingly!"
Severus lifted his chin, drawing himself up to his full height—enough to top the lady by at least four inches—before he offered his hand to Calida. The Carrier trustingly pressed up against his side, turning her face into his robes to prepare for the 'port he was obviously about to cast. His temper had finally reached the very final strands of control that he possessed and he knew he needed to leave the room before he said or did something that would be absolutely unforgivable. "I have neither groveled nor caved to the demands of two masters who think their sole purpose in life is to destroy my soul with their depraved whims." His voice was a poisonous, velvet whisper. "And though they commanded me, I chose to obey. You are nothing more than a third vying for ownership over something that is no longer yours." He hissed. "If Terius did not come to us, I would not have chosen him." His lip curled into a sneer. "We may not fit your standard of perfection, but not deign to assume that your interference is welcome in our personal affairs. Do your worst."
One arm was wrapped securely around Calida, as the other caught the end of his robe and drew it around them in a billowing arc. The portal was silent and instantaneous. The fluttering of the black fabric had scarcely begun before both Severus and Calida had vanished from view.
Another round of silence filled the dining room.
"Well," Princess Dawne began, with forced cheer. "When I asked you to entertain, Lady Baronsworth, this was not quite what I had in mind." She licked her lips, brow furrowed, as if decided how exactly to handle the agitated woman.
Lady Baronsworth whirled around, her eyes snapping angrily, her own air element making itself known with the sudden rush of wind in the room that ruffled the napkins and tablecloths, while pulling at the guests. "You think I want my son to deal with a madman like that?" She screeched. "The bloody fool—he'll drag them all down and our good name with it and my son! I would like to remind you that I didn't decide to host a dinner party tonight. You demanded that I-"
Lord Baronsworth darted forward, clapping a hand over his Bonded's mouth and wrestling her back against him with a warning growl. "Please excuse my wife," he said, formally. "She is—emotionally overwrought. It has been a very long and trying day." He winced when she stomped on his foot, trying to twist her head free of his hand. "And whatever it is that she—broke, I shall do my best to make proper reparations for the loss." He grunted when she elbowed him in the stomach. "My most sincere apologies for disrupting the evening meal-!" He bit off the word with a squeak, releasing his hold on said wife, clutching a suddenly bloody hand to his chest. "Arielle, woman—did you bite me?" He stared at her incredulously.
"You think I'm joking?" Lady Baronsworth spat. Her shoulders jerked and twitched, her wings restless, but not emerging just yet. "My son—our Terius—a Councilman, shackled to that-that, pathetic, boorish, wizard-raised, excuse of an Alpha-!"
A flare of soft white light announced the healing magic used to tend to his hand as a newly upset Lord Baronsworth narrowed his eyes in a calculating look. "Ten second head start." He said, calmly, ignoring her rant.
"You think I won't do it, will you? I will. I'll find someone. I won't have this—I won't let him-"
Lord Baronsworth simply held up his newly healed hand. The fingers lengthened, the nails grew pointed and within seconds, it was more of a claw than a hand. He curled and uncurled it, the meaning clear.
The gravity of the situation finally registered with the distraught Lady Baronsworth as her eyes fluxed pure black and she bared her fangs in an audible hiss. "He's my son!" She snarled. "I won't leave him to the tender mercies of some idiotic-"
"He's my son too." Lord Baronsworth said, with the same maddening calmness as before. He started forward, rolling his shoulders back, his formal robe shifting and rippling to show the elegant robe obviously designed with dragels in mind. The folds parted as his wing tips began to peek out from beneath the heavy fabric.
Lady Baronsworth froze, mouth open and gaping as she stared for a moment. Her shoulders twitched and shuddered, her wings fighting to be released as she backed towards the exit—and then ran.
Lord Baronsworth stared after her for a long moment, then looked back to the table. He quirked a brow.
Princess Dawne waved a hand at him, looking away.
He nodded in thanks and strode from the room, scales appearing along the sides of his neck, the stifling feeling in the room, easing by tenfold as his presence faded and silencing wards were thrown up.
A very relieved breath came from Ebony as she stared at her fellow princess. "Dawne—did you-?" She began.
"I did not." Princess Dawne said, primly. "I would never have asked her to host otherwise. I have no desire for anyone to be permanently scarred by the pointless bickering and squabbling by the one Councilwoman I cannot seem to be rid of."
"Please tell me you won't allow her to slip off without some sort of-"
"I will not. That was rude, even for her."
"Thank you." Ebony shook her head. "I was hoping for a nice quiet dinner." She looked at Charlie. "Alright there, Charles?"
The redhead gave a faint nod, his blue-eyed gaze riveted to Harry's stricken face. "Fine." The entire shouting match had not been expected by anyone, it seemed and Harry had sat perfectly still and unmoving through the entire tirade. He'd been more shocked by Draco's running, than the argument between the Baronsworths' and Snape, but now, he didn't even start when Charlie attempted to hold his hand beneath the table.
"Assign her to jury duty." Prince Raspen said. He shook his head. "I almost forgot that Terius was hers—they're nothing alike."
"He takes after his father." Princess Dawne sighed. "And I may just do that. I've already maxed out their fines and I do not wish to bankrupt them with the number of future incidents that will no doubt make their way to my desk before this Hunt is over." She sighed. "I don't see what she was complaining about though. The alpha was a nice bit. He seemed very concerned and anyone would take offense to what she was insinuating."
"When he said the hound took her," Ilsa's voice cut clearly across the table, her golden eyes fixed on Harry. "Was he speaking of your friend?"
All eyes turned to Harry, who wore a conflicted expression on his face. He started, faintly, as if realizing that he was now the center of attention. He lifted anguished emerald eyes to meet Ilsa's own, before he scooted his chair back. "May I be excused?"
Theo and Charlie both opened their mouths to speak, when Ebony beat them to it. "Down the hall on your right, second door." She said, quietly. "Take your time."
Harry was on his feet, head bobbing in acknowledgement. "Thank you."
"It seems," Thomas began, carefully. "That our dinner party is greatly reduced in numbers."
"That only means more dessert for the rest of us," Lord Cunningham said with chuckle. "Allow me to echo your earlier words," he looked to Prince Raspen. "It has been quite a long first day, hasn't it?" He gave a slight jerk of his head and Hadrian, who had been lounging against the wall the entire time, surreptitiously left.
Harry followed Ebony's instructions to find himself at a neatly furnished en suite tucked at the corner of the long hallway. He ducked inside, gratefully and stood over the marble sink, staring at his reflection in the mirror. After a moment, he turned the taps on and began to splash his face with the cool water.
Hermione taken by a Hellound.
His chest ached.
That was one complication he'd never considered and now, he felt guilty for not realizing the danger she would've been in, sooner. If only they'd realized that her bearing a Hellhound's seal meant that—Harry shook his head to clear it. He could almost hear Theo and Charlie's concerned voices in his head.
He could certainly feel their worry and concern trickling through their shared bonds. They were trying not to alarm him, but they were both quite obviously worried, with the way this last bit of news had been compounded on top of everything else that had happened that day.
Taking his time, he washed his face again and his hands twice—with soap—before he had to stop stalling. The sooner he composed himself and returned, the sooner they could leave the table. He'd seen the look of genuine distress on Calida's face and determined that perhaps, things might be a bit more serious than he'd realized for the Snape Circle. He didn't think that Snape was as bad as Terius' Mum had made him out to be—after all the man was a bastard, notnice, but not evil either.
As if on cue, Harry could swear he heard Hermione's voice in his head, mentally chiding him to say 'Professor Snape' instead of just Snape, because teachers deserved respect. He huffed, mentally pulling himself together and squaring his shoulders before he stared back at his reflection in the mirror.
He'd made it through worse things before and it wasn't like he hadn't ever dealt with losing a friend, there was Ron during the Tournament and—and worse, he was sure of it. A grim smile fixed itself to his face as Harry dried his hands on the appointed towel and stepped out of the en suite. He looked up and down the carpeted hallways, an odd state of calm washing over him.
The walls were white and the wall sconces cast a soft glow of light over the empty hall, not a single Gheyo anywhere in sight. Harry frowned, his brows knitting together as he stepped out from the corner en suite and heard the door click shut behind him. For a moment, he almost forgot if he'd come from the left or the right side, when he remembered that Ebony had said right and therefore, that meant the return trip was a left.
He scowled inwardly, wondering why dragels had to complicate even their living spaces with such long corridors and so many doors. Then a memory of Terius teaching in DADA filtered back into his mind and he pursed his lips, remembering that the Pareya had spoken of the need for large casting grounds.
That was most likely his answer.
Trotting down the hall to his left, Harry didn't sense nor see her until they collided.
A whiff of floral perfume—so slight he wouldn't have caught the scent if they weren't so close—and a flash of brilliant red hair was all that he saw before their eyes connected.
The apology on his lips turned into a choked gasp that did not leave his throat as Harry found himself staring up into a face that absolutely could not be real. Perfect red hair in neat spiraled curls and vivid green eyes, the exact same shade as his own, and creamy, porcelain skin without the slightest hint of freckles.
Harry would have thought he was dreaming except for the arms that he'd grabbed, steadied him without question. For a few stuttering heartbeats, Harry didn't quite breathe. The woman holding him returned his steady gaze, a not-quite-smile halfway painted across her lips, her body warm and soft, with a definite hint of muscle beneath, as she half-hugged him.
A wave of powerful calm washed over him and Harry felt his eyes fill with tears from the sheer relief of the crushing emotional pressure that had been hovering over him since the first seal that Quinn had removed. His lips parted in a soundless cry and he squeezed the arms holding him, reflexively, too surprised to speak.
"It cannot be that bad, little one." The woman said, softly. She bent down as if to kiss his forehead, when something caught her attention. Her head snapped up to the side and she immediately released Harry, stepping away and to the side, her head still cocked to the right, hearing something that he had yet to notice. The smile that finally touched her face was bittersweet and almost apologetic, before she turned and glided down the hall.
Harry stared after her, when the sound of approaching feet caught his ear. He turned around to look, just as Hadrian rounded the corner, plumed mask and all. Harry stared at him, then jerked around to look back for the mysterious redhead.
She was nowhere in sight.
"Wait-!" He called out to the empty corridor. "Please-!" Harry ran to the end of the corridor, grabbing the corner of the wall as he rounded the bend only to find that it was completely empty, not even a Gheyo standing guard at one of the many doors. The hairs on the back of his neck stood to attention and Harry grimaced, reaching up to tug at his hair.
He had seen her. He had.
Harry turned back to face Hadrian, but words failed him as the older dragel approached, having broken into a sprint as well to catch up with him. Hadrian came to a stop beside him, his sword hand resting on the hilt of his one of his dark-hilted swords, obviously ready to act at a moment's notice.
"Harry?" Hadrian tried again. "Talk to me."
Harry opened and shut his mouth, before he mutely held out a hand, unable to translate the confusion inside of him into something he could explain.
"Are you alright? Did something happen?" The hand Harry had offered was gently taken and Hadrian bent forward to be on his level.
After a long moment, Harry shook his head. "D-did you see someone here? When you came 'round the corner? A redhead?"
"A redhead?" Hadrian looked at him carefully and then slowly shook his head. "You were alone. I didn't see or sense anyone." He frowned. "Did you see a redhead?"
Harry grimaced. "N-not exactly." He tugged his hand back, to gain Hadrian's attention, a bit disappointed . "I'd rather not say." He frowned. "Were you looking for me?" He reached out to his bonded, finding that they were alright, anxious, but alright and so he relaxed enough for realize that Hadrian had taken up a rather protective stance beside him, his dark eyes keeping a watchful gaze divided between him and the hall.
"You shouldn't quite be wandering about on your own." Hadrian said, mildly. "Given the events of this evening." His lips quirked into a smile at the expression on Harry's face. "But if you find my immediate presence to be inconvenient, I will gladly make my physical self less conspicuous."
"Wait-what?" Harry shook his head. "No. You're fine—I just. Which way back?" He tipped his head to one side.
"Other side," Hadrian said, amused. "You turned around twice." He took Harry's hand back and tucked it into the crook of his elbow, gliding forward as if he were a formal escort. "Are you alright?"
"One of these days I will be," Harry said, honestly. "And when I am, I won't have people asking that question anymore."
Hadrian smiled in understanding. "Know your strengths," he advised. "And work yourself to the bone until it is no longer a strength, but rather a part of you, then keep on improving and never falter."
"Speaking from experience?"
"I wager my experience is quite different from yours."
"Oh, I don't know." Harry said, nonchalantly. "I've fought a basilisk, a dragon, grindylows, a bloody narcissistic madman that thinks it's his life's mission to kill me and that was all before I turned into this." The moment he'd spoken, Harry winced inwardly, wondering why in Merlin's name, he was being so open and friendly with a man that seemed cloaked in the very darkness of his shadowed element.
"…that is—enlightening." Hadrian said, after a moment.
They walked in silence for a long moment.
"Sounds far more exciting than my own escapades." Hadrian snorted. He caught the look of interest on Harry's face before it was masked by immediate politeness and smiled to himself. "Though, if you were wondering. I fought my parents when I was eight years old after they were consumed by an obedience potion out of jealousy from a political rival, that resulted in the release of our family secret, which led to being assigned to the pits for taking my revenge on them, where I insulted a Hellhound at age ten and was permanently marked for my troubles, earning a spectacularly horrible scar for such idiocy. At the age of thirteen, I accidentally made a deal with a Dark Shifter and was indebted to him for five years, where he then tried to kill me on my eighteenth birthday, I found my way back home and wound up adopting a tragic little girl who is now my sister in everything but blood. We decided that the gossip was annoying so we left for a while."
It was said in a perfectly bland, matter-of-fact tone that Harry didn't know what to say. He stared up at him instead, scrambling to find words. "That's-" he started and shook his head. He didn't know what had possessed him to speak so honestly about things he'd only hinted to his Bonded, but Hadrian had calmly returned the favor and any apprehension he'd felt at first, now faded. Harry could feel that telling Hadrian wouldn't result in any negative repercussions and he craved the acceptance that came with that realization. Yes, Hadrian's magic was dark—Merlin, was it dark—but it was soft and gentle, not harsh or demanding. "Even?"
"Please," Hadrian agreed. "I think you win though, by the time I was eighteen I had already gathered myself together—and I was born into this life, I knew what to expect, more or less."
"A secret shared, deserves another to keep it company." Hadrian said, simply. "Secrets should always be shared because they halve the burden on the soul. Besides, now we are even, are we not?"
Harry shrugged at that. They were even and the fact that Hadrian had shared a slice of his own odd history was somewhat comforting. He knew then, that the Gheyo would not mention anything he'd said—either in jest or passing. The silence hung between them for a moment longer and Harry frowned as they passed a silver and blue potted plant nestled in a lovely, bejeweled planter. He could've sworn that he hadn't passed that before. "Are we taking the scenic route?"
"I thought you might appreciate a moment." Hadrian said, looking down at him. "Forgive me for being forward, but Lady Baronsworth was still shrieking in the halls when you left."
Harry's lips twitched. He could now see why Hadrian might have come after him. He would not have been expecting any kind of attack, constant vigilance aside, had good reflexes, but not the same iron control on his magic that fully-trained, adult Gheyo would have. He appreciated the gesture and found himself relaxing even more. "Did she start throwing things?"
The Gheyo's shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. "Not yet, I think she would at least remember that the Royals are in the room and hopefully, curb her more impulsive urges until she has left the floor or they have excused themselves for the night. Her fits are quite legendary."
"Why don't they stop her?"
"The Royals?" Hadrian chuckled at Harry's nod. "She actually has not done anything, apart from mouthing off and disrupting her own dinner party—think about it. She hasn't done anything. You might not be used to this sort of open authority, I suppose, but our Royals are different. They are very flexible, not to say that they will not stand up and intervene if it is necessary—believe me, they will—but this is partially a Circle matter, so unless they choose to make it official business, there is no reason for them to interfere."
Harry scowled. "But isn't that a bit—I don't know, something?"
"Confusing? Perhaps, at first." Hadrian allowed. "Think of it as a very large family dinner, in which the older siblings look indulgently on the temper tantrums of the smaller ones, well aware that should their parents enter the room, all hell will break loose." He smirked. "It might not sound like it, but I assure you that our Royals can handle their own. Lady Baronsworth can be charming, I'm told, when she's not in a mood. Twelve years ago, she defended the Northern gate for fourteen days—alone, during one of the Realm Shifts, where the Fabrine sometimes leak through. Even if she acts like a child, it is only in the presence of those that she is most comfortable with."
"Realm Shifts? What are those?"
"Ever heard of a nevermore realm?"
"Heard it. Don't have a clue what it is." Harry answered. "Is it bad?"
"It means it is a realm where time passes differently-"
"-and in order for that to be possible, it means it is a freestanding realm that does not touch anything else."
"…I don't understand."
"Most realms are connected to each other in some way or another, that is how you have Realmwalkers. They can just—walk from one world into another as if they were parting a curtain." Hadrian explained. "Nevarah is not like that. You can only enter through the gates or if you have a truly powerful individual with ties already in Nevarah, to pull you between realms."
"Like Ilsa." Harry breathed, feeling the information click into the proper spot in his brain. He remembered the awful portal that had brought them over from the Wizarding World. He remembered Ilsa shifting into dragon form inside of the strange, magical space. He remembered Aracle taking over the portal from her. He remembered touching down on Nevarah and desperately using the threads of Charlie's magic that he could reach—to throw off the Fabrine encroaching around them.
"Make sense now?"
Hadrian smiled. "At any rate, there are twelve gates into Nevarah, three on each of the four sides, each side belongs to an element and to guard any one of them alone for longer than a week, that's admirable, especially if you do not have a one of the caspers bonded to you, like how your friend, Lady Ilsa, has Ergen bonded to her."
"Oh. Is it hard to—how hard is it to have a casper?" Harry asked.
"It's not something done lightly." Hadrian said, after a pause. "It requires a great deal of control and magic, there is a significant amount of responsibility involved. Why?"
Harry resisted the urge to shrug. "Just wondering."
"Hmm." Hadrian said, noncommittally.
"When you said there were only four sides for the four elements, what about your element? Is Shadow and Storm always overlooked?" Harry asked, before he could stop himself. For a moment, he was worried that he had offended the older dragel, only to find a look of faint amusement on what could be seen on the unmasked portion of Hadrian's face.
"We're not quite overlooked, so much as allowed to run free." Hadrian smiled, sadly. "It's a bit more complicated than I could understand in mere minutes."
"Oh." Harry flexed his hand tucked in the crook of the armored elbow. He could make out faint swirled patterns on Hadrian's flexible armor that somehow remained cool to the touch, even though they had been walking for a few minutes. They rounded another corner and Harry found his footsteps slowing of his own accord. He wanted to spend more time talking to the man, but he knew they would return to the dining room any moment now.
As if sensing his reluctance, Hadrian slowed his own steps.
"Why are you wearing a mask?" Harry had to ask, when his brain drew a blank for a way to continue the conversation. "The Hellhound scar?"
Hadrian stared at him for a moment, dark eyes drilling into emerald orbs.
Harry hastily backtracked, feeling his cheeks grow warm. "I mean, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to, it isn't really my-"
A warm, rich laugh filled the hallway. "I can honestly say I have never heard that one before." Hadrian said, when he caught his breath. "No, actually, that's not where it is." Something glittered in his deep black eyes, now alight with warmth that hadn't been there before. "But perhaps, someday, if you do ask, I might be inclined to tell you."
"You can't show me?" Harry wished they hadn't started walking again already. "I could show you my basilisk scar." A little ripple of self-satisfaction coursed through him as Harry did not blush immediately after said proposition.
A choked sound came from Hadrian before he shook his head, lips curved into a definite smile. "Absolutely not—tempting as you are." He shook his head. "Your Alpha would have my head for it, I expect."
"I didn't say where it was." Harry countered.
"And I will take a guess that it is no more appropriate for public display than my own." Hadrian countered. "The mask is part of my contract and I prefer the anonymity it grants me."
"It's just a mask. Can't someone tell anyway?"
"It's more than a mask and when I was last in Nevarah, I was nothing like how I am now, so no. With a bit of luck, no one would remember me."
"Lady Ilsa holds a blood title—as do I. Blood titles fight each other and train together at some point or another. I have done both. We have." He amended.
Harry chewed on his lower lip in thought. He decided to let that be. "How does that work? Being contracted, I mean—I thought that you had to be bonded?"
"It depends. As I'm sure you can tell. I'm a Gheyo. An Ace, specifically." Hadrian explained. "We can hire ourselves out, especially if we don't have a set preference for military work or we have decided not to train anyone beneath us. Training lower ranks isn't a requirement, unless we've achieved a certain level and if we bond into a Circle before then, a few years allowance are gifted so we can adjust for the added responsibility."
"So you're not—bonded?"
"I am contracted." Hadrian corrected. "There is a difference, however slight. My loyalties are sworn to Lord Cunningham and Lady Mariana. I will do whatever they ask of me, no matter the cost." He half-smiled. "In exchange for that absolute loyalty, they treat me as if I were one of their own." He paused. "Without the sex, of course."
The smirk on Hadrian's face said that he'd done it on purpose though and it had worked, because Harry was now almost laughing. Sharing the laughter himself, Hadrian slipped his arm free of Harry's hand, clapping him on the back. "Deep breaths, Harry." He said, lightly. "Deep breaths—and honestly, you asked." He ushered Harry to walk in front of him as they neared the final corner. He'd seen how protective Harry's Bonded were and he didn't want to antagonize them in any way. "But no, to answer your question, I am not hunting this season."
"Don't you want to?"
"It is not a matter of want, it's a matter of duty and honor." Hadrian nudged Harry forward again, then stopped touching him altogether. "If you are asking as an interested Submissive, then ask me when my contract is up."
Harry let that sink in for a moment, before he processed the fact that Hadrian had not outright rejected him. That was promising, wasn't it? They rounded the corner together just as Harry turned back to look at him. "When is your contract up?"
"Harry!" Theo's relieved voice broke into the private moment before Hadrian could answer. "I was starting to wonder and—did something happen?" He looked from Harry to the somewhat amused Gheyo standing just behind him. His golden eyes narrowed faintly. Harry had something of a blush on his cheeks and there was a smile on Hadrian's face that could only be termed as indulgent.
Charlie was already moving forward though and he pulled Harry into a hug, subtly casting the barrage of diagnostic spells that Theo had been itching to cast. He figured that perhaps Harry had lost himself in the maze of corridors and it was lucky that Hadrian had gone after him, obviously knowing the layout of the floor. "What happened?"
"Happened?" Harry told Charlie's chest, where he was mostly squashed and held fast, as Charlie's arms didn't seem like they would release him anytime soon. "Charlie!"
"Don't smother him," Theo groused, nudging his Beta and trying to catch Harry's eye. "You felt—there was a moment when you were absolutely terrified and then, you were fine. Perfectly fine. What happened?"
"That could be interpreted so many ways," Harry muttered, untangling himself from Charlie's bear hug when his Beta obeyed Theo's prompt. "I-I'll tell you later. It's nothing to worry about. What's happening? Did I miss something?" He would explain about the mysterious redheaded encounter later—much later—when it was just the three of them.
At the moment, it seemed like Theo and Charlie had left the dining room and were now gathering around, clustered together. None of the royals, save for Ebony was present and she had been talking to Charlie, before Harry had turned up with Hadrian. Now, she stood off to the side of their little trio, her sharp orange eyes moving critically over him.
"Calling it a night," She said, moving to be more fully in Harry's line-of-sight. "I figured you'd had enough for the day and I plan on at least being able to start my mentorship on good terms with this fellow." She patted Charlie's shoulder. "From the sound of things, I'll need to be training you in some sort of formal combat and defensive magics, both of which stipulate the necessity of a good night's rest. While I won't be starting you tomorrow or possibly this week, I will make time to test your abilities so a suitable training schedule can be worked out." She nodded at Harry. "He means the world to you, so I wager you would rather learn first how to use what you'll have at your disposal, than of traditional etiquette and social niceties."
Charlie nodded, gratefully. "I would, thank you, Prin—Ebony."
"Oretta." She said, lightly, correctly interpreting his near stumble over her name. She knew her title was not a problem for him, but he had been well-raised and manners would always show. That was good. It meant she had enough to work with for now. "The others gave their excuses and apologies," she looked to Harry. "I should see you tomorrow, but if not, Happy Hunting, little one."
Harry felt his cheeks color. He wanted to protest the endearment, but the sudden seriousness in her pale orange eyes, gave him pause. She didn't say it to belittle him, but rather as an obvious claim that she considered him dear, just as she did Charlie. It made a flutter of warmth blossom in his belly, twining around the lax relief from earlier. "Thank you—Ebony." He managed to say.
She smiled at them, the regal air surrounding her becoming more pronounced as she lifted her chin and strode confidently down the hall, settling into the center of the formation of Gheyos that escorted her away.
"…and he's right out here, Bahn." Ilsa's voice filtered out from the door. "Aracle is coming, I can feel him. Now come on."
"My feet hurt." Bahn said, tiredly. "And I thought he was with Bhindi. Did something happen to her?"
"I'm sure she's fine." Ilsa reassured him. "That's where Takar went, remember? He wouldn't have said they were alright, if they weren't."
Bahn stepped out, cuddled into Ilsa's side, a yawn on his lips. He brightened considerably at seeing Harry and pulled away from Ilsa to hold out a square-shaped, neatly wrapped bundle of white cloth. "You missed dessert." He said. "I thought you might want some."
"Did the—it's over?" Harry asked, uncertainly. He didn't think that he'd been walking with Hadrian for that long, but then again, stranger things had happened since his arrival to Nevarah.
"A full council was called." Bahn explained. "It convenes at midnight, so the Royals left. It's standard procedure after there's been an attack like earlier." He held up the wrapped bundle. "Here, take this."
Harry accepted the bundle, feeling a mixture of relief and guilt, wondering if his absence from the table had given them a short window to decide to disband the dinner party. A cinnamon-sweet scent wafted up to his nose as he carefully held the wrapped bundle of desserts from Bahn. From the weight of it, he had a feeling the elfin submissive had cheerfully shoveled half of the dessert table into portable containers. "Thank you."
"We'll call it a night, loves." Ilsa said, firmly. She rubbed a hand up and down Bahn's arm, pressing him closer to her side. He was looking sleepy and mildly disgruntled all over again, while her expression was one of muted fondness. "If something happens, you'll likely hear it from me, so don't worry about it."
"Thank you, Oretta." Theo said, gratefully. He did not like that their evening had turned into such a muddle, but now that it had and they were released from formal obligations, he wanted to be home with his Bonded and not thinking about the next day—not yet anyway.
"Sleep well, all of you." Ilsa held out her free arm to pull Theo into a hug. He complied, happily, hugging her back and murmuring his farewell greetings to Bahn.
Charlie was just within reach to be pulled in for a hug as well and when he was released, he found his hands suddenly holding Harry's wrapped desserts, before both Ilsa and Bahn caught Harry up in a twin-hug of sorts. A faint smile registered as Harry was well-hugged, his hair ruffled and well wishes for the night whispered in his ear, before he was thrust back into Theo's welcoming arms.
Bahn smiled, softly, giving a wave of his hand as Ilsa went to bid her father goodnight. Greta came to take Ilsa's place almost at once, and Bahn happily snuggled up to her without complaint.
"Lord Cunningham said to tell you," Greta began, beckoning to Hadrian.
He moved over to stand beside her and listened when she whispered in his ear, giving a short sharp nod. "Thank you kindly, dear lady."
Greta snorted. "Save the flirting for someone who cares." She threw back. "I'll see you in the pits tomorrow?"
"I wish." He chuckled. "Lady Mariana is not happy with my latest adventure, so I am being punished by personal restriction from the pits until the second week."
Greta winced. "The second?" That was cruel and unusual punishment for a fighting Gheyo, as most Aces tended to be. They lived for the thrill of the fight, often born with a healthy battlelust to drive them on to perfecting their personal repertoire of defense and strategy that kept their Circles safe. They loved the burn of training, the camaraderie afforded to those bonded through combat and were always, above all else, driven to prove their worth in the most spectacular ways possible.
"My sentence could be lessened for good behavior." Hadrian said, lips twitching. "But I am not holding my breath. Good night to you all." His dark eyed gaze flickered to Harry, then Theo, as he smirked, then vanished in a swirl of inky shadows.
"Shadow's blessings." Greta muttered after him. She brightened as a portal began to open on the floor beneath them. Aracle emerged from the golden, swirling glow, crossing over to greet them with hugs and kisses. She easily handed over Bahn and they prepared to leave, as Ilsa returned to join them.
"I think we've said all the goodbyes we need to," Theo murmured into Harry's ear. "Shall we?"
Harry turned in his Alpha's arms, tapping into the strength that Theo offered and dredging up the feeling of pure calm and relief he'd felt from before. "Yes." He said, softly. "Home."
The 'portal deposited them in the upstairs kitchen where Theo had brought Bahn after their first run-in.
Harry stepped out from Theo's now slack arms with a sigh of contentment. He took the wrapped bundle of desserts from Charlie and set it on the table, casting a quick look around to be sure that everything was exactly as he'd left it. Satisfied that it was, he began to unwrap the bundle to reach the tantalizing scents within.
"Tea?" Charlie asked, already moving to rummage through the cupboard where the kettle was kept.
Theo smiled at them both and with a flick of his wand—he was more used to using it than not, after all—he banished their formal robes upstairs and exchanged their dress shoes for house slippers. "At this time of night?" He asked. "I won't say no."
Harry smiled. He found plates and forks and the served up the crème cakes and sugared tarts, pleased to note that Bahn had taken their numbers into consideration and gifted them at least double of some treats and triple of others. By the time Charlie had finished fiddling with the kettle to produce a nice, boiling pot of water, Theo had found the tea set and laid it out on the table.
Between the three of them, it fell to Theo to make the tea and Harry to serve it, which happened quite quickly and efficiently without much ceremony. They gathered around the table, eating and drinking silently for a moment, before Harry popped up from the table, plate in hand, cup in the other.
Theo looked at him, uncertainly, while Charlie mirrored concern in his big blue eyes.
"Upstairs," Harry said, softly. "It feels so—cold down here."
Identical looks of understanding flashed over his Bonded's faces and without comment, both Theo and Charlie gathered up their treats and followed Harry upstairs.
It didn't take long to change into their pyjamas and settle comfortably against the headboard, with Harry sitting between Charlie and Theo, and the bonds between them humming with happiness.
Charlie speared a chunk of sugared fruit off of his tart and nudged Harry with his elbow, offering him the morsel on the tip of his fork. Harry blinked, a slight blush surfacing as he turned enough to accept it. Theo had finished his cake already and now, he cradled a steaming cup of tea to his chest, angling himself in such a way as to keep Harry snuggled up to his side.
"What was it you wanted to say earlier?" Theo asked.
Harry sighed and set his fork down. He was thinking back to his encounter with his Uncle Lewis and the revelation that there were more Peverells out there and that he had actual, blood family to call his own. He remembered seeing Lewis and being struck by the startling similarity of the older dragel to the few wizarding photos he had of his father, James. He hadn't allowed himself to ever consider that he would have family apart from the Durseley's, because if he had, then surely they would have come for him, would have claimed him, would have cared about him.
"Here," Charlie speared another bite of fruit and teased it lightly against Harry's lips. Distraction was something that seemed to work well when Harry's thoughts diverted to more depressing depths.
Opening his mouth, Harry accepted the tidbit and titled his head back to rest against the headboard as he organized his thoughts into something that he could share. "Remember Lewis Peverell, today?" He asked, carefully. He remembered Theo's obvious dislike of the Pareya and could not figure out why, but did not want to raise his Alpha's protective hackles any higher.
Predictably, however, Theo growled, golden eyes narrowing. "I do." He said, taking a long sip of tea to apparently keep himself from adding anything else to the statement.
"Well, when I first saw him—what I mean is, have you ever seen a picture of my father? Of James Potter?" Harry asked.
Charlie hesitated for a moment, forehead crinkled in thought, while Theo adopted a puzzled look. "I have," Theo said, after a moment. He stared down at his cup of tea for a moment, then muttered something, before handing the mug over to Charlie.
Harry peered inside as Charlie leaned over to see. A murky image of James Potter floated atop the watery surface, a magical image conjured from memory and relying on Theo's ability. "Yes. That's him." Harry half-smiled, watching as Theo reclaimed his cup and took another deliberate sip. "Except for the glasses, he looks just like Lewis or rather, Lewis looked just like him."
"Oh Harry." Charlie caught on first and he immediately set his plate on the nightstand beside the bed and turned to give his full attention to the brunet. Looping an arm around Harry's shoulders, he drew him close and dropped a kiss atop that messy head of hair.
"I called him Dad," Harry said, quietly. He looked down at the strawberry torte on his plate and made himself eat a bite, even though it tasted too sweet in his mouth. "I thought—for a moment, I thought that-" he stopped. Theo presented his teacup once more, holding it just within reach of Harry's mouth. Harry leaned forward and took a comforting sip. Theo liked his tea brewed more strongly than the rest of them and the sharp taste served to ground him in the moment.
"I'm sorry," Theo said, after a moment.
"It's no one's fault," Harry said, quickly. "Really it isn't. I just—I didn't expect it." He took a deep breath. "And I never thought that I would have family here. Family that was alive," he looked at Charlie. "Which had me wondering about yours, Charlie, because you had to be dragel from somewhere and there are no Potters here, but there are Peverells."
Understanding dawned as Charlie followed Harry's train of thought. "You think there might be," he stopped. "We can check later." His blue eyes narrowed. Harry was building up to something.
As if sensing what Charlie had realized, Harry began to speak once more. "And when I left the dinner—I ran into someone, a woman—who looked like-"
"Like Lily." Theo finished. He'd finally caught on to what his Bonded were discussing and now, his worry filtered quite plainly through their shared bonds. "But Harry, you said that-"
"That there was only Mum and Aunt-" Harry stopped. Even now, he hated to use her title of 'aunt' when it seemed that she was so undeserving of it. "Petunia." He grimaced. "And she never looked anything like Mum." There were near opposites, in fact, because for everything of Lily that was brilliant red hair and vibrant green eyes, Petunia was mousey brown-blondish and boring hazel eyes.
"And this mystery woman, she was exactly like her?"
"Well, no." Harry said, slowly. "Her hair was different, it was all—curled, Mum's hair was kind of wavy, like it used to be curled, but it wasn't any more. In the pictures I've seen with her, her hair is never curly, but-" Harry stopped. He took a careful breath and resolutely carved out a chunk of his torte and stuck it in his mouth. He chewed slowly and deliberately, focusing on that fantastic feeling of calm until he settled. "It looked just like her." He said, firmly. "Just like her."
"Only it couldn't be," Charlie added. He frowned. "What are you thinking?"
"Quinn said something about the families of Evanson and Peverell, that first day in the clinic." Harry explained. He toyed with his fork. "He said that I had family seals on me, he couldn't tell from when, but he could say that they were from two prominent families and that I could probably have them officially removed before they wore off on their own. Lewis said he'd see about asking to have the Peverell seal removed because it took time for the preparations to be made."
"He was sure they would wear off?" Theo asked. "I mean, seals are serious business." He set his empty tea cup on the nightstand on his side of the bed and began to tug lightly at the covers beneath him. He remembered the painful, awkward conversation they'd had after Harry's first trip to the Clinic, to hear bits and pieces of the trying experiences he'd endured—while just trying to stay alive. "Finish your cake."
Harry dutifully took another bite, thinking as he chewed. "He said that they were harmless, that sometimes it meant that a young dragel's physical body couldn't handle the magical power." He polished off the last of the cake and frowned, mentally reviewing everything that had happened that day at the Clinic. There was so much to keep track of, it made his head spin.
"Would you like to us to see if we can visit someone from the house of Evanson?" Theo asked, at last. He couldn't recall there being an actual Evanson family present in Nevarah, but then again, he'd never actively searched for one. Ilsa only toured the upper tier of the elven social class and the high ranks of the Gheyos, she wouldn't have branched out into the dragel high nobles, unless absolutely necessary.
Harry brightened almost at once. "Would you?"
Theo found himself smiling back as he read the relief and joy in those glimmering emerald eyes. "Anything for you, my treasure." He said, leaning forward for a kiss. Harry tasted like the strawberries and cream he was feasting on, with a hint of lemony zest from the previous sugared treat.
Charlie took Harry's plate from his slack hands and after a moment, slid off the bed and reached over to pick up Harry so Theo could pull the covers back. It took a few minutes of maneuvering, but soon they were cuddled together beneath the fluffy duvet, Harry sandwiched between them, a quiet, happy purr emanating from his chest.
"I will look into the Evansons' when I am searching for the Kadels." Theo said, lacing his fingers through Harry's right hand. "Also, be prepared for tomorrow. It's sure to be just as long, exhausting and interesting as today." There was a wry note in his voice.
Harry found himself able to smile at that, even as he felt his body slowly giving into the weariness of the day.
"The Kadels?" Charlie questioned.
"A family that is very involved in prophecies and such," Theo explained. He yawned. "Perhaps they'll be able to tell us something about Harry's." Of all the things he'd heard from Harry so far, the one that did bother him on more than one level, was the mention of a prophecy. Granted, Theo wasn't exactly the sort of person to believe in prophecies, but he was wise enough to know that such things ought to be taken into consideration, whether he personally believed it or not.
"Good idea," Charlie approved. "Any information we have to work with is an advantage for our side." He breathed in Harry's sweet scent as he nuzzled along Harry's shoulder. He relaxed when he felt Harry's smaller fingers twining around his own calloused ones.
"Sleep." Theo said. "I'm tired and I can feel how tired you two are. We can talk more in the morning."
With a hum of agreement, Harry slipped into a peaceful sleep—the first peaceful night in a very long time.
A/N: Thank you all for the amazing response to the last chapter! I am so glad you enjoyed reading about the mysterious missing mentor and all the drama that came with it. :D Y'all have brissygirl to thank for the lack of a "cliffhanger" on the end of this chapter. XD I figured our boys had enough excitment for the day and so I sent them back home. There's going to be some POV shifts, so we can find out what's been going on with the hunt for Maury, the Torvaks, and perhaps a glimpse at the WW too. Thanks for reading and Happy Easter, to those of you who celebrate it. ~Scion
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STATE OF CHARACTERS:
Theo-(with Charlie, Harry at the guest beachhouse)
Charlie-(with Theo, Harry)
Harry-(with Theo, Charlie)
Deveraine Circle members-(Bahn, Delani, Ilsa and Greta reporting to their own home to meet with the rest of their Bonded.)