See first chapter for disclaimers/additional warnings/summaries.
Link to TBDH Forum is in my profile. This chapter was betaed by the wonderful brissygirl to provide a smoother reading experience. All remaining mistakes are my own. *-list of characters in the Circle at the bottom.
RECAP:Harry and Co have retired for the night, after an eventful dinner party hosted by Lady Baronsworth, by order of Princess Dawne. Harry was able to have a moment with the mysterious shadow Gheyo, Hadrian Maruke, before retiring for the night. Lord Cunningham has dispatched one of his Bonded, Scout, to check up on Harry's residence at 4 Privet Drive and now they await Scout's report.
NEVARAH – FRIDAY AFTERNOON – RASPEN'S PRIVATE STUDY
"Regulus, darling, whatever are you doing?" Jun looked up from her spot on the settee beside the fire in Prince Raspen's study. She was currently reading one of the many reports from the large pile on the floor, catching up to the latest news since her absence from Nevarah. Halfway through her relaxed perusals, Regulus had joined George near the virtual map of Nevarah and they explored it together as neither of them had ever set foot in Nevarah before.
After well over an hour, however, both of them grew restless and eventually, Regulus began to pace, while George amused himself with pieces of balled up parchment. He attempted to flick them at the agitated Regulus, who irritably swatted them away with unerring precision as the magic in the room stirred up to worrisome proportions.
"Are you finished yet?" Regulus asked, tersely. He didn't like the room and he especially didn't like the fact that he couldn't see outside. Of course, he'd lived with Jun for years, since they'd bonded, but there was a difference between being safely sequestered below ground, trusting her instinct and expertise, than locked into a study in a building, on a realm that he'd never visited before.
"No." Jun said. Her green eyes flickered up from the report in her hands and she eyed him contemplatively. It had been years—she wasn't sure how much, exactly, because time was a tricky thing to play with—but she needed to be completely up to date with what was happening socially and politically since her absence. The Evansons were a strong family clan within Nevarah and her absence would have been obvious to those who knew to keep an eye out for her. "Why?"
"I don't like it here." He half-growled. "Can't see outside. Room is too small. Can't scent anything and it—it makes me itchy."
"Oh?" Jun sat up, at that. It didn't bother her in the least, because she was used to it for necessities sake and she did trust the earth Royals, even if she couldn't be entirely sure about the others. Blind loyalty had never been a strongpoint, but she'd had to learn to accept it. Her empathy was enough for her to know if something would turn out to be terribly wrong and so far, as far as she could tell anyway, they were all fine. "And how about you, George?"
"I'd like to be out of here too." He rubbed the back of his neck. Regulus' magic was making him antsy as well and he didn't like that they were currently locked into the Prince's study, because no one was supposed to know that Jun was back. Locked in the room. He could barely stand thinking about that detail. Jun was one of many high-profile operatives between realms and officially, she wasn't supposed to be back yet.
"Come now, you two. It's not that bad." Jun rose from her seat, setting the report down on the desk. She crossed over to hug Regulus, nuzzling her face into his soft, black feathers and placing a kiss in the hollow of his throat. "Shh. It's alright." She couldn't leave until she'd spoken to Raspen's father. He'd been the one to assign the mission to her after all and even if Raspen was an earth Royal, he was still a prince and therefore, not her King.
"It's not, Jun. I need—we can't stay here."
"We won't stay here." Jun said, calmly. "We will visit my father, as soon as I have official leave to do so." She was looking forward to seeing him, the grizzled old grump. His bark was just as bad as his bite, but he held something of a soft spot for her, because she was the only daughter of his soulbonded Rheyo. She couldn't wait to see him and her Mum. He would doubtless pitch a fit at Regulus, but calm down when he realized that she'd taken an apprentice.
"And when will that be?"
"As soon as I have been released from my duties, we are free to roam." She sighed when he scowled and pulled away. "I cannot waltz about in public without there being some sort of announcement and if I show up on my family's doorstep right now, they'll eat both of you alive."
Regulus' scowl deepened even more. "What about your Circle?"
Jun hesitated. She was starting to feel the faintest threads of unease in reference to them and it was bothering her. She couldn't tell what it was that was wrong, but there was something lurking beneath the surface and she didn't like it. "They will keep us until the announcement, at least." She said, at last. Because they would, whether she asked them to or not and they would include Regulus and George. She didn't speak of them out of habit—it was never good for an operative to be speaking of the life and loved ones that were not a part of her work—especially when she was in the field, alone.
"You never talk about them," he said, quietly. "You never even mention them in passing, except for the few times you were either far too drunk to be healthy or explaining something to George. I don't even know what I'll be stepping into, just following you around and-"
"You're mine." Jun said, simply. "That's enough. They will not turn out you, if that is what worries you."
"Worries me? I'm more worried about you. How do you think they'll react to-"
"It's fine, Regulus." She said, sharply. He flinched back from her and she shuddered at the emotion that rippled through her. An expression of genuine remorse painted itself across her face. "Sorry. I'm sorry, Reg—I just—talking about it would have made it worse. So much worse and it's not part of my cover either, so it only would have confused things."
"Don't share now, on my account." Regulus sniped. "If we'll only meet them in a few hours, it doesn't make sense for you to worry your head about it now."
Jun pinched the bridge of her nose. "Do not start with me." She said, warningly. "I know your rank was a Pareya and I know that you've kept those tendencies. Listen to your instincts, however muddled they are and tell me that you disagree with my handling of this."
A pained grimace overtook Regulus' expressive face and he sat down with a huff. He couldn't answer to that, because they were effectively bonded the moment that Jun had decided to save him. He knew it was because of his presence that she had been able to stay away from her Circle for such an extended period of time.
"I thought so." Jun said. "But if you'd really like to, I suppose I can speed things up." Regulus didn't answer, but George was now watching them with worried eyes. They rarely ever bumped heads over anything, so this was something for him to take note of. "George?" She moved over to where he sat cross-legged on the floor, his little mountain of parchment balls lined up in front of him. "Do you have anything to add?"
"Oretta." He said, simply. He shook his head. He wanted out of the room too, but he could feel Jun's distress through their shared mentor-student bond and she was clearly worried about something. He did not want to add to that.
Jun sighed. "You are trouble. The both of you." She reached down and patted George lightly on the head, her fingers skimming over his fiery red hair. "Figure out between the two of you, what to use as an anchor for a private portal, I'll meet you when I'm through. We'll likely have to leave in a hurry. I will see if I can speak with Raspen—or his father, hopefully, as that would produce better results. I sincerely hope whatever I interrupt them from is worth it, because if I land myself with a Royal reprimand within mere hours of setting foot on home soil, I will personally see to it that you-"
"Thank you." Regulus said, relieved. "Go. Just go. We'll—it'll. Go."
She perked a brow at him and sighed. "Very well. When I call—both of you answer. Not a moment's delay, understood?" Both of her men murmured in agreement. With a fond shake of her head, Jun pierced one finger with the tip of a fang and sketched a few runes on her chest. They flared up, burning a soft green, before they faded into her pale skin. "I'll be back within a minute." She warned. "Stay close together."
George watched her vanish in a flare of green flame, before his brows furrowed together. "Reg?"
"How exactly are we supposed to leave here?"
The Torvak-hybrid lit up with an expression of unbridled glee as his lips twisted into a smirk. "That, Georgie—is the fun part."
Jun's portal spat them out on the front of a spacious green lawn leading up to a house that seemed built into the massive brown cliff ahead. It seemed like more of a cliff than a house and a vivid green lawn sported vibrant rows of colorful flowers and wooden lawn furniture. The trio landed just within the wards and on the right side of the armed, white fence that crackled ominously as the odd trio picked themselves up and dusted off their clothes. Jun cast a cleansing spell over herself, almost at once and then did the same for the rest of them.
"Jun?" Regulus twisted his neck to the side. He'd felt the magical protections forcefully wash over them and he'd also seen the stricken look on her face when she'd called them into her portal. There hadn't even been time to brace himself before she'd flung her magic out over them and then things had been moving, shifting and twisting around them. "What happened?"
She helped George up from the ground, liberally dusting him off as well. George endured the fussing for all of fifteen seconds, before he squirmed away to set himself to rights. He sniffed the air a few times, before he shook his head. There was the faintest touch of a scent that was almost familiar, but he couldn't place it. The thought flickered away from him as the cleansing spell completed itself and the mystery scent vanished.
"What do you mean?" There was an absent note to her voice, her green eyes reflecting her mental state—she was not quite all there as yet.
"You arrived looking as if you'd seen a ghost. What happened?" Regulus tried again, a bit gentler.
Jun's frown deepened. "I-I can't say." She said, at last. She cocked her head to the side. "I really can't, because I don't know. I do know what it was, but it shouldn't—it couldn't be possible. The timeline would be all wrong." She sighed. "It is pointless to worry about that though. Perhaps it is just a new one, after all."
"A new what?"
"An Empath. A very young one. I only went close enough to speak to Raspen—mentally, because he was in the middle of a dinner party somewhere—and I didn't want to interrupt, but on my way back to his study, I felt a pull and then I heard a call and it was—I couldn't ignore it." A hand went to her mouth, her other arm wrapping around her waist for comfort.
"Jun?" Regulus moved closer, worried. George immediately did the same, worry showing in his soft brown eyes. "How young are we talking about-?"
"Young enough, probably younger than he looked." She squeezed her eyes shut, sifting through the emotions again. "It was almost like there was something familiar in his magic, though I can't think why. It shouldn't be possible." She shook her head. "He was very young probably just within his inheritance—like our George here." She smiled at George. "But he was, well, crying, for lack of a better word. He was one giant ball of pain and hurt and loneliness." She took a shuddering breath. "It's healing, slowly, I could tell that much, but—it was so raw." A hand went to her mouth, a soundless scream welling up inside of her. She'd been shielding, yes, but there was a code among empaths, ancient and scarcely known as it was, they were never to leave each other in such intense, overwhelming pain. She had no more been able to resist him than he would have been able to resist her.
Regulus half-pulled her into a hug, rubbing his hands briskly up and down her arms. "It's alright," he crooned. "It's alright." He mouthed over her head for George to cast a personal fire spell to see if he could warm her up. The redhead nodded at once, quickly focusing on his hands to call and cast the magic.
"No. No, I don't think it was." Jun sighed as a new warmth washed over her. "His eyes—they were so, grateful. It was as if he'd never seen one of his own kind before, as if he'd thought he was all alone." She leaned forward and buried her face in Regulus' feathered neck. After a moment, George joined the group hug, a tad awkwardly, but readily. Jun smiled. She allowed the group hug for a good moment, before she jerked away from them and muttered something that had dirt flying into the air as a hole dug itself just a few feet away.
"A moment, please."
Reggie quickly backed away, pulling George with him. They watched as the hole finished digging itself and Jun immediately hopped into the muddy space, crouching down to the bottom, hugging her arms to herself.
"Don't stand overhead, darling." There was a hint of sarcasm in her voice. "Unless you really don't like being alive. Use your wings and watch George. Count to one hundred."
"A hundred?" George echoed. "What will you—ack!" He was caught in a headlock and pulled away from the gaping hole. He found himself nestled in Regulus' arms, surrounded and protected on all sides by his thick, soft, black feathers. He didn't feel anything at first, and then the powerful wave of empathic energy that made his teeth chatter as it flared out in a wide radius from Jun's new hiding place. He couldn't hold back the whimper that left his lips.
Regulus made a soft trilling sound overhead, vaguely soothing in his own way, but the wings tightened obligingly as the rush of magic slowly ebbed away. He began to count from one to a hundred, whispering the words to give George an audible reference. It was a few minutes before Jun called to them. Slowly, black wings parted and George blinked at the sudden shift in darkness to light, as he took in Jun's muddy figure as she directed the dirt back into the hole, smoothing it over as if nothing had happened.
"What exactly was that?" He demanded.
Jun gave him a tired chuckle. "That was me sticking my nose perhaps where it didn't belong," she said, cryptically.
"Which is?" George pressed. "You've never done that before."
"Not that you've seen, have I?" Jun mused. "It's actually quite common, considering that if I were not Nameless, my element should have been Earth. What I just did is known as an earth grounding. As you know, I was born into an earth elemental family and my mother was the only unusual dragel there, she was a fire element. The result was my Namelessness, however, when my empathy needs an outlet, the best option is to ground myself, depending on the intensity of the emotion, I can use a magically strengthened object made for that specific purpose, I can seek the assistance of my Bonded or I can push the feeling into the earth."
George brightened, mentally connecting the dots with her words. "What happens to it then? It stays there?"
"The earth makes use of it." Jun said, simply. "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." She recited, dusting her hands or rather, trying to. She grimaced at the dirt. A muttered spell had her spotless and wrinkle-free a moment later, as she gathered her hair up into a high ponytail, so it would be out of the way. Gathering her empathy threads together, she pulled them close. "Don't worry, I only do that as a very last resort and there's very few things that would set me off like that." She offered a smile that was as reassuring as she could manage. "Reggie couldn't handle it and neither would you. It wouldn't be fair and I—I didn't want to carry that home with me." She frowned. "Come along, we'd best be hurrying."
"Should we be prepared for anything?" George asked, curiously.
They now made their way to the house atop the hill and the walk seemed much longer than it should have been. Jun rolled her eyes, a touch of exasperation showing on her face as she tucked a stray curl of red behind one ear. "Exactly what kind of preparation were you thinking of?" She countered.
"Duck and cover?" Regulus suggested.
"Be quiet, you." Jun scolded. "No. There isn't. You simply stay behind me and well out of reach of my wings." She shook her head. "Honestly—what did you teach him in the few minutes I was out of his sight?"
"It's an honest question," Regulus quipped. "And as I said earlier, you haven't exactly been forthcoming about-"
"You'll see what I mean," Jun said, irritated. "Now leave it be."
George exchanged a glance with Regulus, a hint of puzzlement in his face. He'd never seen or known her to be this short and snippy before. He wondered if perhaps she hadn't grounded everything in her little hole. "Reg…?"
"Shared bonds." Regulus explained. "She's an empath, remember? The closer she is to her Circle, the more emotions I'd wager she's sifting through. She probably had to put up blocks to deal with them, but because of the distance, she took them down." He nodded towards Jun's occasional flinch. "I would say that they're not very happy with her, but that they also can't believe that she's here either. They're restless, you can feel that in the magic, if you're looking for it."
"Won't there be problems?" George asked. "I mean, with everything I've learned so far, just turning up like this, won't it cause trouble?"
"There is never a shortage of trouble where my Circle is concerned," Jun said, dryly. "I think we're magnets for it, specifically my submissive."
"Who you never name?" Regulus hinted. He'd heard bits and pieces about her Bonded through the years, but it was always as if she was careful to never give too much away. At one point, he'd wondered if she truly had a full, Bonded Circle, and then of course, he'd remember the proof, an elegant line of claim marks that stretched across the top of her shoulders, from her left to her right, stopping just above each bicep. It was proof of slightly larger than average Circle. George was right in his questioning. He wondered how they would react after all of this time, turning up with him, a half-Torvak hybrid of sorts and a fire apprentice.
"Name?" George looked from one to the other. "You have a Submissive?" He seemed a bit surprised, even though he hadn't seen proof of it, that particular detail hadn't seemed very real until this moment.
Jun rolled her eyes again. "Of course I have a Submissive." She huffed at George. "If I didn't, how else could I possibly be—stop smirking, Regulus. Briar. His name is Briar. Are you happy now?"
"Juniper and Briar?" Regulus repeated, incredulously. "Was something in season when you were all named-?"
"I like my name!" Jun protested. "Don't be rude." But a fierce blush was now beginning to paint itself across her creamy features. "Flower names are very—distinguished." She refused to look him in the eye.
"Indeed. Very, very distinguished, I'm sure." The Torvak-hybrid smirked. He wasn't about to let this thread of conversation die. "I'm being quite nice, Jun, dearest and I'm starting to wonder what other names you have, seeing as we have a Juniper and a Briar, the rest of them must be quite—interesting. Is there a Rose? A Peony? Tigerlily, perhaps?" *
Jun moaned. "Shut up!"
George sniggered. "You picked him for his name or for his-"
"Quiet, the both of you!" Jun snapped, but her lips were twitching into something of a smile even as she scolded. They were nearly up to the house by then and she held up a hand to halt them several feet from the colored stone walkway leading up to the ornate front door. "Wait here—and don't interfere." She frowned. "In fact, try and stay out of the way if things are a bit—I don't know—rough?" what does the front of the house look like?
"Rough?" Regulus' eyebrows danced up. "When you say rough, exactly what are you-"
"I mean that you are not to step in for any reason at all, Reggie. I mean it, don't make me make you swear it. George, darling, keep back and well away from all wings and claws. Do not use your fire as we know how destructive it can be, you may use shield spells or anything that may be useful—if you are accidentally noticed and dragged into anything." She ran a hand through her hair. "There will be yelling, shouting, plenty of spells flying about and I'm sure a fair amount of hissing, growling and spitting." Her lips quirked. "You've been warned."
The front door was opened by a very tall, thin-faced woman with deep, forest green hair and very long, pointed ears. For a long moment, she simply stared down at Jun, then over at Regulus and George and back to Jun. Her mouth opened and closed, before she ducked her head to step out onto the front landing and pulled the door firmly shut behind her. "I don't know what kind of-"
"Your name is Ivyana, you prefer Ivy, we met at the second tier during the Hunt with the Cherry Blossom viewing under the reign of Queen Eldana. You are allergic to strawberries, you have a tattoo on the left in-step of your right foot and your knowledge of grey magic is extensive in both legal and other means. I once told you that if giving my right hand was the price for your eternal loyalty and love, I would pay it in a heartbeat, because you are a rare thing to be treasured for your entire life."
The woman quivered for a moment, her head tipping forward, curtains of deep green hair spilling over her thin, bony shoulders, before miserable brown eyes filled with tears. "Juniper." She said, softly, bending down for the hug that came at once. "Oh Jun. Alpha. My Alpha." A choked sob left her. "Why did you leave us for so long?"
"Shhh." Jun wrapped her arms around her, as best as she could and hugged tight. "Ivy. My precious Ivy." She crooned. "I missed you, dearheart. I'm so sorry it took me so long to return. I would have come sooner if I could. I never thought it would be longer than a year, tops, but I'm here now. Hush. It's alright."
Warm tears continued to spill over for several minutes and it took a great deal of coaxing, hugging and the occasional kiss before Jun could extract herself from Ivy's arms, keeping physical contact with her Pareya, as she eased her down to sit on the front stoop. Ivy was obviously an Earth Fae, her trademark hair and eyes, reminiscent of Kyle Kalzik. Her hands fluttered, awkwardly, worriedly, as if they couldn't stop touching her Alpha. "Everyone will be mad." She said, at last. She gave the appearance of a gentle giant, a fae that was a bit too tall and not quite sure what to do with her height.
"I'm expecting it," Jun said, ruefully. "Though in truth, I honestly did not think I would be gone that long. This long." She amended. "Has everything been alright?"
"Years, Jun." Ivy said, solemnly. "How can you possibly think this was alright?"
"I sent letters, every week." Jun said, quietly. "No one ever answered, I assumed that-" she winced. That was the wrong word to use, particularly for this Bonded. "I mean-"
"Assumption is a poor substitute for suspicion." Ivy said, calmly. "And if you thought there was something wrong, surely you would have looked into the matter within the first year?"
"I did." Jun frowned. "I spoke to Father and he-" she stopped, her hands curling into fists. "Has Father been by?"
"Your father has had nothing to do with us since your absence." Ivy lifted her chin. "You know he never cared much for our-"
Jun made a distressed sound in her throat, conflict showing plainly on her face, before she snatched Ivy into a hug that the Pareya gladly gave into. "I'm sorry, Ivy. So very sorry. I thought that—I can't believe he—I swear I will—what about Mum?"
Jun pulled away at once. "Ivy?" She'd reached out with her empathy only to feel all emotions abruptly cut off. It was a trick she had taught all of her Bonded, so they wouldn't overwhelm her with little, everyday things. The fact that Ivy was using it now, only made her stomach begin to twist and churn. She wouldn't like this bit of news.
"You don't know?" A stricken look settled over Ivy's face. "Oh Jun." Her shoulders quivered. "I'm sorry. I am so very sorry."
"She passed from us about three years after you left." She wrung her hands together, awkwardly. "Her flame burns eternally in the Hall of Remembrance. I-I'm sorry, Jun. I truly am. We sent word but, you did not come. I wondered if you truly did know."
"N-no. This can't—she was fine! She was strong, healthy—her fire-"
"Her fire burned strong until the very end." Ivy said, steadily. Her eyes shimmered with tears as she struggled to maintain the emotional block that kept her Alpha from being overwhelmed with emotions that were not her own.
The distressed sound faded to a soft, high-pitched whine, before Jun crumpled to her knees, hugging her arms around herself. She drew in great heaving breaths, her grief tearless for the moment. She bit her lip hard enough to truly hurt and focused her best on channeling all of that pain into the cool ground beneath her.
When the initial wave had passed through her, she lifted her head, a great sorrow now present on her countenance. "Did she—suffer?"
"I do not think so. I felt her spirit pass. It was—calm. We were all," Ivy hesitated. "Not quite welcome. Briar went though and Rian." She added, when Jun's anguished eyes met hers. "You can visit the Hall yourself, if you do not believe me." She crouched down to be on Jun's level. "It is the first monument on the left, third path down."
"I could verify it a lot sooner if you would stop blocking me from seeing if—ah! Oh." The second Ivy's emotional barrier dissolved, Jun rocked forward, barely catching herself on her hands, even as Ivy gently pulled her into a hug. "Oh no. no. no. NO!" The words trailed off into an inarticulate howl as Ivy's Pareyic magic flared out in a pretty shimmer of green, a silencing spell layered over a containment spell.
And Jun cried, her hands fisted in Ivy's blouse as Ivy simply tucked her head beneath her chin, long arms wrapping around her. Tears gathered at the corner of Ivy's eyes and a feeling of tremendous sadness exploded out from the pair in a vicious wave of magic that nearly sent Regulus and George to their feet.
It was quite some time before Jun gathered herself together again.
Ivy did not rush her in any way, she simply sat on the front steps, holding Jun until she pulled away, slowly composing herself enough to ask after the rest of their Circle. "W-was she-?"
"It was natural, as far as I could understand. You'll have to ask Rian or Briar. I've never been very good at subtle politics."
Jun gave a slow nod. It would take her a while to process this. She took a deep breath, held it and then blew it out, repeating the exercise several more times, before she could speak again. "How have you all fared since?"
"We made do with what we had." Ivy said wearily. She lifted her chin at Jun's pointed eyebrow. "We have not lost anything in social standing, if that is what you are asking. Save for what was expected during your absence and the mess with the—everyone is alright."
Jun processed that for a moment and then decided to pretend she hadn't caught Ivy's slip. "Thank you."
"How about yourself? I would say you were all alone, but you obviously weren't." Ivy tilted her head to the side, looking over at Regulus and George. "Dare I ask?"
"Dare you?" Jun found a spark of her fire at Ivy's insinuation. "Ivy, really! I wouldn't have—that is Reg, Regulus, actually and your guess is correct, as I saved him from Torvaks by turning him into one, but the redhead is George—my new apprentice of sorts. He was new into his inheritance and needed a mentor. I volunteered. There's strength in his fire, I couldn't ignore that, but he's not my son, if that's what you're thinking."
Ivy smiled thinly. She had felt the bonds shift inside of her hours ago and had prepared herself for a new face, recognizing the feeling even though it had been years in coming. She could also see why Jun was handling her Mum's death a bit easier as well, George was obviously a fire type and just as earth looked after their own, fire did the same. His flame would have provided Jun with the instinctive, elemental balance she drew from her parents. That was good. "I would never presume to-mmph." Brown eyes blinked comically wide as Jun proceeded to kiss her senseless for a very long moment. When they parted, Ivy reached one hand up to touch her lips, her eyes shining again with unshed tears. "Jun…"
"Shush." Jun touched a finger to Ivy's lips. "There is a tremendous amount of things we will have to work through, but right now, I just want to see all of you and make sure that everyone is alright. Could you do me a favor?"
"Send them out, one by one, so I can handle them. I'll deal with Briar last, if he's home, because I can't sense him right now or Rian."
"…he probably isn't. I think he had things to do today and Rian probably went with him. You know he'll fight you, Jun."
"I'd be worried if he didn't." Jun said, briskly. "Up and off with you. I don't want to be up all night talking when there are more important things to be done." She frowned. "And Ivy?"
"If there has been anyone—anyone at all, who hasn't been perfectly polite to any of you, I want to know about it, understand?" There was a hint of steel in her voice. "I may have been absent for some time, but it has not dulled my senses in the slightest."
"Good girl. Now shoo." Jun patted her shoulder, lightly. "The sooner we start, the sooner it's over with, alright?"
Ivy exchanged a nervous look with Regulus, before carefully unfolding her tall frame. She was well-over six feet and it showed as she stood next to Jun. "Jun?"
"You should know that Zeph's not here."
Green eyes flickered with a flare of warmth. "He shouldn't be. I sent him to the pits before I left, especially since Briar couldn't so much as blink without finding something new to pick on the poor thing." She shook her head. "His term should've been up within the standard ten years though, unless you sent for him sooner, then the ten would repeat. He likes it in there, so he probably would've stayed." She didn't want to ask how long she'd been gone—not yet.
"W-we didn't." Ivy licked her lips. "Send for him, I mean." She said, referring to their Gheyo Joker. He had been the newest addition to their Circle, happening right before Jun had taken her leave. "It's been a while. We didn't know. We thought-"
A pained sigh left Jun's lips. "You thought that perhaps it was something of a mistake?"
"He didn't bond to Briar." Ivy tried to explain. "Or any of the rest of us, what were we supposed to think? You brought him home two weeks before you left. That was hardly enough time to know someone."
"It's not your fault." Jun soothed. "And he's a Joker, they usually only bond to one and it's either the Ace or the Alpha. Gardenia wasn't there for his testing, so they never marked each other, I suppose." She rubbed her forehead. "This is more of a mess than I was expecting."
"What were you expecting? Everyone to move on as if everything was normal?" Ivy demanded. A flicker of emotion registered in her soft brown eyes. "Really, Juniper."
"No. No, I wasn't. But I thought that someone would have at least made sure you were looked after, even if my Father couldn't be bothered to do it himself." She scowled. "May I see Flora next, if she's there? Orchid or Heather, perhaps?"
"I'll call whoever is closest." Ivy whispered. She fled into the house, leaving a baffled Jun staring after her.
"Jun?" Regulus ventured. "Anything I should know now? He didn't have to be an expert to tell that there was something terribly wrong here. None of the questions or information that Jun was sorting out, made sense to him. Of course, he didn't know any of the names, faces or situations that they'd dealt with, but he'd thought that Jun was a woman of upstanding character. He clung to that now as he watched her tug at her crimson hair.
"Not yet, Reggie—something's wrong." She cast a sad smile at him and then at George. "It might take a bit longer than I was thinking. Do you need anything before then?"
Something was indeed wrong.
They were sharing something of an impromptu lunch in an enclosed rear porch, lit by soft amber lights and charmed against insects and noise, allowing a bit of privacy for their odd reunion of sorts. There were crackers, juice, some vegetable wraps and veggie sticks, along with cubed fruit and meat, enough to satisfy most cravings. Evening had dawned and night was on its way in the remaining hours of fading daylight.
Jun introduced several lovely Fae Pareya next, her Circle seemed to be turning out as a vibrant flower of dragels in their own right. There was Flora with her vibrant pink hair and twin ponytails, Orchid with pink and purple streaked hair and lovely, rainbow-pastel butterfly wings that were always permanently extended, Heather, who turned out to be a pureblooded earth dragel, with eyes a startling shade of yellow-gold, hair the color of her name—a rich, dark purple—and beautiful, coffee-colored skin. They were all strong, beautiful women, who welcomed Jun back in their own way.
The others came out, one by one and slowly, they began to congregate on the front yard in various states of emotional disarray. The Gheyos were upset with her long absence and the Pareya were hiding their true reactions for later. They'd been satisfied enough to hold Jun and be held in turn, before focusing on the finer details of why she'd turned up now.
At one point, Jun felt the bonds flare, proof that another one of her Bonded had returned home. She thought it was her Beta, Florian or Rian, as he preferred, seeing as he had yet to appear, but it worried her that she could not sense Briar. "Rian's home, isn't he?" Jun asked, mentally counting off each of her Bonded in turn. "And—the children?"
"The children are fine." Orchid said, quietly. She was sitting at Jun's feet on the front steps, absently playing with the few stray curls from Jun's fiery hair. "They've all grown. Peony is sweet on a high noble along the Imaldis clan, some young thing that's a few times removed, nothing direct, else I doubt she would've even been allowed to see him." Orchid sighed. "Yarrow prefers Arrow over everything else and refuses to answer if you call him anything else. He's been readying himself to attend the Halls and well, the others are alright. We've sent them to stay with some of Heather's family, who volunteered to take them to play in the upper tiers at the coliseum. I'm afraid none of us quite felt like joining in the festivities. Aspen is happily Bonded, she has a full Circle and took on a fire Beta and a fire Ace. They're expecting the first child in about three months."
"Is she happy?"
"Immensely. Cried buckets when you didn't show up for the official bonding ceremony, but I'm sure if you buy her something bright and shiny, it will ease her temper enough to hear the explanation that you still haven't given us."
Jun winced. "Right. Thank you." They didn't have many children, as Briar wasn't exactly that type, but the few they had were definitely cherished.
"You haven't met Wistar either."
Jun's head snapped around so fast that everyone within range, flinched as the broadcasted shock. "Who?"
"He's eight now. Belongs to Leif and Azalea," Orchid continued, a bit cautiously. "He's a Gheyo child, so-"
"Who does he look like?"
Orchid blinked. "Er," she looked to the rest of her Bonded for help.
"He's adorable." Jasmine, the Gheyo King, wiggled her fingers, conjuring up a hazy, misty image to hover in the palm of her hand. "Has his father's good looks and his mother's terrible temper. He's a quiet boy and he begged to attend the Hunt something awful, but Leif wouldn't have it. Azalea had to take him with her down to the Gheyo section for the training camps, she was worried he'd sneak out."
"He sounds wonderful."
Jasmine snorted. "From your point of view. You haven't met the imp." But there was fondness even as she spoke. "Gardenia's on her way back, by the way."
"-and Briar?" Jun tried. No one was really giving her a straight answer on where her Submissive was and she still felt a bit too raw to demand it of them. As quickly as she'd felt Rian's signature, it had vanished once more. He wasn't blocking her, she could tell that for sure, but he'd 'ported back out almost at once.
"…he hasn't been himself since you left." Heather explained. "When you left, we all saw him wither and die inside. You won't be able to simply walk back in here, Jun. You've survived because you had him." She gave a jerk of her head at Regulus. "Briar only had us and we were a poor substitute when he wanted you. Rian bore the brunt of his temper most of the time, which, these days, isn't much. It's changed them both. It's almost as if they think you're never returning. I know you needed to keep your strands closed for the sake of—everything, but couldn't you have opened them every now and then? Just for him?"
A frown slowly formed on Jun's face, this time her puzzlement was plain for all to see. "I never cut you off." She said, quietly. "The threads were always open, I would have never—I could feel all of you." She bit her lip. "Every single one of you, except for the children, but that was because of the distance." The sadness in her eyes seemed to multiply by several dozen degrees. "Do you mean to tell me none of you could sense me?"
Heather's sad smile reflected the look in Jun's eyes. "No letters. No tangible bonds. No anything." She said, quietly.
"…and the girls?" Jun's voice wavered. She almost didn't dare to ask. This answer could break her, if she wasn't careful. "Lily? Lily and Petunia?"
The Fae exchanged glances between them, before Orchid slowly shook her head, speaking for them all. "What girls?"
The hopeless, soft sound that Jun made, had every Pareya flinching and moving toward her in tandem as a hiccupped sob left her lips. Ivy shucked off her shirt halfway there, showing a cropped green camisole and a wealth of claim marks along her arms and one on her midriff as she immediately folded Jun into her arms, tall enough to dwarf her Alpha for the second time that day, this time, offering the physical comfort that could soothe an agitated empath through skin-to-skin contact.
"No. Not them. Not my girls. They were just babes. It wasn't a dream, I swear it was real. They were—I held them. In my hands." She cried. "No…"
"Shh." Orchid tugged her hair free from its confines, the purple strands beginning to curl and blossom into the flowers of her namesake. The sweet floral scent filled the air as she cuddled up to Jun's left side, her wings beginning to beat a soft rhythm, a faint, sparkling sheen wafting through the air, fairy dust taking flight. "It's alright," she murmured. "It's alright."
"No. No it's not."
"Listen to Orchid," Flora hummed, choosing an old tune that they were all familiar with. "It's alright, Jun. You're here with us." She took Jun's hands in hers and gently pressed them to her face, warm tears spilling over the cold fingers as she tried to coax some warmth back into her Alpha. She could feel Jun retreating from them and desperately tried to pull her back. A repressed Empath was a dangerous being and withholding even the slightest feeling after an evening of so much intense emotion, could be devastating. "Don't hide it, Jun. Let it out. It's alright to feel."
Jun hiccupped and shuddered. "My babies," she cried. "My little girls. How could you not—I sent them, I sent them with-" and then she screamed in rage, distraught and disturbed to the very core, thinking of the two precious little girls she'd borne. She couldn't process this. Not yet. Not now. Not here without Briar.
A powerful wave of magic rippled out from her.
Heather had been trading flames with George, who sat a few feet away, working to maintain the little flicker of green fire that she'd thrown at him. He didn't have the natural knack for healing that she did, but he could maintain it if it was given to him. They'd hit it off quite well, considering that they'd only known each other for a few hours. She now unfolded herself from her seat on the floor and moved with the others to sit around Jun, arranging themselves so they were all touching each other as comfortably as they could. It took her a moment before she flipped up the long, flowing fabric of her skirt, exposing pale legs that tangled easily with Jun's own, attempting to ground her in the moment, before her magic stretched further than the outdoor porch.
George shuddered as the magic passed over him and he was filled with a longing so vivid and intense, it made his heart ache. A second pain made itself known, conjuring up images of his family, his siblings, his Mum, his Dad, all of them happy together, an ache that he felt in his very bones, it seemed. He shrank a bit inside, unable to keep the unhappy chir from escaping.
Regulus perched off to the corner, occasionally preening his feathers and watching them all with wary eyes. He'd been welcomed, but the reception was a bit lukewarm. Now, as he listened to Jun, he understood. Her bonded could obviously sense that she was more than simply distressed, this time around. He could scarcely follow all of the news they were sharing, but when he heard George's unhappy chir, he eased himself up to offer some comfort. He could tell that Jun's empathy had been too heavily controlled and repressed for too long. He was feeling waves upon waves of intense, soul-burning emotion for things he hadn't even thought of in years.
George didn't fight the embrace. He simply sagged into Regulus' strong arms in sheer relief, as the magical current rippling through the room was effectively nullified as Regulus cast a few spells to keep it from overwhelming them. He could tell that the Evansons would handle their own, so he left Jun to them, even as his very soul ached for her.
"Briar?" Rian hurried forward to catch up to his Submissive. "Slow down! What's wrong? You're pale as a-" he feathered a hand over Briar's high forehead. "Do you need to sit down?"
"No. I'm fine." Briar sighed, patiently. "Aiden is simply being his usual impatient self and the others are already there. I need to hurry, because it reflects badly on me when I am not present and the rest of our kind is." He scowled. "And you're not coming with me."
"No, Rian. You don't like it there anyway and I hate having to put you through that." He sighed. "I'm fine. I will be fine. It should only take a few hours."
"A few hours?"
"It's likely a briefing about the Fabrine attack."
"That breach brought Fabrine with it?"
"Yes, it did. Do try and keep up." Briar frowned. "I can still sense some of the darkness in the air, but it's very faint."
"Lovely. Now I'd really rather you weren't traipsing out to Arythmoor Estate on your own. Things are dangerous enough as it is, what with the tremors and the number of Healers required to handle things-"
Briar chuckled, leaning forward for the embrace that came. "You worry too much, Rian." He said. Soft, doe-eyes blinked innocently up at Rian's disgruntled expression. "You'll turn grey before we even have grandchildren."
"And you don't worry near enough." The Beta grumbled. "Every grey hair I have is solely your fault. I know that Aiden is back and you are required to pay your respects, but you're currently empty-handed and it's been a very long day. I'd rather you simply went home."
"Where you can keep an eye on me?"
"Briar." Rian sighed. "Why are you being difficult?"
"Hover and I'll bite you." Briar said, seriously. "In your sleep—where it'll hurt." He ignored the dark look his Beta sent him and instead, reached out through his bonds to check on his Circle. They'd been very restless for today and the attack had only put them all more on edge. He knew that returning home early for the afternoon was one of the better options available to him, but there were duties that he had sworn to tend to and this was one of them.
As for his Circle, well, they'd ventured out a little bit, but in Jun's absence, no one was particularly inclined to be out and about. She was their fierce flame, their vibrant fire, the spark that made their simple life burn just bright enough. Without her, the Hunts had been rather dreary. So after they'd brought the children out to stretch their legs, he'd sent them back home, because they were safer there, even as their instincts demanded that they protect him. He was safe enough on his own. The only working compromise he'd made was to allow Rian to accompany him to check on things at the Grand Council. So far, the Royals had gathered and there was sure to be a Midnight Council of sorts, which meant that Aiden was likely scheming as well.
"Rude." Came Rian's predictable reply. He caught Briar in a bear hug, holding him just tight enough so the smaller dragel couldn't wriggle free without resorting to more active physical measures. "You know I don't feel—ugh." He flinched, releasing his hold in time to hold his head. "What is that?"
"What is—ohhh." Briar moaned, both hands went straight to his neck, then one moved to hover his heart, where one particular claim mark resided. He grimaced, another sound of pain escaping his lips. He swore softly before reaching out to grab Rian's arm, attempting to ground himself as a veritable maelstrom of emotions churned through him. He hadn't felt this sort of distress in years. It made his chest ache and his bones burn, his breath coming in short puffs.
Rian shuffled them off of the public walkway and into a more private spot on a side street. They'd been on their way out of the main city, but the crowds didn't seem to pay any attention to them. His eyes narrowed in worry, his grip tightening around Briar's arm, as he forcefully pulled the smaller dragel into his arms, pushing his magic through their bonds with all the love he felt for their Circle. "Easy, Briar." He murmured. "Breathe. That's it, just breathe. It's alright. It's alright." Several short breaths later, Briar's rigid posture eased a mere fraction. "Tell me that isn't what I thought it-"
"It's her." Briar whispered. His free hand curled into a fist and he shuddered.
"Briar, are you sure?"
"Just as sure as I know that it's really you that's here, holding me." Briar stifled a moan.
"She actually came back." Briar released his grip on Rian to hide his face. He struggled to sort through the emotions streaming so rapidly through the shared bonds, trying to differentiate between what was his and what was his Alpha's. It wasn't a picnic to have an Empath in a bonded Circle, but it was rarer still to have that Empath be the Circle Alpha. But he'd always known what he would have to deal with when he'd accepted Jun's proposal. Recent hiccups aside, he would always choose her. "She's alive."
"She'd better be." Rian grumbled. "Of course she is. No one's scales turned black, now did they?" He sighed, running a hand through his curly hair. He'd managed to block the whirlwind blast of emotional torment and now, reached out, mentally, to help his Submissive do the same. He'd almost forgotten that little detail of Juniper. Almost. "There hasn't been any kind of official announcement. If she is back, she knows better than to show her face in a public setting before an official announcement. She'd come to us first, which-" he stopped.
Briar whimpered. "Shut it off, Rian. Turn it all off. I can't—she's-"
Rian leaned over, pushing away Briar's hands from his head and face, he placed one palm on each side of his temple and pressed gently. "Shh. Look at me, Briar. It's alright. Look at me—there we go. Now, three, two, one—ah. Better?"
Relief showed plainly on Briar's face and he nodded, reaching up to hold one of Rian's wrists. "Thank you—I just-" he faltered. He knew how to block her, Arielle help him, if there was anyone in their Circle who knew how to block her, it was him, but he'd missed her for so long, hadn't felt her for so many years, that even sharing her pain had been better than the odd silence.
"I think she's home." Rian said, quietly. "I can feel the others perking up already."
"She went—home?" Briar's voice sounded small and lost. "Why wouldn't she come to me-"
Rian leaned forward to press his lips to Briar's forehead, pushing all the calm he could muster through their Submissive-Beta bond. "I don't know. I really don't know. No one ever knows what she thinks. It's Juniper." He paused, allowing a moment to gather their thoughts together. "Tell you what, why don't we stop by and-"
"No." Briar pulled away, dodging Rian's following hands. "I'm not running home just because she's decided it's a fantastic time to show her face and make a big entrance, just because she can-"
Rian stared at him, incredulously, for a full minute. Then he smacked his forehead and uttered a rather unflattering phrase beneath his breath. "Arielle, please tell me you're not doing what I think you're doing." Rian rolled his eyes skyward. "Please!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Briar said, primly. "I'm fine. I don't need you hovering." He held one hand over his eyes as if shielding them from the light. "I believe I already made that clear. Now, I already do not have the time for this and I can't keep Lord Aiden waiting."
"Tell him you have a family emergency. He'll understand, I should hope."
"He's her hound, pack comes first and I've been absent for some time. He might understand on a rational level, but otherwise—I need to be there." Briar's hand fell from his face, dark brown eyes now showing themselves to be a bright, vivid red. His face had gone paler now and his dark brown hair seemed to darken to a near black. "Besides, it could be a false alarm."
"False alarm?" Rian stared at him, incredulously. Jun didn't have false alarms. If they'd felt her—and they had—then she was most definitely there. As an empath, she couldn't fool those kinds of bonds, not the ones that they shared. "I don't believe this. Fine. Wait here. Stay." He added, warningly. "Let me check. If you've moved before I return, you'll have the rest of this Hunt to regret it."
Briar folded his arms over his chest, bristling at the implied consequence, but not protesting otherwise. He waited while Rian cast a simple portal and vanished for a moment. It was scarcely but a minute before he reappeared, looking exactly as disgruntled as Briar felt. "Well?"
"She's back." Rian said, grimly.
"And?" Briar said, smugly.
"And you're entitled to your own reaction, no matter what it might be."
"What's wrong with her?"
"I don't know. I didn't stay that long and I certainly didn't hear what they were saying, except…" Rian frowned.
"If we didn't hear anything from her, do you suppose the same was true from her?"
"What?" Briar jerked around to stare at him. "That's not—she wouldn't have—Jun's smarter than that." From the wide-eyed look on his face, he'd already connected the dots.
"Smart, yes. Focused, very much so. You know she doesn't count time the way the rest of us normal folk do. She's a Rune Mistress, they play with time like it's a toy."
"It's been years, Rian. I don't think that she would have-"
"Exactly. Years. How much do you think she's missed?"
Briar's new paleness went a few shades whiter. He turned on his heel and stalked off. He didn't even flinch when Rian hurried after him, grabbing one arm. But he kept on walking, setting a brisk pace. He would not turn back now. "If you're coming, keep your head down and do not speak." He said, in clipped tones. "I will have Aiden excuse you, but I cannot skip this meeting." He frowned. "The sooner it is over and done with, the sooner I can return home."
TORVAKS - SEPTIMUS WEASLEY RESIDENCE
"Ceddy?" Septimus craned his head around the door, looking adorably frazzled as he sought for his wife in the mess of flour, sugar and spice that made up her kitchen domain. He searched for her usual crop of strawberry blonde hair and spotted her at the far end, up to her elbows in bread dough.
"I'm over here." She called out.
"Do I even want to know?" There was a wry note to his voice as he threaded his way through the young women who were busily working away in the kitchen.
They used house elves, yes, but for some of the traditional dishes, the ones served only once per year, the womenfolk did it all by hand. They were preparing for the annual night-long Vigil, an auspicious time when all Torvaks entered a state of complete meditation to seek out, by a mystical flame, the individuals that were blacklisted and therefore, free to hunt for the coming year.
He had just finished explaining the tradition to his grandchildren and now, he was coming to speak to his wife, who had been handling the preparation of the strange potion for Ronald, or Ron, as the hot-headed redhead preferred. "How is the potion coming along?"
"I have a timer set, it should be done by tomorrow night." Cedrella said, regret clear in her voice. "I cannot finish it before the Vigil begins. He will either have to sit with us, without it or, skip it until next year."
"I would rather neither of you skipped it." Septimus said, worriedly. "He needs the experience and I have always valued your input, you know this."
"Indeed I do." Cedrella paused to kiss his stubbled cheek. "Do shave, darling. You know I prefer it." She smiled at him. "Do not worry, I will place the potion in stasis and at the quarter break, I will complete it and Ron can drink it. If all goes as it should, then he will be able to join us for at least the final six hours."
"You are a marvel," Septimus praised. "Do you need any help? Anything at all?"
"Yes. You out of my kitchen." She teased. "You know men aren't allowed in here, not until it's all in the oven, now get!"
He ducked away from her snapped towel and scurried from the kitchen, a slight smile playing on his face. He checked his watch, taking note of the time. Their final territory conference was due in the hour and it would finish with enough time for a full night's rest before the Vigil began. He was looking forward to speaking to Lord Heron, who had been leading their patrols for some time and he'd agreed to take a look down at Arthur's home, the Burrow place or whatever it was called.
Loud voices and angry shouts drew his attention and Septimus rushed from the hallway out into the front room where an injured Lady Amanda was being eased down onto one of the broad settees. He called for order in the room, but then stepped aside as their healers came rushing in and chaos descended once more.
He succeeded in catching ahold of Lord Heron and dragging him off to the side for a private interrogation. "Heron!"
"Lord Weasley!" The young noble stammered. "I er, we're not sure what happened."
"Tell me in as plain and few words as possible." Septimus snapped. "What happened?"
"Well, you know there are time shifts, yes?"
"But of course." Septimus waved a hand. "There have always been time shifts, did you pass through one on your way down?"
"Indeed." Lord Heron rubbed the back of his neck, looking far younger than he actually was. "We landed sometime after Arthur must have left, I cannot say how long, only that there was proof of dragel-kind there."
Septimus bristled. "That wretched witch—she was there?"
Lord Heron hesitated. "Y-es." He said, slowly.
"And? Spit it out, man!"
"She was there with a girl, a redhead, just like her and several other—children."
Septimus blinked. "Other children?" He repeated. "Hers?"
"I don't think so," Lord Heron bit back a yawn from his exhausted body. "They didn't look a thing like her, but-"
"But she's dragel and they always breed in packs, leaving their poor children a muddled mess." Septimus clenched his fists. Dragels were freakish, ill-bred creatures of darkness. If that stupid Molly had dared to cheat on Arthur, he'd gut her himself—if she wasn't already dead. "And?" He prompted.
"Well, we approached with the intent of taking them alive, you know, just in case all wasn't as it seemed, but-"
"But?" Septimus barely resisted the urge to shake the man. It was then that he realized a faint, smoky tinge had filled the air and that Lord Heron, for all of his apparent exhaustion, he was covered in a fine smattering of ashy dust.
"She's a dragel, alright." Lord Heron heaved a breath. "She 'ported out, took them all with her." He shuddered. "Guess what element she is?"
"Red hair?" Septimus snorted. "Fire. Easy."
"Tell me you at least landed a hit." His eyes sparked, dangerously. "Tell me, Heron!"
The young lord looked away. "She didn't just 'port out, she used some other spell or the place was rigged. We were lucky to survive with our lives." He bristled. "Amanda—she," he choked. "She took the brunt of the fire 'portal. It burned her hair and she was half transformed before-"
"Half-transformed? Whatever for? If there was enough place for a full-grown dragel in there, surely-"
"It's a magical house." Lord Heron sighed. He scrubbed a hand through his hair that was half inky feathers and half hair. "It was spell resistant. Either, she was used to keeping her wings in or indoor wings, at any rate. There wasn't anywhere near enough room for us in there, Amanda—well, she's the smallest of us and I—I sent her in first." He bowed his head.
Septimus pressed his lips together in a grim line, but he did reach out and squeeze Heron's shoulder in a show of support. "Tis not your fault." He said, briskly. "So you would deem her-?"
"Dangerous." Lord Heron said, readily. "Absolutely feral. Engage on sight. Beware of her flames and attack only if there is more than one." He grimaced at the soot on his hand. "I can't speak for the children, but they didn't seem afraid of her, so I'm assuming that they weren't kidnapped and either belong to her or they have some dragel in them, no other creature would trust a dragel."
"Thank you for the report." Septimus gave his sooty shoulder another squeeze. "Why don't you call it a night? Sleep through the meeting and I'll have someone bring you current before the Vigil."
Lord Heron gave a wan smile. "I just might." He looked back over his shoulder to where the healers were patching up Lady Amanda. "We left a few triggers in place. If anyone returns to that place, dragel or otherwise,we'll knowand if it's her," his eyes gleamed. "I'll be first in the queue to pay her a visit."
The Vigil began with strict solemnity.
Every high-ranking Torvak was present, a Lord and Lady from each house, even though their numbers had been greatly diminished with time. There were fewer Torvak children these days and they were all quite precious.
Seated together in the privacy of the upper attic room of Septimus' home, they sat in silent meditation, hands clasped, magic shared and their magical artefact, the Frozen Flame, a symbol of their icy powers and the strength of their resolve. It flared and hummed from where it rested in the center of their circle.
A clock chimed, sounding out the time from somewhere beneath them. They shifted and murmured as one, before Cedrella led the next meditative chant. It was a group trance of sorts, showing where their might was needed the most and helping them to prevent what disasters they could, before nature tried to tear her creations apart.
Time passed with excruciating slowness.
At one point, Cedrella stirred, seconds before the third chime sounded. Their meditative circle broke ranks, everyone beginning to shift and rise, rubbing aching muscles and throbbing limbs as they roused themselves for a short break. Septimus smiled as he watched Cedrella hurry away to complete the potion that would bring Ron into their ranks at last.
He checked the others as they talked amongst themselves, already discussing the visions they'd seen. This time, it seemed as if they were destined to fight legions of the undead for the coming year. Sure, there were a few rogue were-creatures in there, the occasional dark fae that had dabbled in things a bit too dark, a dark Veela or two—by order their own council—and then, of course, the made vampires. While the Vampires tended to police themselves, Septimus knew that they would not interfere, because it saved them from staining their immortal fingers.
Made vampires—unless sanctioned by their own kind, could turn into ugly, feral beasts, hell-bent on causing destruction wherever they went. He'd seen a few plots in his mind, courtesy of the Frozen Flame, and knew that it would indeed be a busy year, all other things aside. He hated fighting vampires, the blasted leeches were crafty little buggers that always tried to fight back.
A scream filled the air and Septimus lurched to his feet, hurrying for the stairs. He heard the others rallying behind him as he took the steps three at a time, bounding around the hallway corner to see Cedrella braced against the wall, staring in horror at the room where she'd been brewing for the past few days.
At first, he didn't see anything and then russet feathers emerged from the brewing room, about head-height, with a single, deformed claw, gripping the door jamb, before the feathered head turned and Septimus saw golden eyes. They blinked and squinted at him, the pupils narrowing, before human legs stepped through the doorway.
"G-grandma?" Ron's voice was raw and hoarse. "Grandpa? Dad?" He stepped fully out of the room, head swiveling in the direction of their collective gasp. He shied away from the sound, his normal, left hand, hanging limply at his side.
"Ronald?" Septimus was the first one to speak. He couldn't believe what was before him, except that he could see the proof, plain as day. "What did you do?"
"He drank the potion." Cedrella picked herself up off the floor, brushing off her blouse. "I startled him and he didn't finish it all." She bit her lip. "He drank it too early. It had to sit before I added the final ingredient."
"Foolish, foolish boy!" Septimus growled. "Felix, find Arthur, hurry!"
Felix bobbed his head and blurred away. Bilius stood grimly beside his father, confusion evident in his eyes. "What will you do?"
"Grandma?" Ron's voice wavered. "Anyone?"
"He can't hear." Cedrella said, abruptly. "Ronald? Ron?" She stepped forward, reaching for him.
Septimus lurched forward, pulling her back. "Don't approach it." He snapped. "You don't know that-"
"It was only a botched potion." Cedrella shrank away from him. "He couldn't—hurt us. He's not himself." But there was uncertainty in her voice as she watched the Ron-hybrid, stumble to the wall of the hallway.
From gangly, awkward teenage limbs, a freckled face, messy red hair and soft brown eyes, Ron had morphed into a half-creature that was strangely terrifying. His brown eyes were now a dull, golden color, his red hair now a mass of fluffed, russet-hued feathers and his nose significantly more pointed, lips thinner and mouth wider, pointed teeth showing when he tried to speak. The most obvious change, beyond the feathered hair and changed eyes, was his right hand—his wand hand—that no longer sported human fingers, but was now a four-taloned claw.
Bloody footprints marked the wooden floor, proof that the beaker holding the potion had smashed, for Ron's feet remained in their human shape, but a few angry gashes were quite visible to the naked eye. He tried to speak again, but his throat worked and a rough croak emerged instead.
"Uncle Bilius?" Percy's haughty voice cut through the murmurs as he approached from the rear of the group. He'd been dodging a mildly enraged Fred for most of the day, due to an untimely comment about the absence of George. Bill and Fleur were off—as usual—and so that had left Percy to his own devices, until he'd seen Felix streaking through the halls, calling for his father. "Dad went with—Ron?" He said, incredulously.
Septimus sighed. He reached out and clamped a hand down on Percy's shoulder. "Don't approach him." He said, wearily. "Not until we know for sure that he's harmless. Bilius—wards. The rest of you calm down and back up. We'll take a vote on finishing the Vigil and-"
"Don't be a fool, Septimus." Primus spoke. "He's your grandson or at least he was. Deal with your family. We saw enough in the trance, I don't think we'll miss anything by skipping the final section."
A slight ripple of agreement came from the uneasy crowd. Cedrella shrugged, neutrally. She didn't want to think how much of their agreement was based on logic and how much was based on fear of the unknown. Placing themselves in a trance that was deep enough to commune with the Frozen Flame made them temporarily vulnerable—she didn't blame them for wanting to skip the final quarter, if it meant there was even the slightest possibility that Ron was not quite, all Ron.
"You know, I'm not following you because I've been ordered to," Rolf said, calmly. He braced himself for a moment, then leapt up, grabbing one handful of craggy rock and finding a foothold, as he propelled himself forward. He was used to climbing and running, quickly and easily, regardless of terrain. His grandfather, Newt Scamander, had taught him well, on how to survive in any climate, while cataloguing and investigating claims of new creatures and such. It was how he'd stumbled into Luna in the first place.
"I do actually enjoy your company, rare as it is."
"I'm not rare, Rolf." Luna said, matter-of-factly. "I'm quite ordinary."
She didn't see the soft smile that graced his face or the way he easily climbed past her, scaling the cliff with grace and scrambling to the top before she did. He didn't think of her as ordinary at all. He immediately anchored a rope and threw it down to her, bracing himself to help it and her along. It was a matter of minutes before they both lay atop the rock, attempting to catch their breath.
"I know you're now following orders," Luna said, after a long moment. "But it doesn't hurt that the orders are exactly what you would do on your own." She was glad to have him along, for it meant the easing of the weight that often felt like a chokehold of a collar 'round her neck.
Rolf turned sideways to look at her. She was so beautiful in moments like this, so fragile and so heart-breakingly beautiful, he could draw a week's worth of strength from her smile alone. It was seeing her like this that reminded him that no matter how strong she was, that every hero needed a safe haven. He prayed that he could be hers.
"Perhaps." He said, stretching his hand just far enough to brush her fingers with his own.
She smiled, thinly, turning her face back up to the sky where the sun could kiss her pale skin. She tapped his fingers once, twice with her own and then neatly laced their hands together, squeezing gently. "One more minute, then we must hurry." She'd heard the stirrings of the dark Fae and while Fae in general could be quite genial at times, the dark Fae were something else altogether. She did not want to encounter them, not when it would slow them considerably and she had no patience for the politics that she would have to play as the Fae Queen's favorite.
"Shall I count?"
She squeezed his hand in answer, turning her face to the side so that her ear could press against the jagged rock. She was listening for the sound of approaching feet and the faint tremors of magic that would alert her to unwanted guests. She could not make out anything beyond the faintest rhythm of an animal's gait and that was quickly dismissed. That meant that the Elves were moving early.
The Fae granted them safe passage through their woods, as it provided a rather convenient shortcut and now that there was a peace treaty of sorts signed between them, travel was relatively safe and both sides made an effort to stay out of each other's way. Perhaps they would run into each other. They would not pay too much attention to her and Rolf, if they couldn't tell that they were Fae and that meant that maybe she could gather some news of what else was happening in the realms.
She started faintly, feeling Rolf's tight squeeze to her hand. "One minute already?" She asked, wistfully.
"I'm afraid so." Rolf picked himself up, twisting his head to the side to hear his neck crack as things shifted back into place. He'd learned early on, just how important it was to trust Luna's timing. It was always perfect. "You look exhausted." He said, bluntly. She did look quite tired, but he knew better than to suggest she take a moment's rest.
Luna gave him a look, but accepted his hand in rising from the cold, hard rock. She was tired, she'd been using her gift to See during the night, to know that they were heading in the right direction and because she knew that he would be able to keep watch over both of them, even if she wasn't quite up to full strength. Seeing him in action once, had been more than enough. He was all deadly grace and pure efficiency, a combination she'd never expected to find in her own fae-kind.
"We should set up camp and call it a day," he mused. "You can rest up and we'll start out early in the morning, that should-"
"There's plenty of daylight left." Luna tugged her hand free from his and began to bend and twist herself into a series of fluid stretches that seemed almost like a dance, limbering up her body for the strain she would doubtless put on it before the daylight hours were over. "We need to make as much—oof!" She grunted as she was rather suddenly and unceremoniously swooped up and tossed over Rolf's shoulder. She made a sound of disagreement, but he merely held her a bit more securely, his fairy wings easing out from his overtunic.
"Stay still before I drop you." He warned.
"Rolf!" she tried not to laugh, even as her skinny shoulders twitched with mirth. Rolf could always make her laugh. Always.
He gave her bum a light pat and with a skip and a hop, launched himself into the air, plunging over the side of the cliff they'd just scaled. It provided the kick that he needed to fuel his body with pure adrenaline. It took a moment to attain a suitable height, his body lightening further as his true fae nature came to the front.
His wings beat furiously, the sparkling, glittering appendages seasoning the air around them with a fragrant, light breeze. Any further protest Luna might have had, died away in the wake of that heavenly scent. She gradually relaxed and gave into the sleep that came to claim her. He smiled, easing his hold on her—with the aid of his fairy dust—until he could hold her properly in his arms. Ah. That was better, much better.
A/N: Happy Mother's Day to the moms who are reading this. :)
Whew! Well, that was a lot happening in a short amount of time. This is an interlude chapter to keep the minor characters in movement with the main storyline while Harry is sleeping. (and to tie up some subplots I had in there), LOL. I hope you enjoyed the surprises and twists and getting to see Jun's Circle. The list of names/Bonded for her Circle are included below. To clarify, yes, Jun is Harry's grandmother. Yes. Briar is talking about Aiden, the hellhound who has Hermione.
~SHAMLESS PLUG FOR NEW ONESHOT~ I did a Mother's Day oneshot for TBDH. Check it out for family fluff and pure cuteness. -Scion
REVIEW RESPONSES are in the FORUM for Ch 90 are done. Copy and paste to get there, click on the appropriate chapter number and scroll down to find your review and my reply. Replace the (heresadot) with actual dots as FF eats all urls. Live link is on my profile.
STATE OF CHARACTERS:
Theo-(with Charlie, Harry at the guest beachhouse)
Charlie-(with Theo, Harry)
Harry-(with Theo, Charlie)
Deveraine Circle members-(Home to meet with the rest of their Bonded.)
JUN'S Circle :Jun(alpha), Rian(Beta), Briar(Sub), Ivy(Pareya), Flora(Pareya), Orchid(Pareya), Heather(Pareya), Gardenia(Gheyo ACE), Jasmine(Gheyo King), Leif(Gheyo Queen), Azalea(Gheyo Prince), Zephyranth (Gheyo Joker), Crisanto (Gheyo Princess) Yes, the names are flowers on purpose. No, you don't really need to keep track of all of them, they won't be main characters. Thanks for reading! -Scion