"Harry?" The voice held a hint of worry and a touch of authority.
Harry tried to pretend he hadn't heard it, because he was sure there would be a lecture to follow if that really was who he thought it was. He shuffled forward, stifling a yawn and intending to duck into the flow of the crowd and wander for a bit longer.
He started, faintly, when familiar arms wrapped around him from behind, pulling him back from diving into the crowd and keeping him out of the way of being trampled. The fact that the height of his reaction was a mere grunt, only hinted as to how disgruntled a certain green-eyed, dark-haired wizard-born dragel was faring.
Ilsa drew him back into a hug, just tall enough to thunk her head atop of his. It was a gesture that was both a warning and a reassurance—a reminder that she was capable of resorting to physical force, if needed, but reassuring in that she wasn't trying to manhandle him, but rather, was simply saying hello.
Harry squirmed, faintly, before realizing that he couldn't quite break her hold, not without expending more energy than he currently had to spare. He bit back the whine that was in his throat and growled softly instead.
She rumbled back in answer, an instinctive urge to comfort him. "Hi."
Harry only tipped his head sideways to look up at her. It would take too much energy to answer and he didn't want to blow up at his Alpha's favorite mentor. Alright, his Alpha's only mentor and not because the famed Lady Ilsa Gorgens had a terrifying reputation for a truly horrifying temper. Nope, not at all.
"Someone's grumpy," Ilsa hummed, pulling away, but keeping an arm around his shoulders. When he attempted to shrug it off, she rearranged it to lock around his neck. "Let's walk."
"I don't need to-" Harry began and then stopped, clamping his mouth shut. Arguing with Ilsa was almost like arguing with Theo and it usually gave him a headache.
Ilsa walked him calmly through the busy concourse, pausing at one point to purchase a plate of interesting looking dumplings and then grilled vegetable chunks on a skewer. She purchased a few bottled drinks and then guided him out and away from the noisy chatter.
It took all of five minutes for Harry's tired brain to realize that she was walking him away from everything—and everyone—before he managed to protest. He was here for the Hunt and the day was barely halfway over, he couldn't quit now—just because he felt a little tired.
She calmly pulled him along with her, until they were well out of sight of the stadium and then to a little alcove with a column of blue light. Before Harry could twist away from that, her arm around his neck, tightened. "It's a perfectly harmless general transportation pillar," she said. "We walk in and we walk out. Nothing to it."
Harry reluctantly shuffled into it after her, surprised to find that she was right. He hadn't even felt a thing. No hitch, twitch or misplaced switch of his magic, senses or even an upset stomach. He found himself standing at the edge of a long familiar stretch of greenery.
Ah. Theo had brought him here before—after that disastrous first kiss with Wikhn. Harry made a sound of discontent in this throat, but allowed himself to be towed along. Ilsa made her way down to the tree that overlooked the Merrow waters and finally released Harry.
He stood to the side, watching as she did something with her magic that made a lovely, large picnic blanket materialize out of nowhere, to spread itself neatly on the grass. There were a few plump pillows and another light blanket, along with an initialed portfolio bursting with a sheaf of paper.
Ilsa sighed and took a seat with her back to the tree's trunk, settling down and appearing for all the world as if she had absolutely nothing better to do. She found the portfolio and propped it open in her lap, picking up the first paper to read it, before she paused to retrieve a drink.
Harry bit back a sigh, wondering if it was worth trying to make his own way back or if he should just call it a day. He froze when those golden eyes locked onto him, as if they knew exactly what he was thinking. "Er," he began.
"Sit." Ilsa said, patting the empty space beside her. "You looked terribly lost and completely exhausted. Why didn't you call Theo?"
"Calling Theo doesn't solve everything," Harry snapped, remembering a moment too late, to temper his tone. Ilsa didn't seem to take any offense—yet, but her unwavering gaze made him guilty enough to sit down.
His tired self was very grateful for the respite and he stifled a groan at the aches and pains in the muscles along his legs and shoulders. He'd had fun when they were playing and his first flight lesson, but now it was catching up to him.
"No, but it helps, doesn't it?" Ilsa chided. "Help yourself to the snacks, there's plenty."
"I'm not hungry-" the growling of his stomach betrayed him.
Ilsa perked a brow.
He ate both plates of the foodstuffs and banished them back where they belonged, by tracing a finger underneath them as he'd seen Charlie do before. The food was washed down with half a bottle of a delightful ginger-orange drink that warmed his stomach.
Ilsa tugged one of the pillows closer to her side and patted it. "Rest for a few minutes, then if you really want to, you're welcome to continue your Hunt." She had quite a stack of reports to catch up on and wasn't really looking forward to it, but needed to finish them up before the day was over.
"M'not tired," Harry said, eyeing the pillow with a mixture of longing and embarrassment. He felt like a three-year-old that had just been walked out of the playground for a snack and a nap. His ears warmed.
"Bahn will likely find me in a few minutes," Ilsa said, conversationally. She ignored the starting blush. Harry was worse than Bahn when it came to looking after himself. "He usually winds down around this time of day. There's nothing wrong with taking a break here and there."
"If I'm not tired, can I go?"
"Go where?" Ilsa countered.
"I—just-! Go! Anywhere."
"Sure—after you've taken a few minutes to rest."
"But I'm not-!" The rest of his protest died away at one of Ilsa's patented looks.
Harry huffed, but after another moment of resistance, he pulled the pillow away from her and closer to himself. Settling down with the intention of just relaxing for a few minutes, he curled into a little ball.
Ilsa chuckled, warmly. "I'm not going to do anything to you," she scolded, lightly. "Just feed you, look out for you and make sure you're not running yourself into the ground." She shook her head and shifted a bit closer so he would be within range of her wingspan, if necessary. Gheyo instinct would compel her to stay close and if he stopped fighting his own instincts, then he'd relax once he realized it himself.
After several restless minutes, Harry rolled over to look at her through bleary green eyes. "Can I go now?" He asked.
"You may not," Ilsa said, fighting a smile. She reached out and gently stroked a hand through his hair, giving him enough time to decide whether he wanted to pull away or not. He didn't protest, so she rubbed a little harder, making a circuit from the top of his head down his side to his left elbow and then back again.
The effect was quite lovely.
Harry yawned and snuffled, before his eyelids began to droop. He mumbled unintelligibly for a few minutes, before his eyes closed. A few minutes later, his whined protest trailed off into a purr when Ilsa draped the light blanket over his resting form.
She smiled then, knowing he was lost to the land of dreams. The fearsome scowl she'd seen on his face was enough to have drawn her attention when she'd been on her way to the Gheyo section. Harry was someone who couldn't help showing what he really felt these days, especially as his empath instincts came into play.
Seeing him so obviously unhappy had tugged at the maternal instincts she was sure to keep carefully under wraps. There were only two reasons for someone to look so unhappy if they weren't actively hunting or being courted—lack of sleep and appetite.
Bahn and Bhindi both had gone through similar stages during their last two hunts and she'd quickly learned that the easiest way to deal with a cranky submissive was to simply provide what they needed the most and wait until they realized it.
Harry was apparently no different. He really hadn't been paying too much attention to himself to reach the point where he'd eaten all of the snacks—all four servings in a single sitting—and half of the ginger-drink.
She withdrew her hand only to hear his quiet whimper at the loss of contact. Her lips twitched into a smile and she resumed the light petting, throwing her magic out to touch his. It curled lazily around his brilliant spark, soothing and comforting the flickering blaze.
A deep sigh of contentment escaped and Harry finally relaxed, the tension draining away from his shoulders and his curled up form easing just a fraction.