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A Cat Who Writes ([personal profile] acatwhowrites) wrote2017-09-16 10:44 pm

The Dogs are Howling all Over the Neighborhood (That Ain't no Good)

title: The Dogs are Howling all Over the Neighborhood (That Ain't no Good)
players: Zhang Yixing/Lay, Byun Baekhyun, Kim Jongdae/Chen, Do Kyungsoo/D.O.
rating: PG-13
word count: 12,840w
summary: Jongdae's a fourteen-year-old student wizard suffering from acne and hormones and the frustration of not having a familiar of his own. He would be totally happy with one, but he ends up with two, and all is not idyllic. He's totally got this, though. Totally.
a/n: Written for the Fantasy EXO fest. (prompt 042: (hybrid!au) C just wanted to adopt one pet but somehow he ended up coming home with two because kitty!Soo and puppy!Baek only come as a pair. C doesn't regret it though.)
My prompt wasn't explicitly fantasy, but I immediately had the idea for magic. It still ended up as more a drama, I guess, but it was fun to come up with. The Kim bros are kind of snotty, but...siblings. :/
Baekhyun is a Pembroke corgi, the docked variety. There's a Welsh legend that these dogs actually came from fairies and were used like humans use horses. One day, a couple kids found what they thought to be foxes, but their parents saw they were actually dogs and said they were a gift from the fairies that lived in their farm fields. Because of how beloved they were, the corgis grew up well and learned to herd the family's cattle.
Kyungsoo is "just" a pure black cat. I didn't have a breed in mind; there are over twenty breeds that can come in solid black. If anything, I'd imagine a Bombay because of their round eyes, lithe and muscular builds, and solid black coat. They don't typically have green eyes, though, which is what Soo has.
The title comes from I Ain't Superstitious by Willie Dixon, which is a song about superstitions. Some people people believe that a howling dog is a sign of impending death. Which has no relation to this fic. It's just a great line.

Read on: AFF || AO3 || LJ

For years, Jongdae has studied and practiced his magic with the goal of getting stronger, adopting a familiar of his own, and getting even stronger, ultimately becoming the strongest magic user ever. That dream fades a little, as time goes on, whittling his ambition down to something much more achievable.

He really wants a familiar.

It's not a complicated relationship at all, but it's a lifetime bond that can happen at any point in a magic user's life. Both of his parents have familiars, who ended up bonding, his two older brothers have familiars, leaving Jongdae, the lesser middle child—as well as Jongin, the youngest, who's shown no magical prowess at all—familiar-less.

Jongdae wants to adopt a black cat as his magical familiar. He likes the classic look and doesn't believe in superstition at all, so he browses online when he can and looks in nearby magic shops, eventually finding an ad for a black kitten on a wizarding bulletin.

"Hyung," Jongdae bats a hand at his oldest brother from his perch on the living room sofa, "look at this." Minseok sighs heavily—as though paying his little brother any attention is the absolute worst, but he will suffer so no one else has to. What a martyr—and leans over the back of the sofa. His own familiar, a silky white cat named Han, sniffs Jongdae's hair and grimaces.

"You're looking online for a cat?" Minseok asks. He reads the ad aloud:





"What do you think?" Jongdae scrolls up and down the page, but there's no photo, but there's an address, email, and phone number. "A kitten would be better, right? Kittens adjust to new magic easier, and I still dunno what kind of magic I have an affinity for or whatever, so it's like a sign." He looks over his shoulder, frowns at Han hanging over Minseok's back like a blanket, and grins hopefully at his brother.

He doesn't get the enthusiastic support and go for it! he'd been hoping for, though. Minseok sighs again, shrugging the shoulder not held in his familiar's embrace. "Talk to Mom and Dad. It's one thing for you to get a cat, but did you even read the whole thing?"

Jongdae scrolls to the middle of the screen again. "What about it?" He follows Minseok's pointing finger and notices something added beneath the main body of the ad written in smaller, bold font.

Bonded pair. Must go with brother. No returns, refunds, or exchanges.


"So it's a two-for-one deal," Jongdae says airily. "It isn't unheard of for a wizard to have more than one familiar." But it is super unusual. There's no need for him to get more than one; his magic isn't quite so powerful—not for lack of trying—but it's a promising enough ad that he plans to head out the following Sunday with Yixing. He may not know magic, but he has a sort of presence that calms others. Perfect for meeting a new kitten.

"A two-for-one deal that you have absolutely no idea about. Are they both kittens? Maybe one's older. Could be aggressive or sick or any number of other things, and if it turns out to just be some pet that Mom ends up having to clean up after, you just may end up going the way of our other brother." There's a myth, sort of a running-joke-slash-warning, about Jongin not actually being the fourth Kim son. There was a boy born before him—because until Jongin, each year since Minseok's birth saw a new baby—who didn't listen to their parents, so he was turned into a toad and had an accident while their dad mowed the lawn.

Minseok claps his shoulder heartily. "What do you really have to lose? Go check it out." He stands up and waits for Han to change and leap onto his shoulder, his usual hangout, and heads for his room. Jongdae makes faces at his back and tries to think up a suitable and untraceable hex as he angrily pounds out an email to the poster asking if he can meet the kitten that weekend.

Slamming his laptop shut, he stuffs it into the cushions and stalks outside.

There is no fence or divider between the Zhangs' and Kims' yards, so it seems to be double what other houses have, and they share a large, sturdy tree hung with old tires to swing on. Jongdae doesn't think he's too old for swings, no matter what his older brothers say, and dives into one, hanging from his belly and pulling up his legs.

Three generations of Zhangs have lived next door for as long as Jongdae can remember, completely unfazed by the magical mishaps of the Kim household. Yixing is just a year older than Jongdae but gets along with all of the brothers really well, even mediating their feuds.

"Everything alright, Jongdae?" Yixing helps his grandma step over the bottom track of the sliding door and settles her in a cushiony seat before closing the door and pulling a sun umbrella around to shade her.

"Hey, Mrs. Zhang." Jongdae waves as he spins lazily, finally letting his feet drag and stopping in a crouch. His knees bump the old rubber. "It's fine. My brother's just being a jerk, like usual."

The old woman nods, a fond smile drawing more pronounced wrinkles across her face. She pats Yixing's hand, and he joins Jongdae on his tire, grabbing onto the rope and stepping on the outside to haul himself up and swing them both.

"I just found a cool ad online about a kitten, right? One that I could totally possibly use for my familiar, which is kind of a big deal, but Minseok hyung's all 'getting two'—cuz they're bonded and gotta go together—'would just be a huge hassle. Mom'll never go for it. Give up, loser.'"

"I'm sure he's just looking out for you."

"Well, I'm sure he's just being a dick," Jongdae mutters.

"After all, a familiar is a huge responsibility."

"I'm responsible...ish."

"And the last thing anyone in your family wants to see happen is you feeling burdened or struggling. Your brother may feel you are not yet ready—"

"I'm fourteen!" His voice cracks, and he coughs. Someday, he'll learn a spell that'll prevent that and prevent blushing from being a thing. "Minseok hyung and Joonmyun hyung both got their familiars when they were, like, Jongin's age." And Jongin's twelve. He's a baby.

"Do you remember what they were like, those first few weeks? Months, even?" She sighs and looks to the sky, watching the clouds and letting them take her back. "I still remember one day in spring, when your oldest brother caused a blizzard in the yard. It was as though just our two homes were in a snow globe. Your brother and that beautiful cat of his had fought that morning, I believe, maybe the night before, and the cat hid in the snow until Minseok was positively in tears looking for him." She looks fondly sad. "It's a harsh thing for a child to go through, developing that bond and finding the footing to become friends. It isn't as effortless as your friendship with Xing Xing."

Yixing, silent through his grandma's story, smiles sweetly and finally sits on the top of the tire swing—careful to not kick Jongdae's face, which he's doubly grateful for, because Joonmyun said he won't repair Jongdae's glasses anymore, if he breaks them again. "Don't feel that you have to have a familiar to do magic, Jongdae. You can do so much just on your own!"

"But I wanna do more," Jongdae whines, spinning them with the toe of his sneaker in the dirt.

"You will, Jongdae," Mrs. Zhang assures. "I know you'll be a great wizard. Have the patience to allow it to mature. Take it from an old woman—there is no need to rush."

"Yeah, I guess..." She nods with some finality, but Jongdae realizes she's just fallen asleep. Jongdae keeps his toes in the dirt and rocks back and forth. He feels like he's been scolded, although he knows he hasn't. He bumps Yixing's knee with his temple. "So you wanna come with me to meet them, at least?"


"The kitten and whatever-it's-bonded-with. Can't hurt to just meet them, right?" Right on cue his phone vibrates in his pocket, and he opens the email response, eagerly chewing his lip. "They said I can meet them this Sunday. Come with me." He smiles at Yixing with hope glittered in his eyes, and he knows his friend will say yes. Yixing's nice; he has a hard time saying no, especially where Jongdae's concerned.

"Just to meet them, okay? You have to talk to your parents before doing anything else."

"Of course!" Jongdae thrusts his legs out, launching them into the air so fast the limb creaks, and Yixing clings to the rope with a gasping laugh.

The rest of the week passes at an agonizing pace. School seems to be even longer than usual, and Jongdae stays after for extra lessons, so it's already more than long enough. He doesn't feel as bitter surrounded by peers and their familiars, though, and he counts that as a good thing.

The weekend forecast boasts warm, breezy days, and Jongdae dances in place while waiting for Yixing to tie his shoes. It's a nice day, warm enough to not need a jacket, but Jongdae doesn't think it's quite warm enough to wear a shirt with a plunging neckline. Yixing never seems to get cold, though, tying his shoes at a snail's pace and walking contentedly with his hands in his pockets and head back to smile at the fluffy white clouds. He's practically lackadaisical compared to Jongdae, who almost regrets asking his friend to come along and barely resists pushing Yixing from behind to get him to move faster.

"What do you think, Jongdae?" Yixing asks. He's staring at some decorative flower baskets hanging from the awning of a ladies' boutique. They are nice, Jongdae supposes. "Are you excited?"

"For what?"

"For meeting your familiar."

"I don't even know if we're compatible at all, hyung." He elbows Yixing's arm. They're only a year apart, and Yixing's already so tall. "You're the one who pretty much told me not to get my hopes up, too! I'm just meeting them, first. Both of them."

Yixing shrugs. "Grandma's tea read good things today."

"For you or me?"

"For everyone." He beams, dimple showing even more prominently than usual. He has always had an uncanny understanding of all things mystic, and his grandma is practically a witch with her green thumb and knowledge of roots and plants and stars. Jongdae will welcome a second opinion before committing to a decision about this kitten either way.

They stop at an intersection to check Jongdae's phone. He'd added the address to a map app, and it's close, but the area they're in is so old an faded that none of the buildings have legible numbers, anymore, and many don't even have signs. "Time for the old-fashioned way..." Jongdae holds his wand in his pocket and muttters a locating spell, following the insistent pull of his wand.

They end up three streets from the intersection, in front of a block of buildings that have all seen better days and more vibrant graffiti. Their destination turns out to be a shop, not a house or apartment like Jongdae assumed. It's nearly hidden between a bookstore, wand shop, and Indian grocery store piled on top of one another on one side and a bicycle repair shop with barred windows on the other.

Jongdae tugs Yixing away from a faded chalk rune he can't even read and checks his phone again. Even the app has a cheerful YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION! message.

"Is this it?" Yixing squints at the weatherworn sign hanging parallel to the sidewalk. He doesn't like to judge based on appearances, but he wonders about the living conditions inside and if they're even safe for a person, much less a kitten. All they can clearly make out of the sign is the outline of a crow, and it squwaks at them.

"Don't look so disappointed! Anything you want, you can find here, so stop gawking and just go in!" It trills throatily one last time, ruffles its feathers—dropping a few more flecks of paint—and settles again. Jongdae wants to throw a rock at it for being so rude, just to make the sign swing, but Yixing touches his elbow and holds the heavy glass door open.

Inside is musty, dusty, and definitely a fire hazard by non-magic standards. Jongdae's amazed by the stacks of books that appear to literally be holding the sagging ceiling up. Jars and vials line shelves and any flat or flat-ish surface. Newts and salamanders lazily doze in shallow cages, windows fogged with condensation. There are some large eggs under heat lamps that Jongdae's pretty sure are dragon eggs. He even sees some things he can't identify and isn't sure if they're ingredients or trash, because they're covered in colorful mold and mildew and wriggling little somethings he tries to avoid looking at.

Yixing's looking around, mildly impressed and interested, although he usually looks like that. He touches the painted mane of a unicorn portrait and laughs when it whinnies, nuzzling his hand through the canvas.

A beaded curtain parts with a tinkle of plastic and wood, and a boy greets them with a wide smile. "Hi! Welcome to our shop. Can I help you find something?" He can't be any older than Jongdae, with large glasses sitting before wide eyes over a straight nose and wider smile. His hair is an absolute mess, more a nest than actual hair, but it makes sense when Jongdae sees something move among the snarls and tangles to blink sleepily at them.

"Aww," Yixing coos.

"Oh, is he awake?" The boy tilts his head back to look up at his hair, which doesn't work out all that well, but the little fluffy, grayish barred owl manages to hold on. "This is Jimin. He's my new familiar, but all he wants to do is sleep. I dunno what's up with that, because it's been, like, forever since he hatched, but he's cute, right?" He talks fast, excited, and detangles the bird from his hair. It wobbles as it's lowered to the boy's front, and gives a soft hoot that sounds more like a snore. Jongdae jumps when the owlet falls forward, but its toes and talons hang onto the finger it's perched upon, so it ends up hanging like a bat.

"Is it okay?" Jongdae asks. He reaches for it, looking to the boy for permission—he shrugs—and pokes the owlet's soft feathers. It wheezes in its sleep but doesn't stir.

"It's just how he is. Mom says he'll stay awake longer when I get a better handle on my magic, but until then," he drawls, settling the bird back in its nest atop his head, "he'll just keep me company. I'm Chanyeol, by way! Did you come here for something?"

His customer service skills leave a lot to be desired, but Jongdae likes him. "I emailed someone about an online ad about a black cat?"

"Oh, yeah! Kyungsoo!" Chanyeol eagerly beckons them both to follow him and retreats though the beaded curtain to an even more cramped hallway. "He's really super cute. His mom's the familiar of my aunt, on my dad's side—Mom's side always uses birds, and she's the one who gave me Jimin and my sister Jin—but yeah. Kyungsoo's really cute and totally gonna be an amazing help with magic. He's already so smart and has been reading some of my books. I think he knows more about magic than I do!" Chanyeol looks amazed and a little bewildered, in awe over the cat.

They climb over books and papers—Yixing almost gets his foot stuck in a rogue cauldron ringed with something pinkish—but the stairs at the end of the hall are remarkably navigable. "They live upstairs with us," Chanyeol adds. "Pretty much like family, you know? I'm gonna miss them..."

Jongdae wants to ask about the "them" part, but they're suddenly faced with a door that opens on its own without being touched.

"Kyungsoo! Baekhyun! Visitors!" No one replies to Chanyeol's call, and he waves at them again to keep following him. "I bet they're napping. Baekhyun was chasing him all morning."

Yixing's fascinated with the knitting needles knitting with a ball of wool on their own and an iron working wrinkles from collared shirts all on its own. An old box TV set has been refurbished into a fish tank filled with what looks like miniature sea creatures. Diminiutive sharks prowl the upper waters above a coral of seahorses, starfish, and anemones while schools of tuna swim around a sunken ship in a broken bottle.

Jongdae follows Chanyeol across the sitting room and around a wall to a pair of large sofas that look like a clawfoot bathtub cut in half. A black and white corgi sleeps sprawled on its back, while a black cat sleeps atop of the corgi, breathing in tandem.

Chanyeol quietly crouches down and runs his fingers down the cat's spine. Its back muscles ripple and pull. "Soo... Kyungsoo, get up. Someone wants to meet you." He rubs one of the corgi's ears. "You, too, Baek." The dog inhales with a whine, but both he and the cat start to shift and stretch. The cat slides to the sofa, the corgi rolls over, and soon, a pair of young boys are upright and rubbing their eyes with their fists. Baekhyun the corgi promptly scoots to the edge of the seat and leans forwards, big ears forward and alert as he eyes Jongdae.

"Go say hi." Chanyeol ruffles the boy's ears as he hops to the floor and grabs Jongdae's leg.

"Hi, I'm Baekhyun!" He sticks his head under Jongdae's hand.

The kitten is more reserved, carefully wiping away the sleepy bugs from the corners of his eyes and purring softly as Chanyeol pets his hair, watching Jongdae warily. "And this is Kyungsoo," he introduces.

Jongdae folds his legs to sit on the floor, and his lap is immediately claimed by the friendly corgi. Yixing wanders over and watches with a soft smile before joining Jongdae on the floor. Baekhyun scrambles over to him and begs to be pet, introducing himself and rambling ten different questions and observations in a single breath.

Kyungsoo carefully slips to the floor after watching Baekhyun for a minute and approaches Jongdae, who offers his hand. "Hello, Kyungsoo. My name's Jongdae, and I'm a student wizard."

Shyly, ears to the sides, the cat takes his hand, holds it for a few moments thoughtfully, and walks himself to Jongdae's lap, sitting cautiously. He squirms a little bit, but Jongdae can feel his purr when he pets the soft hair between his ears. "What kind of magic do you like, Kyungsoo?"

"I dunno," he admits. "I've only read about them so far."

"He's really good with everything!" Baekhyun declares. He's sprawled completely across Yixing's lap, shamelessly enjoying a belly rub even as a boy. His leg twitches when Yixing runs his fingers through the corgi's hair. "He's gonna be the best familiar ever!"

"Only if we're adopted," Kyungsoo tacks on, apparently self-conscious about the praise. His cheeks are pink, and his tail is restless over Jongdae's knee.

"Are you brothers, Kyungsoo?"

"Soo's my best friend!" Baekhyun barks proudly. Jongdae looks to Chanyeol, crouched beside them all and watching with his chin in his hands and elbows on his knees. He looks like a fond parent.

"Kyungsoo and Baekhyun have just been together forever. I actually don't know everything, but my parents found them, and they were together then, and they refuse to be separated now. Baek's more vocal about it, though."

Kyungsoo glares at Chanyeol, ears back and tail rigid. "I'm not going anywhere with Baekhyun," he states with all the finality a toddler can express. He pushes off of Jongdae's knees and takes Baekhyun's hand, dragging him through another doorway and out of sight. They can hear Baekhyun whining the whole time, but he never tries to break free of the other boy's hold.

"Uh oh." Chanyeol rubs his neck. "Sorry about that. I said Baek's more vocal about staying together, but Kyungsoo is actually more stubborn. There was another witch interested in him, but when she said she didn't want Baekhyun, Soo actually paced back and forth in front of her. The whole black cat crossing your path, you know? She actually tripped when trying to walk in a circle and then couldn't find where he'd walked, so she left a doubly cursed woman."


"I didn't really like her, either." The shopboy shrugs. "I tried hexing her purse to make things impossible to find. Not sure if it worked, but I did hear her wondering where she'd put her car keys, as she was leaving." Jimin clacks his beak in his sleep; Chanyeol nearly slaps him off his head when he reaches up to pet him. "So anyway, what do you think?" Chanyeol asks. His eyes are glassy with hope. Even Jimin looks somewhat eager, nestled forward and blinking sleepily at Jongdae as he's petted.

"I'll have to talk to my parents, but I do like them a lot. Both of them," Jongdae says. He shrugs. "And who knows? Maybe Baekhyun can help Kyungsoo help me channel my magic. My great great great great aunt had a black dog familiar, and they even took down a troll together. Baekhyun's a mostly black dog... Maybe it's a sign?" Yixing smiles encouragingly.

"I hope you can," Chanyeol sighs, looking torn between keeping the duo and seeing them off to a forever home. "They're both so great, revenge cursing and all, but we just can't provide them with the right environment? I've got Jimin," he gestures to his hair; Jimin hoots softly, "and my sister's moved out with her own owl, although she really loves Kyungsoo, too, and he's really attached to her..." He lifts a shoulder. "Lemme know either way. Send an email or owl or something."


"Think you guys can find your way out? I wanna check on them."

"We'll be fine," Yixing assures. Jongdae's not as confident but says goodbye and follows Yixing to the door to the stairs. It opens to a hall when Yixing opens it, however.

Chanyeol pops around the wall. "When you open the door, turn the knob to the right. That's the stair knob."

"Oh. That's easy." Yixing closes the door, turns the knob to the right, and leads the way down the stairs. Nothing phases him; it's kind of amazing.

The crow on the sign caws at them again as they leave. "What, you didn't buy anything? Why go to a shop and not buy anything?" They ignore it, but Jongdae still wants to throw a rock at its beak.

"They were sweet," Yixing comments, after they'd walked a couple blocks. "Chanyeol is nice, too. He obviously cares a lot for them."

"Yeah." Jongdae chews his lip, trying to keep the giddy smile from his face, but it's hard, because he thinks he really felt something with Kyungsoo, and that's huge for a wizard. "I think I'm gonna ask Chanyeol if I can come again, just to hang out some more and be sure, but I really really like them. I think my parents will, too. They like anything cute." He lets Yixing guide him with a hand on his elbow as he sends Chanyeol another email, receiving an immediate and very enthusiastic response complete with a picture that's mostly Baekhyun the corgi's smiley muzzle and a little bit of a less enthused Kyungsoo. "It'll be great. This is perfect."

Yixing just smiles encouragingly.

If only his own brothers would be so quiet and supportive. At least quiet.

"So this bonded pair is a cat and a dog." Beside Minseok, Han has an expression that seems to question Jongdae's mentality. "Jongdae, our family uses cats. Why would you want to introduce a dog to a houseful of cats?"

"I don't think it should be a problem." Mr. Kim's familiar balances on the back of his chair. He smirks cattily when Jongdae sticks his tongue out at his oldest brother, tickling his wizard's cheek with his tail to divert the man's attention.

"Boys, please behave," Mrs. Kim sighs. She levels a look at her younger middle child. "I believe meeting them multiple times is a good approach, but that does not mean we won't discuss the additional dog. As happy as we'd be that you find a suitable familiar, you and your needs are not the only ones in this house."

"Yeah, sure. I get it." Jongdae shovels the rest of his rice into his mouth and excuses himself. It's not the end of it, he knows, but he's just excited that his parents didn't just say no right away. He emails Chanyeol again and sets a time to visit again next weekend.

Yixing doesn't always come with him, but when he does, he's usually volunteered by Baekhyun to play with him and pet him and do whatever Kyungsoo's too tired or grumpy to do. That leaves Jongdae to sit with Kyungsoo, doing some basic magic tricks and letting him get familiar with the feel of his magic and his wand.

Kyungsoo keeps a close eye on Baekhyun, getting up every once in a while to be sure he's still breathing, but he always comes back and invites himself onto Jongdae's lap by the third visit.

"Aww, he really likes you!" Chanyeol coos a couple ticks louder than considered an acceptable coo. Kyungsoo opens an eye to glower at him and curls into a tighter ball on Jongdae's thighs. "Seriously, this is a good thing. What're your parents saying?"

"I'm still working on them." Nearly every night, he makes sure they know he's not given up. They're weakening; he knows it. Jongin even told him that he'd overheard them discussing budgeting for a couple more mouths at the table.

At the end of each visit, which last longer and longer as the weeks go by, Baekhyun sits between Jongdae's feet and whines until Kyungsoo weaves around them both and nudges him out of the way. The corgi flattens to the floor, splooting sadly, and watches with his head on his paws. He's more open about liking Jongdae, but Jongdae's seen Kyungsoo with pink cheeks and glistening eyes a couple times. Jongdae feels both proud and pained; he really likes them.

Finally, finally after six weeks, Jongdae's given the okay to bring Kyungsoo and Baekhyun home. Jongdae purposely choses a day when no one will be home to pick the pair up.

Yixing comes along and keeps a hold of Baekhyun's hand while they walk back. Kyungsoo links fingers with Baekhyun on his other side. Between the two of them, they share a couple backpacks of clothes, but Yixing also carries a shopping bag of toys and games he said the pair likes.

Baekhyun keeps up a running commentary of everything he's seeing and relating it to things that don't seem at all related in Jongdae's mind, but Yixing entertains him. Kyungsoo is quiet the whole way and only has to be tugged once, when he spots a butterfly on a park bench.

The Kim house comes to view when they turn a corner, and Jongdae points it out. Yixing holds Baekhyun tighter to keep him from running ahead. On the front steps, Jongdae casts an easy unlocking spell rather than digging his house keys from his pocket.

"I'm going to check on Grandma," Yixing says. "Call if you need me."

"Sure. Thanks for coming with." Yixing waves to Baekhyun and Kyungsoo and walks the short distance to his own door. "C'mon, guys." Jongdae pushes open the front door and drops their bags inside. Baekhyun takes off into the house, making a full lap before coming back to Kyungsoo's side. The cat grabs his shirt and then scruff with a hissed Knock it off! Baekhyun meekly ducks his head, although his eyes still dart everywhere.

Jongdae closes the door and pushes the boys' abandoned shoes aside with his foot. "It's okay to go explore. This is your home, too, now, so poke around. Yixing lives just next door, you saw, and our yards are joined in back, so feel free to run around there, too. They don't practice magic, but the whole Zhang family's good friends of ours."

"Really?" Baekhyun escapes Kyungsoo's hold and dashes for where he assumes the back door to be.


"Hey." Jongdae ruffles Kyungsoo's hair. The stiff tail lowers a little. "It's really okay. Go follow him. Make sure he doesn't get lost. Explore a bit." Kyungsoo seems nervous on his own, but his ears lift a bit, and he marches boldly after Baekhyun, head swiveling left and right to take everything in.

Thankfully, no one else seems to be home. He can give Baekhyun and Kyungsoo the tour and warn them about his brothers before they have to actually meet anyone.

He heads outside and finds Yixing at the bottom of a dogpile. For all his previous reservations, Kyungsoo's laughing brightly and letting his arms and legs hang loose over Baekhyun. There's an impatience eating him to get the pair settled, so he and Kyungsoo can dive right into their magic, but he ignores it and runs over to join the pile, knocking everyone over.

Baekhyun's on his feet first, corgi butt wagging and barking enthusiastically. He spins in a circle a few times, shoots off for the swings, and returns with a stick in his mouth. Yixing tosses it back towards the swings; Baekhyun follows as fast as he can. Kyungsoo sits on Jongdae's lap like he's an armchair, more content to be lazy.

After a few rounds of fetch, Jongdae gathers the pair and guides them inside. Yixing follows, blocking Baekhyun from taking off on his own and keeping him on track. From the basement workshops to the kitchen, living room, and laundry room, then upstairs to the bathrooms and bedrooms, Kyungsoo pays rapt attention with a hand tightly around Baekhyun's.

Jongdae glosses over his brothers' and parents' rooms and ends the tour with his own room. "And here's my room." Both cat and dog set off to investigate. While Baekhyun makes a beeline for the pile of laundry on the floor, Kyungsoo browses the bookshelves beside his desk, tail weaving airly left and right. "I didn't really expect to be getting two of you, so we might need to get creative with beds, if you want your own—"

"We can share!" Baekhyun declares, burrowing into the laundry with a delighted bark. Kyungsoo's ears fall to his hair, and he shakes his head.

"Only if you get bathed every night." He looks to Jongdae. "I saw a hose outside."

"I'm sure there won't be any need for that," Yixing says sweetly. Baekhyun laughs and agrees, rolling out of the laundry to hug Yixing's legs and push his head under Yixing's hand.

They hear the front door open, then voices. "My parents are home. C'mon, guys." Kyungsoo needs a bit more persuasion than Baekhyun, changing and making an attempt to hide, but Baekhyun sniffs him out and carries him in his mouth as best as he can, head high and steps deliberate. It's a memorable way to introduce one's familiar, maybe, but Jongdae really would've preferred something a bit more normal and controlled, if only to imply he's got this whole new-familiar-and-student-wizard-training thing.

Baekhyun sets Kyungsoo on the ground, changes, and faces the Kims with a ready smile. "Hi, I'm Baekhyun!" He takes Kyungsoo's hand to keep him from playing with his tail. "This is Kyungsoo; he's my best friend!" Kyungsoo makes the effort to bow to Jongdae's parents, then shuffles behind Baekhyun a bit.

"It's lovely to meet you both," Mrs. Kim says. "Welcome to our home." Both parents' familiars slink to the pair to sniff them out and drag their bodies along the boys' legs. As good an approval as Jongdae could hope for.

"I thought you wanted a kitten, though, honey."

"I did. Kyungsoo." Jongdae recognizes the looks his parents exchange. They always do that when they have something bad to say but don't know how to broach it. "What?" He leaves his familiars with his parents' and follows his parents into the kitchen. They start putting groceries away, separating everyday food ingredients from magic ingredients that go in a separate pantry.

"They both seem like very good kids, but..." Mrs. Kim looks at her husband for help, but he's always left bad news and confrontation to his wife. "That kitten, Kyungsoo, seems so shy, and, well, you're not."

Is he shy? Jongdae thought Kyungsoo was a bit nervous when they met, but that's kind of normal, isn't it?

"And then with that puppy. He is going to need a lot more attention than a cat, and that may cut into your studies." She tucks a new shaker of herbs behind an open one on a shelf. "I don't want to discourage you, but I just want you to be aware that things may not work out exactly as you have planned."

"Okay?" He's kind of been aware of that since forever ago. His parents seem to think that's the end of it, so he leaves, but he hears his mom sigh.

"This is why witches don't chose their familiars."

"But they chose him, too, dear, so maybe it'll work out."

His parents' familiars like Kyungsoo and Baekhyun well enough. They even get the boys to play, drawing out laughter from them both and effectively tiring them out to the point of passing out on the living room sofa, using Yixing as a pillow. Jongdae lifts Kyungsoo and sits in his place, dropping his head to Yixing's shoulder. "Sometimes, my parents kind of suck."

"What'd they say?"

"My mom doesn't think Kyungsoo's a good fit for me, because of Baekhyun, and she has this habit of being like 'I don't want to discourage you, but...' That is actually pretty discouraging!"

"She's trying to look out for you and doesn't know Kyungsoo or Baekhyun as well as you do. It's new for everyone; you'll get the hang of it."

"Yeah, well, it'd be kinda nice to just have their support, sometimes, instead of a masked lecture of how stupid I am."

"That you think it's masked is a testament of your actual stupidity." Jongdae groans and grinds his head into Yixing's shoulder, possibly hurting him, but his friend lets him vent like that. They've known each other for years, but Han still really can be an ass.

"Han, don't be an ass," Minseok chastises, grabbing the back of his familiars neck. Han goes limp and immediately spins to wrap himself around Minseok's shoulders. "Yixing's right, though, Jongdae. This is a change, but we're adaptable."

"Speak for yourself," Han mutters. He grimaces as Baekhyun twitches and whines in his sleep. Minseok actually thinks it's kinda cute, and that makes Han grimace even more, chin pulling into his neck with the gravity of his betrayal.

Familiar ignored, those are actually some of the nicest, most supportive words his oldest brother has said to him in recent history. It's touching. It's also the least opportune time for Kyungsoo so start heaving and coughing and change just in time to hoark up a hairball right beside Jongdae's foot.

"Oh, baby!" Han swoops in and coddles him immediately. Minseok is too disgusted to even laugh at Jongdae, and Yixing offers to get paper towels like it's not the nastiest thing ever.

Jongdae bemoans his decision for the first of many times. I am not ready to be a parent.

Keeping in mind it's an adjustment, a learning experience turns into a mantra. As well as Kyungsoo experiencing the occasional hairball, it is discovered that Baekhyun is still prone to peeing a little when too excited. As a dog, it's one thing, but dealing with an actual humanoid child is another.

Yixing remains sympathetic and amazing, listening to Jongdae vent and whine no matter what.

"They're my babies, and I think I adore them, but I want to get to a point with my magic that they're able to going for a walk without having an accident!" He falls on a beanbag chair in Yixing's room. Kyungsoo immediately curls on his lap. Baekhyun's chewing an old shoe Yixing couldn't find a pair to. "You're an only child, so I don't think you get it, but my mom had four of us. Four! And we were all in diapers pretty much the same time. What a masochist. My parents must dislike sleep."

"My grandma's enjoying herself." While Jongdae works on bonding with his familiar-plus-one—meaning playing—he's not taking Kyungsoo to school, and Mrs. Zhang graciously offered to babysit. Both cat and corgi adore her and have never made any sort of mess outside of Baekhyun digging in the backyard and tracking dirt into the house. She only has praise for the pair, though, and they respect her like she was their own grandmother.

They respect Jongdae a lot less, it seems, but given the social hierarchy of things, he can forgive that.

After a couple weeks of bonding and babysitting, Jongdae wants to take a shot at bringing Kyungsoo to school. His classmates are all about the same level, so he won't stand out at all.

His first mistake is trying to separate Kyungsoo and Baekhyun without really making sure they understood his plan in advance. Nodding and bright "okay!"s do not an obliging pair make on Monday morning.


"Kyungsoo..." Jongdae's arms sting from the cat's little claws. They're like tiny daggers filled with rage.

"I'm not going without him!" He digs his fingers in and holds tight fistfuls of Baekhyun's shirt, clinging like a koala to a tree. Baekhyun's holding him just as tightly, pleading with wet eyes to not separate them.

"But you're my familiar. I don't think I'm allowed to take both of you!"

"Then go alone!"

Joonmyun comes in without knocking. "If you don't get a move on, you'll be late. Minseok hyung's already left." His own familiar is comfortably in Joonmyun's messenger bag, probably wrinkling all the papers inside.

"Of course he has," Jongdae sighs. He throws his hands out at Baekhyun and Kyungsoo. "Could you help me with them, please?"

"What's wrong?"

"Kyungsoo won't come with me if Baekhyun doesn't come, too."

"So take them both." He says it so easily, as if it's allowed.

"Is that allowed?"

Joonmyun shrugs. "I honestly don't know, but if you leave now, you can stop by the administration office and explain to them that they're bonded."

"...Oh." That makes sense. Jongdae hadn't thought of that.

"So, get moving. I'm going on ahead. I said I'd meet up with Minho." Usually, the Kim brothers would walk together. The Great Magic Middle School and Greater Magic High School are across the street from one another. Once Minseok and Joonmyun started high school, however, both elder brothers left Jongdae—and now Jongin, who just entered middle school—to themselves. Jongdae can't even rely on Yixing, who goes to a regular, non-magic high school in the opposite direction.

"Yeah, sure. Fine. We got this." He drops his backpack, unzipping it as wide as it'll go. "Okay, guys, get in. We're late. You're both coming."

"We are?!" Baekhyun whoops and immediately changes, hopping into the backpack and spinning as much as he's able to. Kyungsoo is more reserved and forces Baekhyun still before changing and climbing in beside him. It's a tight fit, but it'll be faster carrying them both rather than chasing an overeager corgi or forcing little kids to run.

Jongdae hefts his backpack onto his back once he's sure the pair won't fall out and dashes down the stairs. It's times like these that he really wishes he knew a teleportation spell.

He's so focused on his course that he nearly trips over Jongin, who's been sitting on the front step reading a manhwa. "Why are you still here? We're going to be late!" Grabbing Jongin's wrist, he takes off again, not feeling as bad dragging his brother as he would've been if he was dragging Kyungsoo or Baekhyun. Jongin doesn't seem to move as much as he used to, usually sitting somewhere reading books about anything but magic.

"Hyung, you're hurting me."

"Sorry, but I gotta to school as soon as possible, and I'm not leaving you behind like the hyungs do!"

"I can walk by myself. I know the way."

"First dog you see, you'll follow it, get lost, get picked up by some creep in a van, and the next thing we know, we're seeing you on TV," Jongdae pants. Running and talking are not a good combination. He's starting to feel lightheaded. "Less talking; more running." Luck's been with them, at least. Traffic lights have been red, allowing them to weave through the pedestrian crowds. Baekhyun barks at a few people until Kyungsoo swats his muzzle.

The final intersection before school, though, is green just as they reach it. "Oh, c'mon!" Jongdae mutters, holding the light post for support to catch his breath. "Red red red..."

"Hyung." Jongin points and jogs ahead, dragging Jongdae this time. The light is red, confusing and angering some of the drivers.

"Oh. That's the shortest light I've ever seen." He gets his second wind and runs ahead. Jongin manages to keep pace until they reach the front doors. He pulls one open and holds it for Jongdae. "We made it! Five...six minutes to spare!" He holds a hand up for Jongin to slap his palm against. "Nicely done, little brother. Go to class. I'll see you later."

The administration office is just inside the main doors, and maybe he should wait before letting Baekhyun and Kyungsoo out of his backpack, but his shoulders and back hurt way too much to carry them any more. "Stay with me, okay? Kyungsoo, keep an eye on Baekhyun." Kyungsoo nods; he already has the back of Baekhyun's shirt in hand.

Today is a day the pretty secretary with the saw-whet owl familiar is in front. Jongdae quietly thanks the stars, because the other secretary is just mean and probably some sort of demon. "Hello. Shouldn't you be getting to class?"

"Yeah. I am. I will. I just have a question about my familiar." Baekhyun knocks over a stack of magazines and whines when Kyungsoo pinches his ear. "Am I allowed to have both with me? They're bonded, so..."

The secretary frowns in thought. "It's unusual, but I don't think there is a rule against it. Hang on a minute, and I'll check, okay? Go ahead and sit; I'll write you a pass, later."

"Thank you." Baekhyun finishes picking up the magazines, and Kyungsoo pushes him to one of the chairs.

"Sit." Baekhyun climbs up obediently and watches curiously as Kyungsoo takes his hands and tucks them beneath his thighs. Kyungsoo holds up his own hand, then, palm out. "Stay."

Baekhyun stays, but he's not at all still, swaying side to side and kicking his legs. Kyungsoo wanders off a short ways to stand on another chair and watch the fish swim in a large tank on the secretary's desk. Jongdae feels like he's at a tennis match with how his eyes bounce back and forth between the two.

"Okay, honey," the secretary chirps. "Both familiars are allowed, but I'll need you to fill out this form," she slides a couple sheets of paper towards him, "with their names and species and whatever else you can. This is so we can keep track and offer help, if you need it. Grading will also be adjusted with them in mind." Students with familiars get a sort of extra grade expressing how well they work together. It doesn't effect the overall class percentage, but some teachers hold it in higher regard. "Here's a pen. Take your time. I'll have a pass waiting when you're done." She smiles again, and Jongdae's ears redden a little. He takes the papers and pen quietly.

"Thank you..." Sitting beside Baekhyun, he taps his knee to stop his swinging legs and fills the forms out as fast as he can. A lot of it is stuff Chanyeol would probably know, but he fills in the obvious and figures he can update it later.

Kyungsoo walks over the chairs and leans over his shoulder to swat at the pom-pom attached to the pen. A heavy line almost crosses the FEMALE box, and Jongdae snorts.

Reading over both pages once, he calls it good and passes them to the secretary, getting his pass in return. "Have a good day, Jongdae. Congratulations on finding your familiars." Her familiar hoots its congratulations and waves a foot.

His classmates swarm around him when he ushers Kyungsoo and Baekhyun inside. Kyungsoo immediately dives back into his backpack, but Baekhyun revels in the attention. Jongdae hands his pass to the teacher and apologizes, but the classmates sitting closest to him still hiss questions and wiggle their fingers at Baekhyun, who wants nothing more than to make friends with everyone but is held kind of tightly between Jongdae's calves.

Unfortunately, having shown off his familiars in school means his teachers assign him even more homework. Having that extra helping body apparently means he is automatically more capable and responsible, and that is honestly not the case. He has so much reading to do that he can't even offer to carry either Baekhyun or Kyungsoo home in his backpack.

Jongin, however, that precious angel, steps out of the flow of students and opens his own backpack, letting Kyungsoo curl up inside among his manga and sketchbooks. Baekhyun is more content to walk between them, taking everything in now that they're not rushing.

"They allowed it, then?" Jongin asks once they're off school grounds. "Having Baekhyun and Kyungsoo?"

"Yeah. I feel kinda bad for Soo, but Baekhyun had fun at least, right?" The corgi smiles over his shoulder, tongue lolling.

The nicest thing about his baby brother is that he doesn't feel the need to fill in silence—like Jongdae does—or move unnecessarily—like Jongdae does—and can be around Jongdae without annoying commentary like judgment—like their older brothers are wont to do. It's nice. Relaxing, even.

Once upon a time, back when Jongdae was in his "experimentation stage" of magic and his older brothers were already trying to ignore his existence, Jongdae had a shadow named Jongin. He may not have shown much magical talent, but he was interested and curious and followed Jongdae around like he was an authority on all things magic.

Frankly, he was gullible.

Jongdae used him as his magical guinea pig.

There was one time when Jongdae flipped to a random page in one of the books his dad had inherited from some relative and found what he thought looked like a really easy potion. The text was really faded, though, and he still doesn't know what it was actually for. The title was all but gone from the page, and the drawing was old and just really bad. Like Middle Ages artists trying to paint cats bad.

Jongdae followed the directions, substituting ingredients when he didn't know what was wanted, and handed it to Jongin. "I'm the wizard, so I can't drink it, or I won't know if it worked," he'd said.

And Jongin drank it.

And Jongin shrank down to a little green frog that could still cry and scream for his brothers.

Minseok held Jongdae down while Joonmyun made him finish the rest of the potion, and then they took both sobbing frogs to their mom in separate jars when she finally came home.

Ever since, Jongin has been more wary about following Jongdae and listening to him like it's gospel, sticking with his own company. Walking to and from school together is kinda nice, though. Just they two—plus Baekhyun and Kyungsoo, now—gives them the opportunity to talk like friends about whatever, usually magic, sometimes a story Jongin's reading.

Today, it's magic.

"One of my classmates found their familiar recently."

"Oh, yeah? One of your friends?"

Jongin shrugs and switches how he wears his backpack so it's on his front, and he can pet Kyungsoo's ears. "Kind of. He's nicer than some of the other kids, at least." Jongin's not very outgoing or smiley, which makes him hard to approach. He's a cute kid, though, and Jongdae thinks he'll be popular with girls in a year or two. "His familiar is a snake, and it's really pretty. Its scales have rainbows in the light!"

"Would you like a snake as your familiar?"

Some of his enthusiasm fades, and Jongin shakes his head. "I dunno. Even if I did finally find a familiar, Mom would never let a snake in the house. Someone would probably eat it, too."

"Probably..."There were times when Jongdae really thought Han was going to eat him, back when he was a frog. "Our home is safer for mammals."

Jongin uses his key to unlock the front door at home. "I'm gonna do my homework."

"Good boy— Hey! Leave Kyungsoo, please."

"Oh, right." Jongin opens his backpack more, and Kyungsoo jumps to the floor and stretches his legs just to loaf right in the middle of the foyer.

Jongdae's kind of jealous of how empty Jongin's backpack looks. His own feels like it weighs more than a cat and a dog, and it's only the beginning of the week.

Better to get what he can done and over with. There's nothing better to do, unless he wants to clean his room like he's been told to a few dozen times by both Minseok and his mom.

No matter how much he wants to learn magic, homework is homework, and students are just inherently allergic to homework. Nothing's due tomorrow, anyway. He's fine. He even finds some socks and CDs he's been looking for while clearing out the space under his bed.

Cleaning isn't all that interesting to Baekhyun or Kyungsoo. Jongdae isn't sure what they end up doing to entertain themselves, but they're MIA for as long as he's battling his collected filth and don't resurface when he tells his somewhat cleaner bedroom he's going to shower.

Showering off the dust and school stress, Jongdae starts singing a song Yixing's been playing a lot for a dance routine, humming the parts he doesn't know, and doesn't hear the bathroom door open.

He finally opens his eyes after rinsing the shampoo from his hair and turns around to grab the stuff his mom makes that changes colors and scents with every use and is better than store-bought conditioner and only needs to be used once a month. Baekhyun woofs at his feet, happily snapping at the shower spray.

"Baekhyun?!" He stumbles out of the shower and pauses. A black hole has opened in the sink. As an old German dude once said, the abyss gazes back at whomever gazes into it, and this abyss has round, green eyes. "Kyungsoo!?" Baekhyun shakes at his feet, sending more water flying and earning an irritated growl from Kyungsoo. "Get out, you guys!" Jongdae does not shriek, but he wraps the shower curtain around himself and snaps a towel at the duo. Baekhyun tries to catch it, then chases Kyungsoo from the room when the towel hits his butt.

Minseok looks out of his room. "Why are you shrieking, Jongdae?" Han hangs limply around his neck, looking interested in Jongdae's tantrum. They're both nonplussed and ignorant of Jongdae's struggles.

Jongdae points accusingly down the hall. "They broke into the bathroom!"

"So what? Han's always with me. It's also just a button lock; it's awful." The cat purrs, nuzzling Minseok's cheek.

Jongdae doesn't think that's a great example. He's pretty sure Han is gay for his brother. "I didn't expect them."

"Baekhyun is sulking in my laundry."

"I didn't mean— I was surprised is all."

"And that's fine, but don't shout at them. What's that going to accomplish?" Minseok holds up a hand before his brother can move. "Please put some clothes on, before coming in. Mom likes that shower curtain."

Jongdae closes the door—locking it again—and turns off the shower. His hair can wait. He rubs it kind of dry with a towel and wipes most of the wet from his skin before getting dressed. He frowns at his reflection. Sometimes, when he doesn't wear his glasses, his features blur enough to look decent. Acne is an affliction of the devil. After teleportation, he needs to find a pimple prevention potion.

Minseok simply points to the pile of messed up clothes—because, unlike Jongdae's and Joonmyun's rooms, "laundry" means clean clothes—and otherwise ignores him, although he does tell Jongdae he gets to refold everything later. Jongdae digs a little, extracts the morose corgi, and goes to his own room.

Baekhyun has the decency to look ashamed, sitting kind of close to Jongdae and stealing glances when he doesn't think Jongdae sees. Kyungsoo is unrelenting, sitting on the top of the bookshelf where he knows he's not supposed to sit. "He was lonely. Unlocking a door is easy magic. Anyone can do it. I just showed him how, so he'd stop bothering me."

It's not a big deal, in he grand scheme of things. They're all boys, and Jongdae's kind of their parent? or brother? or something, so whatever.

"Know what?" He gently pets Baekhyun's head, smiling when he pushes closer immediately. "Whatever. I'm sorry I freaked out. I was just surprised. If you guys are lonely or whatever, just say so."

"We weren't," Kyungsoo assures, tail twitching by his feet.

"I was," Baekhyun sniffles. "I wanted to play, but you started the noisy thing—" Jongdae used the vacuum. "—and we couldn't come in."

"Sorry." He rubs between Baekhyun's ears.

"Can we play, now?" the corgi asks, brightening.

"I want to, but I have so much homework. Now that I have you two, that means more work." Baekhyun practically deflates, and Kyungsoo flicks his ear.

"He's a student wizard. He obviously can't be spending so much time with you."

"But what if I can help?"

"You can't."

"But what if I can?"

"You can't." Kyungsoo sits on him, and that somehow ends the discussion.

"Well, then. Now that that's settled. I vote we take a fortifying nap!" He yanks his blankets from beneath the pair and burrows into his pillows. Kyungsoo takes up a small space on his other pillow, and Baekhyun whines about wanting to play or help but eventually settles between Jongdae's knees.

He ends up sleeping until dinner. By then, it's just too late to start any big project like homework, so he leaves it for a fresh day.

Jongdae's homework haul grows over the week, because he's been neglecting it, and Yixing comes over to keep him company and work on his own non-magical and less-logical homework. Jongdae tries to focus for a solid hour, but he ultimately gives up and grabs his pillow and drops it on Yixing, settling on it and snuggling against his side. "I'm so tired, Xing Xing. Magic is hard. Children are hard." The payoff should be so worth it, and he keeps reminding himself that.

"Would you like to nap?"

"Yes, but I can't. I have too much homework."

"You'll work better if you're rested. Fewer mistakes than usual." Jongdae's too tired to argue, but he whines and pushes his head into Yixing's shoulder. The older boy leans back, drawing Jongdae down onto his lap. "Take a short nap. I'll be quiet." He opens his textbook again.

"I know you will, but the dynamic duo are going to be coming back any time, now, and Bakhyun's going to be absolutely wired."

"I can handle them. Just close your eyes, even if you don't sleep, you need to relax, sometimes. You've been more stressed since getting Kyungsoo and Baekhyun."

"Have I?" Jongdae yawns.

"Your skin breaks out more, when you're stressed."

Jongdae swats Yixing's thigh and swears Yixing knows some kind of magic, because one second he's awake and aware and subtly admiring Yixing's dimple beside his smile, and the next he's conked out.

He only wakes up an hour later. A bit too long to be considered a "short nap." Yixing's managed to shift out from under him and roll him over to spoon him from behind. Both Kyungsoo and Baekhyun are between their legs, an indiscernible mass of black and white.

Truthfully, Jongdae's been wondering about Kyungsoo. Chanyeol had praised him for reading all of his books on magic, but maybe it out of boredom than actual interest, because since coming to the Kims', Jongdae has not seen Kyungsoo open a single book of magic. He likes to be in Jongin's room, reading comics or dozing while Jongin reads to him.

The only magic he seems to know is how to make Jongdae really sleepy. Any waking moment is an opportunity to nap, especially if there's a window with sunlight coming in. Jongdae's bed is right next to a west-facing window. It even works on Baekhyun—for a while, anyway, he usually wakes up before Kyungsoo and still hasn't learned to not try waking him.

One of the times Jongdae is actually awake and alert and forcing himself to study, he's shuffling his feet over the carpet in some nonsense rhythm that he reads along to, but he's not so focused that he doesn't see the lazily hooked tail approaching. He leans over to run his fingers down Kyungsoo's back and tell him that he's busy, because the longer the kitten sticks around, the more likely Jongdae is to fall under his spell.

He doesn't see the sparks linking his fingertips and the black fur, but he hears the PZZT, like a giant, pissed off cicada, and smells the smoke and burnt hair from where he's blown off his chair and into his closet.

The back door slams open, and someone charges up the stairs, a yipping Baekhyun on their heels. Yixing bursts in, waving his hand to try and clear the smell. "Are you alright?" Baekhyun drops his nose to the floor and walks back and forth anxiously, suddenly darting to the pile of plushies Jongdae had piled under his window. He dives in like a Saint Bernard leaping into an avalanche and backs out with a wide-eyed, coughing cat hanging from his mouth.

He sniffs Kyungsoo all over, as though making sure it's really him, and presses their noses together in what's meant to be a calming, familiar gesture. Jongdae notices the sparks arcing between Kyungsoo's whiskers too late, and their touching noses closes another circuit; pure energy jumps from Kyungsoo's whiskers to Baekhyun's ears and races down his short body, exploding from his rear end with a sound like a backfiring car.

One moment the he's there, the next he's gone, shrieking and running as fast as his little legs can take him.

Kyungsoo changes and stands on shaky legs. His hair is standing on end, his tail won't curl, and his face is completely white. He toddles unsteadily to Yixing, a whine rising at the back of his throat. Yixing kneels to catch him in a hug just before the high wails start.

Jongdae finally kicks enough debris out of the way to wriggle out of his closet. Yixing looks at him with an expression that can only ask, What the hell?!? Jongdae coughs, feels electricity on his tongue, and cautiously lays his hand against the metal side of his desk drawers. A hollow BOOM rattles the desk, but it stays upright, and Jongdae doesn't feel any more residual energy as he walks over the carpet, although he picks up his feet to keep from shuffling.

"I think I found my element," he says.

"No, shit." Jongdae and Yixing both jump at the new voice. Both Minseok and Joonmyun are in the doorway, wide-eyed and incredulous. Joonmyun has his arms under what is either a ridiculously huge gut from eating too many of their mom's pastries or a terrified corgi shivering in his sweater.

Minseok's affinity for snow and ice and Joonmyun's for water were discovered relatively early on for young wizards. Minseok used to sit in the snow in his pajamas, happily making snowmen dance for his familiar to pounce on, and Joonmyun would spend hours in the bathtub in water that never cooled.

Compared to his brothers, Jongdae's a late bloomer. And every day, they all wait for Jongin to show some affinity for anything that's not sleeping or watching anime. The youngest seems happy to not have magic, though, which hasn't happened in their family for generations.

"I'll call Dad," Minseok finally says heavily, after the messy room makes him too nauseous to hang around for much longer. He catches Jongin's shoulder on his way to his room and guides him away. But I wanna see. Did hyung blow up his room, again? Mom said she'd kill him, if he did. Jongdae flinches and racks his brain for a quick cleaning spell.

Joonmyun waddles into the room and sits on Jongdae's bed. His arms need a break. Baekhyun changes once Joonmyun sits, but he stays under the sweater, still shaking.

"Sorry, hyung," Jongdae says. He gives up trying to flatten his hair and checks on Kyungsoo, who's still clinging to Yixing but crying silently. "Sorry, Kyungsoo... Baek."

"Are you okay?" Joonmyun draws his hand up and down Baekhyun's back, looking like a pregnant woman stroking her baby. He stops suddenly, eyes wide. "Jongdae, look at your hand!"

Jongdae stops stroking his arms and looks at them both. His left one is normal, but his right has faint pink lines extending up from his fingers, branching off like naked tree branches or frilly palm fronds. It stings, now that he's seen it, and he pushes Joonmyun's sweater up out of the way to look at Baekhyun.

He's wet-cheeked and has a runny nose, but Jongdae doesn't see anything like what's on his arm. Joonmyun looks him over more thoroughly, but he can't find anything more concerning than tears, which his familiar gently nuzzles away.

"Jongdae," Yixing calls softly. Kyungsoo is holding onto his neck, but Yixing pulls the collar of his shirt down enough to reveal red lines. "It's on half of his back," he whispers.

"Should we go to the hospital? He's not bleeding, is he?"

Yixing shakes his head and stands. Kyungsoo hooks his legs around his waist and rubs his tears into his sleeve. "I'm okay," he murmurs.

"Kyungsoo, I am so sorry." The cat flinches when Jongdae reaches for him, and as much as it hurts, he understands. He'd thought discovering his magic niche would be a huge step, something to celebrate, but it's actually pretty awful. His magic shouldn't hurt. What's he supposed to do with something dangerous?

Mr. and Mrs. Kim come home early to a solemn, quiet household. Kyungsoo's still clinging to Yixing, although asleep, and Baekhyun's tucked between Joonmyun and Jongin. Minseok hovers nearby, not sure what to do and stress-petting Han so much his shirt is covered in white hair. Jongdae is on the sofa across the room, sulking and bitterly tracing the scar on his arm.

"What happened?" Mrs. Kim goes to Jongdae first, taking his arm and turning it over and back again. "What exactly had you done?"

"Nothing!" Jongdae throws his other arm in the air. "I was just at my desk, reading, and I saw Kyungsoo, so I was gonna pet him, but there was this blue spark, and we just blew up!"

"What were you reading?"

"The Psychology of Magic and the Magic of Psychology. It's required."

"So you weren't reciting any spells or incantations. You weren't twirling your wand."

"No!" He's about ready to cry. This isn't his fault. "Mom, I didn't do this on purpose!"

She sighed and smiled wanly. "I know you didn't, honey. I'm just trying to understand."

Mr. Kim takes his wife's place when she straightens and goes to Kyungsoo. "We need as much information as we can get, son. Sometimes, during puberty, our developing magic gets out of our control, no matter how much we have." Jongdae thinks he hears someone snort, probably silently insulting his pubescence and lack of control. "I might have something to heal this scar," his dad says.

"It's fine. Kyungsoo's is worse," he adds softly. His mom has worked Kyungsoo's shirt off and shows the full spread of the scar. It covers most of his back, spreading from between his shoulders down his back and around, like too many arms trying to hold him at once.

"I don't think you need to see a doctor, but if any of you start to feel funny at all—dizzy, nauseous, whatever—you come tell me right away." Mrs. Kim kisses Jongdae's forehead and mutters, "I'm sorry, baby." She pushes her hair off her face and heads to the kitchen to start dinner, enchanting pots and utensils rather than handling everything herself. Jongdae feels bad for stressing her out so bad, but he feels worse for Kyungsoo.

He fully expects to be avoided, but after they wake up, Kyungsoo and Baekhyun stick to him like balloons to a cat. Everyone fusses again when Kyungsoo first changes and shows off white streaks in his previously solid black fur. Baekhyun noses at him and comments how they match, now.

After dinner, Jongdae carries both Kyungsoo and Baekhyun to bed. He doesn't fold down his blankets; he doesn't brush his teeth; he doesn't even change into his pajamas. He lays down with both kitten and corgi beneath his arm and closes his eyes.

There's a new normal to get used to. Mrs. Kim contacted Jongdae's school, and they came up with a plan to keep Jongdae and the other students safe. Jongdae feels it's false security, but hey. Whatever helps them sleep at night, because nothing's helping him.

His mom changes the button on his uniform pants to a plastic, sewn one. His normal desk is switched out for an older, all-wood one. Any kind of metal or conductive material is replaced or covered, and nothing is subtle, so the entire class finds out, which means the whole school knows. Some students want him to show off, others give him a wide berth in the halls. He even hears at least two people say Kyungsoo and Baekhyun should be taken away from him, if he's dangerous.

He's not dangerous. His magic is.

And he was so excited to have it.

A mercifully quiet afternoon at home, Jongdae plunges into his homework—now with greater focus in electricity and energy manipulation—he doesn't resurface for a couple hours and actually feels some sense of accomplishment. He pushes back from Minseok's wooden desk, an unfair switch, in Jongdae's opinion, because it's much smaller and doesn't have drawers to hide snacks in, and groans as his spine realigns from being stooped for so long.

Jongin's passing in the hall and looks in. "Hyung, you okay?" He's not voiced any opinion on Jongdae's affinity. Jongdae isn't sure his brother even fully understands it. Just a little bit more caution around Jongdae would be good, for safety's sake.

"Peachy." He rubs his eyes. Even his glasses are different, held together with an enchantment rather than metal screws and pins.

"Where's Kyungsoo and Baekyhun?"

"I thought they were with you." The feeling of accomplishment dims, overshadowed by rising worry.

"They were when I was reading outside, but I fell asleep..." Jongdae surges to his feet, knocking his chair back and startling his little brother. There's no fence or anything around their yard. Kyungsoo's a little better than Baekhyun, but a single butterfly can draw them both into the street if no one else is paying attention.

"Jongin! They're still practically babies!" His babies.

Jongin's shoulders hunch to his ears. "I'm sorry... I don't think it was really long. We can find them."

A high meow breaks through Jongdae's impending rant. Kyungsoo is outside, pacing the window sill impatiently. He stands on his hind legs and paws at the glass so fast it shakes. "Soo!" Jongdae pushes his books aside and shoves the window open, immediately catching an armful of anxiously meowing kitten. "Where's Baekhyun?" He ducks his head out the window and spots Baekhyun below, spinning in eager circles beside Yixing, who waves and points to the earth. Come down.

He almost hits his head coming back in, but brushes past his sorry brother and carries Kyungsoo downstairs. Baekhyun jumps around his legs until he sits and accepts his sloppy dog kisses.

"I saw Jongin outside and invited them in. I was gonna text you, but Kyungsoo got you, instead." His smile is gentler. "Don't be so harsh on Jongin. Everyone is still learning. It's a process."

"Yeah, well—" He was scared. He may not be able to control his magic, but he can control some other things, and he'll do what he can to keep everyone safe. If that means lecturing Jongin on how to watch kids properly, then he'll tell his mom, because his lectures and childcare record aren't so great. "I'm just happy they're okay, yeah? Thanks for keeping an eye on everyone."

"I'm happy to do it."

Jongdae takes his wand from his back pocket. His parents and teachers all said he should be sure to keep it on him now more than ever, because it's a tool that can channel even his potentially erratic magic to something ore manageable. It's kind of like a funnel, and most students graduate away from it once they've got a handle on their magic, but there are some adults who still use a wand for more control and precision.

He wiggles the wand until Baekhyun yips and tosses it beneath the tire swings. Baekhyun brings it back and runs out a little bit, ready for the chase.

Yixing pets Kyungsoo and waves a dandelion, trying to get him to play, but he just burrows his face in Baekhyun's belly. "You know it's no one's fault, Jongdae. It's hard, but you need to be patient..."

"You understand magic, now?"

"No, but I dance. I don't just get up in the morning and know a routine. I learn it. I practice every day, whenever I can. I tape up sprained ankles, ice bruises, and bandage blistered feet, and keep trying." He sighs, outburst taking its toll and sitting heavily on his shoulders. "There are bad days. Even bad weeks. Sometimes, I just want to sleep and ignore everything, but that's not helpful. Wallowing in self-pity is just...pitiful."

Jongdae's ears burn. Yixing's passionate about dancing, but he's never spoken so passionately about it or lectured Jongdae before. "I thought you were my friend," he jokes. "Why does it feel like you're scolding me?"

"Because I'm your friend. You need to be scolded, sometimes."

"Now you sound like Minseok hyung... Release, Baekhyun." His wand has a lot of tiny divets, now, from Baekhyun's teeth. He winds back his arm and chucks the wand as far as he can. Baekhyun takes off as fast as he can, barking joyfully. "I really thought things would speed up after I got my familiar. Not like this, though." He pets Kyungsoo's unnatural stripes. "I think I'm scared to even have magic, now."

"That should make you all the stronger. You know the consequences and won't make reckless decisions. Using the same example, dancing on a sprain doesn't make it heal faster. Time heals, and then you can start again. You're wiser than you were."

"Am I, though? It doesn't feel like it."

Yixing nods, and there's that dimpled smile again. When he smiles, Jongdae can't help but feel he's right, because nothing bad could happen when someone smiles so warmly. There's a feeling in his chest that feels like it's saying he's right.

Baekhyun returns, leaping through a bush, shaking his coat free of leaves, and thrusting his fist in the air. "I got it!" He trots over proudly and hands it back.

Jongdae takes it, pauses, and pales. He can't feel anything; no tickle of magic or that familiar weight that sometimes feels like an extension of his arm. He rolls it in his hand and waves it back and forth. Nothing. It's just a plain old stick. "Baek... This isn't my wand."

Baekhyun's ears fall back. "What?" He circles Jongdae, sniffing and anxious. "But it looks the same!"

Kyungsoo hasn't been asleep at all and sits upright. He pulls Jongdae's arms closer to look at the wand after changing and frowns at Baekyhun. "This is obviously just a stick. Are you stupid?"

"It...It looks the same..."

"It's okay, Baek," Jongdae assures with a smile he hopes looks nicer than it feels. "We'll find it." He hopes. He'd saved up his allowance for weeks to buy it.

"Where'd you throw it?" Yixing asks, already getting to his feet.

"Straight back." There's a lot of trees between his yard and the neighbor. Lots of trees and lots of sticks.

"We'll find it," Kyungsoo declares. He grabs Baekhyun's hand and marches him into the trees. Kyungsoo wasn't sure if Baekhyun had any magical sense, because there were times when his reactions were just uncanny, but now he's certain the corgi is just special in his own way and not in a magical way. Which is fine. Baekhyun is Baekhyun.

Kyungsoo has a sense for magic, though—he's just a poorly motivated student—and ignoring the natural order around them and very occasional fairy flutter, he follows that sense a couple yards into the trees and hunkers behind a partly dead ash tree.

A raven has the wand in its claws, pecking at it and turning its head to get a better look at it with its beady eyes. Ravens and crows used to be more closely related to magic, but witches eventually wised up that they were selfish birdbrains. They can still be dangerous, though. This one probably has a wingspan longer than he is tall as a boy.

"Is that it?" Baekhyun's ready to charge ahead, but Kyungsoo holds Baekhyun's muzzle closed with his paws, silencing him with a slit-eyed glare. When he's sure Baekhyun will stay quiet, he drops his chest to the grass and carefully stalks through the weeds. Sometimes, the crow looks up and around, inherent inner sense of danger warning it of something, but it always returned to trying to figure out how to carry the comparatively large stick.

It's unaware when Kyungsoo leaps from the weeds and pins it to the ground. Baekhyun scrambles out and grabs the wand, racing back to Jongdae. He runs in circles around his feet, stopping only when Jongdae catches him. "Good boy! Where's...?" Kyungsoo emerges at a leisurely pace, dragging a large raven by its feet. Cats allegedly kill billions of small animals every year; Kyungsoo is just following his base instincts. From the angle of its neck, at least, Jongdae really hopes it's dead. "Good boy?"

"That poor bird," Yixing pities.

"I'm not gonna eat it," Kyungsoo states, dropping it to the grass. "It'd probably make me sick."

It's a grisly thing to imagine, but this little cat acting like a cold-blooded killer is somehow funny. Jongdae throws his head back and laughs until he's crying and breathless. After so much that's happened in so little time, it just feels good to laugh, even if the others are watching him like he's finally gone off the deep end.

He wipes the tears from his eyes with his shirt and points at Kyungsoo. "I dare you to leave it on Minseok hyung's pillow."

"Does Minseok hyung like birds?" Baekhyun asks innocently.

"He loves them," Jongdae lies.

"Soo, do it!"

Yixing isn't sure if he should step in when Kyungsoo smiles more devilishly than usual, but he won't be in the Kim house later. He'll just hear how it plays out.

Besides, Jongdae is finally bonding with his familiars. This can only bring good things.