The Shadowhunter Academy has only just reopened following the disastrous rise of the Circle. Now the faculty can finally admit to what happened when Valentine was a student.
It is almost the end of the year at the Shadowhunter Academy, and Simon is looking at the letter that he sent to Isabelle a couple of months before. A month after she received it, Isabelle returned it, unopened. Meanwhile, Simon and Clary have been exchanging letters containing stories about their adventures together.
At the mandatory assembly, Simon meets up with George, Beatriz, Julie, and Jon. Simon acknowledges that the class has become quite close, and he sees good qualities in all of his classmates, except for Jon. Dean Penhallow and Delaney Scarsbury call the room to order and introduce the guest lecturer: Inquisitor Robert Lightwood, accompanied by his daughter, Isabelle. Isabelle clearly does not want to be there, as she quietly sulks in her chair. Jon has a crush on Isabelle, and this annoys Simon. Robert begins the lecture, saying that he is going to tell the story of the early days of the Circle, and how it became lethal.
The first flashback begins in 1984, when Robert is in the quad with Valentine and the other members of the innermost Circle. Robert reminisces on how only a year before, he and Michael Wayland had skinny-dipped in Lake Lyn, but a year later, both boys are members of the Circle, and they have too much responsibility to have fun. The Circle's early ideals were that the Clave was corrupt, Shadowhunters' existence should be unveiled to mundanes, the Accords were useless, the Mortal Cup should be used more often, and the Academy classes were a waste of time. Most of the time, Robert feels like he has been chosen to change the world, but occasionally, Valentine makes him feel uneasy.
At the meeting with Robert are Michael, Jocelyn Fairchild, Maryse Trueblood, Lucian and Amatis Graymark, Hodge Starkweather, and Stephen Herondale. Robert reveals that Stephen came to the Academy at the beginning of the year from the London Institute, and he dressed like a mundane. However, within a month, Stephen abandoned his old personality and became eerily similar to Valentine. Robert knows that everyone in Valentine's innermost Circle has something to be ashamed of, but since Stephen seems so perfect, Robert wonders what weakness he has that Valentine is exploiting. Robert stops tuning everyone out when Maryse, his girlfriend, reacts unfavorably to something Valentine said.
Robert and Maryse have been dating for nearly a year, and yet, he still cannot understand why she chose him. Robert is afraid that everyone will realize how cowardly he is, but Maryse makes him feel strong and safe. Although he is happy to be with Maryse, Robert wonders if he really loves her, so he watches all of the other couples in the group (Valentine and Jocelyn, Amatis and Stephen) and mimics their behaviors in the hope that no one will see the truth.
When Valentine states that the only place at the Academy that Downworlders should be is the dissection table, Robert realizes that Valentine has not become clear-headed since his father's death—he is blinded by rage and hate. Valentine announces that he is going to seek out the werewolves that were responsible for his father's death. Valentine asks Robert, Michael, Stephen, and Lucian to accompany him, but Lucian says that he has to help Céline Montclaire with her studies that night. The other boys tease him about it, and Lucian asserts that he is not dating Céline. Robert believes this, as Céline originally fell for Stephen, but since he was with Amatis, she latched onto Lucian, who loves Jocelyn. Valentine tells Lucian to stay on campus with the girls and the group disperses. However, before Robert can go, Maryse makes him promise that he'll come back to her. Robert realizes that Maryse and Valentine are so appealing because they wholeheartedly believe in their convictions, and he hopes that it will rub off on him one day.
Back in the present, Simon says that Robert is not a good teacher. After the lecture, Isabelle approaches him and asks to be introduced to his friends. She flirts with Jon and George, while all the girls are looking at her in adoration. Isabelle announces that she is going to do something fun that night, and they should join her. Simon follows Isabelle when she leaves, and they go deep into the school. Finally, Isabelle stops walking when Simon calls her Izzy, and she says that he is nothing to her anymore. That night, everyone is drunk, and Isabelle suggests that they sneak off campus. Beatriz angrily challenges Isabelle and leaves. Then, Isabelle leaves with Jon. The next morning, Simon is in despair about Isabelle and Jon, and Robert begins the lecture again.
Back in 1984, Valentine is able to get permission to go to Brocelind Forest for two nights. Robert wonders why Valentine is not the black sheep of the Academy, as his ideas are controversial, but he realizes that it is due to Valentine's charm. Valentine can get away with anything at the Academy, and he loathes his teachers for it. The group of boys travels to a spot close to the Silverhood mansion, an old house that has been empty since the extinction of the line two generations before. The werewolves now occupy the mansion, and the next day, the boys plan to deal with the occupants. That night, however, they set up camp and talk by the fire. Valentine says that he will marry Jocelyn one day, and Stephen reveals that he has asked Amatis to marry him. Valentine seems to seriously ponder it, and Robert thinks that if Valentine told Stephen not to marry her, he would obey him. However, Valentine exclaims that he is happy about the impending marriage. Robert despairs that he doubted Valentine again, and he resolves to not do it again. Then, Valentine asks Robert what his plans with Maryse are, and Robert dodges the question, because he truly wishes that he didn't have so much impending responsibility. Michael is grateful that he doesn't have to answer questions next, because he is still single. Robert and Michael enjoy each other's company more than any girl's.
At dawn, Robert and Michael take a walk through the forest. Robert reveals that Michael was his first true friend. Although he had friends when he was younger, all of them abandoned Robert when he had an adverse reaction to his first Mark at the age of twelve. Robert was unconscious for several weeks, and the Silent Brothers wanted to remove the Mark and let Robert live as a mundane, but his parents refused to allow it. Although Robert survived the ordeal, he was still afraid of the Marks, and he lived for nearly a year without friendship, until Michael befriended him. Robert didn't know Michael well before, as he was a strange kid and not truly one of the group of Robert's ex-friends. After a couple of days, Michael asked Robert why he thinks he had an adverse reaction to the Mark, and this is when Robert truly opened up to him. The boys tried to find any explanation for Robert's reaction to the Mark, but they failed. Still, Robert was happy because Michael became his best friend in the process. Before leaving for the Academy, Michael and Robert became parabatai.
Now, Robert is anxious that he and Michael only have a year before they become adults and other people become more important. Michael asks Robert what is going on with Maryse, and Robert responds that he doesn't feel the way he should about her, and he thinks there is something wrong with him. Michael opposes this thinking, saying there is nothing wrong with him. Then, Robert asks Michael about his budding relationship with Eliza Rosewain. Eliza is just as outspoken as Valentine, but she opposes the Circle and believes that Shadowhunters should be united with Downworlders and mundanes, making her unpopular. Michael has been on four dates with her, and he likes her weirdness. Robert tells Michael that he should make his relationship with Eliza official. Michael asks Robert if he has ever been in love, because he himself has no idea how that would feel. However, Robert knows that Michael is in love because of the way he talks about it. Michael says that he needs to tell Robert something, but he doesn't say what it is.
Back in the present, Simon is woken by George, who tells him that he is meeting Isabelle to sneak off campus. Simon tells George that he is not coming, and he goes back to sleep, only to be woken again by Beatriz, who is concerned for her friends' well being. Simon tells her that he trusts Isabelle, and he is confident that the others will be back by the time the lecture starts, and Beatriz leaves, annoyed. At the lecture, everyone is there, including George.
In 1984, the boys stake out the werewolves and realize that there are five of them. Valentine decides to wait until dark to attack them, because the most able members will go into the woods to hunt and leave the weak members behind. At dark, they restrain the two remaining werewolves, an old man and a child, and Valentine announces that they will take both werewolves to the Clave for questioning. Michael refuses to interrogate the child, openly challenging Valentine. Robert and Stephen anticipate a fight, but they do not get one, as Valentine agrees to only interrogate the old man. The child is locked up in a closet, and the boys leave the manor with the old man. Valentine tells Michael and Stephen to patrol the perimeter while he and Robert wait for the prisoner to wake up. When Valentine and Robert are alone, however, Valentine wakes the werewolf and begins interrogation. The old man tries to play the role of old and sickly, but when that doesn't work, he denies any violation of the Accords. Valentine asks the man what happened to his father, and the werewolf responds that Valentine's father cried a lot, and he wished he was there to see it. Valentine tortures and kills the werewolf. When Stephen and Michael come back, Michael does not believe Valentine's cover story, but Robert does not admit that anything else happened.
In the present, George says that Isabelle is planning something epic, and Simon wonders whether he should attend. Soon after, though, Isabelle announces that she plans to summon a demon during the end-of-the-year party. He tries to tell Catarina what Isabelle and his friends are planning to do, but he cannot follow through, as he does not want to get everyone into trouble.
In 1984, Robert remembers when Valentine first took notice of him. At the beginning of the school year, Valentine had told him that he knew his secret: Robert is still afraid of the Marks. Valentine was able to help Robert get over this fear, and Robert feels indebted to him. After the incident with the werewolf, Robert admits to Valentine that he didn't agree with his actions. Valentine asks Robert to keep the true events a secret from everyone, including Michael. When Robert says that he does not keep secrets from Michael, Valentine responds that Michael keeps secrets from Robert. Valentine accuses Robert of being a coward, and he says that Robert should stop trying to hide this. Instead, Robert should own it and lean on Valentine for convictions and opinions.
In the present, Isabelle tells Simon the time and place of the demon summoning. However, when he arrives, he realizes that he was given the wrong time, and they are ready to summon the demon. Simon tries to convince the group to not go through with it, saying that they are in a lose-lose situation. Someone could get hurt in this summoning, but if it goes off without a hitch, they will try something worse next time and get hurt. The others admit that Simon has a point, but Isabelle convinces them to do the summoning anyway. Simon runs away from the room.
In 1984, Robert and Michael take a walk a week after the incident with the werewolves. Michael asks Robert what really happened that night, and when he refuses to tell him, Michael says that Robert has never lied to him before. Robert responds that Michael has lied to him, and Michael confirms this, saying that he lies to him everyday. Michael tells Robert that he is in love with him, not Eliza. Robert reacts badly, telling him to never say such a thing again. Michael says that nothing has to change between them, and Robert knows that he should accept this and move on, but he is unable to do so. He tells Michael that he cannot tell anyone this, because they will think Robert is gay as well. Michael asks Robert if he thinks he is disgusting, and Robert says yes; although he will remain his parabatai, nothing else will ever be the same between them. Michael leaves without another word, and Robert realizes that he ruined the only real relationship he had. Robert decides that he will no longer think for himself, he will let Valentine think for him. This is when Robert becomes truly loyal to the Circle.
In the present, Simon goes to the office and tells Catarina, Dean Penhallow, and Robert that Isabelle and his friends are trying to summon a demon. However, they do not look surprised, and Simon sees that Julie arrived at the office before him. Robert, Catarina, and Dean Penhallow leave to confront the students, and Simon and Julie follow. Simon and Julie walk in on Robert yelling at the group, minus Isabelle, who is standing by his side and grinning. Robert says that all of them failed, except for Simon and Julie. Robert tells Simon that Isabelle was right about him after all. Robert reveals that the events of the past week were a test to see who was vulnerable to an event similar to the formation of the Circle, and Isabelle was in on it the whole time. When Robert is finished yelling at them, Isabelle asks why anyone would ever listen to Robert. Robert tells everyone to leave so that he and Isabelle can have a private talk, but Isabelle makes Simon stay. Robert asks Isabelle why she doesn't want to be there, and she says that she does not want to bond with her father. Robert tells Isabelle that out of all the Circle members, he himself was the most to blame because unlike the others, he did not believe in the Circle's ideals, but he followed anyway. Robert then says that the only things he has been truly certain of are his children, and he will spend the rest of his life to prove that he is trustworthy. At the party, Simon and Isabelle talk briefly about the past week's events, and Simon asks her if she is going to hang out with Jon. Isabelle responds that she was only flirting with Jon to make Simon jealous, and she apologizes for never reading Simon's letters. Simon accepts her apology, and he says that he could deliver a postcard to the Institute in person. Isabelle accepts, saying that "it's a date."
- The movie adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender was mentioned in the story. However, the movie came out mid-2010, and the story takes place around 2009.
- The band Rilo Kiley was mentioned by Simon.
- This short story is told from Simon and Robert's POVs.