Oil glistened on the skin of the small, green olive. Harry pushed it ’round the edge of his plate with the tip of his knife, leaving faint trails across the white porcelain.
A warm weight slid into his lap. ‘Mon Cœur!’
Harry shoved Gabby onto the floor. ‘You’re not my bird-witch, imposter.’
‘I could be!’ She jumped to her feet and dusted off her knees. ‘If only Fleur was better at sharing. You could corrupt me together and start building a little incestuous veela harem. Think of how much fun it would be!’
‘You know, I’m not sure your parents know you’re joking.’ Harry feigned a frown. ‘Actually, I’m not sure I know you’re joking.’ He shrugged and chuckled. ‘Either way, I don’t think there’s much corrupting left to be done.’
‘I’m innocent.’ She stared up at him with wide, grey eyes, biting her lip. ‘Completely. Innocent.’
‘Liar.’ Harry flicked the olive at her; it sailed past her shoulder into the sink. ‘I know what you get up to, Fleur’s told me all sorts. You’ve said all sorts.’
Gabby’s cheeks turned pink. ‘Really?’
‘Oh yes.’ He laughed. ‘Someone’s not an innocent little chick.’
She giggled, then frowned. ‘Wait, it doesn’t bother you or anything, that I…’
‘I’m fairly sure I half understand the pair of you now,’ Harry said. ‘Fleur craved romance and pretended she didn’t believe in it. You’ve no interest in any of it, but pretend you do.’
‘Otherwise Fleur wouldn’t let herself think about it and she’d’ve let it slip through her fingers.’ Gabby slipped into the seat next to him and sighed beneath her breath. ‘I’ve always felt loved. I can feel it in the magic of Papa, Maman, Fleur, and now you. I doubt I’ll find anyone who can love me the way you love my sister, and I won’t accept anything less.’ She shrugged. ‘I’m happy as I am anyway.’
‘Good.’ He patted her on the head and messed up her silver hair. ‘I don’t want those photos of me back, by the way. You can keep them.’
She laughed and shook her hair out. ‘Good. I’m not done with them. I like to pretend I’m Fleur—’
‘Don’t want to know,’ Harry said. ‘Really, really don’t want to know.’
Gabby pouted. ‘You’re just playing hard to get, mon Cœur. One day you’ll see that I’m the cuter bird-girl and start sneaking off to see me in the night. We’ll have a whole illicit little romance until you accidentally say my name when you’re with my sister.’
‘I tremble at the thought of what your sister would do to me if I accidentally said your name at an inopportune moment,’ Harry muttered. ‘She’d melt the flesh off my bones.’
Gabby cocked her head. ‘She’s very bad at sharing.’
‘Yeah, sometimes I wonder what she would’ve done if another girl had made an open move or something.’
Small creases lined Gabby’s brow. ‘If a girl does anything like that, you should shut her down straight away.’
‘I don’t mean because it’s just what you ought to do, Harry.’ Gabby caught his eye. ‘Fleur will kill her.’
‘She never tried to hurt Katie.’ A faint pang twisted in Harry’s heart. ‘And Katie, well, Katie was always flirty with me, but she was very forward sometimes.’
‘Katie was your best friend,’ Gabby said. ‘Hurting Katie would’ve hurt you, and if you realised it was Fleur who hurt her…’
I would’ve been furious. He smothered the tangle of feeling. It doesn’t matter. It can’t happen now.
‘But if she’d not been my best friend?’ Harry asked. ‘What would your sister have done?’
‘If she thought there was any risk? Fleur would’ve killed her.’ Gabby held his gaze. ‘You know she would.’
Of course she would. A warm glow spread through his chest. Anyone who tries to take our dream away to the point we have to kill them deserves what they get.
‘You’d do the same,’ Gabby murmured.
Harry grimaced. ‘I’d kill anyone who tried to hurt you, too, just like I did anyone who hurt Katie.’
A small smile flitted across her face. ‘I know. And like Fleur, I quite like it. It’s how you love.’ Gabby’s hand crept across the table to rest over his and she closed her eyes. ‘That tangle of need, fear, and desire, it’s such a rush.’ A bright glow shone in her grey eyes as she reopened them. ‘You feel so alive.’
‘You make it sound weird.’
Gabby beamed. ‘It is weird. You’re weird. Fleur’s always been weird. And you corrupted me, too.’
She giggled. ‘Weird veela sister threesome!’
A low groan drifted through the kitchen. ‘Why is it, whenever I hear my daughters speak, they’re saying something traumatising for their Papa?’ Fleur’s father shook his head as he stumbled across the floor to rummage in a cupboard for a mug. ‘Honestly, I’d resigned myself to Fleur, but you, Gabrielle, I was hoping you’d stay my little girl for a little longer.’
‘She’s only joking,’ Harry said. ‘At least, I hope she is.’
‘Oh I know,’ Fleur’s father said. ‘No need to worry, Harry. If I thought you’d actually slept with both my daughters, I’d’ve already cursed you into a small pile of dust.’
Harry chuckled. ‘Well, you’d’ve tried.’
‘I was an auror briefly, I’m not terrible in a duel.’
‘Kill any Dark Lords, Papa?’ Gabby asked.
‘Well, no.’ He waved his mug at Gabby. ‘However, I’ve also never been defeated by a Dark Lord.’
‘Have you beaten Fleur since she turned thirteen?’ Gabby asked.
‘No.’ Fleur’s father’s face fell. ‘It’s somewhat embarrassing to be beaten by your daughters at almost everything while they’re still at school, but I’m very very proud of you both.’
‘I don’t think Harry would struggle with either of us.’ Gabby waggled her eyebrows. ‘Maybe not even both of us at the same time.’
‘I think you’re exaggerating,’ Harry said, rolling his eyes at her suggestive smirk. ‘I’d end up stuck in some modified Unyielding Shield Charm.’
‘That would cost us as much energy to cast as it would for you to break out,’ she replied. ‘You’re faster than we are, more powerful than we are, and you’d win a war of attrition.’
‘True.’ Harry grinned. ‘And I do enjoy watching Fleur pout about losing.’
‘We’d win.’ Gabby snickered. ‘Fleur’d just have to take off a few items of clothing and then I’d hex you in the back.’
‘Worth it,’ Harry quipped.
‘I’m going to my study,’ Fleur’s father grumbled, filling his mug with coffee. ‘For however long I get to be in peace before whichever new crisis kicks off today. If it’s not suspicious American wizards picking fights in the Caribbean and Canada, then it’s Ottoman Janissaries on Greek islands or Neo-Grindelwaldians in the Alps. The world’s gone mad.’ He stomped upstairs.
‘Trouble?’ Harry asked.
Gabby nodded. ‘A wizard called Le Cancrelat, the Cockroach, started stirring things up when it looked like Voldemort was going to win. He’s been running a low-level campaign of terror ever since. Grise, our boss at Les Inconnus, has sent Vert to scout some of his bases, but Le Cancrelat keeps vanishing before we get there.’
‘And you and Fleur?’
Gabby smiled and shook her head. ‘We had a conversation the other day. Fleur and I were quite clear, research is one thing, but no risky missions.’ She held his eye. ‘Of any sort, before you start overthinking.’
‘But if things keep getting worse?’ Harry asked.
‘Then we may not be able to refuse and remain employed. We’ll leave if we have to, Harry.’
‘It’s not you I don’t trust,’ he whispered. ‘It never has been.’
There’s always someone or something that tries to take my wishes away. Harry stared down at the gleaming steel knife on his plate. Always another enemy.
‘You can’t get rid of anything that might ever be a threat,’ Gabby said. ‘That’s impossible.’
So’s coming back to life. He took a deep breath. Even if all the trouble passes us by, there’s still one last enemy. Fleur’s words rose up in the back of his head from the kitchen at the Meadow. We need a final victory.
‘Harry?’ Gabby murmured. ‘Did you lose time?’
No. I’ve not lost any time in a while now.
‘Want to watch me do something Fleur doesn’t know I’m doing?’ Harry offered.
‘Can I be the something?’ she chirped.
He rolled his eyes. ‘No. However, you can watch me try and turn myself into a raven.’
‘A bird?’ She beamed. ‘A bird-wizard? To go with your beautiful bird-witches?’
‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘I’ve not mastered it yet. Speaking of, if I suddenly go rogue, turn me back before I fly off. I’d rather not be a raven forever.’
‘Sure.’ Gabby pulled her wand out with a smirk. ‘Fleur’s not going to be back from work for another hour or so, so we can go here and now on the kitchen table.’
Soul beyond form or name. He drew his magic up, letting dark feathers slip out through his skin and hair, shrinking down. Purpose above everything else.
‘Animagus transformation,’ Gabby murmured, staring at him with a curious glint in her eye. ‘We can’t do this, you know. Or we don’t think we can, because there’s no creature that truly matches us. Some veela believe the Anzu is the animagus form of the veela, but nobody has ever accomplished it.’
If Fleur manages to turn into a giant, fire-breathing eagle and I’m just a raven, I’ll never hear the end of it. He felt his face shift and watched the thin scales spread across his legs. Let’s see how close I am.
Gabby-mate’s-nestmate stared down at him, giggling as he fluffed his wings and ran his beak through his feathers. He clacked his beak at her, hopping along the table to peer at the shining knife.
Bright. He wrapped his toes around it and waggled it back and forth, watching the lines of light dance on the table.
‘Pretty bird-wizard.’ Gabby-mate’s-nestmate raised her wand. ‘But I don’t think you’ve quite managed it, or you’d’ve done something less bird-like.’
A flash of white light passed across his eyes and his shoulder thudded into the kitchen floor. ‘Ouch,’ he muttered.
‘How did it go?’ Gabby asked. ‘What’s it like?’
‘It’s soul magic,’ Harry said, picking himself up off the floor. ‘So it’s abstract, like all the best branches.’ A small stab of humour pierced him. ‘The raven is the form that best fits my soul, and, if I can keep hold of that, I should be able to take that form without changing anything else.’
‘So it’s not transfiguration?’ Gabby mused. ‘That means we should be able to do it, really.’
‘Not just transfiguration,’ Harry said. ‘You have to know the soul is beyond the physical body, you have to be able to keep it separate. When my body changes, my soul doesn’t, my sense of self doesn’t, my purpose doesn’t, and I shouldn’t.’
‘It’s a work in progress.’ He gathered a few loose, black feathers and stuffed them in the bin. ‘Don’t tell your sister.’
‘Why not?’ Gabby demanded.
‘Because I want to surprise her?’
‘She already knows your form. We get ravens in the fields here and she mentioned it a few months ago.’
Harry forced his smile to stick fast on his face. ‘It’s still going to be a surprise when I land on her head.’
‘Soul magic,’ Gabby murmured, tapping her wand against her palm. ‘Sense of self…’
A little trickle of ice crept down his spine. ‘Does it matter?’
‘You promised my sister no more secrets,’ she said. ‘This is a secret. You’d only keep it if it was something important, otherwise you’d be too worried about upsetting her.’
‘It’s only a little secret,’ Harry replied. ‘I’ll tell her the moment I know I can become the raven.’
‘I will. I promise. I just want to make sure I’m the raven first.’
But I am. Harry smothered the prickle down his spine. I’m Harry. And as long as Fleur doesn’t know there’s a chance I wasn’t always Harry, it only matters that I am Harry.
‘I want to be sure I can do it. I need to see it.’ He smiled. ‘It’s important I can do it.’
Gabby’s grey eyes sharpened. ‘Do you think your soul is damaged somehow?’
‘In a way,’ Harry murmured. ‘I need to make sure I’m the same as I was… before.’
She chewed her lip. ‘I won’t tell Fleur, but you only get a few days to finish it before I do and I’m helping so nothing goes wrong, just in case something is a bit off.’
‘I’ll take it,’ he said. ‘I suspect that’s the best I’m getting if I don’t want you to go tell her now.’
‘Secrets are stupid,’ Gabby said. ‘I’ve no secrets from Fleur and you shouldn’t have any from her either. You can sense them, and the longer they’re there, the worse it gets. It’s like a great big void in between you, stretching further and further apart with every second the secrets remain unspoken.’