A broad, silver basin curved away from Harry’s toes, filling the centre of the room from the innermost bench. Countless rings of silver runes circled the inside, gleaming with soft, white magic. Gabby lay on her back at the bottom, bouncing her white-socked heels on the curve and etching runes into the basin.
‘You look like you’re a veela dessert in the bowl of a very large giant,’ Harry said.
She giggled. ‘Do I look tasty?’
Harry chuckled. ‘Nah, too much clothing — wait!’
Gabby snickered. ‘Too late, I’m telling Fleur.’
‘I didn’t even mean it that way.’ He sighed. ‘What are you doing that needed me, anyway?’
‘I’m bored of tweaking the pattern of runes in here by myself and I know you’re not doing anything until Grise gets back from his meeting.’ Gabby rolled herself around until she was on her front staring up from beneath his toes. ‘Care to join me?’
Harry glanced at her shoes on the floor, bent down and tugged off his, kicking them aside. ‘How slidy is it?’
‘Very.’ Gabby grinned. ‘I’ve fallen down it like a hundred times, that’s why I’m rolling about like a seal.’
He side-stepped and sat on the edge, ooching himself over and slipping down the smooth, silver surface to the bottom.
Gabby poked him in the back with her toes. ‘See, it’s like a slide.’
‘So… you’ve built a pensieve that doubles as a children’s playground.’
‘When your child’s born, you can roll them down here.’ Gabby giggled, sliding down beside him. ‘Like a chubby little ball.’
‘And end up with a tiny screaming ball of feathers,’ Harry muttered.
‘Apparently Fleur cried a lot when she was younger, so probably,’ she said. ‘No feathers, though, that comes in our teens.’
‘Why?’ he asked. ‘Why not earlier?’
Gabby shrugged. ‘Adult plumage, for enticing veela mates. We get little white fluffy ones, but not full on feathers.’
Harry squinted at her. ‘Something tells me that’s not true.’
She sniggered. ‘You’ll find out.’
‘I can’t wait, so far everything I’ve read seems to imply I’ll get no sleep and spend all my time clearing up the mess.’ He shuffled around. ‘And that’s without even getting to the bird-baby part.’
‘At least Fleur will be back to being sane,’ Gabby said. ‘Well… less insane.’
‘She’s just a little bit cranky,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t think she means it. I hope not.’
Gabby’s grey eyes softened and she patted him on the knee. ‘She doesn’t. Trust me, if she really felt any shred of doubt, she wouldn’t love you. She just — she just lashes out to make sure.’
‘She knows how to hurt me,’ he murmured. ‘It’s okay, though. It’s worth it.’
A little bit of pain is fine if it lets her know I love her.
‘She shouldn’t do it,’ Gabby muttered. ‘But Fleur can’t help herself sometimes. Like you.’
‘You’re not my therapist.’ Harry grinned. ‘Get out of my head.’
‘I am.’ She poked him in the shoulder with her wand. ‘I am exactly your therapist. And Fleur’s. I always have to step in when she gets… sharp. I have for years. Papa does not really understand, and Maman… she only understands a little bit.’
‘Well you don’t have to step in between us,’ he said. ‘It’s okay. I don’t mind really, it’s worth it.’
‘Until she manages to set off your trust issues, then you’ll be running right back to me.’
Harry raised an eyebrow at her.
‘Not like that.’ She shot him a coy look. ‘Unless… the veela soulmating bond has finally grown too strong for Fleur’s dark magic to suppress?’
‘Not yet, I’m afraid,’ he replied. ‘Sorry, Gabby. It’s pictures and voyeurism for you, still.’
Gabby giggled. ‘A smarter wizard would realise what he’s sitting in…’
Harry shuddered. ‘Please tell me you don’t actually do that.’
‘Ask me no questions…’
‘Not asking any questions then.’ He studied the rings of runes, tracing a finger around them. ‘Are they all horizontal?’
‘No, there are rings at angles as well.’ Gabby ran her wand tip along a circle of runes running a curve from the top down to her heels in the basin. ‘That way all the magic is tied together into one tightly woven enchantment.’
‘And there’s me, just breaking clocks.’ Harry snorted. ‘I don’t think I’m very good at the research part.’
‘You’d be better at it if you actually tried.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘Fleur told me that you think Vert’s going about it the wrong way and you need to create something more like your invisibility cloak or the Caduceus.’
‘I do.’ He shrugged. ‘But making a time-turner with some abstract high-cost piece of ritualistic blood magic seems like an unnecessary risk, especially as I’m fairly sure I destroyed all the British ones. And I have more important things to worry about, like Le Cancrelat. ’
‘And feeding my sister enough cake to keep her happy,’ Gabby said.
‘It was olives and salami yesterday, which wasn’t so bad.’ Harry laughed. ‘I thought she was going to put them on pain au chocolat for a moment.’
Gabby wrinkled her nose. ‘Urgh.’
‘My thoughts exactly, that would’ve been nearly as bad as when she had that entire jar of mustard for breakfast.’ He yawned and stretched. ‘We have a few minutes before Grise gets back, so I can help with something if I’m any use?’
She tapped her wand against her palm and hummed. ‘I’ve pretty much fixed everything but the timing issue. I was just adjusting the simulation of pain, to make the person in the pensieve experience as much pain as they expect, rather than try to create an independent impression of it. Fleur and I still aren’t sure how to fix the timing issue, though.’
‘The thing where everything gets out of sync?’
‘Not everything, the memory and the sensations we’re simulating to accompany it get out of sync, probably even more so now I’ve made it more complex today.’
Harry frowned. ‘I’m only good at making one clock go slightly slower than another clock.’
‘I’m afraid this isn’t a clock.’
‘I guess I can try and make one part of the magic go slower than another?’ He laughed. ‘But that’s probably absolutely useless.’
‘Maybe…’ Gabby scanned her runes, spinning about and craning her neck past Harry. ‘It’s all relative, you can’t tell from inside if everything is slightly slower than it should be. If I could create some kind of time disparity between parts of the enchantment, to slow the faster parts down a bit, then I could get it to stay together…’
‘Want me to try?’ Harry scanned the runes. ‘I have no idea what to do.’
‘Non,’ she said. ‘You teach me the magic you’re using on the clocks and I will add it. I can weave together Fleur’s magic with my own, because it’s very similar, but not yours.’
‘What would happen?’
‘The intent… fights, it becomes… not smooth?’ Gabby held her hands up. ‘I don’t know how to say it, but it feels off and it doesn’t work quite as well as if it’s smoothly woven together’
‘Fair enough, I’ll teach you to mess around with clocks and you can do all the hard work.’ Harry patted the smooth, warm silver. ‘What will you do with it when it’s all finished?’
A spark of mischief welled up in Gabby’s eyes. ‘Steal all of Fleur’s favourite memories of you and her together, and experience them for myself.’
Harry buried his face in his hand. ‘I shouldn’t have asked.’
‘I won’t really,’ she said. ‘It’d be weird.’
‘Because what you do already isn’t weird at all.’
‘It’s not!’ Gabby frowned. ‘Well, it’s not as weird as you try to make it out. It’s not like I really watch you.’
‘No, you just lurk outside and wait so you can listen to our magic afterward; that’s completely normal.’
‘Because you’re the most normal person in the world…’
‘I’m fairly normal.’
Gabby levelled him with a flat stare.
‘Okay, I’m also weird, fair enough.’ Harry laughed. ‘But at least I’m not listening to my older sister sleep with her husband to feel their magic.’
‘But it’s so nice,’ Gabby whispered. ‘All the fear and the panic and the stress and everything else just fades away. It’s like the two of you are all warm and bright and glowing. It’s really beautiful.’
‘It’s okay, we’ve resigned ourselves to your voyeurism,’ he said. ‘You’re in the clear.’
‘It’s not voyeurism,’ she protested. ‘I’m not watching.’
‘Yeah, you’re right it’s totally different.’
‘You’re a bad brother-in-law-veela-soulmate,’ Gabby accused.
‘That’s okay, I feel brother-in-law and veela-soulmate are best kept apart,’ Harry replied. ‘And I’m very sure my wife agrees.’
‘Fleur’s so bad at sharing.’ Gabby giggled. ‘Especially now — you know she ate all my éclairs because of that dream she had about us eating all the cake? I found her in the kitchen, stuffing her face.’
‘I did know.’ He grinned. ‘I knew before the crime was committed.’
‘You didn’t warn me?!’ Gabby pouted. ‘That’s mean.’
‘Fleur would’ve known I warned you, then I would’ve been in trouble for siding with you again,’ Harry said.
‘Tempus,’ Gabby murmured. ‘We should go to the Sunshine Room. Grise’s probably waiting.’
Harry staggered to his feet and put one foot on the curved silver surface. He stepped up and slid back down to the bottom. ‘I am stuck.’
Gabby vanished, reappearing back at the top. ‘It’s much easier to apparate.’
‘You should build a platform or something,’ he said, apparating out with a soft snap. ‘Or people who can’t apparate will never be able to escape.’
‘It looks pretty, though.’ She pulled on her small, black heels. ‘Like a huge bowl of mist. And when you go in, it’s like being swallowed by silver fog.’
‘I suppose you can always throw them a portkey if they can’t apparate out,’ Harry said, shoving his feet back into his shoes and picking his way back toward the door through stacks of books and sprawling heaps of bronze and copper bowls. ‘Prototypes?’
‘From when we were trying to decide the best way to weave all the runes together into a pattern. We decided on circles, because it kind of works with the magic that there’s no ends in the pattern anywhere.’ Gabby darted out ahead of him. ‘Let’s see what happy news Grise has.’
‘It’ll be people killing each other and destroying two thousand year old magical sites in the Caribbean,’ he said. ‘That or the Spanish have joined in with the US and the British.’
‘Maybe they stopped?’ Gabby pushed open the door to the Sunshine Room and blinked in the light that spilt out. ‘They might’ve realised it was stupid to fight each other over nothing.’
‘They have… not stopped,’ Vert rasped. ‘It is… getting worse.’
‘I told you,’ Harry said.
‘Pessimist,’ Gabby jibed.
‘Realist,’ he retorted, turning to Grise. ‘Did the Spanish decide to join in?’
‘Not yet,’ Grise said, a gleam of worry in his pink eyes. ‘The Egyptian magical community has started to make worrying noises, though. Britain’s most recent treaty with the goblins has a clause in it that lets them plunder magical tombs to get back goblin artefacts seized when the Upper Nile Kingdom more or less committed genocide and wiped the goblins from the mountains there.’
‘The goblins…have a long… memory,’ Vert said. ‘They gloated…. when they… pillaged the… tombs of… national… legends, but… Britain ignored… Egyptian outrage.’
‘Britain told Egypt that they were bound by Britain’s treaty as one of their protectorates when it was first signed,’ Grise said. ‘Albus Dumbledore was not pleased to explain to the Egyptians that by international wizarding law, Britain was technically right, and he looked even less pleased about the goblins gloating afterward.’
‘Why did Britain agree?’ Gabby asked.
‘The goblins rebelled just before Grindelwald’s resistance was beginning to crumble,’ Grise replied. ‘Britain sacrificed Egyptian relics to keep them happy so they could focus on Grindelwald.’
‘It was… the right… choice,’ Vert whispered. ‘If they… had not… the statute… may have… been broken.’
‘But now it has consequences,’ Grise said. ‘Activist movements have begun to turn violent and aggressive, and if I were a gambling man, I would suspect the Ottoman Caliphate is behind the scenes, pushing for escalation.’
‘Does it matter?’ Harry asked.
‘That… depends,’ Vert said.
‘If Egypt throws off the British yoke, it’s fine,’ Grise said. ‘If Britain crushes the Egyptian activists, it’s fine. If the Ottomans get caught red-handed, Britain might retaliate and we get another Caribbean situation right here in Europe…’
Gabby groaned. ‘Well, I’m not getting involved, you know that.’
‘Your choice was clear,’ Grise said, his brow wrinkling. ‘Sarcelle’s as well, though she would be unable to fight anyway.’
‘Are you about to tell me I need to go to Egypt?’ Harry asked. ‘Because I am not keen on a long holiday right now.’
‘No,’ Vert said. ‘Not… yet.’
‘I’m not going to get any more enthusiastic,’ he replied. ‘In fact, probably quite the opposite.’
Gabby nodded. ‘Violette needs to be here in France.’
‘That may not be possible,’ Grise said. ‘Amelia Bones’s speech to the ICW today was a loosely dressed statement that Britain intends to fight fire with fire. The Ottomans and Spain are likely covertly involved already and it seems very likely France will be dragged in where the conflict threatens to cause trouble for us.’
‘The British auror captain, Weasley, has drowned Cuba and Haiti in blood,’ Grise muttered. ‘They’re all so young and stupid, they didn’t see what it was like fighting Grindelwald, and the world has forgotten how much they’re risking.’
‘She has?’ Harry asked. ‘What has she done?’
‘Nothing… terrible,’ Vert said. ‘Just… ruthless.’
‘Britain hadn’t finished warding all the islands and America’s puppet nations managed to destroy a very old and precious site on one of them,’ Grise said. ‘The local wizards and witches fought to the death to protect their ancestral relics and temples.’
‘Not good,’ Gabby murmured.
‘Ginevra Weasley finished putting up heavy wards everywhere else and then retaliated in kind, claiming Britain was protecting its allies from foreign aggression. She razed three sites on Cuba and Haiti that were just as precious to US allies and killed everyone there, under a British flag.’
‘Fantastic,’ Harry said. ‘So that all sounds like it’s going really well. I would like to go on record as saying I’m as unenthusiastic about going on holiday there as I am about going to Egypt.’
‘The ICW agreed to pin the devastation and deaths on a tropical storm,’ Grise said. ‘However, it absolutely failed to get either side to stop, and the muggles will only buy so much before they start to get suspicious.’
‘So what happens?’ Gabby asked.
Vert and Grise exchanged a long look.
‘We don’t… know.’
Grise nodded. ‘The ICW has a right to intervene if the Statute of Secrecy is threatened, but it’s never had to intervene because its own member states are risking our world’s discovery.’
‘And the more… countries… involved… the harder it… is for the… ICW to… pass any… resolution.’
A cold prickle ran down Harry’s spine. ‘If this had happened twenty years ago, would the ICW have sent Dumbledore?’
‘Yes,’ Grise said. ‘But Albus Dumbledore is dead and there is no wizard of such power who can go in his stead.’
Try telling Neville that. Harry studied the stones between his feet. Merde.