Gabby sipped hot chocolate at the kitchen table, tickling her cheek with the end of a quill and drawing overlapping circles of tiny runes on a piece of parchment.
Harry fluffed up his feathers and hopped along the skirting board.
Time to strike.
He jumped into the air, fluttering up onto the top of her head and letting out a loud, triumphant caw.
‘Off!’ Gabby flapped her hands at him. ‘Bad bird. Bad. Get out of my hair.’
Harry grabbed a beakful of shining silver and gave it a light tug.
‘Ow.’ Gabby dropped her quill and reached for her wand. ‘Veela soul-mate you might be, but I’m going to charm your feathers pink for that.’
He swooped to the floor and shifted back.
A flash of pink hit him in the face.
Harry glanced at the window. Candy floss coloured hair stuck up from his head in all directions. He sighed, patting at it with one hand.
‘Even better,’ Gabby chirped through her giggles. ‘Let me just do your eyebrows.’
Harry slid his wand from his sleeve. ‘Only if I get to turn all your hair a silly colour too.’
‘Non, I like my hair as it is.’
‘So did I,’ he muttered, patting his crown of pink tufts. ‘I don’t think Fleur’s going to like my new hairstyle.’
Gabby tucked her wand away. ‘I see my sister’s dark magic is still restricting the core of your magic and preventing you from feeling our veela-mate-soul-bond.’
‘Long may it continue,’ Harry muttered, undoing the charm on his hair. ‘I pity the boy who has to feed your sugar addiction one day.’
She beamed. ‘That’s probably going to be you, dear brother-in-law, I’m quite happy being the third wheel with you and Fleur.’
‘We’d noticed.’ He shook his head and feigned sadness. ‘Clafoutis is going to drive me to destitution.’
‘It’s a good cause.’ Gabby snickered. ‘We’ll appreciate your sacrifice.’
‘I’m so glad.’ Harry peered over her arm at the parchment. ‘Is that the pensieve?’
‘A new ring of runes, for whenever you actually show me the magic you promised to show me.’ Gabby pouted. ‘Always teasing and never delivering.’
‘Not what your sister tells me,’ he retorted.
‘Non, but she’s always asking for it harder.’ A glimmer of mischief appeared in Gabby’s eyes. ‘Or asking you how you want to have her.’
Harry shot her a flat look. ‘Could you at least cover your ears when you’re voyeuring?’
‘We all know each other too well for that! We have no secrets, remember.’ A broad grin spread across her face. ‘Are you going to ask me if you can pull my hair?’
He laughed. ‘I already did that, remember.’
‘Not as a bird!’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘Even Aimee’s weird fictional collection of hot veela blondes didn’t go as far as that.’
‘Which I am relieved to hear.’ He waved his wand at her runes. ‘I’ll show you that magic, if you like? It’s not very hard, you’ll probably find a better pattern of runes than I did.’
‘Let’s do it.’ Gabby flipped her parchment over. ‘Scribble it on here.’
Harry scrawled a ring of runes on the piece of paper. ‘This is Vert’s design.’ He traced the ring with his finger. ‘It’s a circle, so it’s continuous, but the strength of implication of the runes increases, so it’s really an endless spiral, bending time within the ring.’
‘Clever,’ Gabby murmured. ‘How far can it bend?’
‘Not all that far.’
‘What if you made the circle bigger?’
Harry tilted his head to one side, studying the runes. ‘It might bend it further, because the spiral is longer, but not very much unless you manage to add some more runes.’
Gabby spun the piece of paper around. ‘I can’t think of any I’d really want to add, actually.’
‘Do you think you can use it?’
‘Maybe…’ She flipped the page back and forth, glancing between her pattern and his. ‘If I can rearrange my runes so your circle only encloses the parts of the enchantment I want to slow.’
‘Probably.’ Gabby copied the page and set them next to one another. ‘The circles are grouped by enchantment function already.’
‘Can I test it?’
‘Non.’ She beamed. ‘Fleur would murder me for letting you go in there.’
‘Not if she doesn’t know…’
Gabby narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Non.’
‘Alright.’ Harry sighed. ‘No secrets.’
‘Bon.’ She picked her quill back up and set her feet up on the edge of the table, wiggling her toes. ‘Now go and find Fleur, she’s sulking upstairs.’
‘Sulking? Or are you sending me to a fiery death?’
Gabby giggled. ‘You’ll find out.’
‘If I get immolated, your dreams of a veela harem are over,’ he said, tucking his wand back into his sleeve. ‘No bodice ripping.’
‘But you’ll come back.’
‘Well, yes,’ Harry replied. ‘But I probably won’t be very happy.’
‘Maybe you’ll get cross and confront me, and our passion will boil over, finally overwhelming Fleur’s dark magic and leading to you tearing off my ball gown,’ Gabby said. ‘We could make a little half-sibling for Fleur’s baby, just like Aimee does with all her completely interchangeable female lovers.’
Laurent stuck his head in from the hall with a sigh. ‘I knew I should have checked what was in those books before I let you read them.’
Harry laughed. ‘Why would you even be wearing a ball gown, Gabby?’
‘Because I deviously planned the entire scenario.’ She shot him an impish grin. ‘Extra romantic, the only way to overcome the bindings Fleur has placed on your magic to stop you feeling our veela-mate-soul-bond.’
Laurent’s brow creased. ‘That’s…?’
‘Not a thing.’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘I’m extremely sure it’s not.’
‘I live in constant doubt,’ Laurent said. ‘Even my wife doesn’t reassure me whether any of it is true or not, I think she enjoys watching me try and figure it out.’
‘So far I have learnt only that Gabby can’t be trusted to reliably tell me anything about veela,’ Harry said.
‘The proper feathers thing was sort of true,’ she replied, waving her quill at him. ‘They do come with puberty, it’s just little fluffy ones before that, so…’
‘Ah, the veela maturation. Yes. I do remember something about that. You needed my help or you were going to go mad, right?’
Gabby giggled. ‘Not long now, mon Amour. And you did promise to help.’ She patted her tummy. ‘Fleur’s going to be cross, but it’s okay, in the long run we’ll all be happier.’
Laurent groaned. ‘I am going to work. Even listening to Amelia Bones is less painful than hearing my youngest daughter propositioning her sister’s husband.’
Harry chuckled. ‘How close is it?’
‘Surprisingly close.’ The humour faded from Laurent’s face. ‘We’ve had how dare you attack glorious Britain and we will fight fire with fire, so next up will probably be something along the lines of we consider these seditious attacks on our sovereign territory an open declaration of war.’
‘The ICW needs to step in to prevent it escalating to anything that might risk the Statute.’ Laurent sighed. ‘But they can’t agree on how. There aren’t many countries able and willing to contribute, and most of them are at odds with Britain or the US for one reason or another already, so it’d just make things worse.’
‘It sounds like it might stop if Ginny Weasley gets her way,’ Harry suggested. ‘I can’t imagine after she razed a few small islands that the US will find too many more allies who’ll fight for them.’
‘Perhaps.’ Laurent pulled on his long coat and straightened the collar. ‘I fear it’s more likely the US tries to use it as propaganda and fuel the fire. They cannot call on the full power of their member states in this unofficial war, only volunteers. That’s why they have their nationalist narrative at the forefront, it’s how they convince their people to fight.’
‘As long as we don’t get involved.’ Harry shared a glance with Gabby. ‘I have tried very hard to stay dead.’
Laurent nodded. ‘That auror captain doesn’t seem convinced, though.’
Neville. Harry’s eyes slid to the stack of envelopes on the chair. No, he’s not at all convinced. But he has no proof. And so long as he has none, nobody will believe him and do anything.
Laurent vanished with a loud crack.
‘You’re going to end up fighting,’ Gabby said. ‘Or involved. If you stay a part of Les Inconnus, it’s unavoidable.’
He nodded. ‘You’re probably right. We’ll see what happens, I suppose. Le Cancrelat is most important.’
‘Why?’ Gabby asked. ‘Why is he so important?’
Harry grinned. ‘That’s a secret.’
Her grey eyes darkened to a charcoal hue. ‘You know how I feel about secrets.’
‘I do.’ He sighed. ‘I suppose, given everything else you know, it really makes no difference.’
‘I keep your secrets,’ she murmured. ‘I just don’t want there to be any more misunderstandings.’
‘I found something in my vault — a foe-glass, an old one.’ Harry smothered the amber-masked man’s fierce whisper. ‘Let’s just say Le Cancrelat needs to be dealt with not just for the sake of the Statute of Secrecy, but for our sake, too.’
Gabby hummed. ‘I see.’ She shot him a small smile, as warm and soft as her sister’s. ‘For that, I will warn you that Fleur is cross.’
‘I knew you were sending me to be immolated.’
‘She is not happy that you are making things with me.’ Gabby snickered. ‘She’s being birdy and jealous. Also, I think the novelty of having a baby in her has way past worn off and she wants it out.’
‘It’s been five and a half months.’ Harry counted on his fingers. ‘Yeah, five and a halfish. I’m surprised it lasted this long.’
‘Soon Fleur will lay a big egg.’ Mischief gleamed in Gabby’s eyes. ‘Have you built a nest for it yet?’
‘She wants one made of meringue.’ He laughed. ‘I’m almost tempted to actually make her one so she can eat it.’
‘Can I have some?’ Gabby chirped.
‘Nope. You have to get your own nest.’ Harry threw a glance upward. ‘Time for immolation.’ He apparated up onto the soft carpet of their bedroom. ‘Bonjour, mon Ange. Ca va?’
Fleur stuck her head out from under her silver blanket. ‘You’re making things with Gabrielle.’
‘I showed her some magic she can use on that pensieve you won’t let me use.’ He took a seat on the edge of the bed and tucked a stray lock of her hair behind her ear. ‘Are you pouting, mon Amour?’
‘Oui.’ She squirmed ‘round and buried her head in his lap. ‘I am too fat to do anything but read and think.’
Harry wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pressed a light kiss to the top of her head. ‘Only a few months left.’
‘Three and a half, really.’ He gave her a squeeze. ‘But I have some good news. I found Le Cancrelat.’
‘Kill him.’ Fleur’s bright blue eyes slid open. ‘Wipe him and all his followers away, then come back here and be my pillow.’
‘I can’t go for another few days. He’s in Spain, so I need to wait to make sure nobody’s noticed and got upset over my last trip there.’ Harry sighed. ‘It shouldn’t make any difference.’
I wonder if the amber-masked man is still in the foe-glass now.
‘It will be nice when he is gone,’ Fleur murmured. ‘We can have our baby and you can make things with me.’
‘Yes, my beautiful, jealous bird-wife.’ He chuckled. ‘Although I think the baby may be more trouble than Le Cancrelat at this rate. Apparently, sleep is something we will both become accustomed to not having much of.’
‘Non.’ Fleur wrinkled her nose. ‘You can stay up, mon Cœur. You are nine months behind.’
‘Seems fair.’ Harry traced his fingertips over the swell of her stomach. ‘I’ve definitely got off lighter than you with the pregnancy thing.’
‘Exactement.’ She closed her eyes and let out a soft sigh. ‘This is nice, mon Amour, but I need to go to the bathroom again.’
‘Nearly there.’ He helped her to feet and watched her waddle across the carpet. ‘You look very cute.’
‘I look fat.’ Fleur flashed him a smile. ‘Je t’aime, mon Cœur.’
She’ll be a few minutes. Harry frowned. I’ve time to take a little peek.
‘I’ll be back in a moment,’ he said, wrenching the world back past him and stepping onto sun-soaked white pebbles.
He slipped his wand from his sleeve, summoning Tanit’s Looking Glass out from under the stones with his free hand and slicing a small cut into the ball of his thumb. Harry held his stinging thumb over the silver disc and watched the crimson bead blossom on his skin, dangling until it dropped to splash across the shining surface.
Grey walls rose over him and sunlight faded to shadows.
Beneath his toes and the serpent-tongued stone bridge dark water waited, still as glass. A sapphire-studded silver tiara shone on his palm, cold as ice.
Harry watched it slide over his skin and splash into the pool, scattering ripples across the black water.
The gleaming tiara sank down into the dark.
Is that it? He held his breath. Is the amber-masked man gone?
A speck of gold appeared in the water, bright as the rising sun.
No. He’s not gone.
A featureless face of flickering amber flame stared up from the dark. Little wisps of steam curled off the water and the pool bubbled and roiled, radiating a heat so fierce it seared Harry’s skin. The dark yawned open beneath his feet, molten stone dripping from the underside of the bridge into an ever-deepening abyss.
The burning amber face opened a maw of swirling flame and sharp shadow. ‘Nothing lasts forever,’ it hissed, dawn-bright and hot as hell. ‘Not sunsets. Not wishes. Not dreams.’
The bridge crumbled to dust and Harry plunged into the abyss.