"Some people meet the way the sky meets the earth, inevitably, and there is no stopping or holding back their love. It exists in a finished world, beyong the reach of common sense."
- Louise Erdrich
VALÈRE HENRI DIED on a sunny afternoon in August of 1988. He was staring out his window at the cloudless sky outside, when his heart stopped beating in his chest.
He had never been a man of poor health. Many years ago, as a young Muggle-Born just out of Beauxbâtons, Valère Henri had travelled the world. He trekked the continents with nothing more than the clothes on his back and the contents of his travel bag, learning languages he didn’t even know existed, discovering the wonders of solitude, and finding enlightenment in the smallest of things. For three years he travelled aimlessly, until his journey met its end in the Northern regions of Norway, in the pale eyes of a young opera singer named Petra. He married her on snowy cliffs overlooking a vast, frozen ocean and together they took the train back to France. They had four years of happiness before she was killed in one of Grindelwald’s attacks. It was her that he remembered as he lay panting on the shining floor of his office. He remembered her face and the sound of her voice, her small body shaking in his arms and her hand reaching out for his, her sobs and the exact moment they became silent. He had never loved another woman after her.
When his adopted son found him an hour later, the old man’s body was already cold. One of his wrinkled hands was clutching the fabric over his heart, but his eyes were fixed on the ceiling in a soft stare. The boy stood in the doorway for a long time before gathering up the courage to approach the man. He knelt next to him and touched Valère Henri’s face as a tear made its way on his cheek. It slid softly down his neck and came to rest on his collarbone. With a sudden wave of anger that was foreign to him, he gripped the old man’s shirt and shook him roughly, begging him to please not be dead. But there was no denying it. Valère Henri was gone and he was alone.
In the days that followed, the news of Valère Henri’s death was on the front page of every newspaper in Wizarding Europe. He had been the lead researcher and Director of the famous Lenoir Observatory in Paris and was remembered for his breakthrough discoveries and innovations in different fields of Astronomy. It was not only the famous man’s demise and accomplishments that were discussed in these articles, but also the fate of his adopted son. What would become of the young man now that his guardian was gone?
Gabriel Lenoir’s story was a sad one, without a doubt. He was the son of Hadrien Lenoir and Catherine Sinclair, both born from high status Pureblood families. They died tragically when the boy was seven years old. The exact circumstances of their death were unknown to the public, but rumour was that the child had seen the whole thing. Either he did not remember or just refused to speak of it, but nobody knew the details of what had happened that night. The murder was blamed on the Dark Lord and his followers. It had been a well-known fact in the magical community that he had been after the Lenoirs from the very start of his rise to power – after all, they were one of the oldest and most powerful families in Europe. The new orphan had been placed under the guardianship of Valère Henri, who had met the late Hadrien Lenoir while teaching Astronomy at Beauxbâtons and been named the boy’s godfather. The man’s death made the boy parentless for a second time. And to make matters worse, if arrangements had been made in case Valère Henri was to die before the boy reached his majority, they simply could not be found.
How the problem was solved might seem cruel, but it was quite common in earlier wizarding traditions. The last Lenoirs had been killed during the war and since they were of Pureblood lineage, and all the Purebloods are somewhat related, it was very hard, if almost impossible, to find the boy’s closest relative. Hence started a veritable war to decide who would become the Lenoir heir’s new guardian. The French Ministry’s offices were flooded with documents of genealogy and letters of adoption request. Pureblood families from all over Europe entered the competition, hoping to somewhat inherit the boy’s fortune.
Albus Dumbledore, the current Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, had kept a very close correspondence with Valère Henri over the years. The two men shared many passions, especially one for Astronomy and they’d even collaborated on a few research papers in their younger days. Dumbledore had never met the young Lenoir, but he visibly worried over the matter. He could be seen every morning, sighing over The Daily Prophet, that followed the affair closely, and shaking his head at the antics some of the families were pulling to get the boy.
“Your beard is dipping into your porridge, Albus,” informed Professor McGonagall, the Transfiguration teacher, who was sitting at the opposite end of the table.
“Oh, dear...” Dumbledore said, but he made no move to remove it. “The Delatours have joined the race,” he added, his voice sounding slightly baffled.
McGonagall cringed at his words. Arnaud Delatour and his wife Laura were Pureblood aristocrats who didn’t do much more for the community than host fancy balls and garden parties.
“Poor boy,” the Deputy Headmistress commented softly. “It must be terrible for him, being sold off to the highest bidder.”
“Yes, it’s highly inappropriate,” commented Severus Snape, the school’s reputed Potions Master. “But without any prior arrangements, it’s an unavoidable situation.”
“How could Valère have been so careless?” Dumbledore sighed again. “This could end very badly.”
By the end of the week, no decision had been made concerning the boy’s new guardian, but fortunately, the flow of applications seemed to have considerably diminished. The wizarding community could do nothing more than wait. One morning, as Severus Snape was sitting in his office, making preparations for the upcoming school year, the face of a tired-looking Albus Dumbledore appeared in his fireplace, requesting his presence in the Headmaster’s office.
“Liquorice, Severus?” the old man asked as the Potions Master sat across from him.
Severus frowned. “Would you be kind enough to cut to the chase, Headmaster? I have some work to do.”
Dumbledore set aside the bowl of colourful candies and suddenly he looked weary and very much his age. “I desperately need a friend’s advice concerning an important matter.”
Severus was taken aback, but he kept silent while the Headmaster took out the previous night’s edition of The Daily Prophet and handed it to him. The Potions Master took it and stared at the headline, deeply disgusted with the name he read.
“It seems like Angus Moram is the favoured candidate,” Dumbledore finally said in an exasperated and irritated voice that was uncommon coming from him. “I cannot begin to understand how those Ministry workers would pick him out of all the other inadequate but slightly better alternatives. I’ve been thinking about this for a fair part of the night.”
“I can only agree,” Severus admitted, perplexed. “What is wrong with them?” he groaned, setting the paper back on the desk, trying not to stare at the face of the man grinning maliciously at him from the front page. “I know that there is nothing a bag of galleons big enough can’t buy, but... Merlin, leaving a child in Moram’s hands? Surely they can’t be serious! With what happened five years ago, I don’t understand how they can consider it. Is the man even sane enough to legally adopt a child?”
Angus Moram was a British wizard of Russian origins. He had worked for the Auror Department for a long time. In his prime, he was famous and ambitious, with a great future ahead of him. However, the war had changed him considerably. Most of his family had been killed by the Dark Lord and after that, something shifted inside of him. He became driven by a hate so deep that he stopped doing ethical work and started relying solely on rash instincts. He put his team in danger with his daring actions and two of his colleagues had eventually been killed.
The worst of it, however, happened after the Dark Lord disappeared. Moram was then determined to find the remaining Death Eaters and kill them all with his bare hands. He had given Severus hell during his trial, despite all the proof that Dumbledore had that the future Potions Master had been on their side, associating with the Death Eaters but reporting to him. Moram started searching around for information; then, a gruff drunkard in a pub told him that a group of fugitive Death Eaters had found refuge in an underground hiding place in the Paris catacombs. He had tried to bring the project in as a mission for the Auror Department to work on, but with no reliable source except the words of a known village idiot, he had merely been laughed at. Moram had then taken the matter into his own hands and found the place, killing the three wizards he found there. As it turned out, they weren’t exactly Death Eaters, but a few kids meddling with basic Dark Magic. He could have gone to Azkaban for that stunt, for disobeying the Department orders and killing innocents; but a mental evaluation proved that, with the stress he was under and the grief of losing his family, he might not have been totally in control of his actions. He lost his job and was forced into therapy, but Angus Moram never saw the inside of a prison cell.
“You understand that I simply cannot let Valère’s boy get taken away by that man,” the Headmaster explained. “I’m wondering whether or not I should intervene. This is where I need your advice, Severus.”
Dumbledore sat back into his armchair and waited for Severus to comment.
Severus snorted. “You know very well that I am biased, Headmaster. With everything Moram made me go through during my trial, do you really think I would wish him on anyone? I say go ahead and get the boy. You can offer him protection and education, and a single glimpse into your Gringotts account will let them know you’re not after his money. Surely they can’t choose Angus Moram over the great Albus Dumbledore.”
And Albus Dumbledore stood up from his desk and made his way towards the fireplace. He had signed the papers and obtained guardianship of the boy by dinnertime.
A few days later, the Headmaster returned to Hogwarts after a brief trip to France, with a suitcase and a large box containing the Sorting Hat.
“How is the boy, Albus?” Professor McGonagall asked him the next morning at breakfast.
“He is simply charming, Minerva – educated, polite, albeit quite sad about the latest events, I must admit.”
“With reason,” the Transfiguration teacher commented, nodding.
“His schooling was the main point of our meeting,” the Headmaster continued, “but I have spoken with Madam Maxime and she assured me that changing schools would not be a problem for a student like young Gabriel. With those formalities out of the way, we talked about Astronomy, cheese, wine and chamber music for a good part of the afternoon. For a fifteen year old boy, he is truly resourceful.” He turned to the Potions Master then. “Severus, I am sure you will be glad to know that...”
“What?” the man groaned.
He had spent a good part of the night in his dungeons, working on class plans for the upcoming term and was coming up with quite a headache that probably had to do with the idea of having to interact with children again soon.
“He has mental capabilities exceeding the profoundly deceitful ones of all the other children his age that I have had the privilege to meet in my seven years of teaching? I truly doubt that.”
Dumbledore smiled, a twinkle evident in his eyes.
“You will have plenty of time to find out for yourself as you will be his Head of House.”
Severus was surprised and slightly uncomfortable at these words. Dumbledore might be the boy’s guardian, but as his Head of House, part of the boy’s well-being would thus be under Severus’ responsibility.
“There are a few remaining matters to settle before he can join us here at Hogwarts, but would you be so kind as to pick him up next Friday?” Dumbledore asked him, that damned twinkle still shining behind his spectacles.
Severus frowned at him over his glass of pumpkin juice and his half-eaten croissant but nodded grimly.
So that was why, on a quiet September evening, three days after the start of term, Severus travelled to Paris to find Gabriel Lenoir and bring him back to Hogwarts.
Located far into the magical neighbourhoods of Paris, the Lenoir Observatory had been built on top of an old mountain more than three hundred years before. It possessed five enormous refracting telescopes accessible to the public and two others, much larger, reserved for the many researchers who had taken permanent residence at the Observatory. A side building held classrooms because, many times every year, the Lenoir Observatory hosted seminars on Astronomy, and famous figures of the field often stopped there for lectures. Severus, who had always been somewhat hard to impress, found himself appreciating his visit more than expected. He was almost glad that the boy was nowhere to be found so that he could continue snooping around the installations. At first he had followed a tour with a group of German tourists, but he quickly took a side corridor because the guide’s accent got on his nerves.
When he looked up from the telescope he was using, almost an hour had passed and there was still no sign of the boy. He flipped through the English section of his constellation guide, searching for new stars to find.
The red dwarf star Proxima Centauri is the star closest to our Sun, located at a distance of 4.22 light years. Just like its name implies, it is located in the Constellation of the Centaur. Proxima Centauri was discovered in 1915 by the Muggle astronomer Robert Innes while he was Director of the Union Observatory in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was the one to name the now famous star considered the least luminous of all the stars known to this day. Proxima Centauri has been the closest to our Sun for 32,000 years and will retain its position for another 9,000 years until it will explode and be replaced by another.
Severus followed the star finder, but his skills with a telescope of this size were almost nonexistent.
“Proxima Centauri, where are you?” he muttered irritably, trying to adjust the numerous telescope lenses.
“Do you need help, sir?” a voice asked.
Severus turned around and saw Gabriel Lenoir for the very first time.
His eyes were the exact same colour as the vials of freshly-brewed essence of belladonna aligned on the shelves of Severus’ potions cabinet – a blue-coloured and very sweet liquid that tasted like paradise but was deadly poisonous. The boy’s face had high, well-defined cheekbones, a perfectly snubbed nose, and hair as light as his name was dark. If he’d had an arrogant expression on his face or maybe a vicious smile, he could have been mistaken for a Malfoy. But since the fifteen year old had – Albus had been right – impeccable manners, it was impossible to confuse him with one of Lucius’ relatives. He was wearing a long, fitted blazer from the latest fashion of the French tailors – black velvet and blue silk on the inside – over elegant dark clothes.
He leaned over Severus and with expert hands, adjusted the telescope lenses with a quick glance through the eyepiece then invited Severus to do the same. The star was there, a small red dot barely perceivable by the naked eye, but magically enlarged to the size of a Golden Snitch.
“Did you know that even though Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Sun, if you were to fly towards it on a broomstick at a speed of fifty thousand kilometres an hour, it would still take you eighty eight thousand years to reach it? It’s incredible how immense the universe is, don’t you think?”
The boy was speaking with a very slight French accent, but his English was impeccable compared to Severus’ poor notions of the French language.
“You are Professor Snape, aren’t you, sir?” the boy asked in a voice that seemed both sad and relieved at the same time.
“Yes, and you are Mr. Lenoir I presume.”
Severus held his hand out to the boy and the fifteen year old shook it with a polite smile.
“I think Professor Dumbledore has told you that I will be your Head of House?”
“Yes, he has, and he also told me that you teach Potions, but I already knew. It’s always been my favourite subject. I’ve read your article on the different properties of asphodel in The Potions Maker.”
“I’m flattered,” Severus said, trying his best not to sound sarcastic – getting rid of old habits was not easy.
He was already relieved by the boy’s demeanour. He seemed mostly quiet and far from stupid. Maybe the trip back to Hogwarts wouldn’t be as painful as he’d imagined it would be.
“I’m glad to hear that some kids your age actually read complementary materials. Maybe your generation is not lost after all,” Severus announced, standing up.
The boy laughed lightly. “Don’t be too hopeful, Professor. I just have a lot of time on my hands.” His face turned apologetic then. “I’m sorry I made you wait, sir. I was just saying my goodbyes. Are we going back to Hogwarts right away?”
“The Headmaster has arranged a Portkey for us,” Severus answered, looking at his pocket watch. “But, as it turns out, we still have almost half an hour left to spare. Is there anything important you have to do?” he asked and the boy shook his head. “In that case, I would like to take this spare time to visit Emil Rousseau. Perhaps you might want to accompany me?”
A small but honest smile grew on Gabriel’s face. “I would like that, sir.”
“Given your enthusiasm with Potions, I thought you might.”
He started walking towards the large doors of the observation room and the boy followed.
“There are certain ingredients that are difficult to find in Britain and that Mr. Rousseau manages to get his hands on once in a while. I try to stop by his shop whenever I have business in the country.”
Outside the room, in the large hallway, they came upon a few leather suitcases marked with the boy’s initials.
“This is all you’re taking with you?” Severus asked, raising an eyebrow at the boy who simply nodded in response.
“Headmaster Dumbledore has already arranged for my school supplies to be delivered directly to Hogwarts. He also mentioned he would personally get me warmer clothes for the winter season.” The boy looked uneasy. “I didn’t think it was polite to refuse.”
Severus smirked. “I understand your worries. Professor Dumbledore can be flamboyant with it comes to clothing.”
“Yes, he was wearing a royal blue robe with moon crescents when I met him,” the boy said. “They had little arms and legs and were waving at me.”
Severus shook his head. Unfortunately, he could easily imagine the Headmaster wearing such a garment.
“Let me shrink these for you,” he said. “It will be easier to carry during our errand.”
A few flicks of his wand later, he was handing the boy three miniature pieces of luggage. Gabriel slipped them into his pocket without a word.
Quietly, they made their way to the large fireplace in the lobby, and a minute later, Severus was stumbling out into the parlour of Emil Rousseau’s cramped and smoky apothecary shop. The roaring fireplace made the numerous vials of potion ingredients on the shelves shake and clash slightly as the boy came out of the fireplace behind him.
Almost as soon as they had dusted their clothes free of ashes, a tall and broad-shouldered man appeared from behind a shelf. He was wearing a simple black robe under a badly-stained and burnt apron and thick rubber gloves protected his large hands. He looked as though he had just survived quite an explosion – part of his shoulder-length brown hair was still smoking.
“Severus!” the man called out happily with a heavy French accent as he approached. “What brings you here?”
He stopped in his tracks when he caught sight of the second visitor. His face sank and his eyes went sad. The large, imposing man suddenly looked like a beaten dog.
“Gabriel, my boy...” he whispered and he took the boy by his shoulders and hugged him tightly. “I simply can’t believe what has happened to you... It’s terrible...”
“I came to retrieve Mr. Lenoir and bring him to Hogwarts,” Severus announced, uncomfortable with Rousseau’s reaction.
“Yes, yes,” the man said gravely. “Oh, all those vultures trying to get their hands on him... How good of Dumbledore to take him! He will not regret this. This boy is simply extraordinary! I am telling you, Severus. I have rarely seen anyone this gifted before!”
He was smiling wildly now and had been holding the boy much longer than Severus deemed necessary.
“Gabriel, you have to see the fermenting dittany roots, they are almost ready to add to the brew. Go take a look.”
He finally let Gabriel go and Severus cringed at the dirt that had gotten on the boy’s clothes and the handprints Rousseau had left on his back. He threw a quick cleaning spell in the boy’s direction before he disappeared into the backroom.
“He helped me with a potion,” Rousseau continued. “We have been working on a modified version of Democles’ Wolfsbane potion for lycanthropy by adding dittany roots to the mix with a smaller part of aconite. I think it may stop the transformations altogether. So far it has not exactly been a breakthrough, but I think we are getting there,” he announced proudly.
“Yes, I read about it in that interview you gave last month, but you didn’t mention Mr. Lenoir.”
“You are right, I did not mention him. I don’t want anyone to steal him away from me,” Rousseau said, giving Severus a suspicious stare before laughing.
“I didn’t know you were so well-acquainted with the boy.”
“Oh, I met him through Valère. The old man used to keep me up to date with moon phases and star activities, for the picking of the plants, you know. And once in a while he would send this boy along when he was too busy himself. It was a real discovery. Gabriel has a true gift for potion-making. I was going to offer him an apprenticeship, but with him going off for Hogwarts, it won’t be possible.”
Severus nodded. “I understand. Speaking about aconite, you don’t happen to have some to spare, do you? The centaurs trampled all over the batch I planted last month.”
“I always have some and the best kind at that. I will even give you some from my personal reserve. Why do you need it? Did you get yourself a werewolf boyfriend who is too feisty for you?” the man asked, laughing loudly.
Severus grimaced at his turned back while the massive man headed towards the room the boy had disappeared into. He followed after Rousseau grimly.
Inside, the peaceful bubbling of cauldrons greeted him. Gabriel was carefully removing the seeds from a batch of wild Japanese Oajyn bulbs – a difficult task Severus would hesitate to give even his seventh year class, let alone have them do it without gloves like the boy did. The plant was strongly poisonous when fresh and if you squeezed the bulb too hard and it burst, the acidic liquid it contained could burn through your fingers before you even noticed. He made a gesture to stop the boy.
“It’s okay, Professor, I do this all the time,” Gabriel told him calmly, tearing the seed out from a bulb without so much as a drop of acid. “Mr. Rousseau can’t manage it without making a mess.”
“My fingers are too big!” Rousseau confessed loudly.
He removed his gloves and waved his large hands for Severus to see. The Potions Master wondered how this giant of a man could even move around a laboratory without making everything explode.
“Here is your aconite, Severus.”
“The Wolfsbane is for Lupin,” Severus announced, giving Rousseau a few galleons in exchange.
Strangely, he felt like he should justify himself after the ‘feisty werewolf boyfriend’ comment.
“Ah, Remus Lupin,” Rousseau frowned. “Yes, he wrote to me after the interview was published. He wanted to know how the experiment was going. I have rarely met a werewolf so eager to cure his condition. Most of the lycans I know get angry whenever anyone suggests a cure.”
“Because they embraced their wolf side, it has become a part of them,” Gabriel commented quietly. “Mr. Lupin is rejecting his, like you would reject a transplanted limb. It doesn’t have to do with his body, though. It’s a state of mind.”
“You are far too wise for your age,” Rousseau commented, shaking his head at the boy. He looked at Severus then. “You should force him to play Quidditch when he gets to Hogwarts. Then he might start to think like a fifteen year old.”
“That would be a waste. Come along, Mr. Lenoir, our Portkey will activate soon.”
Gabriel finished the last of the bulbs and smiled up at Rousseau.
“Can I write to you?” he asked the man. “I would like to know how the potion is doing.”
“Of course you can, and I’ll send you my notes on the experiment. Now, go educate yourself! Have a good term Severus, and good luck with your boyfriend!”
The Potions Master merely nodded and guided Gabriel back into the shop.
“You don’t like him much, do you, Professor?” Gabriel asked with a small smile.
“I despise him.”
They stood there for a little while, their fingers wrapped around the old woollen sock that Severus had taken out of his pocket, waiting for the Portkey to activate. Severus tried to keep his gaze above Gabriel’s head or over his shoulders, but eventually, their eyes met and that’s when the Portkey grabbed them violently. Gabriel clung to Snape’s wrist in surprise. They landed near the Three Broomsticks, and for a second, Gabriel’s hand stayed wrapped around Severus’ arm and neither of them moved. Then the boy flushed and took his hand away, looking at his surroundings.
From there they walked to the school. Severus felt generous enough to introduce Gabriel to Hogsmeade and its various shops as they passed them. The boy he did ask questions now and then, but he stayed mostly silent. He was nervous, and he wasn’t hiding it very well.
“Sir, how well do you know Headmaster Dumbledore?” the boy asked politely as they were leaving the village.
Snape had to think about it for a moment.
“As well as one possibly can, I think. Albus Dumbledore is quite unique, as you have noticed. But you should not worry yourself, Mr. Lenoir. He will do what he thinks is best.”
Gabriel nodded but he was staring at his feet as he walked. Neither the professor nor the boy was very fond of talking so a comfortable silence settled. Then, without really knowing why, Severus spoke.
“As your guardian, the Headmaster will want to know if something troubles you; but he is a busy man, and as your Head of House, you can always come to me with whatever problem you’re having... or if you want to talk.”
Gabriel nodded and smiled.
“And about your wardrobe,” the teacher continued, “if he ever brings up the matter, I promise to advise him against anything that waves.”
“That’s kind of you,” Gabriel said, and the sound of his laughter made something shift inside Severus.
He was pretty sure no one had ever called him ‘kind’ before.