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The Open Door

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"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.


Chapter Text

"Those who have died have been born again in me.  My population is too large, beyond the strength of just one man.  But then, a person would be incomplete if he contained no others."

-Yevgeny Yevtushenko


GABRIEL’S FIRST THOUGHT upon entering the Slytherin dungeons was that it was frigid.  The long walk up to Hogwarts through the tree-lined dirt road had made him a little sweaty and the change in temperature was uncomfortable.  The damp hair at the base of his neck chilled him.

He sat alone in his new dormitory.  All of his roommates had left for the common room after their Head of House made the introductions.  They were probably telling the others that the new French boy had just arrived and that Professor Snape had threatened to give them detention for the year if they didn’t treat him well.  Gabriel sighed, looking at his now enlarged luggage.  He would have very much appreciated if Hogwarts had private rooms.  After all, the castle looked large enough to provide each student with their own living quarters.  But he knew such a demand, to either Professor Snape or the Headmaster, would make him look like a spoiled little rich boy.  It wasn’t that he thought he was better than the others; it was just that he’d always had trouble getting along with people his age.  He always felt more at ease with adults.

He looked around the room, taking in the other beds, the dark tiled floors and the heavy drapes.  He could hear laughter coming from the common room and he sighed again.  He was in a new place, yet this situation felt very familiar and he thought maybe he was just meant to live his whole life that way: lonely, cold and hiding from the people he was supposed to feel at home with.  Slowly, he stood and put his possessions away in the chest at the foot of the bed.  The inside was magically enlarged into compartments to hold books, clothes and many other things.  When he was done, he closed his empty suitcases and slid them underneath the bed.

He stopped to look at a picture frame he’d wrapped into a sweater.  His own face smiled up at him, but his gaze met Valère Henri’s shining eyes and he let out a single chocked sob.  The picture had been taken two years before.  Gabriel looked considerably younger in the photograph, but Valère looked just like he did when he’d last seen him.  He eyed the familiar face, with the short white hair and the carefully-trimmed beard, then moved to set the frame on his bedside table, but stopped.  He didn’t know much about life in the Hogwarts dormitories yet, but if it was anything like what he’d known before, leaving personal effects in plain view was the best way never to see them again.  He opened the large chest and tucked the picture back into the same sweater before closing it again and locking it with a spell.

It wasn’t until he started taking his clothes off that he realised just how tired he was.  He changed into an old t-shirt and stripped to his boxers, trying to calm the shaking of his hands.  Then he slipped right into bed and closed the heavy drapes around it.  The noises from the common room muffled considerably.  He brought the blankets closer around his shivering body and forced his eyes closed, trying to clear his mind.  He kept repeating to himself like a mantra that everything would be fine, that there was no need to be scared, that Hogwarts was a good place and that Dumbledore had been the best option out there.  He kept repeating those words until finally, without noticing, he drifted into sleep.



After his parents’ death, little Gabriel used to grab a thick blanket from the linen closet, stretch it over the bathtub in the largest washroom, and hide underneath it for hours.  That place became his refuge whenever he felt scared or alone.  He found comfort in the quiet darkness, and there was this echo in the room that responded to the smallest of noises.  That way, he knew that whatever crept into his safe haven, he would hear it coming.  Later, in the days following Valère’s death, he had found himself crammed into that same place, while waiting for his fate to be decided.  He had never felt that angry and helpless before in his entire life, not even when he watched his parents being ripped to pieces before his very eyes, because this time he knew how truly alone he was.  Valère had been the only one left to protect him, and without him Gabriel was at the mercy of anything that came his way.

He dreamt of Valère that night.  It was the first time he saw the man in his dreams, but since his death, Gabriel had supposed it might happen.

He dreamt that he was having breakfast with the old man in that small cafe near the Observatory.  In the last four years, they must have visited that place at least once a week in the summer.  They would stay up late, working all night on Valère’s research, and in the morning they would have breakfast and then go back home to sleep for most of the day.  Gabriel wasn’t surprised that the dream would happen there.  They had shared many good memories in that place.  It was understandable that Valère would choose that location.

The dream was quiet and sunny.  The cafe was empty.  They were the only customers and there wasn’t a waiter in sight.  Even outside on the terrace, the chairs and tables were vacant.  There wasn’t one single pedestrian in the street either, but once again, Gabriel wasn’t surprised.  He knew they were alone in this world.

For a few seconds, Gabriel was blinded by the light reflecting on the silver knife in Valère’s hand.  With agile fingers, the man was browsing through a variety of jam packets on the table, a fresh slice of bread ready on his plate.  His own plate was filled with bread and fresh fruit, but Gabriel made no move to touch it.  Valère looked up and spared a glance at his adopted son who held his gaze.

“Stop staring at me like that, Gabriel.  You’re making me nervous,” the man joked, and small laugh lines appeared at the corner of his eyes.  The sight made Gabriel’s heart clench tightly in his chest.

“Why are you doing this to me?  Why do you have to haunt me in my dreams?  If you want to be gone, just stay gone,” Gabriel managed to say, looking at the man with something close to disgust.

Valère frowned distractedly as he picked a package of strawberry jam from the pile. 

“What are you saying?  Who’s in a dream?”

“I am!” Gabriel groaned irritably at the man.  “You know that perfectly well!  I am sleeping, and worst of all, I’m dreaming about you.”

“Stop fussing and eat your breakfast.  You’ll sleep when we get home,” Valère said, trying to sound angry but he was still smiling. 

There was something odd about Valère’s voice.  It was his own, but there was something like an echo in it, something deeper.  The old man looked up and noticed Gabriel staring again and he winked, spreading the jam across his bread.  His face was the same, too, but it wasn’t Valère Henri’s eyes that were watching Gabriel from behind the stylish glasses.

“You’re not Valère,” he let out softly, almost in defeat.  “I know you’re not him.”

“You say the stupidest things, Gabriel,” the man replied, biting into his bread and laughing.

“Where is Valère?” Gabriel insisted, his eyes never leaving the doppelganger of his adoptive father.

The old man stopped laughing and his face became serious.  Slowly, he put down the slice of bread and pushed his plate to the side.  He rested his elbows on the table and leaned forward, looking into Gabriel’s face. 

“You will never see Valère Henri again, even with this strange... ability that you have.”

Ever since his parents died, Gabriel had those dreams which were not really dreams.  He would meet people who died and learn things from them that he couldn’t know any other way.  Valère had supposed that watching his parents die so tragically triggered something inside of him.  Gabriel had researched this possibility further.  He read that this kind of unusual power was common amongst Pureblood families.  It resulted from the intense magic concentration caused by inbreeding in the bloodline.  There had been necromancers, seers and elementals in the past, but now it was fairly scarce.  Nowadays, in the most common cases, the affected wizard would just be born a Squib.  The concentrated magic unexplainably cancelled itself.  It was the most horrible thing that could happen to a Pureblood family, and many organisations used this to promote intermarriages between Muggles and wizards.

Digging further, Gabriel found traces of seers in the Lenoir ancestry.  Some of them were very adept at the art, but he didn’t consider himself a seer since he couldn’t predict the future.  And he didn’t consider himself a necromancer either, because he didn’t have the power to summon or raise spirits...not that he knew of.  He had tried to think of someone in particular that he would want to talk to before going to sleep, but it never worked.  Spirits seemed to find him randomly.  It was the one thing that hurt him the most: he had never been able to see or talk to his parents.  But there was a feeling deep inside of him...  It had never been confirmed, but still it was there.  His deepest fear was that, after they were tortured and killed, there just wasn’t enough left of them for their souls to exist.

“How did you get into my dream?” Gabriel asked, but he was already dreading the answer. 

He tried to concentrate on waking up, clenching his muscles and taking deep breaths.  He shut his eyes tightly for a moment, and when he opened them again, the man’s eyes were darker and the sides of his mouth seemed to be turning black.

“This is only partly your dream.  You don’t have any control here, boy.”

“That’s not possible...” Gabriel whispered, shaking his head and leaning into the back of his chair, as far away from that thing as he could.

The creature laughed again and Gabriel felt its breath from across the table.  It smelled of decay: dry and dusty, like the inside of a tomb. 

“If this was your own dream, would you feel this?”

And before he had time to react, the doppelganger had grabbed the silver knife from the table and violently stabbed it into Gabriel’s hand.  The movement was so strong that he felt his bones break upon impact and the muscles tear and the knife planted itself into the table underneath, cracking the glass surface.

Gabriel had time to see the blood pool around his wounded hand before his eyes shot open and he sat up in bed.  The scream that had been forming in his throat came out in a painful gasp.  His hair was sticking to his forehead and the back of his t-shirt felt hot and wet, yet chills were running on his skin.  He looked at his right hand.  It was shaking, but intact, although it still seemed to hurt somehow.

Trembling, he climbed out of bed.  He had no idea what time it was.  He had forgotten to take his watch out of his blazer pocket and it was now put away with the rest of his things.  It looked like the middle of the night.  Most of the curtains on the other beds were pulled closed and he could hear soft snores coming from the opposite side of the room.

“Hey, are you alright?” 

The voice came in a whisper but still managed to startle him.  Gabriel turned to the bed next to his.  The curtains were half-opened and Killian Burke stared at him with sleepy eyes. 

“I heard you mumbling in your sleep,” he said.

“It was just a nightmare, that’s all,” Gabriel said quietly, more to convince himself than to explain.

The boy attempted a comforting smile.  His voice was groggy with sleep as he spoke. 

“Don’t worry your head too much, mate.  Hogwarts isn’t that bad.  Besides, we Slytherins stick together.  Nobody will bother you here.  We’ll make sure of it.”

Gabriel simply nodded and quietly made his way over to the lavatory.  The tiled floor was icy cold under his bare feet, but it cleared his head.  Before he pushed open the door, he looked back to check if Burke was still staring at him, but all he could see where the boy’s face had been was slightly billowing curtains.

Torches lit up on the walls as soon as he stepped inside the shared washroom.  It was bigger than he thought it would be.  The wall before him was lined with ivory sinks with shining faucets.  On one side he saw toilet stalls, and on the other a few showers.  His tired face stared back at him from the long mirror on the wall.  He stepped closer to stare at his reflection, taking in the red circles around his eyes and the unnatural paleness of his face.

He shivered when he thought back to that dream, and it didn’t help that he couldn’t talk to Valère about it.  Nobody else knew of his... ability.  He had no one to confide in now.  Sure, Professor Snape had said he could come to him for anything, but Gabriel suspected he’d just said that to be nice to him, out of pity.  It was a shame, really, Gabriel thought.  Maybe Snape would know what to do.  And he couldn’t really tell any of this to his roommates either, however nice Killian Burke was to him.

He had learned quickly not to trust people.  Everybody wanted something from him.  Nobody was nice for the sake of being nice.  When he was younger, the few attempts he’d tried at making friends had always ended the same way, with him crying into his pillow while Valère rubbed his back soothingly, cursing after those damned kids and already planning to owl their parents.

There had been a period, not long after he’d started attending Beauxbâtons, when things were so bad that he’d take the Floo home every day after classes.  Life with his roommates was unbearable.  He didn’t know if it was just plain jealousy, or if he’d ever done or said something to make them turn against him, but he couldn’t even spend one night in peace.  His roommates had rapidly taken the habit of stealing his things, on the excuse that he had enough money to buy new ones anyway.  His second year was spent entirely at home, being taught by private tutors and the peacefulness it brought him made him progress considerably in his studies.  But Valère thought it was important for him to socialise with other children so he was forced to return for his third year.  This decision caused the only dispute Gabriel had ever had with his guardian.  He hadn’t talked to Valère for weeks.  At least the then thirteen year old was placed in the fifth year dormitory, where he managed to find some peace and quiet, without really bonding with any of his older roommates.  It wasn’t like he spent much time in his dorm anyway.  He liked the library better.  No one bothered him there.

Gabriel twisted the faucet and turned on the water as hot as he could endure before cupping his hands and washing the sweat away from his cheeks and forehead.  And he stared at his face and his eyes, wondering if he was still alive, somewhere, deep inside his body.

For the rest of the night, Gabriel kept wondering what the doppelganger meant when it said he would never get to see Valère again, even in his dreams.  Did it just mean that he would never get to reach out to someone in particular, or that seeing Valère was impossible because he just couldn’t come to him?  More importantly, was something keeping him from appearing in one of his dreams?  Gabriel wished he knew more about this strange world he kept wandering in his sleep.  Maybe the Hogwarts library had books on the subject.  The only ones he had found in Beauxbâtons he had already read countless times, constantly coming back to them in hope that there was some passage he’d forgotten or some chapter he read too quickly.  There just didn’t seem to exist anything pertinent on the subject.  He’d found plenty about ghosts and ways to communicate with them, but nothing resembled what he was experiencing.  He simply refused to believe that he was the only one.  He couldn’t be alone with this ability, there had to be others.



Morning came surprisingly rapidly.  He supposed that when he was woken by the dream, it must have been earlier than he thought.  If he slept at all after that, he was unaware of it.  He heard some of the boys get out of bed, get dressed and leave for breakfast.  Then he heard the shower turn on.  He got out of bed slowly and made his way to the lavatory.  A cloud of vapour greeted him when he entered and it warmed his skin pleasantly.  He wondered if he was ever going to get used to the cold of the dungeons.

“Wellington!  I swear if you throw me one of those disgusting slugs again I’m really gonna kill you this time!” came an irritated voice from the shower stall.

“Hum... sorry...” Gabriel called out hesitantly from across the room, not knowing exactly how to respond.

“Is that you, Lenoir?” the voice asked again before the shower curtain parted slightly and Killian Burke’s head appeared. 

He grinned at Gabriel before shutting the curtain again. 

“Sorry, mate.  There’s only been the three of us here for a while now.  Another roommate is going to need some getting used to.”

“It’s okay,” Gabriel said, catching a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror.  He looked tired and depressed.

“Any plans for today?” Burke asked again. 

It took Gabriel a few seconds to decide what to say. 

“I was... thinking about visiting the library,” he answered. 

He almost cringed at the awkwardness in his own voice.  He knew sharing details of his life with others was supposed to feel normal, but he really needed practice.

“It’s your first day at Hogwarts and you want to go to the library!  Are you serious?” Burke’s voice echoed in the washroom, sounding slightly offended.

“What else should I be doing then?” Gabriel asked his new roommate, frowning deeply but trying not to sound annoyed.

Burke turned off the shower and out of the corner of his eye, Gabriel saw his hand grab for a towel that was hanging on the wall. 

“I was thinking about going out for a fly this morning, before it gets too hot out, you know.  I don’t mind the company if you’re up for it.  You have a broom?”

“Yes, but I haven’t used it much though...” Gabriel started.

“Well, you know how to fly, right?”

“Yes, but...”

“Hurry up, then!  I’ll wait for you in the common room!”

Gabriel’s broomstick had been a gift from Valère for his birthday last year.  It was a Nimbus 1800 Limited Edition.  The old man had hoped that the world-class broom would give Gabriel an interest for outdoor activities.  It had for a while, and Valère looked positively radiant whenever his adopted son came in at the end of the day, windswept and out of breath.  But then Gabriel started working on the Wolfsbane Variation with Rousseau, and the broomstick was put away in its case, where it had remained until that very day.

Gabriel showered quickly and remembered Professor Dumbledore mentioning that students tended to dress more casually on the weekends.  He had yet to take his new school robes out of the wrapping, so he put on a simple pair of slacks and a dark t-shirt.  Then he made his bed with a quick flick of his wand and opened the chest to take out his broom case and flying gloves.

There were only a few people in the common room when he entered.  Most of them were coming out of the dormitories and heading for breakfast.  Killian Burke was standing next to the fireplace, holing a Cleansweep Five in one hand.  He was chatting with a petite black-haired girl who looked to be around their age.  She turned to Gabriel when he approached them and her pretty, aristocratic face offered him a polite smile.

“Evelyn, this is Gabriel Lenoir, my new roommate and flying partner!” Burke announced, giving a friendly slap on Gabriel’s back as soon as he reached them.

“Evelyn Bagnold, Slytherin Prefect,” the girl said immediately, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Bagnold, like the Minister for Magic?” he asked. 

He already knew the answer, of course.  Only a teenager used to political gatherings would introduce herself that way and shake his hand so firmly in an informal meeting.

The girl’s face lit up considerably at his words. 

“Yes, Minister Bagnold is my mother.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Gabriel said, returning her smile.

Killian snorted.  “She looks pretty harmless like this, mate, but trust me, she’s ruthless.  Don’t ever let her catch you out in the castle after curfew even once, or you’ll never hear the end of it.”

The girl narrowed her eyes at Killian’s words. 

“It was twice, Burke!  This is my last warning to you!  If I catch you out one more time, I’ll have to report you to Professor Snape.”  She turned back to Gabriel then and her face softened.  “It’s nice to meet you, Lenoir.  I hope you’ll feel at home here very quickly.” 

With one last look towards Burke, she left for the Great Hall.

“Isn’t she just bloody gorgeous?” Burke asked, a wide grin spreading on his face.

“Yes, I suppose she is...” Gabriel said.  “Why were you out after curfew?” he added curiously.

Burke’s smirk widened even more, if it was possible.  “Because I hoped she would catch me.”  He groaned slightly in frustration.  “What she does to me, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you...”

Gabriel thought this was very awkward, but he didn’t show his embarrassment.  Fortunately, the conversation was quickly steered away from Evelyn Bagnold when Killian noticed his broomstick case.

“That looks like a fancy broom you’ve got there, mate.  What model is it?” he asked as they were making their way out of the common room and through the hallways on their way to breakfast.

“It’s a Nimbus 1800.”

“Great, they just came out last month!”

“I’ve had it for a while.  It was a gift from my... from Professor Henri.  He was good friends with Devlin Whitehorn.”

“Oh, Lenoir... People are so going to hate you here,” Killian laughed. 

When he saw the hesitant, almost fearful look Gabriel was giving him in return, his laughter stopped abruptly and he was suddenly very serious. 

“Hey, I was only joking.  Nobody’s going to hate you.  Come on, let’s go eat.”

They emerged from a narrow staircase onto the main floor of Hogwarts, and the morning light that penetrated the tall, gothic windows of the hallway allowed Gabriel to admire the castle for the first time in daylight.  Killian Burke continued to chat away as they entered the Great Hall and made their way to the Slytherin table.  The enchanted ceiling above their heads was a cloudless blue.  Gabriel noticed that quite a few students were staring at him, and just before he was to sit down with his new friend, Killian poked his arm and pointed towards the staff table, where Headmaster Dumbledore was gesturing for him to approach.  He left his broomstick with Burke’s next to their seats, and nervously made his way to his new guardian, under the curious glances of the students.

“Gabriel, my boy, I am so glad you could join us at last,” the old man said, fondly smiling down at him.  “How do you like the castle so far?”

“It’s magnificent, sir,” Gabriel answered politely.

He stole a glance at the Potions Master out of the corner of his eye.  Sitting on the Headmaster’s left, the man was sipping what looked like black coffee.

“I want to introduce you to Professor McGonagall,” Dumbledore said to him, bowing his head towards the woman sitting on his right.  “She is the Deputy Headmistress here at Hogwarts.   If you have any problems and I am unavailable, please feel free to go to her.”

The tall woman stood up and leaned over the table to shake Gabriel’s hand. 

“It’s good to finally meet you, Mr. Lenoir.”

“Dare I hope that your roommates gave you some peace and quiet last night?” the Head of Slytherin asked suddenly, interrupting Gabriel’s response.  “That is, if Mr. Burke managed to stop talking long enough for you to fall asleep.”

Gabriel smiled as he turned back to the Potions Master. 

“It went well, sir,” he said.

Snape fished into his pocket and gave the boy a piece of parchment he had been carrying with him. 

“Here is your class schedule for this term.  I was able to give you the electives you wanted.  The Ancient Runes class was already full, but I spoke to Professor Babbling and she agreed to fit you in anyway.”

“Thank you, sir.”        

“What are your plans for the day, my boy?” the Headmaster asked again, his eyes twinkling brightly.

“Killian Burke and I are going flying after breakfast.”

“Ah, I probably would do the same in your place.  If only I was young and energetic again.  This is such a perfect morning for flying, don’t you think, Severus?”

Snape simply nodded at the Headmaster and grimly turned back to his breakfast.  The strong coffee burned his throat as he drank, but he didn’t react to the pain.  Dumbledore chatted with the new student for another minute or so before Gabriel returned to his housemates.  Severus watched him walk back to the Slytherin table without turning his head away from his plate.  Even though he had only spent a little bit of time with the boy, Severus could already tell with certainty that he was different.  He was only fifteen and yet, for Merlin’s sake, his eyes showed an old soul – a somewhat damaged one that Severus could associate with.  Just before the boy sat down, he looked up, his pale eyes meeting with the teacher’s black ones.  And for a fraction of a second, something small fluttered right next to Severus’ heart.

This light but treacherous flutter, Severus had felt it only twice before in his life.  The first time had been for Lily Evans.  He loved her from the first moment he laid eyes on her, and he kept loving her ever since.  Eventually, she married another man, a man he despised, and he didn’t even try to get her back.  Lily had been dead for a long time, killed alongside the man she loved.  Seven years later, his sadness had turned into hatred.  Over time, Severus had managed to convince himself that if she had chosen him instead of James Potter, he would have protected her.

The second flutter had been for Lucius Malfoy.  However, Severus was older now and not as naïve as he was back then.  He knew that what he had felt for his fellow Slytherin was only lust.  The Malfoys were seductive by nature, so Severus knew it wasn’t entirely his fault.  Lucius was married now and he had a son too, but he made sure to keep his old friend up-to-date on all of his extra-marital activities.  He probably thought this would make Severus jealous or frustrated.  It didn’t.  Severus hadn’t felt anything other than total indifference, annoyance or hate for anyone, for years, until now.

“I truly hope Gabriel doesn’t become bored with his classes too rapidly,” the Headmaster said suddenly, breaking his train of thoughts.  “Madam Maxime told me he was much more advanced than the other students at Beauxbâtons.”

“Perhaps we ought to make him skip a grade?” McGonagall suggested.

“I disagree,” Severus announced between two sips of coffee.  “The boy doesn’t need to attract any more attention than he already does, what with being heir to the Lenoir fortune and adopted son of the Headmaster.” 

The Transfiguration teacher threw him a brief glance, eyes narrowed in annoyance. 

“Don’t look at me like that, Minerva,” he said disdainfully.  “If you were to ask the boy yourself, I am most certain he would tell you the same.  I suggest we have him pass his O.W.L.s and see how well he does.  Then we can decide if it’s worth putting him in sixth year or if he can make it directly into seventh.  Besides, I’m his Head of House and the decision is up to me.”

Most of the students had their eyes on Gabriel Lenoir that morning, especially the Slytherins.  Severus felt somewhat proud of his House.  Even when he’d told them himself that Gabriel was one of their own, the snakes kept their guard up.  They seemed to be trying to analyse him, but the teacher knew that if someone was to stand up right that instant and give the boy trouble, his new housemates would have his back. 

At first he had felt uneasy when the Headmaster told him that the boy had been sorted into Slytherin, but now that he knew Gabriel, Severus could only admit that it was the perfect place for the Lenoir heir.  He was surrounded with kids who came from families just as high in wizarding society and just as fortunate as his was.  The Minister’s own daughter had left her seat at the end of the table to sit across from him and Burke.  She was taking a look at Gabriel’s schedule and seemed happy to notice that it was the same as hers.  Severus was glad that the boy would have at least one person he already knew in his classes, but he couldn’t wait to see what he could do in Potions.  If Emil Rousseau was right, he was in for a surprise.

Severus knew that most of the students were terrified of him, and it was better that way.  Fear was a form of respect, after all.  He remembered his old Potions Master, Horace Slughorn, and how he managed his student-teacher relationships.  The man had started some sort of honours club for his favourite students.  Everybody loved him, of course, but as a result, he had no authority whatsoever.  When Severus started teaching he’d promised himself he wouldn’t let students walk all over him like he had seen it happen with Professor Slughorn.

He had heard others say that he wasn’t fair, that he favoured the Slytherins, and he was the first to admit that was true.  The Slytherins needed to be favoured, to be treated as if they were more than just dark wizards in the making.  They needed to feel like they mattered, like there were options open to them other than following in their parents’ footsteps.  They needed to know that they were free to do with their lives whatever they wanted to.  They needed that so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes Severus had made – trust the wrong people, fall into the Dark Arts and lose everything that ever mattered to them.  The Slytherins deserved to be favoured.  They deserved to be treated above others, because most of them, even if they killed themselves trying, would never manage to make their parents proud.  That was the way of the Purebloods.  Severus had lived amongst them long enough to know how the machine worked.  It was a never-ending cycle of guilt, reproaches, arranged marriages, physical and psychological pain, and the fear – the ever-present fear of just not being good enough.  So when people complained about how he favoured the Slytherins, Severus just turned a deaf ear on their ignorance.

He looked on as the boy talked with his housemates.  Most of the students who were sitting closer to him had introduced themselves by now.  The boy was piling fruits and bread onto his plate, eyeing the porridge suspiciously.  Severus found himself admiring how the morning light that penetrated the Great Hall reflected onto Gabriel Lenoir’s hair, making it even paler, almost white.  He immediately felt disgusted with himself.  He was thirteen years older than the boy!  That was just wrong.  Irritated and angry with himself, Severus looked away and attacked his eggs mercilessly.



“Are you trying out for the Quidditch team, Gabriel?” asked Evelyn Bagnold, eyeing his broom as she sliced a grapefruit before giving him half.  “The tryouts are next week.”

“You don’t happen to play Seeker, do you?” inquired Anthony Wellington, another one of his roommates.  “If we could only find a way to beat Charlie Bloody Weasley, that would make my year.”

“I’ll get Seeker this year, mate!  Don’t you worry about Weasley!” Killian Burke announced proudly, but Wellington only raised his eyebrows at him before turning back to Gabriel.

“Well, I’ve never really played Quidditch before.  Truthfully, I’m not a big fan of it,” Gabriel shrugged.

Killian practically choked on his pumpkin juice at the words. 

“Not a big fan of it?  Are you mad or is it just because you’re French?”

Gabriel took no offense, but Evelyn threw Burke a piece of bread that hit his forehead with a smack and bounced on the side of his plate before falling directly into his glass.

“Good shot!” Burke smirked, wiping the juice from his face.

“Burke!  Bagnold!  Stop acting like first year Hufflepuff Mudbloods!  You’re in Slytherin for Merlin’s sake!” 

The reprimanding voice came from a seventh year Slytherin sitting farther away at the end of the table. 

Gabriel looked up at him, shocked by the use of the word ‘Mudblood’, but from the laughs that came from some of the students, he understood that Slytherins seemed to be comfortable with the term.

Language, Mr. Ruskin,” said the Head of House as he passed the table.

Gabriel raised his head at the voice but Professor Snape avoided his eyes and sped up his pace, slipping out of the Great Hall as swiftly as he could.

Chapter Text

"But I have spent all this time in the water, diving deep into the howling ocean of life, deeper than anyone.  While you were admiring the surface, I saw the shipwrecks, the drowned bodies, the monsters of the deep."

-Alfred de Musset


GABRIEL FLEW SWIFTLY around the Ravenclaw tribunes and came to a sudden stop, catching his breath and adjusting his gloves tighter on his wrists. Looking around the deserted Quidditch pitch, he searched the skies for any sign of Killian, but his roommate was nowhere to be seen. They had chased each other around for about ten minutes, Burke insisting that Gabriel help him practice the Transylvanian Tackle – a move that he intended to try on Charlie Weasley when he got the Seeker position. Gabriel, who knew nothing about Quidditch moves, agreed at first. He cursed himself for it now as he rubbed his painful face. As it turned out, the Transylvanian Tackle was a fake punch to the nose of the opponent. As long as contact was not made, it remained legal in Quidditch. Gabriel understood now why Burke needed practice.

"Killian!" he called out. His own voice echoed back to him and there was not a glimpse of his new friend. "Burke! You can't honestly believe that I will let you hit me in the face again!" But still there was no sign of the other boy.

Gabriel frowned as he gripped his broom and guided it down. He jumped to the ground gracefully and looked around the deserted pitch. He could see no one. There was no trace of Killian, or of the group of second year Gryffindors that he'd seen coming down the path with their brooms in hand. He couldn't even see the students who had been wandering around the school grounds, enjoying their very first weekend at Hogwarts. That's when Gabriel noticed the silence, the stillness, the absence of the wind rustling the trees of the forest nearby, the absence of the birds, the absence of everything except him. And it's only then that Gabriel realised he was dreaming.

This realisation struck him suddenly, and wincing, he glanced around almost fearfully. Thinking hard, he couldn't remember how he'd ended up in a dream. He couldn't recall what he had been doing before he fell asleep, where he had fallen asleep, or when, or even how. He let his broomstick fall to the ground and stood straight, ready to face whatever was coming. At that very instant, as if the world around sensed he was prepared, the stillness seemed to intensify.

He felt it, the slight shift in the dream's atmosphere, and he turned around to face it. There was a silhouette between the trees on the edge of the forest. Gabriel couldn't quite see it clearly, but it looked like a woman, judging from the long mane of blonde hair that flowed down her back. He stared at her, waiting for a sign – for her to beckon him closer, maybe, or to call out, but she didn't. She seemed content just to stare back at him. And so they stood that way for a long time. Gabriel was just about to call out to her when suddenly, in a flash, the woman turned and ran away into the trees of the Forbidden Forest. Not a second passed before he bolted after her.

He ran through the woods after the blonde woman, avoiding roots and branches as best as he could. He stumbled and tripped often and would lose her sight for a few seconds before glimpsing her form again, dashing between the trees.

"Stop!" he yelled, breathless. "Don't be scared, just stop and talk to me!" But if she heard him, she chose to ignore his words. She seemed to gain speed and the chase grew faster as they ran deeper into the woods. The air became heavier and the light diminished. Soon, it was as dark as night and Gabriel couldn't see her anymore. He stopped abruptly and struggled to catch his breath.

Bent over in pain, he rested his shaking hands on his throbbing ribs and tried to slow the frantic beating of his heart. The silence around was hefty and threatening. The only sound he could perceive was his own laboured breathing. He shut his eyes tightly, fighting against the hammering pain in his chest, and when he opened them again, he saw thick, heavy raindrops splatter against the leaves-covered ground. The rain had just started soaking through his hair when he heard a sudden noise. It was something like a gasp, or more like a retch, and it cut through the silence like a rusty guillotine. He flinched and stood straight, looking around frantically. Through the trees, he saw the woman again. Silhouetted against the darkness, she had her back to him. Her long, wavy hair was flowing with a nonexistent wind in the pouring rain.

The dreams had never made him feel threatened before. The only time he'd ever felt endangered was the very first time, when he'd met the man from the bakery. All the visitors he'd encountered after that had been surprised to see him and ever more astonished to learn of his ability, but they had never acted in any way that made him fear for his life. Since he arrived at Hogwarts, however, the dreams had changed dramatically. He wondered if there was a reason for that.

"Can you hear me?" he asked the woman, wishing his voice would have been stronger. The only answer he received was that noise, the same noise he'd heard before, the retch. It was closer this time, however, and it seemed to come from inside the woman's body, from a deep and hollow space. He saw a flinch in her shoulders and immediately dreaded the moment when she would turn to face him, but all he could do was stand there and wait. He knew that if he started running, the woman – the thing – would run after him, and it would catch him much faster. All the creature had wanted was to draw Gabriel deep enough into the woods, out of the safety of Hogwarts and out of his comfort zone.

When she did turn around, it was very slowly, almost uncertainly. Gabriel had plenty of time to see her profiled face, and he was startled at how much she looked like his mother. Although the hair was different, her face was very similar. Gabriel felt tears well up in his eyes as the woman turned to face him, but once she stood completely in front of him, his sadness turned into something different. She fixed him with wide, terrified eyes and her face was deformed with fear. Her mouth was opened far larger than a human mouth could. Her lips were strained to the point of cracking at the edges and blood was forming in the creases. It was as if she struggled to scream, but her terror remained silent.

Then suddenly, her blue eyes turned dark and her mouth snapped shut so violently that Gabriel swore he heard her teeth colliding. She cocked her head at him and smiled wildly.

"Fancy seeing you again, boy," the thing said and Gabriel recognised the voice. It was the same he'd heard from Valère Henri's doppelganger, but the only thing he could focus on was how wrong it sounded coming from the blonde woman.

"You..." he whispered.

The creature let out a raspy noise that might have been a laugh. "You didn't think that was the last you would see of me, did you?" Its tone was mocking and the creature's mouth faked a pout as it taunted Gabriel. "You thought you were rid of me? I am deeply hurt. I trust you will soon notice that I am quite persistent..." The doppelganger stopped its tirade and its gaze fixed on Gabriel as a twisted smile formed on the woman's face. "You better get that hand checked, boy. The wounds I inflict don't usually heal by themselves."

Gabriel looked down at his right hand, which had clenched into a tight fist as fear coursed through his body. He was still wearing his flying gloves, but he glimpse something red oozing from the fabric. He raised the hand up to his face. Thick blood was soaking through the fingerless gloves and running down his fingers. It was only then that he became aware of the acute pain pulsing through his hand. Gabriel grinded his teeth in anguish and unclenched his fingers, in an attempt to lessen the pain, but the flow of blood increased. The stab wound he'd received in the cafe seemed to have reopened.

"What are you?" Gabriel asked in horror, looking back at the creature in the woman's body.

"We shall meet again soon," the creature said. "Perhaps then I will answer some of your questions. Wake up now."



Gabriel's eyes shot open and he found himself staring at the canopy above his bed. He remembered then. Following his flying session with Killian Burke, the both of them had returned to the dormitories to change clothes. After that, Gabriel decided to rest for a little while before lunchtime. Exhausted from the unusual exercise and the little sleep he'd had the night before, he had fallen asleep. He had only slept twice since coming to Hogwarts and both times he'd been plagued by the doppelganger. And judging from its words earlier, it wasn't the last time they met. Gabriel needed to get to the library. That was all he could thing about.

He propped himself up on his elbows and looked around. He was alone in the dormitory and he couldn't hear any noises coming from the common room either. Slowly, he got out of bed. The floor was still icy cold, even though his socks, so he slipped quickly into his shoes and stood, smoothing out the wrinkles on his clothes.

Gabriel winced in pain, and when he looked at his right hand, there was a dark red bruise forming in his palm. He turned it over and discovered that the other side didn't look much better. There seemed to be an accumulation of blood under the skin. He stared at his hand and disbelief as he sat back on his bed in shock. Then he let out a shaky breath, resting his head on his uninjured hand. What was he going to do now? Never before had he felt so alone.

He decided to skip lunch, partly to avoid all of Burke's suggestions for social activities, but also not to attract anyone's attention on his wounded hand, which had been perfectly fine that morning. He gathered all the notes he'd taken during his research – which consisted in many rolls of parchment and a few notebooks. Since the very beginning, he'd been taking notes about the dreams, to keep track of his visitors and where they met, what they looked like, how they acted and what they said. It had been Valère's idea. Gabriel suspected that, at first, the old man wanted this information so he could verify if there was any truth in what the young boy told him. He probably wanted to make sure they were real people, not a figment of his adopted son's imagination. After a few times, however, there was no denying that Gabriel was making it up. Some details of those people's lives just couldn't be found in the obituaries. Gabriel put everything in his messenger bag and threw in some ink and quills, along with new rolls of parchment, and he left the Slytherin dungeons quickly, hoping he would find something useful.

He'd just emerged into the main hall when he realised that nobody had given him a tour of the school yet, and he had no idea where to find the library. The main doors of the school were open. The afternoon breeze penetrated the castle and a warm light spread itself into the stone entrance hall. Gabriel could see students outside the doors, but the hallway seemed empty – except for one person. There was a girl standing near the doors to the Great Hall. She seemed to be waiting for something, maybe her friends. She wore a purple summer dress and her hair was shoulder-length, very curly, and of a light pink colour. She clashed terribly with the dark tranquility of the castle, and Gabriel smiled as he approached her.

"Excuse me, Miss?"

She turned around and her eyebrows rose at the sight of him. When their eyes met, she turned briefly to look behind her. "Oh, you're talking to me?" she asked when she faced him again.


"I'm sorry. I'm not used to boys here calling me 'Miss,'" she said, grinning. "You must be the new student," she continued as she looked him over. "Oh, look at those shoes, so neat! You're obviously not from here."

"I'm Gabriel," he said, trying not to be intimidated by her confidence. "I've just arrived last night."

"Yes, Gabriel Lenoir, it's nice to meet you," she declared in a very formal tone with a little bow that made him smile. He was suddenly glad she made no move to shake his hand. "I am Nymphadora Tonks, but just call me Tonks. I hate my name."

"I think it's pretty."

"You're such a gentleman!"

"I do my best."

"And so modest! What can I do for you today, Mr. Lenoir?" she asked pleasantly.

"I was wondering if you could direct me to the library."

"Oh, an intellectual!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. "You are the perfect man!" Suddenly she was frowning. "But I've heard you've been sorted into Slytherin. Are you sure you're in the right House? Slytherin does awful thing to nice boys like you."

"I'm not that impressionable," he smirked. Her good mood was rubbing off on him.

"Well, I'm glad to know." She smiled at him for a moment, and only then seemed to remember his request. "Oh, the library, right! It's on the third floor. Just take the main staircase until you see the panting of a drunken warlock with a cow and take a right. It's just down the hallway."

"Thank you."

They exchanged friendly smiles and he left, well aware of her eyes on his back.

Gabriel made his way to the library and when he entered he found the place empty. It made him uncomfortable. Normally, he appreciated the lack of people, but now it only reminded him of his dreams and how quiet they always were. He looked around quickly and sighed in relief when he noticed the presence of the librarian. She was skimming through large boxes that probably contained new books.

"What can I help you with?" the woman inquired as he approached her. She didn't even raise her head to look at him.

"Do you have a section about dreams?" he asked politely, trying not to sound too impatient.

"On the second floor, right next to Divination. Just look at the signs," she said distractedly. She raised her eyebrows at a book she'd just taken out of a box. "What language could that be in?" she whispered to herself.

Gabriel left her to her task without asking any more questions. He didn't want her to start questioning him in return. He climbed up the spiral staircase and emerged onto the second floor of the library. There were many wide windows, wooden work tables and taller bookshelves than he'd seen on the first floor. The ceiling was astonishingly high and yet the top of the bookshelves almost reached the vault. The whole room made Gabriel feel smaller all of a sudden. He ignored the feeling and made his way through the sections, keeping an eye on the signs he passed. Finally, he came to a small section labelled Oneirology – the study of dreams. If there was one book for him, he would find it here.

After an hour though, Gabriel was profoundly disappointed. Most of the books in the section were misplaced and should instead be classified into a Dream Analysis section. He didn't need, or even want to know what dreaming about a banana meant. It was all quite foolish, and an incredible waste of time. He did find one book, though – a Muggle one, surprisingly – that was about the history of oneirology. It enumerated most of its basic scientific theories.

He read that most dreams occur during REM sleep – Rapid Eye Movement – the sleeping period when brain activity is at its highest. It involved the limbic system, the place in the brain associated with emotions, memory and the sense of smell. Gabriel spent a long time browsing through the diagrams of the limbic system, fascinated at how the different parts of the brain each worked towards a specific purpose.

According to the book, a dream was a form of thinking that occurs under minimal brain direction when all external stimuli are blocked, and the part of the brain that recognises self shuts down. There was a whole chapter about the different types of dreams, but Gabriel knew all about them already. There were two kinds: the authentic dream and the illusory dream. The authentic dreams were considered realistic and based upon actual memories or experiences that could actually happen. Illusory dreams were quite the opposite. They contained bizarre events and inaccurate timelines, mixing memories with impossibilities.

Gabriel sighed, irritated. He'd browsed through more than half the section and still hadn't found anything new or particularly interesting. Disappointed, he drifted into the Divination section, more out of boredom than curiosity. On the first shelf he looked through, he found a very small paperback book, almost a leaflet, dark blue in colour, and entitled The Secrets to your Dreams.

He sat down and browsed through it quickly. Most of it was about how to control your dreams and make things happen at your will. He frowned. This certainly wasn't going to happen to him soon. But then, at the very end of the book, he found a small passage worth reading.



Visits in dreams of people that have passed on can frequently occur. The sleeping state allows a type of closeness with the world beyond which is impossible in waking. The reason being that during sleep, the five senses and the conscious mind are at rest, allowing the sixth sense, or the higher self, the freedom it needs to make these visitations happen.

In a sleeping state, the higher self gets a chance to be close to The Veil, the dividing line between the physical world and the spiritual world. Seers continually push their higher self to the edge of consciousness so that they can attain this state in order to communicate with the dead. This requires a bit of time and effort on their part. The sleeper, however, is already there nearby.

There is a noticeable difference between a dream and a visitation. In the latter, the spirit of the deceased appears spontaneously and unexpectedly as the unmistakable focus of the dream. Its image may be much brighter than in an ordinary dream. It can simply be a face to face momentary meeting with a full or partial image and no more than that. Or, it can involve an issue that has some relevance between the person and the spirit. In either case, the visitation usually leaves the dreamer with a feeling of otherworldliness about the encounter when they awake.

Spirits don't only come to resolve issues. They may appear just because the opportunity presents itself, like friends that drop in unexpectedly and unannounced.

But that was it. There was nothing more on the subject. Gabriel wasn't very advanced except for the fact that maybe he had found a name for his dreams – visitations. Nonetheless, he decided to copy the page down. But as soon as he grabbed his quill, he felt a striking pain shot through his hand. He had tried to ignore the wound for most of the afternoon, but now it seemed to be getting worse. Sighing, he cast a copy spell and the quill wrote the text on its own.

When he came down the stairs, the librarian actually looked at him and smiled a little. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Not really." He hesitated for a second. "Do you have anything on necromancy?"

She frowned and her face became suspicious. "That would be in the Restricted Section. You need signed permission from a teacher to go in there."

He was uncomfortable with her stare so he simply nodded, thanked her, and left. The pain in his hand was throbbing now. He needed to do something about it soon.



Severus had spent the morning testing the first years' Boil Cure Potions from his Friday afternoon lesson. The task did not improve his mood. The results were mostly cataclysmic, but it was no surprise. He snorted in disgust as he picked out a new vial of from the batch. At least he wouldn't even need to test this one – the vivid red colour made its uselessness apparent enough. He uncorked the potion and vanished the liquid with a wave of his wand. A quick cleaning spell later, he set the pristine vial aside. When he turned back to face the rest of the vials, he grimaced, thinking about everything he would rather be doing. He had received the newest edition ofThe Potioneer last night and hadn't even had time to skim through it yet. It was almost an outrage.

There was a soft knock on the heavy wooden door of his office and Severus cringed. He stilled and waited. Maybe whoever it was would think he wasn't there. Maybe they would go away. A few seconds later, however, there was a series of knocks, slightly louder than before.

"Go away! I'm busy," Severus groaned.

There was a moment of silence and he heard the creak of the door as it opened despite his rejection. He let out a furious huff.

"Professor Snape?"

Severus turned around abruptly to face Gabriel Lenoir's hesitant form. He stared at the boy for a minute, not knowing what to do. That morning after breakfast, he had decided to avoid the boy as much as he could. But how could Severus avoid him if he showed up on his own? And yet, he didn't exactly have the will to tell him to leave.

"Mr. Lenoir," he said, controlling his voice so that his thoughts stayed perfectly hidden. "Is there a problem?"

He received no answer, for the boy was now looking around his office in fascination. Standing in the doorway, he glanced at the tall shelves filled with pots, vials, bags of herbs and plants. He approached a wall of hanging snake skins, his attention drawn to Severus' newest acquisition – an African Boomslang he'd received last month.

Severus watched the boy with equal fascination as he explored the office. Gabriel was wearing Muggle clothing – black dress pants and a grey sweater – and his schoolbag was hanging from his shoulder even though it was the weekend. There was a draft of wind on that side of the room, and it swept his hair back a little as he moved closer to the shelves.

"Mr. Lenoir?" he asked again and finally the boy turned to him. There was a strange expression on his face that Severus couldn't quite identify.

"Do you have any healing salve, Professor?" he asked quietly, his tone already defensive.

The Potions Master hesitated. "Did you get hurt?"

"It's just an old wound," the boy explained nervously. "I haven't taken good care of it and now it's acting up."

Gabriel Lenoir was a bad liar, Severus thought. "Why didn't you go to the Hospital Wing?"

The boy cleared his throat carefully before he answered. "I don't know where it is."

Severus groaned. "Tomorrow we will ask Miss Bagnold to give you a tour of the school." Gabriel understood that it wasn't an option, so he nodded. "How bad is it?"

Gabriel blinked at him. "What?"

"The wound, how bad is it? Let me see," the teacher asked impatiently.

Gabriel took a step back. "Really, it's not... I can take care of it..."

Severus looked at him darkly. "I need to know how bad it is so I can give you the right salve, Mr. Lenoir. It's not in an embarrassing place, is it?" The boy shook his head, blushing. "Then stop behaving like a child and show me."

Gabriel sighed, extended his right hand towards the teacher and opened up his palm. Severus took a step back at the sight.

"What on earth happened to you?" he asked urgently as he turned towards the cabinet where he kept his medical supplies. "Why hasn't this been treated?"

Gabriel was doing his best to hide the panic from his voice, but he did a poor job of it. "It was fine before, I swear. It was like this when I woke up."

"Injuries like this don't just happen, Mr. Lenoir. Stop your lies right this instant."

Severus picked a container of healing salve from the cabinet and turned back around so quickly that his robes whipped the vials of Boil Cure Potions on the corner of the desk and they clashed together dangerously. He took the boy's schoolbag and put it away on a table. Then he pushed the boy into a chair and sat down across from him. Almost furiously, he unscrewed the salve and grabbed Gabriel's arm. Despite his anger, his hands were surprisingly gentle as he applied the salve.

"I am your Head of House, Gabriel," he said more gently without looking at the boy's face. "I am responsible for your well-being. If a student did this to you, you have to tell me."

"No," Gabriel said quickly. "Nobody did this to me, sir..."

Severus looked up at him. The boy's eyes were strangely clear, almost as if he was about to cry, but his face showed no sign of tears.

"You wouldn't understand," Gabriel said quietly, turning his head away.

He closed himself off completely and Severus knew any more questions would be left unanswered. He didn't have the strength to insist.


There was a picture that Gabriel had, of him with his father. He could remember ripping it out of an album a long time ago. It was taken when he was almost a year old. He is sitting on his father's lap, holding a strange stuffed animal – perhaps a Hippogriff? His head is a mess of soft blonde curls and he's looking at the camera like a deer caught in headlights, surely wondering what that strange device could be. His father holds him gently between his hands and offers a somewhat tired smile to the photographer. The picture is old and unmoving, the colours are faded and the corners have been cut off. On the back, their names and the date are written in elegant handwriting – his mother's.

Every time Gabriel stumbled upon this photo, tucked inside the pages of an old notebook, he took a few minutes to stare into his father's face and compare it with his own. The hair, nose and cheekbones were the same, but whereas Hadrian Lenoir's eyes were narrow and framed by small laugher wrinkles, his fifteen year old son's were wide, observant and almost constantly fixed in a calm, soft stare. Gabriel didn't have any picture of his mother, but he still remembered her clearly. Sometimes when he closed his eyes, he could almost see her face.

The picture in the notebook was taken at the Hôpital Ducorail, in the south of France. Gabriel had spent the first two years of his life in their intensive care unit. From the day he was born, his immune system was so weak that he wouldn't have lasted two days outside those special wards. The Healers couldn't explain what was wrong, but they thought it might have something to do with his magical core rejecting other people's magic. He reacted strongly when too many witches and wizards were present in the same room as him and would sometimes lost consciousness when in contact with strong concentrations of magic. The only people he felt truly comfortable with were his parents – probably because they shared the same magic. He was put in quarantine while the Healers researched the cause of his condition and tried to find a cure. One day, from inside a closed playroom, Gabriel had spotted a paediatrics Mediwitch with a shimmering robe, and mesmerised by the fabric, he slipped past the nurses and followed her out of the wing. The healers found him later that afternoon in the reading room on the other side of the hospital, listening to a visiting storyteller along with thirty other kids. The Mediwizards were baffled, even more so when, after running tests, it was revealed that everything seemed perfectly normal with the boy.

Despite Gabriel's seemingly miraculous recovery, his parents didn't think it safe enough to let him around large crowds of people. They moved into one of the numerous family homes, this one located in the French countryside, surrounded by lavender fields and sheep farms. Gabriel supposed that his early isolation had something to do with the awkwardness he felt all his life whenever he had to meet new people. From the age of five, he had a private professor teach him how to read, write and count, and introduce him to basic magical theories, history, English, and German. During his lessons, he would stare outside the window and wish that he could be playing outside, running through the endless fields surrounding the manor, running until he couldn't run anymore, until he couldn't, breathe anymore.

Two years later, he lost his parents, and with them the urge to do anything that might make him feel slightly free vanished. He became scared of everything and would wake up in the middle of the night, trembling and crying, hoping he could disappear into the darkness. Then he met Professor Henri. His father had always spoken so fondly about him, but Gabriel had never met him before his parents died. The Lenoirs had gotten into an argument with Valère Henri before their son was born and had stopped talking, but they still cared deeply for the man, deeply enough that his name remained on their will and he was designated as the boy's new guardian. He left his position as Astronomy professor in Beauxbâtons to take the job of Director of the Lenoir Observatory. Together, Valère and Gabriel moved into the Lenoir family's Parisian villa, and the boy was introduced to the city at the same time he was introduced to his new father.

Valère Henri's soft, reassuring words managed to make most of the fear go away. His adoptive father showed him that the outside world was a beautiful place and that there was still some good left out there. He remembered the way they walked through the streets of Paris, the old man's hand never leaving his. Gabriel enjoyed the Muggle world. It was calm, quiet and uneventful – uneventful was good and safe.

When it happened the first time, Gabriel was only eight years old. He had just gotten home from a trip to London with Valère. He was exhausted and fell asleep in the library of the villa, and he met a man named Maurice Beauchamp. He dreamt he was walking down a narrow alleyway in the city of Nice, and the short, chubby man was sitting quietly in front of a bakery, reading a book. He looked up as Gabriel approached, and the look on his face made Gabriel realise that maybe he wasn't supposed to be there.

"What is your name?" the man asked in a soft and sad voice.


"How did you get here, Gabriel?"

"I don't know. I was sleeping."

The man nodded and the sadness on his face deepened. He closed his book and set it down on the bench. "Are you alone here? Do you have anyone?"

Gabriel didn't understand exactly what the man was asking, but he looked around, and seeing no one else, he shrugged. "I'm alone, I think. Do you live here?"

The man stood and walked up to him. "I do. I have been for many years. My name is Maurice. Come inside, Gabriel. Let's get you something to eat." He took Gabriel's hand in his, and together they entered the bakery.

Maurice Beauchamp made the best chocolate croissants Gabriel had ever had. The baker told him he'd been making them ever since his father taught him now, when he was just a little bit older than Gabriel. The bakery had been in his family for years, since Maurice's grandfather opened it after he got married. He said when he was younger, the shop was so busy that his father had to work very late at night and his mother would get mad at him because he woke her up when he got into bed. Maurice did a fantastic imitation of his parent's fights, with the voices and the gestures and everything.

"I still bake every day, even if nobody ever comes around to buy anything. It keeps my mind off things, keeps me occupied," the man said, smiling while he mixed a bucket of cake batter.

"Why doesn't anyone come here anymore? Where did they go?" Gabriel asked, pouring himself more milk.

The man stopped suddenly and looked at Gabriel. The sadness was back on his face. "I've always been alone here. I've never seen anyone else."

"But... you just said that the shop used to be busy..."

"This is not the same shop. This is where I came after I left the first one." Maurice was uncomfortable and his movements became nervous as he mixed the batter.

"I don't understand," Gabriel said, looking at him expectantly. He hated it when adults didn't explain things clearly.

"This place is my own. It's only for me. I've never seen anyone else here before. You're the first person I've seen since I got here, many years ago." He was silent for a long moment while Gabriel stared at him, still trying to understand what was happening. The look on the man's face was changing, as if he was struggling, fighting with his thoughts.

"You're the first one," he whispered, more to himself than to Gabriel. "They must have sent you to me as a reward, because I've been good..."

For some reason, his words sent chills up Gabriel's spine. He set his glass of milk on the table and pushed his plate away. Slowly, he looked up at Maurice.

"I think I have to go now. I need to go home," he said hesitantly.

"You can never go home," Maurice said and his voice didn't sound so gentle and nice anymore. He was mixing the batter with rough, shaky movements. "You're dead."

Chapter Text

"I am again at the bottom of an unstoppable wheel, and when I feel my eyes close for death, as they have and will a thousand times, I awake."

-Jonathan Safran Foer




I hope that you are doing well.  I am truly disappointed that we didn't have more time to talk last Friday.  There is so much I wanted to know, but I understand that you probably didn't want to speak about the potion too much in front of Professor Snape.  Although I don't know him that well yet, I am certain he would never use such knowledge against you or for his own profit.

Hogwarts is different from what I imagined. The students seem nice so far. Most of them have kept their distance, for which – you know me – I am grateful. I think it safe to say I have made friends, mostly among my housemates, in Slytherin. One of them shares my dormitory. His name is Killian Burke. From what he told me about himself, his family owns a magical artefacts shop in a place called Knockturn Alley.

I have also met with the Britain Minister for Magic's daughter, Evelyn Bagnold, who is in my House as well. She is very friendly and smart, and we share the same class schedule. Professor Snape has arranged for her to show me around the castle today. Hogwarts is bigger, darker and much colder than Beauxbâtons, but there is an aura of mystery surrounding it, which is truly fascinating. I can't wait to discover more of it.

Despite the circumstances, I find myself nervous and filled with an anxiety I can't control. I have trouble sleeping and I don't think it has anything to do with the cold of the dormitories. The main reason why I am writing you is to ask for a favour. I was wondering if you might be able to brew a few vials of Dreamless Sleep Potion for me, just until I get settled in and the nightmares stop.

I hope to hear back from you soon. Don't worry about me and give Odette my best.



Emil Rousseau frowned as he finished reading the letter he had just found on his kitchen table. He cleaned the bread crumbs from his plate with a large finger and stared at the letter intently, as if trying to decipher some hidden message. Outside, he could hear the quiet hustle of early risers down in the street. Incomprehensible fragments of conversations travelled up through the window.

The man had developed the habit of leaving his flat's window open for the delivery owls to come and go as they pleased. That way he didn't have to constantly interrupt his work to let them in. He'd woken up to find the letter waiting next to the dirty dishes from the night before. He supposed it must have been delivered very late last night, or very early in the morning, because it hadn't been there when he went to bed way past midnight. Emil sighed, setting the letter aside and sipping his coffee slowly. He wondered why bad things always happened to the best and most vulnerable of people. The world was truly a bitter place sometimes.

He would send Gabriel the potion, of course. How could he refuse? Emil might be joking around most of the time, and some people might even say that he was the kind of man who never took anything seriously enough, but they just didn't know him. After all the boy had been through, it wasn't surprising that he would get nightmares. Emil was swarmed with orders, but Gabriel would come first. Damn the flower growth potions and boil relief creams. He would gladly spend a whole day chopping salamander heads if it would help the boy, even just for a minute. He wondered why Gabriel didn't go to Snape for the potion, but trust didn't come easy for the Lenoir heir. And even if it meant receiving the Dreamless Sleep Potion much faster, Gabriel wasn't one to confide his problems in others. Emil almost felt privileged that the boy would come to him for help.

"Good morning."

The voice made him look up, and he smiled at the woman standing in the doorway. She was a beautiful sight, Emil thought. Once again he reminded himself how lucky he was to have found her. Mesmerised, he watched as she moved towards him, admiring how the light pink nightgown fell around her body in shimmering satin and lace. The garment was just short enough to show her pale, slender legs.

The woman walked up to him and kissed his nose playfully. Her long, dark hair brushed his face as she leaned in and he had more than enough time to smell her perfume deeply and press a loving kiss to her shoulder before she pulled away.

"Is that another order?" she asked, noticing the parchment on the table. "You've been working so much. Save it for next week or you'll make yourself ill."

"This one is different, Odette," Emil insisted. He looked up and saw her standing before him with her arms crossed over her chest and a frown upon her pretty face. "This is a request from Gabriel."

Odette's expression turned from sour to sad in the blink of an eye. "How is he?" she asked so softly that her last word came out almost as a breath. She had only met the boy a few times, but seemed deeply fond of him. Gracefully, she sat down next to the man and put her small hand on his arm.

Emil Rousseau sighed with a shrug. "I don't know. He tells me everything is okay and yet he has nightmares. He says he is doing well, but he is so nervous that he doesn't sleep. And then he tells me not to worry. That boy has always been so full of contradictions."

He handed Odette the letter and waited while she read.

"Maybe you should write to Dumbledore," she concluded. "He is Gabriel's guardian now, after all. The boy is right. You shouldn't worry about him. You have many other things to worry about. The best you can do is make the potion and send it to him. Time will take care of the rest. Gabriel just lost his father, Emil. It's normal for him to feel this way. He is smart and strong. He will get better."

Odette's kind smile and soft lips on his convinced him. Once again he found himself wondering how such a small, delicate woman could make a man such as him feel as light as a feather.

"You're right, as always," he admitted, standing up while she approached the kitchen counter to help herself to breakfast. "I should get started on those orders now, or else I won't be able to make it to the theatre tonight."

She turned around suddenly, her face beaming with joy. "You changed your mind! You're coming with me!"

"I suppose," he said, feigning indifference but hiding his smile.

"Then go!" she said happily, waving her arms at him. "Go make your potions and be done quickly so that we can go out! I'm so glad you're coming! You won't regret it!"

Emil and Odette's first meeting had been a set up by Emil's sister, Margot. The two women were attending the same book club with a group of witches interested in Muggle literature. They read authors like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. Emil had met Odette at a brunch hosted by his sister, and even though there were many people there, he knew very well that the meaning of the event was to introduce them to each other. But they were both busy people, and even though they enjoyed their first meeting and promised to see each other again, a few months passed before they saw each other again. They met a few times a week now, and Emil was starting to think that one day, in the future, she was the woman he would marry.

Odette was a seamstress. She owned a fine clothing store for witches called Petites Merveilles, which literally meant "Little Wonders." She specialised mostly in undergarments and lingerie, but her new collection of evening gowns was quickly gaining popularity. She was constantly searching for inspirations in the Muggle world. She purchased old fashion magazines from the 1920's and 30's and constantly talked about this Muggle woman called Coco, or something similar. Odette was quite the social butterfly. She enjoyed going out to see plays and concerts and meeting with friends. Emil had always been a solitary man, but they had both agreed that they would make sacrifices for the other.

Her exclamations of joy followed him downstairs as he made his way into his apothecary shop. A smile formed on his face as he jumped off the last step and onto the dusty floor of the shop. He took in the familiar smell, the faint light that barely managed to make its way through the dirty windows and the large shelves filled with glinting glass vials. Even if he enjoyed his cozy apartment, it was only here that Emil truly felt at home.

He wouldn't open the shop today. On Sundays, he brewed the potions he had received as orders during the week. It was mostly household stuff. There was rarely anything interesting, but it was a regular source of income, and it made him feel useful as well as contributing to his reputation. His research proved to be quite expensive. The ingredients he used in the Wolfsbane Variation were not the cheapest or the easiest to find, and even with the popularity of his store, he quickly ran out of funds to invest in the experiments. Following a brainstorming session with Gabriel, they'd both decided that the best solution was to put an ad in the papers, proposing Rousseau's expertise as a Potioneer to brew various common potions on order. It brought money in and allowed them to purchase what they needed for their experiments. It had worked well until now, until the boy left and Emil was left to do all the work on his own. He knew he should find another assistant, but his heart clenched every time he considered it. There was also the fact that he couldn't bring himself to trust anyone else with the potion.

Swiftly, Emil gathered everything he would need for the Dreamless Sleep Potion and set the ingredients on the large table of his workroom. It wasn't a particularly hard potion to make, but it was the kind of concoction that you couldn't just leave there while you did other things. It required many different types of stirring and a perfect timing. It took three hours to make and needed the full attention of the brewer. It was rarely found in any potionmaker's top favourites.

As he chopped, mixed and brewed, Emil thought about Gabriel, how much he deserved to be happy, and how bad luck seemed to be following him around. He had just added the Nightshade leaves – the most powerful ingredient in the potion, which gave it its anaesthetic properties – and he was about to add the purpletop vervain when he stopped himself. He shut down the heat under the cauldron, gripped it tight with a thick pair of oven mitts and threw its contents into the sink where they sizzled and disappeared down the drain. He set the cauldron back on the table and stared at it for a long time.

Three hours later, he was putting a stopper on two vials of dark purple Dreamless Sleep Potion. When he looked at them under the light of the oil lamp, he was satisfied to see that the potion looked perfectly normal despite the changes he'd made.

He took a piece of parchment and wrote Gabriel a note. Then he wrapped the vials into thick paper and put them away in a secure travel box. When everything was ready, he whistled for his owl, Enki. Before he sent the potion and got started on his orders, however, there was just one more letter he needed to write.



The drapes around Gabriel's bed opened suddenly and he jumped in surprise, dropping his quill and ink bottle in the process. The black liquid splashed onto his bed cover and the many pieces of parchment spread out before him.

"Killian!" he complained, irritated.

"Hey, don't get mad. I called out for you but you didn't answer," Burke said, raising his hands defensively. "Did you put up silencing charms or what?" His gaze swept across the parchments as Gabriel quickly cast various cleaning charms and gathered the pages together. "What are you doing?" Killian asked. He winced as he caught a glimpse of the sketch of a woman's deformed face.

"Nothing... just nothing," Gabriel muttered, wishing the other boy would just leave him alone. He tucked the loose pages into his notebook and closed it heavily, setting his now almost empty ink bottle on top of the pile. He shot a questioning glance at Killian.

"Don't take this the wrong way, mate, but..." Killian hesitated for an instant, taking in the red circles under Gabriel's eyes and the paleness of his face. "Are you sick?"

"No," was all Gabriel answered, trying to hide the anger in his voice. "What do you want, Burke?"

"Bagnold is waiting for you in the common room..."

Gabriel locked his things away inside his trunk, and he left the dormitory without looking back at Burke. Evelyn was waiting for him next to the fireplace. He suspected that she noticed something was wrong with him, too, but unlike Killian, she was too polite to mention it.

She gave him a tour of the castle. When she pointed out the Hospital Wing, she glanced at his hand very quickly, but Gabriel noticed and gritted his teeth. He wondered if Snape told her about the wound, but then he thought that she probably just noticed herself. She did seem the observant type. Next, she showed him the library. First she looked disappointed by his lack of interest, and then positively depressed when he told her he'd already been there the day before. Then she showed him the classrooms and a few secret passageways that she knew of. His only interest sparked when she pointed out the entrance to the kitchens and told him how to get in. He thought this could be quite useful for when he wouldn't feel like socialising. Apparently it was a well-kept secret and only a few select students and prefects knew where the house elves worked. He wondered if she could get in trouble for telling him but he said nothing. She was probably just trying to impress him with the knowledge. Gabriel felt bad for being so unresponsive so he smiled at her.

He had spent the better part of the night, and most of the morning, trying to figure out how the doppelganger had managed to hurt him not only in his dream, but also in real life. The wound on his hand was fading, thanks to the salve Professor Snape had given him, and the pain was almost completely gone, but there was still a scar – a remainder of something he would have never thought possible.

This whole thing had brought back Maurice Beauchamp from the deepest corners of his mind, and it was something he could have easily lived without. It had been a very traumatic first experience in visitations. Back then Gabriel didn't understand the meaning of the dream, and neither did the man. The baker had thought Gabriel was dead, and Gabriel didn't blame him. It had been the only possible way to explain his presence in Maurice Beauchamp's afterworld. And the man was so convinced of this that Gabriel had believed him. For almost fifteen minutes, he truly thought he had died. He stayed frozen in place as he listened to the baker talking to himself about things he still longed to forget. And then, just like that, he woke up to find Valère Henri's worried face hovering over his.

Gabriel thought about what the book had said, about sleepers being in a higher state of mind, being close to the other side. The "higher self", it had been called. If he understood correctly, when asleep, his higher self connected itself to the spirits of the dead nearby, or something similar. Gabriel came to the conclusion that the easiest way to stop the dreams would be to prevent this higher self from making connections, to hide it while he was sleeping. This was why, very early that morning, he had written to Emil Rousseau asking for Dreamless Sleep Potion. In his opinion, it was the best way to hold down his higher self – just for a while, mind you, not permanently. Gabriel knew the effects large quantities of Dreamless Sleep Potion could have on someone. Long-term side effects went as far as to include complete insomnia when the body started reacting to the toxins in the potion and fought them. Gabriel didn't intend to take large amounts of Dreamless Sleep, but the potion was the best way to keep the dreams at bay until he found a better solution.

"Are you hungry?" Evelyn asked carefully as they stood near the entrance to the kitchens. "I noticed that you skipped dinner last night, and breakfast this morning. Do you want to go inside and have a snack?"

Gabriel nodded and managed a smile. Evelyn was always nice to him, accepting her offer was the least he could do. And truthfully, a large cup of coffee could only do him good.



The last thing Severus expected that night was to receive a letter from Emil Rousseau – especially a letter about Gabriel. The potionmaker wrote that the boy had owled him that very morning, asking for some Dreamless Sleep Potion. Apparently, he was suffering from nightmares. Severus understood why Rousseau was worried. Dreamless Sleep Potion would occupy a rightful place on the list of most addicting potions if there was such a thing. It should only be taken once or twice, never more than two days in a row, for it possessed an addiction factor similar to that of heavy drugs.

I have brewed the Potion and sent it to him, Rousseau wrote. He should receive it tonight. However, I have considerably diluted the Chamomile hearts, omitted the Nightshade leaves and added a touch of ginger so that the potion will look and smell the same than if it had been brewed correctly. If it is a mere matter of nerves and anxiety, which I suspect, the potion should work well as a placebo. Nevertheless, I am worried about Gabriel. Please keep an eye on him and inform me of any...

"Severus?" a sudden voice asked, pulling him from the letter. The Potions Master turned to see the Headmaster's head staring at him from the fireplace. "Can I join you? There are a few things I would like to discuss with you."

Severus nodded. "Come along, Headmaster. I'm sure I know what this is about."

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow at the words before his head disappeared. A few seconds later, it was replaced by the old man's whole body, emerging gracefully from the fireplace.

"Are you a Seer now, Severus? You already know what I came here to tell you?" the man chuckled, taking a seat across from Severus in the small sitting room of his private apartments.

Severus sneered, taking a sip from the cup of tea he had just received from the house elves. With a flick of his wand, another cup appeared next to the teapot. He nodded at Dumbledore to help himself. "It can only be about Gabriel Lenoir. There is not a person in this whole school who is not talking about him right now."

"To think that the students have so little distractions pains me, indeed," the Headmaster admitted with a small smile.

"Actually, it's fortunate that you showed up, Albus. Strange coincidence, but I also need to talk to you about the boy."

Dumbledore leaned back into the armchair, raising the cup of tea to his lips with an inquiring glance towards the professor. "You do?" he asked before blowing softly on the contents of his cup.

"He came to me yesterday, asking about healing salve," Severus announced, watching the Headmaster's reaction closely. The old man lowered the cup and stared at him, waiting to hear the rest. "His right hand was badly wounded. He tried to make me believe that he hurt it a while ago and that it had only just started to be painful. That was a lie, of course. I am disappointed in him. I thought he had more judgement than to think he could fool me this way. You should have seen the bruises, Headmaster. There was internal bleeding, that was blatantly obvious."

"Do you think another student did that to him?" Albus asked, his voice strangely quiet.

"He denied this, but how could I know for sure? I couldn't get another word out of him after that. I used my best healing salve so the wound should be completely gone in a few days, but something is going on, Albus. There is more than just that." Severus sighed. He was more troubled than he cared to admit, even in front of the Headmaster.

"What else is there?" Dumbledore had taken the tone and worried expression of a concerned father.

"I just received a letter from Emil Rousseau. He is well-acquainted with Gabriel. They have been working on a potion for some time now..."

"The Wolfsbane Variation, yes, Gabriel told me about it." The Headmaster nodded and there was a hint of pride in his voice.

"Rousseau said the boy wrote to him this morning, asking for Dreamless Sleep Potion. Apparently he's been having nightmares."

"It's very possible," Dumbledore said, frowning as he set his cup back on the table between them. "He has good reasons to have them."

"We all have nightmares, Headmaster. But he, out of all people, should know the risks and implications of taking that potion. What kind of nightmares could be bad enough for this?"

Dumbledore was silent for a while and when he spoke, Severus knew almost exactly what he was going to say. "You know what kind, Severus. We all have our ghosts."

There was long pause, and an uncomfortable silence settled between them, only broken by the crackling from the fireplace and ticking of the old clock above it.

"Worry not about Gabriel," Dumbledore said finally. "I will keep an eye on him, and so will you. Nothing bad will happen to him here."

"What is it you wanted to discuss with me?" Severus inquired quietly, eager to change the subject. Something about the way Dumbledore was looking at him made him feel like a little boy again.

"Actually, I didn't come here to talk to you about Gabriel. I, too, have received an interesting letter today," the Headmaster said, his face serious, crossing his hands over his lap. "It was from Nicolas Flamel. Someone has tried to steal the Philosopher's Stone."

Severus stared at the man. "Let me guess. You are still on about that theory that the Dark Lord is not completely gone and you suppose that he is the one who tried to get the stone."


The Potions Master sighed, leaning forward to serve himself more tea. "You are so predictable, old man. You will drive yourself crazy over this."

"It is not just a theory, Severus. You know, just as well as I do, what Voldemort is capable of..."

"Was capable of..." Severus groaned frustratingly.

"He is still out there! He can't be gone! It can't be that simple, Severus." The old man's face looked slightly flushed even though he'd spoken calmly. Severus knew this was what being angry looked like for a man with as much self-control as Albus Dumbledore.

"Yes, it cannot be that simple," Severus drawled out bitterly. "We can never be at peace, not as long as the great Albus Dumbledore has not defeated the Dark Lord himself, as long as he has not witnessed his death with his very eyes." He'd spoken out of spite, but the old man didn't react to the offense. He leaned towards Severus with understand in his eyes, and something else, something that almost looked like pity.

"I know that you long for peace and quiet, Severus. Don't get me wrong, you deserve it out of all people. But don't let this longing cloud your judgement. There will come a time when you'll need to open your eyes to the world around you. There is still darkness left in this world. Voldemort is waiting, watching, and the first chance he gets, he will try to come back. And when he does, we have to stop him. If we can't, we have to be ready for the worst."

Severus didn't feel the need to answer. He would just scream at the man if he spoke.

"Nevertheless, the stone will be moved into the old Hogwarts vault at Gringotts as soon as possible. It is the safest place for it."

It was clear that the conversation was over. Severus was thankful for that. He stared as Dumbledore stood and left. He knew he'd irritated the man, but he also knew that Dumbledore wasn't mad at him. The next time they met, they would both act as if nothing had happened. It was always like that.

He sat quietly and finished his tea, and when the kettle was empty he ordered some more. The warm drink relaxed him and eventually, he dozed off.



The clock striking midnight startled him out of sleep. He groaned and stretched out his painful neck. That armchair was comfortable, but falling asleep in it was definitely not a good idea. The fire was almost out. It cast a dim, orange light across the room. Severus pushed himself up and was retreating into his bedroom when he heard footsteps echo in the corridor outside his apartments. He frowned. Someone was running.

He strode quickly over to the door and swung it open just as the noise stopped. Looking around the dark hallway, he couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. He flicked his wand, causing the light from the torches on the walls to intensify and it's only then that he noticed the shadows of a silhouetted on the left, just around the corner.

Swiftly, Severus took off towards it, trying to silence his footsteps as best as he could. He slowed down his pace when he neared the corner but as soon as he was within two feet from it, the silhouette emerged and Severus found himself staring into the pale, wide eyes of Gabriel Lenoir, with the tip of a wand jammed against his throat.

"Professor?" the boy whispered as he lowered his hand. From the shock on his face, Severus knew he wasn't who the boy was expecting to see.

"Mr. Lenoir, what do you think you...?"

"It's following me. It's here! I'm awake! It's not supposed to be here if I'm awake..." the boy whispered urgently, catching the teacher's robes in trembling hands and pulling him deeper into the corridor as if to hide them from whatever was chasing him.

"Stop this!"

The fury Severus always felt when catching a student out of bed was replaced by something akin to fear. Something in the boy's words and voice made chills run across his spine. He was trying to pry the boy's hands away when he noticed it – there was a deep gash on the boy's chest, staining his shirt with fresh blood.

"It doesn't matter anymore whether you trust me or not, Mr. Lenoir," the man said and his voice wavered with emerging panic. "You need to start talking now!"

Chapter Text

"But this: to contain death, the whole of death, even before life has begun, to hold it all so gently within oneself, and not be angry: that is indescribable."

-Rainer Maria Rilke



SURELY THIS BOY would be the death of him, Severus thought when he noticed how Gabriel's eyes avoided his. He did his best to hide the shaking in his hands as he carefully tended to the wound on his student's chest. Luckily, it wasn't as bad as he'd imaged it would be, but it wasn't benign either. At first glance, it looked like the boy had been hit by a nasty slicing hex, but upon closer inspection, Severus found that something wasn't right. The way the skin was torn at the edges of the wound – that didn't come from a spell. Gabriel seemed to have calmed down now. That was good, but Severus didn't think he would forget the look on his face when he found him. He found himself concentrating on the boy's deep and steady breathing as he worked.

After much convincing that no one would harm him in his presence, and firmly prying Gabriel's hands away from his robes, Severus had dragged him along into his apartments to determine the gravity of his injuries. The boy was now sitting quietly on the edge of the oak table in Severus' study as the Head of Slytherin softly applied various potions and salves to the bloody slash on his chest. Severus had heard a slight gasp from the boy when he first cleaned the wound but he had been silent since then.

"You know you will have to explain this," Severus said, and his voice sounded hoarse in the silence of the room. "I let it pass with the hand wound, but this is different."

"I know," Gabriel answered, but it was just barely a whisper.

"Do you want to tell me about it?" The boy looked like a scared animal. It probably wouldn't do any good to threaten him for answers, Severus thought.

"You won't believe me," Gabriel announced, looking away and wincing as the Potions Master applied a stronger healing salve to the wound. "You will think I'm crazy."

Severus sighed as he put the last of the salves away and wiped his hands on a clean towel. "I can assure you I will think no such thing," he retorted in a voice he willed soft but firm. "Who did this to you?" he asked again, sighing as his student turned his face away.

He grabbed the boy's chin in his hand, and gently forced him to stare into his eyes. He thought he heard Gabriel's breath hitch but was probably mistaken. Never before had Severus been in such an intimate situation with a student. The flutter next to his heart returned, stronger than before, as he stared into the boy's face. And for a fraction of a second, it seemed like kissing him would be natural and so easy. "Who did this to you?" he repeated, willing his heart, the caged bird inside his ribcage, to stop pounding.

"I don't know who it is... or what it is." Gabriel looked away hesitantly when Severus finally let go of his face. "It's a long story. I'm so tired..." he sighed.

They stared into each other's eyes for a long moment but this time Severus was the one who turned away. He took some bandages from the small chest where he kept his first air supplies. "Let me bandage this, then we will find you a clean shirt and we'll move into the sitting room. You will tell me everything. It is not an option anymore."



Horace Slughorn, Severus' former Potions Master, possessed a very rare and very special hourglass that he kept in his private quarters. It was an unusual object that fascinated Severus from the first moment he laid eyes on it. It was enchanted so that the sand inside ran according to the quality of the conversation taking place in the room. The more interesting the discussion, the slower the sand would run. If he'd been in possession of such an object, the sand would surely be frozen in time, Severus thought as the boy started his story.

"Ever since I was just a little boy, I've had those dreams," Gabriel started. He was sitting across from Severus, in the same armchair Dumbledore had occupied a few hours before. Severus had summoned more tea but the boy had yet to take a sip from the cup in front of him.

"What kind of dreams?" Severus urged him, sensing his reticence.

"The kind that people don't usually have..." Gabriel looked younger in Severus' large shirt. He rolled up the sleeves himself after the boy had put it on. He couldn't help but think that it was wrong to have the boy wearing a piece of his clothing. "I meet people who have died and they talk to me," he said finally and looked up at Severus, waiting for a reaction. The teacher's eyes never left the boy as he waited for him to continue.

"The first time it happened, I was eight. I met a man who had committed suicide six years before. He wasn't a good person and he scared me. I didn't know what was happening. Since then, it's happened frequently over the years."

"How frequently?" Severus asked, intrigued. Had anyone else told him about this, he would have laughed out loud and called them a fraud, but this boy was telling the truth. He had only known him for a few days, but it was obvious to Severus that Gabriel Lenoir couldn't lie to save his own life.

"Once a month, at least, but more often in the last few days."

"Since you came to Hogwarts, you mean?"

"Yes, the first time was the night I arrived. I met Valère in a dream, but it wasn't him. It was something else, pretending to be him. I sensed that something was wrong, and when I confronted it, the thing stabbed my hand with a knife."

Severus shifted in his seat, puzzled. "It stabbed you in the dream, and when you woke up the wound was real?"

"No," Gabriel said, shaking his head slightly. His gaze was fixed on the teacup as he related the events. "When I woke up, my hand hurt but it was fine. Then yesterday, after I went flying with Killian, I came back to the dormitory and fell asleep. I saw it again. This time it took the form of a woman. I've never seen her before, but she looked familiar somehow. She was running away from me, but I chased her. I thought she was afraid and I wanted to help her. Sometimes the people I meet don't understand what's happening, and they think I'm there to harm them. But it wasn't just a woman, it was that thing again. It tricked me. It warned me that it would come back for me again. My hand was bleeding in the dream, and when I woke up it was hurting and swollen."

"And that's when you came to see me?" Severus asked and Gabriel nodded. There was a long pause and he cursed himself for interrupting because it didn't look like the boy really wanted to continue. "What happened next?"

"I went to the library, but I couldn't find anything about the dreams or anything that could help me. I didn't sleep at all last night. I just read my old notes again to see if there was something I missed... I've been taking notes throughout the years, you see, about the dreams. I've kept all the research I've ever done. Then I thought it was best if I could just stop the dreams until I found a way to get rid of the doppelganger. I wrote to Emil Rousseau to ask him for Dreamless Sleep Potion and I received it tonight, but it didn't even work," Gabriel finished with exhaustion in his voice.

Severus cringed. "There was no Nightshade leaves in your potion, and just enough Chamomile to make you drowsy," he admitted. Their eyes met for the first time since Gabriel had started his story. "Rousseau wrote to me," Severus continued. "He was worried about you. He thought you were just nervous and he didn't want you to get sick so he modified the potion.

"That explains everything then," Gabriel said bitterly. "After I took the potion, I felt relieved. I felt safe... I was just about to fall asleep when I heard that noise again... It's like a retch."

He made the sound then, to show Severus. Maybe it had to do with how caught up in the story the teacher was, or maybe it simply had to do with the silence and chill of the dungeons, but it raised the hair on Severus' arms and he felt something cold shot up his spine.

"That's the sound it makes," Gabriel said quietly. "I was afraid to open my eyes because I could feel it so close. I could smell it. Then I felt it crawling on my bed. When I opened my eyes, its face was just above mine. It was staring at me."

"Was it a woman again?"

"No, it wasn't anything human. It was just like a shadow, but I could feel it watching me. I could smell its breath. I left the dormitory and it followed me through the common room and then into the hallway. At some point I thought I'd lost it but then I turned around and it clawed at me. That's when you found me."

Severus nodded but stayed silent. At first he did think that the wound looked strangely like a claw mark, but he decided not to ask. After all, what kind of animal big enough to do such damage could penetrate Hogwarts? He had to admit that the boy's story was hard to believe and highly unrealistic, but Gabriel obviously believed it and was deeply scared of that creature. It wouldn't do Severus any good to doubt his word.

"I think we ought to go see the Headmaster," he said finally as he stood up.



Severus watched Albus' face as the boy told his story again, this time putting in more information upon request. Gabriel recalled the dreams with precise details that intrigued the Headmaster. The old man was pacing before them, rubbing his chin through his beard, nodding occasionally and asking questions now and then.

"It's like your door is open," Dumbledore murmured in fascination once the boy was finished.

"What do you mean?" Gabriel asked, glancing at him questioningly.

The Headmaster finally sat down behind his desk and turned towards Gabriel. "Imagine it like this. Our world, the world of the living, is a house... or a castle, like Hogwarts. It is full of rooms. Let us say that each room represents the mind of a different person. Now, the spirits are free to navigate our world as they want, but they cannot penetrate the minds. They can walk through the house, but they cannot enter the rooms because the doors are locked. What happens here, I think, is that the spirits walk down a corridor of closed doors, but yours is open. Inevitably, they will want to come in, either out of curiosity or boredom, maybe. Nine times out of then, it might be a harmless visit. But just like people, there are different types of spirits. Not all of them are good or innocent. I think it is important that we find a way for you to learn to keep the door shut, Gabriel. Otherwise, who knows what might enter without your permission?"

"There is also the fact that the spirits visit while you're sleeping – a state in which you are vulnerable. You cannot defend yourself properly against threats when you're asleep," Severus added.

Gabriel glanced between them with wide eyes. "But it came for me when I was awake. And what if it doesn't matter if the door is closed or not? What if that one spirit has a free pass now and can enter at will?" he asked, running a shaking hand through his hair.

The Headmaster nodded understandingly and he managed a smile. "Calm down, Gabriel, my boy," he said softly. "I have to give this more thought, but I think there is one explanation. Maybe you were sleeping," Dumbledore suggested, leaning back to his chair, "only slightly," he added in defensive when the boy frowned. "It seems to me like your exhaustion, combined with the modified Dreamless Sleep Potion put you on the very edge of sleep so that in your state, you were awake enough to travel from your bed to the corridor, but still asleep enough to drag the dream's manifestation with you."

"Is that even possible?" Severus inquired, watching the Headmaster with a sceptical look on his face.

"It must be. How else can a dream become reality?" Dumbledore retorted, raising his eyebrows. Even with this semblance of confidence, if you knew the man well enough, like Severus did, you could make out the confusion on his features.

There was a moment of silence as everyone in the room reflected on this possibility. Gabriel asked himself this question: how could a dream become reality? He was reminded of something Valère often said. Anything can become real if you believe hard enough. His adoptive father would say this whenever Gabriel felt depressed or desired something that was far from reach, whenever he just didn't feel strong enough. He could remember perfectly the exact way the sentence was said, the exact pitch and tone of Valère's voice whenever he spoke those words. Their meaning had now changed completely.

Dumbledore spoke suddenly. "The only thing we must determine is how to help Gabriel control the access to his mind." He said this like the matter was open to suggestion, but when he looked at Severus, it seemed clear to Gabriel that he already had an idea.

"I know what you're insinuating, Headmaster," the man spoke calmly. "It won't be easy, but if he is willing to learn, I will teach Gabriel."

Gabriel was about to ask what exactly he would be taught, but Dumbledore spoke before he could phrase his question. "Occlumency, Gabriel, is a skill allowing a wizard to protect his mind against external threats," the Headmaster began, staring deeply into Gabriel's eyes. "Its opposite is called Legilimency. That is the skill allowing a wizard to penetrate another's mind. Both are very advanced forms of magic. They require a lot of energy and self-control. With the complexity of your situation, teaching you Occlumency is quite honestly the only solution I can think of. Luckily, both Professor Snape and I are very competent in this form of magic. However, in all modesty, I must admit that your Head of House has much more experience in the field of Occlumency than I do."

"I have read a bit on the subject," Gabriel said hesitantly and Dumbledore's expression became intrigued. "It seems complicated, but if it can make things better, I'm willing to try."

"Very well," Severus said, nodding at the boy. "I will present you with a book tomorrow. It will explain the basics and give you tips on how to prepare yourself for the lessons. I will mark the passages which I expect you to read. We shall start before the end of the week."

"In the meantime, I think we should grace Gabriel with a good amount of effective Dreamless Sleep Potion. I mean no offense, but you truly look terrible, my boy," Dumbledore added, concerned.

"Only for tonight," Severus objected. He hesitated for a second before he spoke again. "I think maybe we should put Mr. Lenoir under observation tomorrow night as he sleeps." The same part of him which had recoiled from seeing the boy wearing his shirt hissed inside his chest at the comment. He promptly ignored it. "To see how he reacts," he added, perhaps a bit too quickly. "Personally, I am curious to know what happens during those dreams."

"It's a brilliant idea, Severus," the Headmaster conceded. "But for now, I can't help but notice that young Gabriel is almost falling with fatigue. I trust you will accompany him safely back to his dormitory, Severus." He turned to Gabriel, the expression on his face softer. "We shall talk more about this tomorrow, when you are well-rested."

Gabriel could only agree and nodded weakly. He had been listening to the conversation silently and felt a strong urge to just close his eyes and doze off. Severus stood up and waited for him to follow.

As soon as they left the Headmaster's office, the comforting smile slowly faded from Professor Dumbledore's face. He had expected to be surprised by Gabriel. He had known at first glance that the boy was more than meets the eye, but not exactly that much.



When Gabriel woke up in the morning, his head felt heavy and there was a strange taste in his mouth. He felt like he'd died and been brought back to life or just woken up from a deep coma. The small vial of Dreamless Sleep Potion was still in his hand. He could only look at it in awe as he realised how quickly it had kicked in.

"I thought you were dead or something," Killian said, drying his hair with a towel as he came out of the washroom. "I tried to wake you up but you wouldn't budge. What did you take?" he asked, eyeing the small vial suspiciously.

"It's just something for the nerves. Snape gave it to me," Gabriel explained quickly, putting the empty vial on the nightstand and pushing the covers away from his body.

"It's just class, mate. It's going to be fine."

"You thought I was dead and you didn't do anything?" Gabriel asked with a small smile. He felt much better and it automatically put him in a good mood.

Killian shrugged, throwing the towel to the floor. His short, curly brown hair stuck out on one side. "I figured you'd turn up eventually. You don't seem like the suicidal type to me." Gabriel laughed and Killian raised an eyebrow at him. "You look happy today. I guess that potion worked."

"It did. I feel great," Gabriel agreed, getting out of bed and heading straight for the washroom.

After a quick shower, he unwrapped his brand new uniform: a white shirt, a thick grey knitted v-neck sweater, a matching tweed blazer, a silver and green tie, and a simple black robe with the Slytherin crest on it. Then he started dressing swiftly, almost humming as he did so. "I have a free period after lunch," he remarked, looking at his class schedule.

Killian threw it a quick glance. "It's because you didn't take Divination. Smart decision, mate, it's a real bore. Unfortunately, I have to suffer through it."

Gabriel never had any interests in Divination. He carefully avoided everything to do with it, even at Beauxbâtons. The last thing he needed was to discover he had other gifts to add to his disturbing dreams.

"My free period is after lunch," Killian continued, "while you're taking Ancient Runes." His smile turned into a grimace as he sat back onto his bed, sighing. "Mondays really suck. I've got Gryffindors in every class..."

"Are they so bad?" Gabriel asked, folding his schedule and tucking it inside his robe pocket. He opened the chest at the foot of his bed and started searching through his books. "Professor Dumbledore told me there was some rivalry between the Houses, but he didn't elaborate."

"Rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin is legendary. You better get used to it. We're just different, that's all." Killian shrugged, taking out his own Transfiguration textbook. Gabriel frowned as he found spare rolls of parchment and slipped them into his bag. Being different didn't seem like a valid reason for people to hate each other.

They made their way to the Great Hall for breakfast. Evelyn Bagnold waved politely at Gabriel when he approached the Slytherin table and he thought it was appropriate to go sit beside her. She handed him a thick wad of various parchments held together with a green elastic band.

"What is this?"

"This is all you missed last week. Since we share the same classes, I made copies of my notes," she announced with a friendly smile on her face. "I knew that Burke wouldn't think about it so I took the initiative. This way, you won't get behind on your classes. You'll probably have time to read the Transfiguration notes from last time before class starts."

Killian grimaced at her words as he sat across from them. Gabriel, however, was surprised and quite pleased with her actions. He unrolled the parchments and looked through Evelyn's notes as he piled food onto his plate.

"Slytherin colours suit you well, Gabriel," said a brunette girl on his right. He remembered she'd introduced herself to him as Ivy Ravensdale. She was his roommate, Garrett's, twin sister. She shared Evelyn's dormitory.

"Thank you," he answered, fighting the blush that would soon inevitably spread on his cheeks.

"I put the syllabi in there too," Evelyn added quickly before Ivy could speak again. "Be sure to check the exam dates so you're prepared. I can make you a study plan if you want to..."

"Thank you, Evelyn, but it's okay, I'll make my own," Gabriel said, looking at Killian who was half-annoyed, half-amused.



"I can't believe it! You've already got Bagnold wrapped around your finger," Killian whispered as they quickly made their way towards the Transfiguration classroom. "I've been working on her for five years, mate! Five years! And it takes you two days to woo her!" He was grabbing Gabriel's sleeve as they walked and kept tugging at it in irritation.

"Killian, I'm not trying to woo her. I'm not interested. She's all yours," Gabriel said, annoyance evidence in his voice. Even though it was pleasant to have made friends already, he found himself longing for the time when he could find solitude anywhere and anything he wanted, and when he didn't have to deal with such trivial matters.

"Mr. Lenoir," called the deep voice of Professor Snape from the opposite side of the corridor.

The two boys stopped and the teacher caught up with them easily, with only a few strides, his long black robes billowing swiftly behind him.

"Good morning, Professor Snape," Gabriel said politely with a smile. He didn't expect the professor to look so taken aback at his greeting.

The Potions Master nodded at him before turning to Killian. "Mr. Lenoir will catch up with you in a moment, Burke," he insisted.

Burke didn't need to be told twice. He looked at Gabriel and nodded swiftly. "I'll save you a seat."

The professor watched as Killian disappeared down the corridor. The crowd of students around them was slowly dissipating as Professor Snape fished into his robes and took out a small book. "You look much better than you did yesterday," he said so low that only Gabriel could hear. "I take it the potion worked well for you."

"It did wonders, sir. Thank you..."

"There's no need to thank me, Mr. Lenoir," Severus said rapidly. "I am merely doing my job as your Head of House. Here is the book I promised you. I put markers on chapters one, two, and five. I expect you to read them before tomorrow night, when we will start your lessons. Does that give you enough time?"

"I will manage," Gabriel answered with a note of determination in his voice. Their fingers touched as he took the small, worn book from Severus' hand, and for the second time that morning he suppressed a blush.

"Tonight's experiment will take place in the Hospital Wing," said the teacher. He looked almost uncomfortable and kept looking at a spot slightly above Gabriel's left shoulder. "I will fetch you from the common room myself so that you won't get in trouble for being outside after hours. Be ready at nine o'clock."

"I will, sir."

Snape nodded, and as swiftly as he'd arrived, he turned and made his way back towards the dungeons. The students parted quickly before him.

"What did Snape want with you?" Killian asked as Gabriel took a seat beside him, trying to ignore the curious glances the Gryffindors were throwing his way.

"He lent me a book. I asked for complementary materials," he said shortly. He noticed Evelyn looking at him approvingly from her desk across the aisle when she heard his words.

Killian groaned and let out a heavy sigh. "You're right not to be interested in her," he said more quietly. "She can get really annoying, and she's not really your type anyway."

A smile tugged at the corner of Gabriel's lips. Killian was right, but he had obviously no idea what his type was.

"Honestly, I think Ivy would be more suited for you," he continued nonchalantly. "Just be careful, though. She's been with pretty much everyone. You might have to boil her first."

"Fuck you, Burke," said Garrett Ravensdale from right behind them.

They all fell silent as Professor McGonagall strode in.



Gabriel was glad he had a free period just before lunch. He had quite a lot of things to do, but he didn't know what was more important: catching up on his classes or getting started on Professor Snape's book? He settled for the book. If he wanted to do well in class, he needed to be sane and alive for it, didn't he? He managed to escape Evelyn and found a quiet corner in the library. He didn't want the other students to question him about his reading material.

The book was entitled Practices and Theories in Occlumency. It was quite interesting, albeit complicated. He found himself having to read many pages again and going back to try and clarity various elements. He had planned on reading more after classes, but Evelyn caught up with him and volunteered to help him review her notes because she felt that some points might not be clear enough. He was too polite to refuse. He managed to read halfway through the second chapter of the book just before Professor Snape entered the common room, at nine o'clock sharp.

"I started the book," Gabriel said as they walked towards the Hospital Wing. He had changed into more comfortable clothes before leaving. At first he'd wondered if he was supposed to wear his pyjamas, but had opted for a simple t-shirt and a pair of pants.

"What did you think of it?"

"It's complex, but I expected as much. It looks like hard work. From what I understand, it's not something that is commonly taught. If I may ask, sir, how did you become so skilled at it?"

It might have just been the combination of shadows from the corridor and the light from the torches, but it seemed to Gabriel that Professor Snape's expression turned even colder. His voice was dry as he spoke, but not exactly angry, just bitter.

"Certain circumstances in the past required that I teach myself, Mr. Lenoir."

"You taught yourself Occlumency?" Gabriel mumbled. He could not hide the admiration in his voice. "Is that even possible?"

"If one works hard enough, it is, but I do not advise you to do so."

They were silent until they reached the Hospital Wing. It was deserted. Gabriel supposed that no student had managed to injure themselves or fall ill this early into the school year. Professor Dumbledore was already there, waiting by a bed on the far side of the large room.

"Gabriel, my boy," the man said pleasantly when they reached him. He put a hand on his adopted son's shoulder and smiled down at him. "I noticed that you looked quite prosperous today. It's astounding what a good night's sleep can do, isn't it?"

Gabriel nodded. "Yes, it is," he said. "How are we doing this?" he added nervously.

"It will be quite simple," the Headmaster explained. He led Gabriel towards the bed so he could sit down. "You just lay down on the bed. Since it can be quite difficult to fall asleep when expected to do so, Professor Snape will give you a simple Sleeping Draught to help you out. Then I will put some spells on you and they will tell us anything unusual happening to you while you dream."

"What if I don't dream?" Gabriel asked, watching as the Potions Master took out a small vial of clear green liquid.

"I expect you will," Professor Snape drawled. "After the outcome of your last meeting and the frequency of your encounters, the odds are favourable."

Gabriel could not stop toe shaking in his hands as he took the potion from him. Dumbledore sensed his apprehension and put his own hands on top of Gabriel's before sitting down in one of the armchairs near the bed. "Don't worry, Gabriel. Nothing will happen to you on our watch." He spoke sincerely and Gabriel could only believe him.

"Cheers," he whispered before swallowing the bitter tasting potion.

He laid his head on the stiff pillow and folded his hands on his stomach, trying to relax. It wasn't long before he felt the warmth of the spells spread across his body. He stared at the ceiling and saw, from the corner of his eye, Professor Snape sitting down on the other side of his bed. Then he shut his eyes and breathed in and out deeply. Minutes passed, but no matter how hard he tried to clear his head, sleep just didn't seem to come.

"It's not working," he complained after a long moment. "You should give me something stronger."

He half expected Professor Snape to snort or answer with an outraged reply, but the man remained silent. Gabriel opened his eyes and turned towards him angrily. His chair was empty. The man had gone. Frowning, Gabriel turned to the other side of the bed and found Dumbledore's chair equally vacant. He looked around, puzzled, and noticed the stillness of the room. The window was open and he could feel the soft night air ruffling his hair, but the light drapes around the bed did not move.

"Great, it works," he mumbled before letting out a shaky breath. He sat up and drew his knees up to his chest, looking around the room, waiting for something to happen.

It didn't take very long until he heard the retch, but he had been expecting it. He turned towards the sound quickly. The blonde woman was standing in the doorway on the other side of the room, but he could hear her painful breathing just as well as if she were standing right next to him.

"What do you want?" Gabriel asked, his voice breaking. "Just tell me what you want already."

The creature took a few steps forward and its face smiled grimly at Gabriel. "I already have what I want, boy. I've got you exactly where I want you..." It stopped and looked around. For a second, Gabriel thought it was sniffing the air. "I see you brought some friends this time. They've come to watch the show?" it said excitedly before trailing off. The doppelganger approached Gabriel slowly, its dark eyes never leaving its prey's face. "And what is that? They put some kind of spell on you..." The creature laughed dryly and the sound send chills up Gabriel's spine. "They'll definitely get their money's worth. They should start to panic just about now."

Gabriel stiffened, wondering what this was about. What did it mean by that? Was something wrong with him? He moved until his back touched the wall behind the bed.

"What are you going to do to me?" he asked weakly, his eyes never leaving the creature's body, trying to be ready if it ever attacked him.

"I wanted to talk to you about my behaviour last night," the woman said, with what the creature probably wanted to be a graceful movement of her arm, but it turned out to be rough and broken, like an ill-experienced puppeteer awkwardly manipulating a doll. "I admit that I wasn't truly at my best. I felt I needed to apologise for such an unfortunate encounter."

Gabriel's eyes shot open just as the creature pounced on him. The first thing he saw was Professor Snape's face close to his. Behind him, he could make out Dumbledore's silhouette running away, yelling out to someone. There was a shrilling noise, like an alarm, ringing through the air. The sudden commotion was nauseating.

"ALBUS! HE'S COMING BACK!" Professor Snape screamed, and Gabriel cringed at his voice so close to his hear. "Gabriel, are you okay? Does anything hurt?"

Gabriel didn't think he'd ever seen anyone look this scared before. "What's wrong?" he asked groggily. He sat up and the Potions Master helped him, holding the back of his head. A wave of dizziness shot suddenly through his body. "I'm gonna be sick..." he managed to say, fighting the urge to throw up.

Snape immediately conjured up a basin and held it under his chin just in time. Gabriel let out painful gasps as he emptied the contents of his stomach. The teacher's hand trembled as it rubbed his back tentatively.

Dumbledore came running back, a woman following behind him, fastening a white robe on top of her nightgown. The Headmaster looked just as scared as Professor Snape. He waved his wand and the shrilling noise stopped. Once the vomiting stopped, the Potions Master put the basin away and washed Gabriel's face with a warm cloth before letting himself fall back into his chair. His breath was shaking as he raked a nervous hand through his tangled black hair.

"What happened?" Gabriel asked, his voice raw. He looked at the three adults standing by his bed. Snape looked relieved, Dumbledore terrified, and the woman, whom he assumed must be the school nurse, simply looked incredibly puzzled.

"You were mumbling in your sleep," Professor Snape explained, struggling to catch his breath. "Then you stopped breathing, and then your heart stopped."

"You were dead, Gabriel," Professor Dumbledore announced gravely. "For almost a full minute, you were dead."

Chapter Text

"When the soul suffers too much, it develops a taste for misfortune."

-Albert Camus



ON SEPTEMBER 1st 1948, a young witch by the name of Eileen Prince was sorted into Slytherin House. She wasn't particularly pretty and she wasn't particularly smart. If asked to describe herself, she would have shyly looked away and used the term "normal". She was a little tall for her age, with pale skin, dark eyebrows and long, equally dark hair that she used as a curtain to shield herself from the world.

Her school uniform was always in perfect condition. She wore it with the collar of her shirt properly buttoned up, and the sleeves never rolled up, never, because it would leave wrinkles and wrinkles were something that her mother deeply despised. Even at Hogwarts, miles away from Gwendolyn Prince, Eileen would never risk being seen with wrinkles on her clothes. And besides, leaving her sleeves unrolled was a good way to hide her wrists, which she deemed too skinny.

Eileen didn't have many friends, maybe two or three, but she did her best to be friendly and polite with others. Although she would never speak unless being spoken to, she smiled often. It was the kind of smile that you give someone when you notice them looking at you quietly, out of boredom – the kind of spur-of-the-moment smile that lasts only a few seconds until you become shy again and look away.

She did well in school, easily managing to stay slightly above average, but she was never at the top of any class. She particularly enjoyed Charms class and found Transfiguration deeply interesting, but Potions was always her favourite, although she never really managed to understand it completely.

The only notable thing that Eileen Prince did during her seven years at Hogwarts was to start a Gobstones team when she was fourteen. It started out as simple Friday nights with a few friends, but rapidly grew into House tournaments. She smiled proudly whenever people mentioned this accomplishment, but she knew she wouldn't exactly be remembered for it in years to come. Sometimes Eileen wondered if the only reason she had been sorted into Slytherin was because that's where both her parents had been. She never really felt a great need to prove herself, and she didn't think she was particularly cunning. The Sorting Hat hadn't really taken the time to explain its decision either, so she remained in the dark. It's a hard thing, not knowing exactly who you are.

After she graduated from Hogwarts, Eileen found a small but charming apartment in London and enrolled in medical care training in St. Mungo's Hospital. She quickly fell into a quiet routine. She worked during the day, studying at night and sometimes going out with friends from work. On the weekends she would go out for long walks, sometimes to the library or shopping. On Sundays she had dinner with her parents at the manor, and more often than not they invited over a young man that she didn't know – a bachelor that they hoped she would get along with well enough that they would eventually get married. Eileen had no interests for those rich, well-bred young men. She was perfectly happy being single and alone, with no one else to care for but herself, her pet cat, and her patients at the hospital. She acted interested in front of her parents, but once alone with the man, she politely declined and they parted on friendly terms.

Her parents had insisted that she connect her flat to the Floo Network, which she had done just so they would stop pestering her, but she only ever used it to visit them. She could use it to Floo directly into the hospital lobby, but Eileen still walked to work every day, rain or shine. It wasn't very far from her apartment to St. Mungo's, and she enjoyed getting herself lost in the crowd of morning pedestrians. Despite being from a respectable Pureblood family, Eileen could not help realising that Wizarding transportation made people lazy. Why walk anywhere when you could just Apparate or hop into the Floo? This was how most people thought. As ordinary as she was, Eileen was not most people. Even if she would never say it out loud for fear that her parents might somehow hear her, Eileen liked to imagine how her life would be as a Muggle.

One day, on her way to work, Eileen decided to stop into a little coffeeshop on the busy street corner near her flat, and she bought herself something for breakfast instead of going to the hospital cafeteria. The place quickly became a favourite of hers, and she treated herself to their delicious sandwiches and pastries several times a week. Soon, the waiters knew her by name and even asked how she was doing at work. She'd told them she was a nurse. And so the little cafe fell into her routine.

It so happened that a factory opened near the cafe. It was a large, noisy, smoking factory that made all sorts of Muggle objects that Eileen didn't quite understand. The people from the cafe were complaining at first, but as it turned out, the factory was good for business. The workers stopped by during their breaks, talking loudly and laughing crudely and being men, but they spent money and business was booming.

There was a group of those men, five or six of them, who had taken to hanging out outside the shop, near the entrance, sitting on the massive cement blocks directing the traffic away from the narrow alleyway on the right. They would stand there, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and talking about work, rock music, politics, girls and whatever Muggle boys are usually on about. One morning, as she was coming out of the shop with a bagel and a coffee, her shoulders hunched as she passed them, hoping they might somehow ignore her, one of them called out to Eileen.

"Hey, Luv," he spoke, letting the smoke from his cigarette roll around his mouth. "Wanna have some fun?"

Eileen stood frozen in place. At nineteen years of age, after a lifetime of being ignored, it was the first time a boy had ever shown any interest in her. She wasn't naïve to the point of thinking that he was actually interested in her. There were other girls, however, prettier girls walking about, and yet the comment had been directed at her. She didn't know if she should be flattered or insulted. First she thought about turning around to confront them, but she didn't know what she would say. She wasn't bold enough to tell them off, and she couldn't actually accept that Muggle boy's proposal, could she? She was almost tempted to, but she couldn't do such things. A good, respectable Pureblood witch did not mingle with strangers, with Muggle strangers, especially not that way.

Shaken, she chose to continue on her way and ignore the five boys, making her way across the street quickly, distancing herself from them as much as she could. She was careful not to look their way when she reached the opposite sidewalk. She thought she heard catcalls as she walked away, but it might have been her imagination. When she got to the hospital, she noticed she'd spilled some coffee on her blouse in her rush.

She didn't return to the coffeeshop until the following week, after making sure that the quintet of Muggle factory workers was not in its usual spot. She had opted for a change that day and braided her long hair. It pulled the strands away from her face and she got politely complimented on it by the barista who made her coffee. She was just about to pay for her lunch when a hand snapped down a bill on the counter before she could even take out her money. She looked up and met a pair of dark eyes not unlike her own. They belonged to a young man whose fashionably-combed black hair was glistening with gel. His smile broadened under her stare.

"It's on me, Miss," he said with a little bow from his head, "to apologise for my friends to other day." Eileen couldn't stop the blush from spreading on her cheeks and she couldn't exactly find it in her to insist that he let her pay for her own purchase. "I don't want you thinking that I'm like them," the Muggle said again while she was gathering up her things, eager to leave. "Sorry if I'm making you uncomfortable. Would you sit down with me, please?"

She stared at him for a moment, scanning his face for any suspicious intentions. He seemed nice, she thought, and perhaps he even was. "Just for a little while," she agreed softly. "I have to go to work soon."

He smiled at her like no other boy had ever smiled at her before. And so they sat at a small table in the corner and they talked. He did most of the talking while she politely nodded and ate her lunch, fidgeting nervously with the hem of her skirt. He said his name was Tobias, but his friends called him Tob. He worked at the factory, but he said it was just until he found something better, just to get the work experience. He'd done one semester in college last year, but it wasn't for him, he grimaced. He asked her about herself and she answered briefly with the prepared answers she used whenever she interacted with Muggles. She worked as a nurse at the hospital, her parents lived in the country a few hours away, she went to boarding school in Scotland for seven years. She kept looking around as she talked, unable to stop thinking that a girl such as herself really shouldn't be sitting and having lunch with a boy like Tob.

Half an hour later, she decided that maybe he wasn't as rude and immature as his friends seemed to be, but it could just as well be a scheme to get to sleep with her. She snorted as she walked away, cruelly asking herself why any boy would give himself the trouble of flirting with her when there were so many prettier girls around to sleep with. She figured she should just do her best to keep him out of her life. It was easier said than done, however, and he stayed stuck in her head all afternoon.

He was at the cafe again the next day, and the one after that, and she was too polite not to sit with him whenever he asked. Eventually, she came to expect him there, and without even noticing, she began to change. She paid more attention to the clothes she wore, spending long minutes picking out her outfits for the day. She bought herself some new, fashionable earrings because the old ones she's been wearing she'd had since she was fourteen. She even got some pretty underwear from a shop downtown, and she was pondering whether to get a haircut.

On Sunday a few weeks later, her mother noticed the change. She complimented Eileen on her new dress and how it matched with her navy blue robes. It made Gwendolyn Prince considerably cheerful – as cheerful as a woman like her can be. She was convinced that this change in Eileen's demeanour was caused by Marcus Yaxley, whom she had met at their last set-up. Eileen didn't say anything about it. She decided to let her mother think what she wanted. It was better than admitting she was seeing a Muggle. She wasn't even sure they were really seeing each other anyway, so there wasn't even something to talk about. At least if her mother thought she was seeing Marcus, she would probably leave her alone for a while. There would be no more dinner dates.

Maybe she was imagining things, but it seemed to her like Tob was changing too. Once they were sitting together and chatting quietly, and one of his friends from the factory came in. All he did was nod before turning back to Eileen. This small action warmed her heart to no end and after that, it seemed to her that his voice was softer and his smile more handsome.

The next week, she was already seated when he arrived, and if he hadn't walked directly to her and sat in the free chair as soon as he entered, she wouldn't have recognised him. His hair wasn't gelled like it usually was, and he was wearing a shirt and tie instead of his work uniform. She could only stare at him in shock until he explained that he had gotten a job interview for a company that sold insurance. There was no experience required and the pay was good. She couldn't help being happy for him and urged him to call her that night to tell her how it went.

As it turns out he got the job, but she wasn't surprised. She didn't think it could have been any other way. He had seemed so happy and determined and so confident. There was no way they wouldn't hire him. He sounded positively radiant over the phone and she told herself his happiness was the only reason why he asked her to dinner. He probably wanted to share his victory with someone. He couldn't actually be interested in her, could he? She was hoping he was. And yet, at the same time, she was afraid.

They went to a restaurant. It felt strange to meet outside the setting of the coffeeshop. She wore her best dress and light jewellery, just in case it was a real date, but she forced herself not to have any expectations. She looked at Tobias and wondered what her mother would say if she knew her daughter was considering a relationship with a Muggle. They had never discussed that possibility. Her parents had never warned her against it, but she knew it was more because they never thought she would actually do something like that than because it didn't matter to them.

Tobias was beaming and she felt guilty that she seemed unable to share his joy. He told her that he hadn't felt this good in a long time, that he finally felt like he was on track, like he was doing something with his life. He was laughing as he told her how he'd called his former boss and told him what he really thought about that job at the factory.

"Now I finally feel like I'm good enough for you," he said and she could only blink at him. "I'm very old-fashioned," he continued, looking her straight in the eyes, "so would you be my girlfriend?"

They decided to take things slowly and as they got to know each other, Eileen started to understand what the big deal was about love and boyfriends and relationships. For years she'd listened to the girls in her dormitory talk about the cute boys and who they'd snog in the broom closet if given a choice. She'd also been forced to hear the other mediwitches at work gossiping about their boyfriends. She'd always thought those were trivial things, until now. She couldn't help but giggle like a schoolgirl when Tob showed up with flowers on her doorstep.

However, not everything was perfect. She had to tell him about her real nature – her witch nature – and it kept her awake at night sometimes. She couldn't imagine telling him all of this. She couldn't even think of what words she would use. She hated having to lie to Tob, who was always so honest, so open about everything happening in his life. Besides, hiding her secret was tiring. She hated having to hide each and every wizarding evidence in her apartment whenever he was stopping by. It made her incredibly nervous to have him there. She kept hoping no one would call by Floo or that no delivery owl would arrive. She longed to tell him everything, to share that part of her life with him, but she was scared he would freak out and leave her and she would lose what she'd waited years to get.

One day she met Tobias at their cafe for lunch. He was waiting at their usual table with some flowers. She smiled when she saw him, he didn't smile back.

"I stopped by the hospital this morning," he said. "I wanted to surprise you." He spoke with his voice serious in a way she had never heard before. "They told me there was no nurse called Eileen Prince working there. I think you have something to tell me."

She didn't have a choice anymore so she told him everything. If she lost him anyway, at least she would feel like she did what she could to keep him. She told him about the Wizarding world, Hogwarts, the Prince family and her job at St. Mungo's. He didn't talk for a long time after she was done. Then he said he needed time to think about it and he left.

Three days passed until she saw him again. She was having dinner, alone in her flat, when there was a knock on the front door. When she opened it Tob was there. There was a soft smile on his face and a jewellery box in his hands.

"I'm sorry," he blurted out. "You're even more amazing than I thought." And he got down on one knee and spoke words that she never thought she'd ever hear. "Eileen, would you please marry me?"

She was trapped in her own daydream for a week after the proposal. She caused hysteria at work when the other mediwitches heard the news. It was a strange experience for Eileen, who didn't think she had been close enough to those girls for her engagement to really matter to them. Some of them, the Purebloods mostly, were horrified to learn that Tobias was a Muggle, but the others couldn't shut up about how romantic the whole thing was. Disobeying her parents to be with her true love seemed to them incredibly glamorous. That's when Eileen realised that things were about to get even more serious. She had to inform her parents before they heard it from someone else.

She had been busy at work and with her own happiness and hadn't visited them in three weeks. Tobias wanted to accompany her that Sunday but she insisted that things would be easier if she went alone and explained the situation before they met him. And besides, taking the Floo would probably freak him out. People who didn't grow up with it tended to be uncomfortable with the transportation. And Apparition was out of the question – she didn't do it often enough to be able to take him in Side-Along. But in reality, she didn't want him there if things were to get ugly. He was defenceless, and her Hector Prince could be fierce when he wanted to.

Her mother's reaction to the ring on her finger rivalled the one she got from the mediwitches at work. For long minutes Eileen listened to her talk about how long she'd been waiting for this and how relieved she and Hector were because the Prince line was on the verge of extinction. Eileen couldn't help but feel guilt creep up on her at those words. She knew her parents had hoped to have a son, but after Eileen, no matter how hard they'd tried for another child, Gwendolyn never got pregnant again. They'd had to deal with the fact that there would be no male heir to carry on the Prince name. Her father's younger brother, once assured that the eldest son was continuing the line, had been allowed to marry another man, as was common in Wizarding tradition. Her father always claimed that it was a political marriage, but Eileen could never ignore the fact that her uncle and his husband had always seemed happier than her parents, so she suspected it hadn't been entirely political. It was just that her father frowned upon marriages of love, marriages with no benefit to either party. And that was precisely what scared her in her situation. With her, the Prince line would disappear and mix with Muggle blood. It was the nightmare of any Pureblood family.

She was so nervous that she couldn't even recall how exactly she'd announced it. The only thing she processed was their reaction, which was quite what she'd expected. Her mother sat down on the couch, speechless and frozen in shock. Her father was the exact opposite. He stood before her and yelled. And for the first time in her life, she was scared of her own father. He shouted and raged and threatened her to put an end to this nonsense. He would not have his daughter married off to a Muggle. He would rather die.

"I can't... I love him. Father, please..." she begged.

"If you can't see reason, you give me no other choice. Eileen Prince, as Head of the Prince family, I disown you."

It took a few words and a simple wave of his wand and Eileen was no longer linked to the Prince family in any way. The realisation made her nauseous and she sat, shaking, for a long time, fighting the urge to throw up. A tearful plea to her mother was met with nothing more than a cold stare and Eileen Apparated back to her apartment, painful sobs racking her body. After she left, her former parents remained silent for a long time in the large living room of Prince Manor. Then Hector Prince got up, threw a heavy punch into the antique mirror above the fireplace and screamed.

It wasn't long before Eileen had to leave her flat. The rent was too high for her modest nurse salary and her parents wouldn't help her anymore. She moved in with Tobias, who lived with a friend in a messy and cramped apartment above a bar. It was hard for Eileen, but at least she had him, she told herself. With everything she'd gone through to be with him, he couldn't possibly leave her, could he?

Their wedding was a quick and simple thing, with just a few friends and Tobias' mother. It wasn't how Eileen had pictured her perfect marriage, but she comforted herself by thinking that not many girls had their dream wedding anyways. They didn't have a honeymoon because Tobias had to work. They'd been married for a week when he lost his job. Apparently he wasn't selling enough insurance and they had to let him go. Tobias got considerably depressed and even with Eileen doing her best to encourage him, helping him search for a new job, things didn't seem to get better. Grudgingly he was forced to contact his former boss from the factory and ask if there were any openings but with what he'd told the man when he quit, he got turned down.

Eileen started returning to the coffeeshop for lunch a few times a week. She found it hard to be around Tob when he was so depressed all the time. She would buy a Muggle newspaper and browse through the classified ads while eating. One day she found that they were announcing a new textile factory expansion in a small town in County Durham, northern England. They were hiring in mass, and no experience was required.

As it turned out, they were also providing housing. They had built a series of small neighbourhoods around the textile mill and their employees were welcomed to move in with their families. Once Tobias got the job, Eileen agreed to move if they could connect the fireplace to the Floo Network so that she could get to work even though they lived hours away from London. She thought their life would get better from then on. It didn't.

Whenever Tobias came home from work, he never felt like talking. She would tell him how her day went but he refused to say anything other than that the job was hard and the pay was shit. And then he started going to the pub after work and coming home late when Eileen was already in bed and when he slipped in between the sheets he smelled of cheap alcohol and sweat.

"What is wrong with you?" she asked one night when she waited for him in the living room. He'd stumbled through the front door and made a racket when he tripped on the coat rack. "Why are you doing this to us?"

"What? Doing what? I'm doing my best, Eileen." His voice was louder than she liked and it made tears well up in her eyes. "I hate this job, I hate this place. I hate this life! I've sacrificed everything to make this work, but it's not! And you, you're doing nothing to make things better!"

She really started crying then, she was so angry. "How can you say that? I left everything for you! I lost my family for you! How can you say that?"

Her head flew to the side and it took her a few seconds to register the fact that he had hit her. He simply looked at her in silence and went upstairs to fall into a drunken sleep. She spent the night alone in the kitchen, crying.

She wanted to leave him, but she had no money, nowhere to go, and she was pregnant. She could see no way out. In the weeks that followed, she would stand in front of the mirror and stare at her growing belly and she felt her throat tighten thinking about what kind of life she was bringing her child into. She started to avoid Tob because now she was afraid of him. And she wondered where the time had gone when she was excited at the thought of being in love. What had happened to those hours she'd spent to the tending of her hair so that he thought it would look nice, to the careful time she took in choosing a shade of lipstick that he would like. And she thought about her parents and she cried and she wished she'd listened to them. She longed to go back in time and marry one of those Pureblood boys they'd introduced her to. Every night she secretly wished that in the morning she would wake up into her old apartment in London, before she met Tobias Snape, and she swore that if whatever God that existed would grant her wish, she would do things differently.

Severus knew that his mother had been thinking of leaving his father even before he was born. Thinking back on everything she had endured made him angry beyond words. After his birth, his mother had never gone back to working at St. Mungo's. His father was strongly against women working when they should be at home tending to their child. And that way, whenever he wanted to vent out his anger, she was there.

It would be dishonest of Severus to pretend that his hatred for his father was not a major factor in his joining the Death Eaters. After everything he had endured, the extermination of Muggles didn't seem like such a terrible thing. His mother died when he was eighteen, she drowned herself in the dirty river near Spinner's End. He knew that she'd wanted to kill herself for a long time but decided to wait until he was old enough to live without her. His father became old and senile and Severus was quick to get rid of him. He sent him into a Muggle retirement home and paid for his stay but never visited. The textile factory had closed its doors years ago, but he still occupied his parents' old house, mostly because he was only there during the summer vacation. If he had to live there all year long, he would have found another house long ago.



Severus woke up to sunlight on his face. It was unusual for him since he spent so much time in the dungeons. He opened his eyes to remember he'd fallen asleep in the Hospital Wing. Gabriel Lenoir was curled up on the bed next to the one he occupied. The boy was sleeping peacefully. Severus could have returned to his apartments after giving him the Dreamless Sleep Potion, but even though he would never admit it, he had been scared out of his wits by what had happened during the sleep experiment, and he had decided to stick around, just in case. It wasn't as if the boy would notice anyway.

Severus stared at him as he slept. He wondered what Gabriel Lenoir would look like, spread out on his old bed in Spinner's End. You naughty old pervert, the voice in the back of his mind hissed. He's fifteen years old!

Music was one thing that Severus had kept from his Muggle background. His mother liked to listen to the radio and she would singHere Comes the Sun when they were alone. She would take his small hands in hers and they would dance in the kitchen, carefree as in a perfect world where Tobias Snape did not exist. And Severus thought that Gabriel Lenoir's face was like listening to The Beatles for the first time.

The blinds inside Madam Pomfrey's sleeping quarters opened suddenly as the nurse started getting ready for her day of work. Severus decided he should leave before she came to check on the boy. He sighed as he walked away. Tonight he was going to give Gabriel his very first Occlumency lesson. Things were about to become chaotic.

Gabriel went through the day as if in a daze. The Dreamless Sleep Potion had given him a headache and Madam Pomfrey insisted there was nothing he could take to get rid of it for now. It would be dangerous for him to take any medicine until later that afternoon. He spaced out several times in Defence Against the Dark Arts class, but Evelyn, who was sitting next to him, poked him with her elbow every time. It was extremely annoying but he was too tired to be mad at her. During break, he slipped into the kitchens and asked for a large cup of coffee that got him through Arithmancy class. He hurried through lunch and went back to the dormitories to rest. Killian found him not long after that, snoring slightly on his bed.

"Lenoir, wake up," he said, laughing slightly. "Are you feeling sick again?"

Gabriel had told him he didn't feel well and had spent the night in the Infirmary, which was partly true. "Not really..." he groaned.

"Come on then! We have double Potions in ten minutes. You better show up or Snape will skin you alive. I'll save you a seat."

The dark and cold of the dungeons seemed to ease his headache slightly. Gabriel got up slowly, reaching for his bag and shoes. He hadn't seen Snape since last night and he couldn't help but dread their next meeting. Even in the haze and waves of sickness he'd felt after waking up from the dream, he still remembered the gentle look on the man's face as he'd rubbed his back and washed his face. He'd never had anybody take care of him this way except Valère, but Valère had been his guardian. Snape was... well, Gabriel didn't know exactly what he was, but he was something different.

He still felt some pain in his ribs whenever he moved and it hurt to breathe a little bit. Dumbledore had said it was his fault. He'd tried to reanimate Gabriel after his heart had stopped, and the spells were responsible for the pain he felt. It was supposed to would fade eventually, but it was still uncomfortable.

When he entered Professor Snape's classroom, most of the students were already there. As promised, Killian had saved him a seat around the middle of the room. He sat down slowly, letting out a careful breath as a sharp wave of pain shot through his ribs. He took his books out, and without even looking up, he knew that Snape's eyes were on him. He decided not to look back though, not yet.

"Settle down, everyone," Snape snapped and everyone was silent. He was standing in front of the class, observing the students with a frown on his face. "This is Double Potions and as you all know this means that we'll be doing practical work today. You'll be brewing in pairs so find your partners." Most of the students looked to the person sitting next to them and some stood up. "Oh, and please find someone outside of your House, if you will." But the way Snape said this, Gabriel understood that it wasn't an option.

"Bloody marvellous," Killian muttered with a grimace. He shrugged at Gabriel and stood up, looking about the room where Slytherins and Hufflepuffs walked around, trying to put aside their differences and pick out someone that wasn't too horrible.

"Hey, stranger," a girl said, plopping down in the seat next to Gabriel. "Howdy?"

It took him a few seconds to recognize the girl who'd directed him to the library a few days earlier. Her hair, which had been curly and pink back then, was now long, straight and a light blonde – almost the same shade as his, actually.

He smiled as he remembered her name. "Hello... Nymphadora, right?"

"Tonks!" she protested. "You don't mind being my partner, do you? I figured that you don't know anyone else from my House yet, and honestly you're the only one of those Slytherins that I can stand so far."

"Good, we're a perfect match, then."

They were silent for some time while Snape explained that they were to brew a Draught of Peace and Gabriel hid a smile. He'd brewed a full dozen of those potions in Rousseau's laboratory that summer. This would be an easy start. They waited until Snape wrote the instructions on the blackboard to open their books and take out their supplies.

"So," Tonks began as she set to slicing the hellebore leave, "are you actually related to Dumbledore?"

Gabriel smiled. She was the first one to ask him about his adoption. He suspected the others thought it would be too bold to ask him, that it was still a sensitive subject.

"In fact I am," he answered. "One of his distant aunts, Gwenevieve Dumbledore, was my great-great-grandmother on my mother's side."

"That's so cool," the girl said, smiling back at him. "My mother is big on genealogy. I think it's a Pureblood thing mostly, or a Slytherin thing... that was her House. Her maiden name was Black. Almost all of the Blacks were sorted into Slytherin."

"What about your father?" he asked politely while he started crushing the moonstones for the potion.

"He is Muggle-Born, he's brilliant," she answered but he could the defensive tone in her voice, as if she expected him to disagree.

"I don't have anything against Muggles," he whispered only for her to hear, as he emptied the powder from the moonstone he'd been crushing into a small bowl. "I understand that some people in Slytherin do, but I was raised not to discriminate about such things. I am sure your father is a good person."

When he raised his head she was looking at him silently and she nodded. "You're a good person, too, Gabriel. I hope everything goes well for you here," she said softly. They didn't speak for a long time after that, but they both felt closer to the other.

Snape had been walking around the classroom and Gabriel sensed the shift in the air when the man stopped behind them. He felt one of Snape's hands lean on the back of his chair when the teacher looked over their cauldron. "How are things over here?" he asked, looking directly at Gabriel and the boy knew that the teacher wasn't only inquiring about the potion but also about his well-being.

"It's going well, Professor," he said shortly, crushing the last of the moonstones. He couldn't help the blush that spread on his cheeks.

"Indeed," the man muttered as he stirred the potion lightly to inspect their work. "You chose your partner well, Miss Tonks," he said before he strode away.

Tonks whistled softly once the teacher was gone. "You've got him in your pocket, Gabe. He actually gave you a compliment."

"You too," he protested.

She laughed out loud, which made the nearby students stare at them. "Yeah right... he just said I wasn't a complete moron because I decided to team up with you. What a great compliment."

"You don't like Professor Snape much, do you?"

She stared at him for a moment. "Not many of us do. I forgot you're new here."

"Really?" Gabriel asked, raising an eyebrow. "I don't know, I think he's nice."

She shook her head at him, but smiled. "You're definitely something new, Gabriel Lenoir. I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like you before."

Chapter Text

"Your memory is a monster.  You forget, it doesn't.  It simply files things away.  It keeps things for you, or hides things from you, and summons them to your recall with a will of its own.  You think you have a memory, but it has you."

-John Irving



"Mr. Lenoir," Severus called out to the boy who was gathering his things and chatting amiably with Nymphadora Tonks. Gabriel looked up towards him without really meeting his eyes. "Stay behind, will you?"

The boy nodded briefly before turning back to his potions partner. The girl said something to him that made a wide smile appear on his face and she squeezed his arm playfully before taking her bag and heading out the door with the other students. Some of them threw the Lenoir heir curious glances before they left. The new Slytherin stood there for a few moments, rooted to the spot behind his worktable, as if waiting for his teacher to speak but the man was contemplating the vials of potions as if assessing the task he would later have to carry out. Gabriel approached his teacher carefully, his footsteps echoing uncomfortably in the newly vacant room. Severus heard him coming and suddenly wished he didn't have to deal with him tonight – or at all, for that matter – but there was no way out of it, he'd promised the Headmaster.

"Is something wrong with the potion, sir?" Gabriel asked politely. He knew the potion was perfect, but it was as much a conversation starter as anything else.

The man snorted in response and leaned over his desk, fumbling through the papers strewn upon the surface. Gabriel and the Hufflepuff girl had managed to brew a perfect Draught of Peace. The potion was a deep golden yellow inside its glass vial and the liquid let out a soft hiss when Severus uncorked it. "Of course there's nothing wrong with it. You've brewed it before, many times, haven't you?"

"Yes," the boy admitted, following the movements of his teacher's hands as they skimmed through piles of notes, "for Mr. Rousseau last summer."

"I could see you had experience crushing those moonstones. Most of your peers were struggling and I've deduced points for many inappropriate words," the man mumbled. "Have you finished the chapters from the book I gave you?"

Gabriel felt uncomfortable. With everything that had been going on, he'd forgotten about finishing his readings. "I... I didn't exactly have time to finish it, I'm sorry."

"It doesn't matter. It's understandable, I suppose. Do you think you can manage to read the last chapter before our lesson?"

The boy nodded, but since his teacher wasn't looking directly at him, he spoke. "Yes, of course. I should have enough time. When am I to meet you?" The way the man was avoiding looking at him in the eyes was starting to make him uncomfortable.

"After dinner, around seven thirty, in my office?" Severus suggested, distractedly trying to clear out some space on his desk.

"That's good with me." Gabriel waited for a little while, in case his teacher would say something else, then he turned away to leave the classroom.

Severus looked up at his turned back and noticed the way the boy was walking, as if carefully controlling his movements and taking each step slowly. "Are you in pain?" he asked suddenly and his voice seemed more worried than he would admit.

The boy stopped and turned back to him quickly. "A little bit."

They looked at each other for a long moment, both unsure of what to do or say. Severus suppressed a sigh before he approached the boy. "Pain in your ribs and chest?"


"That's from the Reanimation spells. Do you feel tired?" He received a nod in response. "Headache?" Another nod. "You feel like you've slept for a week and yet you can barely keep your eyes open?"

"Yes," Gabriel admitted, dropping his bag on a worktable as his teacher pressed his fingers against his temples and stared into his eyes. Gabriel's breath shook when he realised how close they were and he stared back into his teacher's dark eyes, hoping that maybe...

"That's the Dreamless Potion," the man announced, letting go of his face and quickly looking away. "It's already starting to affect you. You can't take any more of it for a while or your body will start reacting. I'll give you something for the pain. Just wait here."

Professor Snape turned and walked towards the back of the room, disappearing through a door that led to the large cupboard, where he kept his potion ingredients and concoctions. Gabriel sat down, trying to steady his breathing. He felt like a fool. For a fraction of a second, he'd thought the man was about to kiss him, he'd almost hoped he would. He chuckled bitterly. Why would a man like Snape want to kiss him? And yet, with the way the man was acting around him... His teacher didn't seem like a naturally nervous man, yet he could barely look him in the eyes, and vice versa. From what Tonks had told him, Professor Snape delighted in torturing and insulting the students. Why, then, was he acting differently towards Gabriel? Was it because he was the Headmaster's adopted son? That could be the only reason. And it dawned on him then: Severus Snape was only nice to him because of Dumbledore. Gabriel felt his heart clench at the thought. But then, he told himself, it's better than nothing, isn't it? At least he felt like he had someone to talk to. He looked down at his hands, fingers clenched tightly on the edge of the work table. This wasn't new to him: people being nice, trying to get close to him for their own benefits. He really was used to it by now. Why was this affecting him so much then?

Professor Snape emerged back into the classroom and Gabriel stood up again, waiting for him, not quite meeting the man's eyes as he handed him a small vial of pain-relieving potion.

"It's better you be in perfect shape for tonight. Occlumency is very tiring to practice," Severus spoke and Gabriel tried his best to ignore how much the depth of the man's voice seemed to create tremors in his body. "I suggest you get some sleep before the lesson."

Gabriel swallowed the potion then stared at his teacher uncomfortably. "I'll try to."

"What is the matter?" He thought the man's voice sounded conflicted.

"I... Do you think that... what happened last night, do you think it happens every time?"

Despite his best attempts to control it, Severus didn't miss the fear in his student's words. They hadn't had time to discuss this the night before; everybody had been too shaken up to think clearly. He gestured for Gabriel to sit down and did the same.

"The Headmaster is doing research as we speak, but he seems to think that..."

"I want to know what you think."

Severus rubbed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully before looking back at Gabriel with a frown on his face. "I share the Headmaster's opinion on the matter. I think that... it would explain some things."

"Like what?"

"Like how you can..." He hesitated. "Contact wouldn't be the right word... How you can reach those spirits. If they are dead, and you are also dead, even for a little while, it explains much of it. We concentrated solely on the idea that they were reaching out to you, thatthey were penetrating your mind. We've completely left aside the possibility that it might be you who enter their afterworld."

Gabriel frowned at the choice of word his teacher had used: afterworld. That's how he'd been calling them in his head. "But I don't mean to. I'm not conscious of it. And if they are not doing this... what use would Occlumency be if the spirits are not attacking my mind?"

"But the problem is not the spirits, is it? It's that doppelganger, or whatever that thing is. You've said it yourself, that before it came... Things were not normal, but they were not threatening. What we need to focus on, is getting rid of it. I'm thinking that maybe, even though the spirits are not, that thing is attacking your mind. And until we know more, Occlumency is the only solution we can come up with. In all honesty, learning it can't be a bad thing, can it?" Severus' voice sounded almost comforting.

"I suppose you're right," Gabriel sighed and he stood finally, gripping the strap of his messenger bag before hauling it onto his shoulder. "I should go now or Killian will start an inquisition."

Severus snorted, standing up too. "I find it amusing that out of all the Slytherins you chose to become friends with Mr. Burke. I can't think of anyone else more unlike you in character. I would have thought you'd get along better with Mr. Ravensdale."

"I'm not really sure I chose Killian," Gabriel replied, with a small smile. "He was just there and, well... I haven't made many friends before so I just thought... I might as well enjoy it while it lasts."

Severus frowned. The boy was rich, smart and good-looking. That was usually enough to gain popularity with the other teenagers, wasn't it? At least it had been when he was Gabriel's age.

"I will see you later tonight, sir," Gabriel said before leaving the room.

Severus stayed there in silence for a minute, staring at the desk where the boy had been sitting and thinking about how pathetic he was – acting like a love-struck teenager with one of his students. He trailed his fingers on the table's surface softly before turning around and disappearing into his office.



Gabriel had almost two hours to spare until dinner. He returned to the dormitories, drew the drapes closed around his bed, and quickly looked over the last marked chapter in the book Professor Snape had given him. It was nothing surprising. It said he should try to prepare himself by relaxing, clearing his mind of all thoughts and memories, to become like a clean slate. Gabriel sighed and threw the book aside, deciding that he would just read it later. He let his head fall down on the pillow with a yawn. Lying on his side, he could see part of the artificial window on the wall through a crack in the drapes. The enchanted landscape showed part of the Hogwarts Lake and a large willow tree that swayed lightly in the wind.

He closed his eyes and tried to remember what Professor Snape's hands on his back had felt like the night before: large, warm, peaceful. Remembering them now sent chills down his spine. Just the idea of the man touching him sparked the same reaction in his whole body. He tried to remember how it had felt when his teacher had taken care of the claw marks on his chest, but he'd been to shaken up, too scared to pay attention to the closeness between them.

He sighed deeply and when he opened his eyes he imagined that the man was lying next to him on the bed, their faces close together. He stared into the dark eyes, so dark that you could barely tell the pupil and the iris apart. The hair was also dark, completely black, without the slightest hint of brown highlights. He'd heard angry students mutter about the man's large nose, but Gabriel thought that another smaller nose wouldn't fit as well in his face. The skin was pale, but he could tell that Severus Snape was not an outdoor person and it was okay because he wasn't either. He looked at his teacher closely, taking his time to observe him, taking advantage of the fact that the man he was seeing was a mere object of his imagination.

"I think I'm falling in love," Gabriel whispered to him then, and the imaginary Snape grinned in return. He hid his face in the pillow in shame.

He took a quick shower before going down to dinner and afterwards, he stared at his reflection in the misty mirror for long moments. There were still red circles under his eyes but they didn't seem as bad as they had that morning, maybe because he felt better from the pain-relieving potion and the headache was mostly gone by now. He tried styling his hair in a different way, but it was really too short to look any different than it normally did. Finally, he simply pushed his bangs away from his forehead to clear out his face as he looked over his features carefully, wondering what, exactly, Professor Snape thought of him.

Stop thinking about that, a part of him complained, frustratingly. He was just a boy and Severus Snape was a grown man, what would he want with him? And besides, Gabriel was forcing him to give extra lessons while it was obvious that the man didn't take very much pleasure in teaching kids. "He loathes us all," Tonks had told him earlier, but Gabriel understood part of the man's anger. It must not be easy for a man with his potential to be stuck teaching when he could be doing research or developing breakthrough potions just like Emil was doing. He could only imagine how terribly frustrating this must be.



Killian was being absolutely insufferable about those Quidditch tryouts. He was now pressuring Gabriel into trying out for a Chaser position. Apparently, he was a better flyer than Nathaniel Elridge, who had been playing on the team since last year and would only be fit for reserve if some other boy had not quit after a particularly painful Gryffindor victory, lead by the infamous Charlie Weasley. Gabriel had declined politely at first, but his patience was starting to fail.

"Evelyn," he said suddenly, to distance himself from Killian's one-way conversation. The girl turned to him immediately, a smile already growing on her face. "I'm a little bit confused about the second problem we saw in Arithmancy. Do you think you could...?"

"Of course," she said quickly before starting a deconstruction of the problem that included many unnecessary details. It had been slightly tricky, but Gabriel had managed it just fine. At least, suffering through an explanation to which he already knew the outcome was better than Killian's never-ending Quidditch chatter.

"Oh, Burke, look what you've done. You've bored him so much he has to talk classes with Bagnold to entertain himself," Garrett Ravensdale chuckled from his seat next to Gabriel. "Just leave him alone already, he's told you he doesn't want to play Quidditch." Gabriel shot him a grateful glance which earned him a soft smile in return.

"Fine then," Killian shrugged, frowning. "Don't go complaining if we lost the House Cup, though." He went on mumbling something about bloody Gryffindors redheads and French boys urgently needing to sort out their priorities.

Halfway through Evelyn's monologue, Gabriel noticed Professor Snape standing up from the staff table and leaving the Great Hall through a small door in the back of the room. He supposed the teacher was going to get things ready for their lesson and remembered that he better go back to the dormitory and finish reading the chapter he'd been assigned.

"Thank you, Evelyn, I understand it now. I wasn't as lost as I thought I was. You've been a great help," he said as he stood from the table.

"Where are you going?" Killian asked. He seemed to have already gotten over the fact that Gabriel would not follow his advice.

"Back to the common room, I have homework to do," Gabriel answered simply but he suddenly wished that he could go back to being the invisible boy he was at Beauxbâtons.

"I'll walk with you!" Garrett said, standing up after him. "I've got some stuff to do also."

Gabriel nodded but internally, he sighed. They walked back to the dungeons in silence, with Gabriel a few steps ahead and he felt Garrett's eyes on the back of his head the whole time.

"So what are you working on?" Garrett asked when they finally reached the dormitory and Gabriel fished the book out from his things.

"Potions," Gabriel improvised. Then he thought he might as well let someone know of his whereabouts that night right now or there would be questioning later. "I'm actually meeting Professor Snape tonight. I need some help deciphering a few things."

"What is it you need help with?"

"The words... are not the same. I'm not familiar with the terms in English. It doesn't matter as much with other classes, but with Potions I can't afford to mess up just because I didn't understand properly."

"Oh." Garrett seemed to hesitate for a moment. "I... I'm not bad at Potions. I could help you with that."

Gabriel smiled politely at him but quickly looked away. "Well... it's okay, really... Professor Snape offered me and... Well, he's the teacher so, who better to teach me, right?" Merlin, I am a bad liar, he thought, cringing.

"Snape offered? Good for you, I guess," Garrett said, uncomfortably as he picked up his book bag from the floor and emptied its contents on his bed.

"I don't know why everyone is beating up on Professor Snape all the time. He has been nice to me."

"Yes, because Dumbledore adopted you. They're pretty close, Snape and Dumbledore. And nobody, not even Snape, wants to have Dumbledore on his back, I suppose. He's just awful to the rest of us; it's just not as bad with the Slytherins."

Gabriel didn't answer but he felt a wave of sadness wash over him as his own suspicions were finally confirmed.

Silence fell upon them as Gabriel tried to concentrate on the Occlumency text. He was sitting on his bed with the book laid out before him so as to hide its cover from Garrett. Even though the other boy's bed was on the opposite side of the room, Garrett proved to be too curious for his own tastes and Gabriel knew that were he to take the slightest glimpse at the title of his book, he wouldn't let the subject rest. All the others were usually studying in the common room, why did Garrett suddenly feel like sticking around? He finished the chapter fairly quickly, but it had only felt to him like a meaningless succession of overly-complicated words. He was too tired to concentrate on the point that was being made. He closed the book suddenly and the scribbling of Garrett's quill stopped abruptly.

"I'm going to take a nap," Gabriel announced, and with a nod from Garrett assuring that he wouldn't be disturbed, he drew the drapes shut around his bed.

As soon as his head touched the pillow he felt his eyes struggling to close. A few minutes passed and he felt himself drift in and out of sleep, the scribbling of Garrett's quill fading and starting again repeatedly as he dozed off and woke again. Then the scribbling stopped and he heard Garrett get out of bed quietly. He felt the other boy approach his bed and steadied his breathing, keeping his eyes peacefully closed. There was a shift in the drapes, very slight, almost imperceptible, but Gabriel felt it nonetheless and he was aware of Garrett's presence as he continued to feign sleep.

"Gabriel?" his roommate whispered, but his voice was so low that he knew Garrett thought he was asleep and didn't want to wake him, wished he wouldn't wake. He could almost feel him staring. Then he felt something like a slight tickle across his forehead. He wondered, shocked, if Garrett was really standing there, touching his hair while he thought he was asleep? Just before the fingers were about to reach his cheek, the hand retreated and he felt Garrett step back with a soft sigh. As soon as he felt the drapes set back into place and heard Garrett climb back onto his own bed, Gabriel's eyes fluttered open. As weird as this was, he couldn't help but feel touched at what had just happened. He wasn't used to kids his age showing interest in him. He now counted Killian, Tonks and Evelyn as his friends, but this was something else.



At precisely seven thirty he knocked on the door to Professor Snape's office. A few seconds later, the man opened. Gabriel did his best not to stare as he was invited in. Severus had removed his black, old-fashioned professor robe and wore nothing but the pair of black slacks and the white shirt you could glimpse under his usual outfit. Gabriel had also changed into a t-shirt but kept his uniform pants.

"Are you well-rested?" the teacher asked, guiding him further into the room.

"I did what I could. I think it will be enough."

He received a nod in response. Professor Snape stopped near the oak desk in the back of the room and that's when Gabriel noticed the heavy stone basin sitting on top of it.

"Do you know what this is?" the Potions Master asked, as the boy approached him, staring at the strange object.

"Yes, it's a Pensieve. Professeur Henri had one just like that, but a little bit smaller, I think. Is it yours?"

"It belongs to Professor Dumbledore."

"What will we use it for?"

"I brought it here for you," Snape began. "Since I will be penetrating your mind, if there is anything you would not want me to see, you can put it in there for the time being, and take it back after the lesson."

It was thoughtful. "That's... nice of you," Gabriel said softly, wondering if this was Dumbledore's idea or the Potions Master's.

"Do you know how to extract?"

"I know how it's done but I never did it before."

"Most people just use their wands, but it can be tricky at first, it needs practice. You can use this for now, it's easier."

Professor Snape gave Gabriel an iron stick shaped like a wand, but it had a tiny hook on the very tip. It felt heavier in his hand than it looked. Gabriel thought it almost looked an instrument used for torture. He tried to think about which memories he would not want his teacher to witness, but truthfully, there were so many he just didn't know where to start. Was there actually something that was okay for someone penetrating your mind to see?

The first memory to go was the one about his parents' deaths. It slid easily out and fell into the Pensieve silkily. Gabriel felt strange once it was out, almost lighter. Then there was everything about Maurice Beauchamp. He'd told his teacher and Dumbledore a little bit about the man, but not everything had been said. That was the second memory to go. There was also the verbal and physical abuse he'd endured from his classmates at Beauxbâtons, but there were so many memories that it would be impossible for him to extract them all. He tried thinking about more recent events. It seemed logical to him that the freshest memories would be the first to be seen. He remembered his imaginary love confession from that afternoon. It definitely would be a bad thing to witness. That one was the third to go. And finally, what had just happened with Garrett. It was nothing important, nothing shocking, but Gabriel didn't really remove it for his own privacy, but for his roommate's. He noticed that his teacher was looking at him quietly from across the room and finally put down the hooked wand.

"Are you ready?" the man asked, his deep voice breaking the silence of the room.

"I think so."

"Come here then, and sit down."

They settled into the small sitting area in front of the fireplace. They sat facing each other. Gabriel tried to make himself comfortable, sinking back into the armchair. His teacher's eyes were piercing into him so intensely that for a second he thought he'd already started to read his mind.

"Take deep breaths now, clear your mind. The invasion can be overwhelming, but remember that you need to push me out. That's all you need to focus on. I'm not supposed to be in there, you have to get me out. Understand?"

"Yes," he let out, nervously.

"Even through the flow of memories I should still be able to hear you so if there is anything wrong, let me know. If you feel sick or in pain, you have to tell me."

"I will."

Snape took out his wand and gave him a few minutes of silence to get ready, then, finally, he spoke.

"On the count of three... One... Two... Three..."

Gabriel flinched even before he'd heard the word.


Severus was immediately bombarded by a flow of haphazard memories. For the most part they seemed fairly recent: Gabriel in Defence Against the Dark Arts class, looking bored, with Evelyn Bagnold reprimanding him for not paying attention; Gabriel having tea with Dumbledore; Gabriel crying over Valère Henri's lifeless body...

Severus felt a jolt of in the back of his head, almost as if something had hit him. Slowly, carefully, he pulled out of the boy's mind. When he found himself facing the boy again, his eyes were filled with tears and his hair stuck to his forehead with sweat.

"I'm sorry... I..."

"Don't apologize, Mr. Lenoir. You attempted to do just what I asked of you. You tried to push me out, I felt it. It was a weak attempt, but it was one. We'll start again in a few seconds and I will go deeper this time. Legilimens!"

The memories surrounded him again, their noisy voices and thoughts overwhelming in contrast to the peaceful setting of the sitting room they were in.

"Concentrate, Gabriel. Try to push me out," Severus spoke, the words sounding far away as he struggled to talk through his concentration.

He went deeper still, going past the memory of a teenage Gabriel shaking hands with a man he briefly recognised as a famous astronomy researcher; Gabriel in Rousseau's laboratory, both of them laughing at a particularly spectacular explosion; a younger Gabriel sitting in an unknown library, his nose buried in a thick volume; Gabriel, younger still, sitting in an empty room with a professor, conversing quietly in French...

Then the noises stopped and Severus couldn't go any further. He stared with a mix of fascination and fear. Before him was an enormous wall, a massive structure that seemed made of obsidian or stone. There was a transparent quality to it, however, and Severus could almost see through the wall, peek at images like a television screen half-hidden behind a thin curtain. He had heard about those, but he had never seen one before. He felt both mesmerized and terrified as he gazed upon it. Unconsciously, he reached out a hand to touch it. The surface trembled under his fingers and he heard a muffled whimper of pain as he made contact with it. Violently, he pulled out.

Gabriel fell forward from his chair towards the carpet and Severus caught him just before he collided with the floor. The boy's nose was bleeding and he was as pale as a ghost.

"Are you okay? Are you hurt?" he asked, angry at his own stupidity. What the hell was he thinking, pulling out of the boy's mind like that? He could have done serious damage!

"That's not supposed to be there," the boy said, raising his head to look at him in fear. It wasn't a question and Severus knew that the sight of the Wall had felt just as wrong to Gabriel as it did to him, probably more.

"No, it's not." He noticed that he was holding the boy's hand and was tempted to pull back but decided not to. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to the boy so he could wipe the blood from his nose. "Come here," he said then, pulling the both of them up and guiding Gabriel back to the Pensieve where he handed him the hooked wand so he could take back his memories. There was no use talking about this until the boy remembered everything there was to remember about his life and himself.

"What is it?" the boy asked once the Pensieve was empty. The fearful whisper broke the uncomfortable silence that had settled. Severus gestured for him to sit down again.

"In Occlumency and Legilimency it's simply what we call a Wall. It was placed inside your head by a Master Occlumens to hide, or more accurately, to lock, some memories away so that nobody, including you, can access them. Judging from the memories I glimpsed, you must not have been older than eleven or twelve before the Wall was placed. I haven't seen you younger than that," he explained.

"But I remember things from when I was younger," Gabriel said, in shock, as he sat, his legs shaking slightly from the strain of the lesson.

"It doesn't block everything, only selected memories. There is an empty space somewhere in your memories, there aresome events that you can't remember. But because you are older now, and it is only natural to forget some things that we deemed unimportant, you are unaware of it. In some way, you don't remember what you can't remember."

"You said only a Master Occlumens could place it... That means that someone... abducted me and did this?"

"You wouldn't remember who made you forget, but a Wall is very rare. It is only ever used as an alternative to an Obliviation, which, technically, results in brain damage. The person who is responsible for it cared enough about you, otherwise they would have just have you Obliviated."

Gabriel was silent for a long moment and Severus could almost see the frantic thoughts speeding through his head behind his eyes. "You said I probably wasn't older than eleven... Valère would have known about this. I was never away from him before I started school."

"Was he an Occlumens?"

"I don't think so. He had some books... that's where I found out about it, but he would have told me something like that. He had friends though... A lot of important friends..." Gabriel trailed off into silence, looking straight ahead, shocked. "Can you take it out?" he asked, softly, standing up.

Severus sighed. He knew this was coming. "It is difficult but possible to take it out. It is less risky, however, if the Wall is removed by the same person who placed it there."

"Take it out!" Gabriel spoke loudly and Severus could feel the tension and the panic rising as the boy faced him, breathing heavily.

"Gabriel, I can't possibly..." He stood up, ready to catch the boy who looked way too weak to be up and shouting.

"I want it out now!" The boy almost yelled, shaking.

"I know you're scared, Gabriel, but listen to me..." Severus tried to grab his shoulders but he turned his back to him.

"How could Valère do this to me?" he said then, more softly, a sob rising in his throat.

"This is exactly it!" Severus admitted, trying to keep his voice soft but temped to yell some sense into the boy. "If it was put there, it must be for a reason!"

The boy turned to him then, and there was hatred in his eyes. "If he left the memory of my parents being ripped into pieces before my very eyes when I was seven years old, what could be so terrible that he has to lock it away in the back of my head?" he hissed angrily, a heavy tear dripping from his eye directly onto the collar of his shirt.

Severus was struck silent. He'd heard about the rumours surrounding the boy's parents' death, but never had it been explained to him in this way. And he couldn't help but agree with the boy and ask himself the same question. What, in fact, could be so horrible?

"I want you to remove it," Gabriel repeated, more calmly, but his shoulders were shaking.

"I will do no such thing," Severus replied, in a voice that permitted no other argument. "We will talk about this with the Headmaster, and he will decide what to do. He is responsible for you now and until you come of age. This is final."

The boy stared at him with an anger he had never seen directed at him by a student before. They usually showed fear when confronted with him. In this anger, Gabriel spoke words he wouldn't have if he'd been in his usual, passive state.

"Are you only nice to me because of Dumbledore?"

Severus blinked. It seemed like an odd change of subject. "What?"

"The other students," the boy continued, his anger not diminished, "they told me you were rude and mean to everyone. But you're not mean to me; you act like you care about me. And apparently you don't care about anyone. So are you like this just because I'm Dumbledore's son?"

"Yes," Severus said, simply, hoping the conversation would end there.

"You're lying, aren't you?" And then the boy didn't seem so mad anymore. His shoulders unclenched and the frown on his face softened.

"Yes," Severus said, his voice not as firm as before, and he turned away, silently urging himself to shut up and just tell the boy to leave already.


"Because, Mr. Lenoir," he hissed, speaking more quietly, as if someone could hear. He was the one getting angry now. This was a subject that was not supposed to be mentioned. He felt like the boy had crossed a carefully ignored line. "Because you are a student and because I am your teacher. There is nothing more to say about this. This conversation never happened. Leave, now!"

Without saying one more word, Gabriel walked out. During the short walk to the dormitories, he kept his hands hidden in his pockets. They were shaking a little.

Chapter Text

"There is never a time or place for true love.  It happens accidentally, in a heartbeat, in a single, flashing, throbbing moment."

-Sarah Dessen



THE NEXT MORNING, Gabriel's anger was gone and all he felt was numbness. His exhaustion seemed to muffle all other emotions that might try to surface. Once again he found himself skipping breakfast and seeking a place where he could be alone, far from the constant questioning and chatter of his housemates. It was not yet eight o'clock and everyone was still in the Great Hall but he slipped past the doors and outside the castle towards the school grounds, wandering aimlessly. He finally stopped by the lake and sat there, letting the cool morning air caress his face. Long minutes passed in silence, with no other sound than the wind in the leaves and the occasional chirping of the birds. Then a soft voice pulled him from his thoughts.

"How are you doing, my boy?" Albus Dumbledore inquired as he plopped down onto the grass next to where Gabriel was sitting, underneath the large oak tree. "You look dreadfully tired."

"I don't sleep very well lately, sir," Gabriel mumbled, never taking his eyes off the surface of the lake which was gently shimmering in the sunlight.

"I can imagine." The man was silent for a long time. "Your comrades are puzzled by your absence. You should join them. A good breakfast could do you no harm, although I must admit that sitting here, in this place, is quite a good way to spend one's morning, especially when one' mind is worried and weary."

Gabriel said nothing but looked at the old man and managed a tired smile.

"Professor Snape has informed me of the latest developments," the Headmaster said. His voice was careful, as if expecting Gabriel to react violently.

"He did?" he asked, puzzled.

"Yes, of course. He told me about the Wall."

Gabriel almost sniggered at his own stupidity. For a moment he thought that Snape had said something else. It seemed more important to him that the teacher had somewhat – in a very non-specific and spiteful way – admitted his feeling toward him, than that there was a strange and infallible wall blocking some unmistakably disturbing memories in his mind. He supposed that the lack of sleep was affecting him more than he thought.

"I am truly sorry," Dumbledore said then as the gentle morning wind swept through his long silvery hair and beard. "I should have been by your side those last few days. This is all so new to you and I thought you might want some time to yourself. I thought it would make you uncomfortable if I were to linger around too much. But now I realize how truly alone you must feel and for that I am sorry."

"It is not your fault, Professor," Gabriel spoke quietly, but he could feel tears that were threatening to form in his eyes and a strong burning in his throat. "I was never really one to ask for help. I... I thought I could handle things on my own and I tried. Obviously I didn't do so well."

"You are a very brave young man, Gabriel," Professor Dumbledore said kindly, delicately putting an arm around the boy's shoulders. "But some burdens even the bravest of us can't carry alone."

"I've been foolish," Gabriel murmured.

"That is not what I implied," Dumbledore spoke firmly. "You were scared, which is perfectly understandable. Your situation, your ability is unheard of and it is only natural that you would be reticent to speak of it, especially to people you've only just met," he added.

"I know that I can trust you," Gabriel started, his gaze finally leaving the lake and turning towards his adoptive father. Their eyes met, so similar in colour. Albus Dumbledore's usually had an amused gleam in them but they now held an uncommon sadness. "Valère always spoke highly of you. It's just that nobody else has ever known about this before except Valère, and..." he trailed off, anger filling him suddenly.

"You don't know whether you can still trust him because you think him responsible for the Wall, am I right? You believe he has been hiding important things from you."

"He was always trying to protect me," the Lenoir heir explained, his pale eyes coming to rest on a small butterfly fluttering in weeds not far from them. "With what happened to my parents, I suppose he was right to do so, but... I thought we had no secrets. I always told him everything, and I thought he did the same with me. Everything we had we built on trust. It just feels like none of this matters anymore. I know it must sound childish because what he did, he surely did for a reason, but I can't help feeling this way."

"It is not childish," Dumbledore said quietly, his own eyes fixed on the lake before them. They watched in silence as a duck dived into the depths of the waters, only to resurface seconds later with a prey in its beak and fly away.

"Did Professor Snape tell you that I asked him to remove the Wall?"

"Yes, and he has asked me to try and change your mind."

"Why?" Gabriel asked, turning back to the old man with a note of desperation in his voice. "How am I supposed to leave it there? How do you expect me to do that? How am I supposed to live with the knowledge that it's there, with the knowledge that there is something terrible locked away in my mind?"

The Headmaster sighed and then nodded. "You are right. It would be bold and very naïve of me to think that anyone would be able to live well and pretend this discovery never happened. For Professor Snape to remove the Wall would be a very risky thing..."

"Can't you do it then? Aren't you also a Master in Occlumency?"

Dumbledore ignored the interruption and continued. "If Professor Snape, or even I, was to go into your mind and remove the Wall without having full knowledge of what exactly is behind it, there could be considerable damage."

"How so?" Gabriel asked, frowning.

"Think of it as a box. It might be a more accurate comparison because the Wall is not so much a Wall as it is a box. It does not block everything that has happened before it was built. If it did, you wouldn't remember anything from your childhood at all, anything from before the Wall was planted. It merely hides a portion of your memories. One can walk around it and see other memories behind, but not what is hidden by the Wall – like a box in the middle of a room. You can look at everything else in the room, except at the contents of the box. Now, imagine it is a type of box that you have never seen before. It is made from a material you have never seen, it has a kind of lock, maybe, that you have never seen either, and, on top of everything, you do not know what it contains. You do not know, either, who created the box. Now, what do you think could happen if you were to try and open that mysterious box yourself?"

"If the box was designed to be opened only one particular way, then any other way could damage it, or the contents," Gabriel suggested and a smile spread out on Dumbledore's face.

"Exactly. Everyone does everything in their own way, and with magic it becomes even more complex. This Wall possesses the magical signature of the person who made it. Only they know what it is made of, what amount of strength went into it, and which exact spells can take it down. If Professor Snape was to go into your mind to remove a Wall which origins are unknown to him, and used a strength beyond the one necessary to remove the Wall, he could not only damage what is hidden behind, but also that which surrounds the Wall. Now imagine that, unable to open the lock on that box you decide to cut away the box itself with a knife, as to reveal its contents. It is not a bad idea in itself, but let's say that at the bottom of the box were placed very important documents and on top of them was placed a large bag filled with ink."

"If I were to cut too deep I would cut through the bag, the ink would come out and the documents would be damaged."

"Yes. If Professor Snape was to use the wrong means to remove the Wall, he could damage what is behind and any damages in the mind have unexpected but generally unpleasant consequences. It is a risk that he is not willing to take, especially with an underage student who happens to be under my responsibility..." Dumbledore smiled before he continued, "...and who, I believe, even though he is too stubborn to admit it, he has taken a liking to."

"Everybody says that Professor Snape doesn't like anyone."

Dumbledore chuckled. "I think he enjoys your company, which is not surprising because you possess many characteristics that Severus appreciates in a person. You are smart, you can think for yourself, are skilled at potion-making, you don't talk more than necessary, and you are in Slytherin."

Gabriel frowned and, trying to steer the conversation away from Professor Snape, because thinking about the man made a ball of warmth spread inside his chest, he said, "I'm not sure being in Slytherin is part of the reason. I don't feel like I really... belong there." He hesitated. "From what I know about the Houses, I would have thought I would end up in Ravenclaw."

"What did the Sorting Hat tell you? You had quite a conversation with it, I believe," Dumbledore asked then, curiously. "Did you express your preference for a certain House?"

Gabriel shrugged. "No. It had a hard time deciding, though. It said it was my choice because any of the four Houses would work just as fine for me in one way or another. I just asked it to put me where I would be safer. The Hat didn't hesitate, it put me in Slytherin."

"The Sorting Hat is a mysterious object truly full of surprises. I suspect that besides being able to see clearly into people's heads, to see their desires, their skills and their secrets, it also knows about things to come, things that haven't happened yet, even though it always refused to tell me more about the matter. If the Hat put you in Slytherin, it means that is where you belong." Dumbledore frowned then, slightly. "It's unexpected however, that it would consider Slytherin House to be a safe place for anyone. You see, the Hat used to belong to Godric Gryffindor, the founder of the Gryffindor House, and it's well-known that Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin didn't exactly fancy each other. I'm afraid this animosity has been transferred to the Hat itself. In the past it has been known to be quite prejudiced against Slytherin House, even though it kept sorting the students fairly."

"I've noticed that some of the students are... prejudiced also," Gabriel started, quietly. "I've heard a few of the older Slytherins talking. Some of them have strong beliefs in Pureblood supremacy."

"Yes, and many are convinced that those beliefs are exclusively a Slytherin trait, but let me assure you, Gabriel, that you will meet people who think that way anywhere, and in any House. It just seems more pronounced in Slytherin because the students there are almost exclusively of pure blood and since many think that way, they don't think it necessary to hide their beliefs. Children of the oldest families attend Slytherin House because they all have the same ambitions to honour their bloodline and make their families proud and to prove themselves worthy. Most of them have been raised in such beliefs since their birth and old habits die hard."

"I've been raised never to discriminate against anyone, Pureblood, Half-Blood, Muggle-Born, even Muggles. Muggles know things that mixed with magic could greatly help the Wizarding World. It's truly a shame that wizards are either disgusted by them or just scared of them," Gabriel explained. In everything Valère had taught him over the years, respect of others was on top of the list.

"I agree with you, of course," Dumbledore nodded with a soft smile. "But things are already better now than they were years ago. I am surprised, however, that you feel absolutely no tie to Slytherin House. I would have thought that you would feel a strong need to prove yourself, based on your schooling and considering your ancestry."

Gabriel laughed. "Oh, even if I did manage to make a name for myself, I don't quite expect to become as famous as some of the other Lenoirs," he admitted. "Were you acquainted with any of them?"

"I was, in fact. I met your uncle Augustin briefly. Quite the adventurer, he was. His books series is popular, even in Britain, and I am a fan myself. I was also on good terms with your grandfather Cyrile, a most genius astronomer. I understand you have never met him."

"He died before I was born. They named a new amphitheatre after him last year at the Observatory."

The Headmaster nodded. "I was also good friends with Adelaïde. I believe she was your great-great aunt, a very brilliant woman. She did some important research on magical theories."

"Yes, I have read some of her essays," Gabriel added and Dumbledore raised an eyebrow in surprise. "The library in Lenoir Manor holds every piece ever written by a member of the family, all originals. They are very valuable. You see, I have a lot to live up to," he finished with a smile.

"And what about that potion you've been working on with Emil Rousseau?" Dumbledore suggested with a small twinkle in his eyes. "That is not just any potion. If you were to find the right formula, have you thought about what it could imply? Finding a cure for lycanthropy would have a much bigger impact on the Wizarding world than a few, obscure, magical theories."

Gabriel shrugged. "It would not be so much a cure as something that could repress the effects of the condition. And it's more Emil's potion than mine. I helped him but I don't expect credit if we ever manage to make it right. And besides, I can't really work on it anymore. " The boy had spoken lightly but Dumbledore could tell that it bothered him.

"Professor Snape has asked me to inform you that your next Occlumency lesson will take place tomorrow night," the Headmaster said, feeling he should change the subject of the conversation. "From what he's told me, you're proving quite skilled at it already."

"Yes, it turns out that I was able to stop him from accessing a few memories by having them hidden behind a wall," Gabriel laughed bitterly then his face turned serious again. "I'm sorry."

Dumbledore smiled lightly, patting him on the shoulder. "It's quite alright, my boy. I find that humour helps lighten the load of heavy burdens. We'll figure out what to do about this Wall, but for now, it is best you learn how to defend your mind." The Headmaster stood up and extended a hand to Gabriel. "Come now, I think your friends must have explored all the theories of your whereabouts by now."

They walked back to the castle together, Dumbledore's hand on his adopted son's shoulder. Instead of going into the Great Hall to get breakfast though, Gabriel made his way back to the dormitories to get his things for the morning classes. He met Garrett outside the common room.

"Hey, where did you disappear to?" he asked, following Gabriel back inside even though he'd just come out.

"Outside, I just needed some fresh air," Gabriel replied shortly, picking up his bag from the floor next to his bed.

"Are you feeling alright? You're coming to class, aren't you?"

"Yes, of course. I'm fine. We have History of Magic, right?" Gabriel asked, trying to steer the conversation away from him.

"Yes... Do you want to sit with me?" Garrett asked and Gabriel couldn't ignore the way he said the words, like he'd wanted to say them but regretted it the moment they left his mouth.

"Sure," he responded awkwardly, too polite to refuse.

Killian raised an eyebrow at him when he entered and sat down next to Garrett, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he switched seats and plopped down next to Evelyn, who was visibly disappointed at this turn of events. Class went on uneventfully, but it seemed to Gabriel that Garrett bumped his elbow quite often. In fact, many times the dark-haired boy brushed against him, even once getting the tip of his quill caught in the sleeve of Gabriel's robe. Afterwards, Gabriel thought it was probably just because the other boy was left-handed and the way they were sitting had been quite awkward. He was probably just imagining things. He'd wanted to talk with Killian alone after class during break but Garrett stuck around. It was weird, really. He usually just went on his way, hanging out with other Slytherins, but now he seemed to always want to be with them. Killian and Garrett had a free period so Gabriel and Evelyn left alone for Ancient Runes.

"You're very quiet today," Evelyn remarked as they walked up the stairs. Professor Babbling's classroom was at the other end of the castle so they had left early and there weren't many students in the halls. "Is something the matter?"

"No," he said simply with a smile. "I'm just tired, that's all." He didn't think it was a good idea to tell her about what was happening with Garrett, or Professor Snape, for that matter.

"You're a bad liar, Gabriel," she spoke softly, but she didn't frown. Her eyes were almost sad as she looked at him. "But it's all right, I understand that you would not want to speak about what's bothering you. We all have things that we keep to ourselves, quiet things that no one knows."

Her understanding tone made Gabriel slightly uncomfortable. "We're seeing Featherbrooks' theory today, have you tried it before?" he asked then, already knowing that with Evelyn, pushing the conversation towards schoolwork was a sure way to get her off his back.

She was suddenly beaming. "I have yet to try it, but I can't wait. Apparently it makes the whole process so much easier. Did you know that Featherbrooks is actually the one who designed the Eliathor method, but Fontenay stole it from him?"

Gabriel was content to just listen to her ramble on, commenting once in a while but mostly nodding. It felt great to concentrate on something other than the weird things happening in his life.

After lunch, Killian grabbed his arm as they made their way down the grassy pathway to Care of Magical Creatures class and he pulled him aside.

"Keep going, guys, we'll catch up with you," Killian said to the others, who had stopped to wait for them. They shrugged and left.

"What's the matter?" Gabriel asked when Killian let go of his sleeve.

"Look, I'm not stupid. Since this morning you look like you've been dying to tell me something and it seems there were always people around, and you're just too bloody polite to tell them to get lost, so I supposed I should do it for you."

"Oh," Gabriel said, blushing slightly. "Thanks."

"So, what is it you want to tell me?" Killian asked, trying to sound impatient but he was obviously curious.

"Well... something weird happened with Garrett."

Killian frowned. "When?"

"Yesterday, when we went up to the dorms after dinner."

"What did he do?" Killian asked but Gabriel could tell he was not sure he wanted to know.

Gabriel could only chuckle at the grimace on Killian's face. "It's nothing bad, don't make that face. It's just...well, he thought I was sleeping and he stood next to my bed and... he just...touched my face..."

Killian started laughing and every time he tried to stop he started laughing again. "Oh, Merlin, that sounds bloody creepy. But I assure you he's not a psycho or anything."

"I'm glad to know..." Gabriel said, not sure what to think.

Killian rubbed his face and took a deep breath. "Oh, mate, I'm sorry. I knew he had some kind of crush on you, and, I guess... I should have warned you or something. I didn't know he was going to go all mushy on you..." He laughed again. "Come on," he said then, giving him a slap on the back before they started making their way towards the others, who were already nearing the fenced field where Professor Kettleburn was waiting.

"Are you interested?" Killian asked then, boldly.

"In... Garrett?"

"I mean, in boys, generally?"

Gabriel was taken aback, but he didn't blush or brush off the question. "I don't really care," he admitted with a shrug.

Killian laughed a little. "You've got to choose, mate, boys or girls. You can't have both, that's just being spoiled. And frankly, that wouldn't be fair to any of us."

Gabriel smiled to himself. He'd chosen already. Their conversation stopped there, however, for they had reached the others.



That night Gabriel dreamt of the doppelganger again. Without the Dreamless Sleep Potion, he had been expecting it and dreading it. This time he was in the library of Lenoir Manor. He didn't know why he was dreaming about that place. Maybe it was only because he talked about it earlier that day with Professor Dumbledore. He found himself sitting quietly at one of the large tables. There was no book in front of him. It was as if he was waiting for someone, and he knew that he was. When the doppelganger showed, it had taken the form of the woman again.

"I'm getting tired of this," Gabriel sighed as the creature sat down across from him with a large smile on its deformed face.

"You're finally giving in?" the doppelganger drawled.

"I never said that, and given the fact that I still don't know what you want from me, it would be difficult to give in."

"Just as well, it would have been disappointing. You didn't bring your friends this time?" the creature said with a smirk.

"No, not this time." Like he'd done in his Occlumency lesson, he tried to push the doppelganger back, to expel it from his mind. He knew it probably wouldn't get the job done because he didn't have that much training. One Occlumency lesson wouldn't allow him to get rid of his problem so easily, but there was nothing else he could think of. The woman didn't react, and Gabriel thought it probably didn't feel anything, but then it spoke.

"Something feels different about you, somehow." The creature cocked its head, staring at him intently. Gabriel tried it again and this time the woman's face smirked at him. "Are you trying to get me out?" Its tone of voice was almost mocking.

"You can feel it?"

"It tickles slightly."

"So you really are penetrating my mind?" Gabriel asked and fear filled him quickly, but he was somewhat relieved to finally have an answer.

"I'm making myself quite at home in here."

"I want you out," Gabriel spoke firmly, trying once again to push the creature away from his mind, but the thing only laughed dryly.

"Will you stop that? It's just getting pathetic," the thing croaked with a chuckle.

"Why can't you just tell me what you want from me? Why are you doing this?" Gabriel asked again, raking a trembling hand through his hair.

"Don't put all the blame on me," the doppelganger said, raising its hands in defensive. "You brought this on yourself. They warned you and still you couldn't keep away from it. You just had to approach it, you just had to touch it."

"What are you talking about?"

"Oh, forgive me... I forgot that you don't remember any of it because of the Wall."

Whether the doppelganger was playing him or not, Gabriel couldn't tell. The creature was looking at him with a knowing smirk. "You know about the Wall, about what is hidden behind it?" he asked.

"Yes," the doppelganger said lazily, its smirk never fading.

"What is it?"

"Our first meeting, of course." The creature paused and looked towards the window, as if thinking about the past. "I remember it quite clearly. You were but eight years old, a tiny little fellow. But you were so old in your soul, you had seen so much. And the minute I saw you, the very second I felt you, I knew you were the one."

"What happened? Tell me." Gabriel's voice sounded eager even to his own ears.

The doppelganger shook its head and laughed darkly. "This is so much bigger than you are, so much bigger than you think. It doesn't all have to do with you. You'll know when you're ready."

"I am ready. I need to know."

"These last few days were pleasant. I enjoyed playing you, it was like a taste of what is to come, but you are not ready yet." The smirk disappeared and the doppelganger looked back at Gabriel in all seriousness. "You want me out and I will leave. But I will be back, don't doubt me. There are consequences to every single one of our actions and what you did seven years ago is no exception. I will be back when you least expect me to. And when I return, you will wish you never met me, you will wish you were never born."

Gabriel woke up, and for the first time since he'd started dreaming about the doppelganger, he would have rather kept dreaming. He wanted to plead with the creature to tell him more about everything, about the Wall and what was hidden behind.

He took out his pocket watch from underneath his pillow and looked at the time. It was a few minutes past five in the morning. He groaned frustratingly. He desperately wanted to speak to Professor Snape, or even the Headmaster, to tell one of them about what the doppelganger had said, about what it could mean, but it was still too early. Professor Snape would surely rip him into pieces if he were to go knock on his door so early. But he was too troubled by the new developments to fall back asleep. He pushed back his covers and jumped out of bed, gathering some clothes and heading for the washroom.

He heard the door open just as he was turning on the shower and looked back to see Garrett come enter.

"Are you okay?" his roommate said, but he interrupted himself when his eyes came to rest on Gabriel who had just removed his shirt and stood in his underwear next to the running shower. "What happened to you?" Garrett asked as soon as he saw the fading claw marks on the Lenoir heir's chest.

"This is none of your business, Garrett. Go back to bed," Gabriel said, trying not to sound too rude. His voice came out weak from exhaustion and annoyance, but Garrett obviously thought it was from pain or something like sadness.

Garrett approached him softly and, as soon as he reached him, wrapped his arms around Gabriel's shoulders and held him tightly. Then he pulled back slightly and before Gabriel could react, their lips touched softly, only for a second though, because Gabriel pushed firmly against his chest and Garrett stumbled back a few steps.

"Look, Garrett..." He said quietly, feeling half-embarrassed, half-furious. He never had to deal with anything like this before. How was he supposed to say this? "This is flattering and all but, I'm not interested. You're wasting your time." He cringed when he heard how dryly the words came out and how snappish his voice sounded.

Garrett stared at him for a few moments of complete silence. At first Gabriel thought he was going to cry. There was helplessness on his face like he'd never seen before, but then there was just anger.

"Fuck you," he spat finally and Gabriel was taken aback by the hatred in his words. "You act all nice and perfect but you're just like everybody else. You're a fucking jerk."

A few seconds later he was gone. There must have been a charm on the door to make it close silently because Gabriel knew Garrett would have slammed it otherwise.



For the most part, the rest of that day was uneventful. It was a long day, but it kept Gabriel busy. He had double Transfiguration in the morning, then Arithmancy before lunch, and double Charms in the afternoon. Garrett completely ignored him, apart from a few dark glances here and there. Killian asked him what it was about and Gabriel shrugged, too annoyed to tell him what happened. He wanted to talk to Professor Snape after lunch, but the man left immediately after he finished eating and when Gabriel knocked on the door to his office, there was no answer. He supposed he would just have to wait until later, right before the Occlumency lesson, to tell him about his latest dream.

He stood before the door again at seven fifteen that night. He was early but he knocked nonetheless. There was a minute of silence before the door opened slowly.

"You're early," Professor Snape said somewhat rudely.

"Yes." He sighed deeply then, and looked at his teacher with pleading eyes. "I hope you're not mad at me anymore, I really need to talk to you, sir."

Severus' gaze seemed to soften somehow and he came to regret his harsh words from the night before. "Come in," he said quietly, holding the door opened for the boy.

He listened as the boy told him about the latest dream and what the doppelganger had said. So they were right about that creature penetrating Gabriel's mind, and it claimed to know about the presence of the Wall, which was understandable if it had been wandering around in there for a little while.

"I have spoken with Professor Dumbledore tonight, shortly before you arrived," Severus informed Gabriel as he took out the Pensieve for their lesson. "He is writing to some of his contacts in France to gather information about Master Occlumens."

"He is trying to find the one responsible for my Wall?"

"Yes. It might take some time, but I understand that the Headmaster is very well connected. If someone can find that one person, it is him."

This time Gabriel put the same memories in the Pensieve, adding to the old ones the events from this morning with Garrett. When he sat down across from his teacher, there was a strange expression on Severus' face, almost like pride.

"If what you told me about your dream from last night is true, you're progressing faster that I thought. You've had but one lesson and you already manage to make the perpetrator feel discomfort. That's quite a feat," Severus said and Gabriel almost blushed.

"It was probably just because I was scared. I panicked."

"Then it's not such a bad thing, is it?"

"Do you think that the doppelganger was serious about leaving me alone for a while?"

"It might have been, but then again, it has toyed with you before. Either way, we certainly should continue these lessons, especially if you progress so quickly," Severus said honestly, but he couldn't help but wonder if they would hear about the doppelganger again soon. They would have to inform the Headmaster of these new developments as soon as possible. "We have babbled enough. Are you ready?"

"Yes," Gabriel nodded, bracing himself.

"Very well. Legilimens!"

Immediately, Gabriel started pushing. He thought maybe that's what he'd been doing wrong before. He had allowed Snape to penetrate directly for a few seconds before starting to fight back. He figured if he didn't give his teacher the chance to get in at all, maybe it would work, maybe. However, he wasn't expecting what happened next.

When the first memory hit him, he frowned, trying to remember where it was from. He saw a woman he couldn't recall. She had long dark hair and was smiling at him softly. When she spoke his name, that's when he realised that this memory didn't belong to him at all.

Severus was so surprised that it took him longer than it should have to react. When he realised what was happening, he panicked. Instead of pushing the boy out like he should have, they were both bombarded by fragments and thoughts and memories. Tobias Snape was yelling at Eileen Prince, his spit flying everywhere as he raised his arm and hit her hard on the side of her head. Then the man turned toward his son and punched him just as hard in the face. Severus saw his ten year old body fall to the floor, sobbing violently. Then he saw James Potter and Sirius Black, two boys from his schooldays, his sworn enemies, calling him names and throwing things at him behind their teacher's back. Then he was older, standing near the dirty river near Spinner's End and his mother's body was floating softly on the surface, her hair a halo of darkness around her pale face. That's when he came to himself and, quickly, he pushed the boy out.

Severus stood quickly, refusing to look at Gabriel Lenoir's face, refusing to know what the boy thought about what he'd seen. He couldn't believe that he'd been so weak as to let someone else witness this part of him so helplessly. He turned his back to where to boy was still sitting, in one of the armchairs next to the fireplace, and he leaned forward onto his desk, bowing his head toward the piles of unmarked essays that rested there.

"Leave," Severus groaned as he felt the boy come up behind him. The hand that was resting on the surface of his desk was shaking.

"I didn't mean to..." The boy's voice came out in a whisper.

"You did what I asked you to do, you pushed me out. You did well," Severus said dryly, turning away. There was a moment of silence and he felt the boy move closer. A moment later, there was a warm hand on his arm. Severus let out a shaky breath that came painfully out of his lungs. His father's voice still rang through his ears and Gabriel's words were like a soothing balm on his soul.

"Professor, I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to..."

"I know. You should leave now, Gabriel..."

"Please, I..."

"That's enough for today. You need to go and rest now." The hand on his arm slipped toward his own and Severus looked down to see the boy's fingers grasp his. When he turned his head their eyes met and Gabriel's were filled with tears.

"I'm sorry," he said, and his lips were shaking. Severus knew that he wasn't apologizing for pushing into his mind and seeing his memories, but for what it was that he had seen.

He turned towards his student, slipping his free hand of the trembling fingers. The boy looked down, ready to be reprimanded for his indiscretion. Severus started at him, at the light from the fireplace reflected on the side of his face, on the graceful curve of his neck. Slowly, tentatively, he placed his right hand on the back of the boy's head, touching the warm skin and the soft blonde hair. Gabriel raised his head, almost shyly, but there was determination in his eyes as they met his teacher's gaze. Severus stepped closer, and bending his neck, he slipped his other hand under the boy's chin and tilted his face so that their noses touched. He felt his student's shaky breath on his lips as he leaned in even closer.

"I've never..." Gabriel muttered, his eyes fluttering shut.

"Then I shouldn't," Severus whispered but deep down he knew there was no way this wasn't happening.

"Please do." That was all he needed to hear and finally their lips touched.

Severus had never kissed anyone so softly before, but he wanted to do this right. There would be no crude words and harsh fondling like he'd experienced before. The thought that Gabriel was untouched made him feel terrible. He was a teacher and he could lose everything over this, everything and so much more. But the feel of the boy's lips against his, Gabriel's hands gripping the collar of his robes, pulling him closer, everything about this moment made it worth it. He would risk being fired a thousand times if it always felt this good.

Chapter Text

"How glorious it is, and also how painful, to be an exception."

-Alfred de Musset



TIME PASSED QUICKLY and Gabriel woke up one morning to realise that he had been at Hogwarts for almost a month. He had yet to hear from the doppelganger again after their strange meeting in the Lenoir library. This was both frustrating and comforting at the same time. He did his best to stay on guard, however, remembering the creature had said it would be back when he least expected it. He hadn't given up on his research and as a precaution the Occlumency lessons continued twice a week.

The end of September brought with it a surprising drop in temperature and rapidly the students started wearing their school robes over their clothes even on the weekends. When Gabriel slipped into the Potions Master's office on the last Friday of the month, they hadn't seen the sun for days.

"Professor?" he called out when a vacant room greeted him.

"I'm in here, Gabriel." Severus' voice came from the side room he used as a private laboratory.

The Lenoir heir picked up the latest edition of The Potions Maker that was resting on the small table next to an armchair, before making his way into the lab. "Did you take a look at this?" he asked when he entered, waving the front cover of the magazine towards Severus, who was quietly stirring the contents of a large pewter cauldron. "They're going to prohibit the domestic use of Oajyn because of that woman in Wales who lost her arm last week."

"Yes, everyone cannot be as talented as you are," Severus commented dryly but there was a smile on his face.

Gabriel looked at him smugly. "It's really too bad. The world would be a much better place."

Severus chuckled. "It certainly would."

"But that's not the point," the boy added with a slightly worried look on his face. "Emil uses Oajyn for the Wolfsbane. If it's prohibited, he could have trouble with his research..."

"Not everything in Rousseau's back store is perfectly legal, Gabriel," Severus reminded as he switched to counter-clockwise stirring. "As loud and obnoxious as he is, I'm sure he will find a way to keep a low profile. Or he could just order it already prepared," he finished with a slight shrug.

Gabriel looked at him seriously with narrowed eyes. "Don't be absurd. That just sounds vulgar coming from you."

Severus couldn't help but laugh. The boy acted and thought like an experienced Potions Master and he was only fifteen. Yet he already knew the subtle differences between buying ready-made ingredients and preparing them yourself.

There was a long moment of silence and Severus felt almost uncomfortable. He was conscious of the boy's eyes staring at him, piercing through him like spears. Weeks had passed since they had kissed, but albeit their relationship being more informal, it didn't seem like anything was different between them. They both were more comfortable around each other and they enjoyed spending time together. They also talked more freely and there was very little that Gabriel didn't tell Severus about. If it hadn't been for that one kiss, Severus could almost pass, in his own mind at least, as the boy's mentor. But a mentor doesn't feel the need to ravish his charge every time he lays eyes upon it. At first Gabriel seemed to accept this reluctance to talk about the kiss, thinking that Severus needed time to process what had happened, but lately the boy had been growing restless and Severus sensed they would have to talk about things soon before he exploded.

"Did you write to Rousseau yet?" Severus asked, trying to break the heavy silence that settled in the room.

"No," Gabriel shrugged as he sat down in an old wooden armchair in the corner. He leafed through the magazine distractedly.

Severus frowned. "You're still mad at him about the Dreamless? You know he was only worried about you, right?"

"Yes, I know. I just want to make him suffer a little bit longer."

Severus shook his head, grimacing. "You've been spending too much time with me. I'm having a bad influence on you."

"I don't mind." Gabriel looked up and smiled before turning back to the magazine. "Killian says I need to stop letting people walk all over me. I'm learning from the master." Gabriel shot him a rapid glance.

"I suppose it can't be a bad thing then," Severus said quietly as he stopped his stirring and removed the cauldron from the fire. "Speaking of Killian Burke, I thought you said you were going flying with him today."

"I planned to, but it's much too cold out and I don't like flying enough to do it in that weather. Besides, Killian has been in the Hospital Wing since this morning."

"So that's why he wasn't in class. When did he get sick?"

"He started feeling odd two days ago but he was too tough to go get checked. It got worse last night."

"Did you go see Madam Pomfrey to get tested?" Severus asked again and the authority in his voice made Gabriel chuckle.

"Yes, for the third time this week, just as you ordered, sir," the Lenoir heir said playfully. "I'm perfectly healthy, just like I told you."

"The other boys in your dormitory got sick one after the other. It's a miracle that you're still fine."

"I told you I never get sick. I was sick for a while when I was a kid but since then I never caught anything."

"We ought to examine you, we might develop a vaccine."

"Why can't you just admit that you care about me?"

Severus paused. He was aware that the boy was looking at him expectedly but he decided to ignore the comment. "Come here and help me with that," he said, gesturing for Gabriel to stand up. "Start pouring the potion in these bottles while I prepare the ingredients for another batch. Clean the cauldron after you're done."

"You've been productive," Gabriel said as he looked over at three boxes already filled with potion bottles piled on the floor. There was bitterness in his voice as he approached his teacher, irritated at the way the conversation they both needed to have was ignored.

"I can't supply the Hospital Wing fast enough. I haven't seen such a Dragon Fever epidemic since I was in third year," Severus remembered as he watched Gabriel start to fill the bottles of potion with a ladle and a funnel. "I stayed in the Hospital Wing for two weeks. Unlike you, I catch everything."

"You didn't get sick this time," Gabriel pointed out.

"Not yet, but with all the germs the students sneeze on their essays it's only a matter of time. I've been washing my hands so much I think the skin is starting to peel off," Severus groaned with a sneer.

"Let me see," Gabriel said. He put the ladle down on the table and grabbed his teacher's hands before inspecting them carefully. "They're perfectly fine. You're just imagining things," he muttered before pressing a kiss to one of the knuckles.

"Gabriel," the teacher warned but he didn't pull his hands away. "This isn't what you want," he said softly.

The boy raised his head and frowned. "The only one who knows what I want is me. And I want you, Professor."

Severus grimaced. "Then you have to stop calling me that. I don't need any more reminding that what we're doing is wrong."

"If we both feel the same way and it feels good, what's so wrong about it?"

"I could lose my job over this and you could be expelled."

"If your job was so important, you wouldn't have kissed me in the first place. And Dumbledore would certainly not expel me."

"I take back what I said before. I'm not sure anymore thatI am the one who's having a bad influence on you. Who would have known that underneath your polite, well-raised, respectable Pureblood exterior was hiding such a profligate young man? There are rules in this world, laws that are meant to be followed. Not everything is about pleasure and turpitude..."

"Profligate? Turpitude? What do you think I am, some kind of hedonist?"

"More like a libertine."

Gabriel turned to Severus and burst out laughing. "I can't believe you just called me a libertine! Oh, and stop pretending that I'mdefiling you or something. It was just a kiss, it's not like I gave you my virginity."

Severus repressed a blush at the thought. It seemed to him that Gabriel was maybe blushing too because he turned his head away and suddenly cleared his throat loudly.

"Did I embarrass you, Professor?" he asked then in what he probably wanted to be a cocky way but turned out just uncomfortable.

"No, I'm just mildly surprised at your persistence. And for Merlin's sake, stop calling me Professor."

"Fine, Severus."

Gabriel finished his task in silence, pouring the blue potion into ten bottles. Severus had already taken out another cauldron and was getting ready to make a new batch but he found himself distracted by how his name had sounded coming from the boy's mouth.

"Do you want me to make another potion in this one?" Gabriel asked his teacher softly, nodding his head towards the cauldron he was cleaning. "I don't have anything else to do before dinner."

Severus seemed to think it over for a while then he nodded. They spent the next hour or so brewing in silence. They were comfortable that way, just being together, not feeling the need to say anything. He kept an eye on Gabriel at first, to make sure he was doing things right, but he quickly left him alone. It had only taken a few weeks for him to realise that, when it came to Potions, the boy could easily be taking his NEWTs level class. The one time he suggested it, however, Gabriel only smiled and said that he was perfectly happy exactly where he was, just as Severus thought.

"Are you going to Hogsmeade tomorrow?" Severus asked casually when they were both finished with their potions and were cleaning and putting ingredients away.

"Yes. Professor Dumbledore signed my permission slip last week. I had changed my mind and decided not to go because everyone is sick but this morning Tonks asked me to go with her."

"You two have become quite close."

"Yes, did you know she's a Metamorphmagus?"

"I figured," Severus snorted.

"She calls me Gabe," the boy said, smiling. "Nobody ever gave me a nickname before."

"If you don't stop praising her I might become jealous," Severus warned.

"That would be nice..." Gabriel said quietly. "She told me her mother was in Slytherin," he added, as if sensing that this simple fact would earn Tonks some respect in Severus' eyes.

"I know," his teacher answered. "All the Blacks went to Slytherin... Well, almost all of them, but every family has its pariahs."

"Did you go to school with Tonks' mother?"

"No, Andromeda is seven years older than I am. The Blacks are very proud of their bloodline and when she married a Muggle-Born, she was disowned. Her sister Narcissa was in seventh year when I started Hogwarts. I knew her better. She married Lucius Malfoy and they have an eight year old son."

"I think I'm related to the Malfoys," Gabriel announced, frowning. "The name rings a bell."

Severus nodded. "It's quite possible," he said but he couldn't ignore the resemblance between Gabriel and the Malfoys. "Andromeda and Narcissa had an older sister but Bellatrix was sent to Azkaban, along with her husband, Rodolphus Lestrange. I don't know if she's still alive."

"Oh." Gabriel hesitated. "That's quite a family history."

"Unfortunately, with the rise of the Dark Lord, it's quite frequent in Wizarding Britain."

"My mother was a Sinclair," Gabriel said and with the way he spoke this so randomly, Severus suspected he was setting the topic for a new direction.

"I know," Severus answered simply.

Gabriel seemed hesitant. "Your... your father was a Muggle?" he asked then.

Severus could tell he'd wanted to ask that for a while. They hadn't discussed what the boy had glimpsed of his memories during their second Occlumency lesson, and he knew that Gabriel had waited all this time to ask out of respect. Apparently he now seemed to think that their relationship, or whatever it was that they had, had evolved to the point that it was now okay to ask such personal questions.

"Yes," Severus said. "But you knew that already. Snape is not a wizarding name."

"No," Gabriel answered and he sighed softly. He seemed relieved that Severus didn't get angry at him for asking about his family. "But your mother was a witch?"

"Yes. Her name was Prince, but she was disowned before she married by father," the Potions Master explained quickly.

"I'm not related to the Princes," Gabriel added.

Severus chuckled. "I'm glad to hear that," he said and the tension in the room lifted slowly. He looked at the new bottles of Dragon Fever cure potion and added, "It's a shame I don't have more students like you. I would supply the potions so much faster."

"Why don't you start a brewing group with students?" Gabriel asked, leaning back on the worktable next to where Severus was standing. "This potion is not that hard to make. Surely students from your NEWTs class could manage it."

Severus thought about it for a minute. "That's not a bad idea." Gabriel was looking at him expectantly so he added, "Would you participate?"

The boy's hand suddenly rested on top of his, the fingers still warm from brewing the potion. "I would if you asked me," Gabriel said and he raised his eyes up towards Severus' face in a way that sometimes made the Potions Master doubt that the boy had never been intimate with anyone else before.

"I'm asking you," Severus said, his voice sounding weak even to his own ears.

"Then yes, I suppose I will," the boy answered simply. Their closeness never failed to make Severus uncomfortable and his only answer was to pat the boy's cheek softly. It was an awkward move one would maybe reserve for a son or a younger family member.

Gabriel's smile disappeared immediately and was replaced with a deep frown. He caught his teacher's hand by the wrist with surprising strength. "Will you kiss me again?" he asked defiantly.

"If you asked me," Severus said, repeating Gabriel's previous answer.

They looked at each other in silence for a long time and finally Gabriel stepped even closer to his teacher, if it was even possible. Slowly he pressed his lips to Severus' chin, an inch from the man's lips and he whispered, "I'm asking you now."

Their lips touched, not as softly as before but it was a different kind of kiss. The first one had allowed them to get to know each other better. This one was to ensure that nobody was going anywhere without the other having a say in it.

When they separated, Gabriel kept his arms firmly wrapped around Severus, looked him in the eyes and said, "I just want to make it clear that I don't care if you think this is wrong. I don't want it to stop."

Severus pressed his forehead against the boy's and sighed. "Then nobody else can know." Even though his eyes were closed, he thought he felt Gabriel smiling.

"There isn't anyone else I would share this with," the boy said. He pulled back and pressed a quick kiss to the corner or Severus's lips. "I won't have to ask you every time, will I?"

Severus smiled. "No, you won't."



The sun came out the next day but its rays felt weak and reticent and the strong autumn wind cancelled whatever heat it tried to spread around. Tonks was waiting for Gabriel in the entrance hall, insisting that they leave early and get breakfast at the Three Broomsticks instead of joining the rest of the students in the Great Hall. Gabriel was in a good mood and quickly agreed, excited to leave Hogwarts grounds for the first time in a month. When in Beauxbâtons, he was used to visiting Valère every other weekend and travelling around Europe in the summer. He always got bored quickly when staying in the same place for too long.

"Do you think it's too early for a butterbeer?" Tonks asked Gabriel as they entered the pub and made their way through the breakfast crowd towards a free table.

"I hope not," Gabriel smiled as they sat down. "I could do with a hot drink. My nose is frozen."

"You're not going to get sick, too, are you?" Tonks complained with a frown. "I've been so bored all week! All of my friends are in the Hospital Wing. You're the only one left! I don't want to lose you too!"

Gabriel felt wave of warmth inside his chest and smiled as he took off his coat and left it hanging on the back of his chair. He stifled a laugh when Tonks took off the thick snow hat she was wearing and a mane of bright orange curls was let loose.

"Don't you like my new look?" she asked, feigning offense when she saw his reaction.

"No, I love it. It's... very you."

"Oh, Madam Rosmerta!" Tonks called out to a tall blonde woman who was passing them, holding a tray of drinks and plates. Another tray was floating behind her and it stopped abruptly when she heard her name.

"Hello there, Tonks!" Rosmerta responded with a bright smile. "I love your new hairstyle!" she added, gesturing to Tonks' head of colourful hair. "Early bird as always! And who is your friend? I don't think I've seen you here before, honey?" she asked pleasantly, turning towards Gabriel.

"It's my first time here, Madam, I just transferred to Hogwarts. My name is Gabriel Lenoir," he announced, holding out his hand for the barmaid to shake.

"Of course you are," she smiled as she gracefully balanced the tray on her left arm and shook his hand firmly. "Now I recognise your handsome face from the newspaper. Well, I hope you have a great time at Hogwarts. What can I get you kids?" There was a rumble of some sort from a rowdy group of wizards in the corner, something about Rosmerta taking her time with their order. The woman simply narrowed her eyes at them and yelled, "Just you wait, Moody, or I'll spit in your food!"

"We'll have two morning specials with hot butterbeer, please, Madam Rosmerta," Tonks said happily but her attention was turned to the three impatient wizards.

"Coming right up, honey," Rosmerta winked before heading towards the group in the corner.

Tonks leaned over the table towards Gabriel. "See that man in the corner, the one with the long coat?" she whispered and Gabriel turned subtly to glimpse at the designated wizard before nodding. He couldn't see much because the man had his back to them, but he could tell he was muscled and burly and he wouldn't want to mess with him. "That's Alastor Moody, but everyone calls him Mad Eye. He's the best Auror of all time! One day, I'm going to work with him!"

"You want to become an Auror?" Gabriel asked, interested.

"Oh, yes! When I was six, my dad took me to the Ministry of Magic because he had business there and I wandered off and got lost. Some Aurors found me and I got to visit the whole headquarters. It was amazing! Since that day that's what I've wanted to be when I grow up."

"There you go, kids," Madam Rosmerta announced as she dropped off their butterbeers on her way to deliver drinks to other tables. "Your food will be ready soon."

They barely managed to thank her before the barmaid disappeared into the crowd.

"So what are your plans for after Hogwarts?" Tonks inquired, taking a sip of her drink and sighing in delight at the taste.

Gabriel shrugged. "I don't know yet. There are just too many things I'd like to do. I've always been interested in Astronomy, so maybe I could do that. But then again, I really like Potions. I suppose I could also work in that field. I really can't decide."

"You should come into Auror training with me!" Tonks suggested happily. "That would be so fun!"

Gabriel smiled but winced at the thought. "I don't think I would be a very good Auror. I'm not really the heroic type."

"Yeah," Tonks said then, sounding slightly disappointed but shrugging. "Not many Slytherins make it into Auror training." Gabriel raised an eyebrow at her words. "It's true, there are statistics. It's a Slytherin trait, you see. You have a strong sense of self-preservation. You guys hesitate, you think too much before acting. If the Auror Department was led by Slytherins, nobody would ever do anything. They would be too busy weighing out the risks. I'm not saying this in an offensive way. My mom is like that. She always takes forever, thinking over every possible outcome before she even goes outside to do some yard work, as if anything bad ever happened because of a garden gnome!"

Gabriel laughed, but then he remembered Anthony Wellington's reaction the previous week when he had read in the Prophet about that witch who lost her arm because of her clumsy preparation of Oajyn bulbs. His roommate had ranted for a good half hour about the dangers of potions-making and all the new security measures that Hogwarts should take to make sure such an accident never happened to a student. But then, he thought, how could being careful and preventive be such a bad thing for an Auror?

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," he said nevertheless, not really feeling like arguing over it. He took a sip from his mug and before staring at it in awe. "This is the best butterbeer I've ever had!"

"I'm flattered, honey," Madam Rosmerta said before putting their food on the table. She smiled at them before turning back towards the kitchens.

Gabriel eyed his plate suspiciously. The eggs were greasy and the bread was thick and covered in a heavy layer of butter. The sausages and bacon were shiny and there was a strange substance on the side of his plate that looked like lard.

Tonks laughed when she saw his face. "If you live with the wolves, you have to act like a wolf, and that includes eating! So come on, little sheep, dig in!"

Gabriel was glad when they stepped outside and he took a great breath of fresh air. Tonks first dragged him next door to Scrivenshaft's where she purchased a new set of quills. Then they headed across the street to Tomes and Scrolls Bookstore. Gabriel immediately found himself in his element and Tonks had to drag him from the store and its numerous rare volumes and manuscripts so that he wouldn't spend all his money. He came out with an old copy of an Encyclopaedia of Potion and Alchemy that made Tonks gasp when she saw the price.

Next, they stopped at Siren Sounds Record store, where Tonks browsed through the sales section, wanting to find something good for the record player in the Hufflepuff common room, but she left the store with a pout. Gabriel wrinkled his nose at the smell coming from Denizens Menagerie and waited outside while Tonks bought some treats for her owl. Other Hogwarts students were starting to arrive and he caught sight of Ivy Ravensdale, who nodded grimly at him before walking away. He gave her a weak smile in return. Like her brother Garrett, Ivy had been cold to him for weeks, but Gabriel didn't think there was anything he could do about it. It wasn't like he could force himself to reciprocate Garrett's feelings.

Tonks insisted they stop at Spinwitches, Hogsmeade's only sporting goods store. Gabriel groaned but politely followed her inside and listened to her praise different pieces of equipment and Quidditch gear. Tonks had been a chaser for the Hufflepuff House team for two years. She did repay him for this half-hour of boredom by following him into Bobbin's Apothecary, where Gabriel took his time browsing through the entire store and asking questions to the owner. He asked the man if he received any copies of L'Elixir, a popular potions publication that you couldn't usually find outside France but that usually sent out free copies to Apothecaries in Europe. The owner smirked and threw him a tattered copy of this month's edition, saying Gabriel might as well keep it since he couldn't understand a damn thing. Apparently the man had been using it as a support for drying boiled slugs. Gabriel cast a quick cleaning spell on the cover and it only managed to get rid of some of the grime. Fortunately, the inside wasn't damaged.

"It's almost time for lunch already!" Tonks exclaimed as they left the damp and musty-smelling apothecary shop and emerged on the now bustling street. "I'm starving!"

Gabriel laughed. It seemed to him that Tonks was always hungry, frighteningly so for a girl her size. "Where do you...?" He didn't have time to finish his question because somebody bumped into him violently.

"Shit! Sorry, mate!" said a boy whom Gabriel recognised as Charlie Weasley, a Gryffindor sixth year student, prefect and Seeker. It was the boy Killian considered as his arch nemesis. Honestly, Gabriel didn't think he looked that evil. He had short red hair and was a somewhat bulky built for a sixteen year old, but from what Gabriel had seen of him, he seemed carefree and easy-going.

"Don't worry about it," Gabriel assured him politely.

"How are you doing, Charlie?" Tonks asked pleasantly with a wide grin and a gleam in her eyes that hinted to Gabriel she liked what she was seeing.

"Hey Tonks, I'm pretty good and yourself?" Charlie said with a cocky grin that Gabriel was pretty sure he used with all the girls. And it probably worked just fine.

"Just peachy," Tonks announced and her grin widened, if that was even possible.

"I don't think we've met yet," Charlie said then, turning back to Gabriel. "I'm Charlie Weasley."

"Gabriel Lenoir." They shook hands

"Yeah, I've seen you hanging around with Killian Burke," Charlie added with a smile. Apparently the Gryffindor boy didn't take their rivalry as seriously as Killian did. "He's really something, isn't he?" He chuckled at the thought.

Just a few days before, when they had met in the hallway in between classes, Killian, being the drama queen that he was, had publicly provoked Charlie in a duel. Gabriel suspected he'd done so to impress Evelyn, but his plan had backfired when Charlie Weasley laughed, waved his hand dismissively and left.

"Yes," Gabriel agreed with a smile. "He's one of a kind."

"He's not with you?" Charlie asked, almost disappointed. It looked like he appreciated witnessing the antics of the Slytherin Seeker.

"He's sick with Dragon Fever," Gabriel explained. Tonks just stood next to them, smiling, looking from one boy to the other.

"Oh," Charlie Weasley winced. "Well, I hope he'll get better before next game. I really look forward to beating him. This Dragon Fever thing really sucks. Most of my friends are sick too."

"Are you here alone?" Tonks asked then, suddenly getting out of her frozen trance.


"We were just about to go get lunch, do you want to come with?" she asked again, maybe a little too eagerly.

Charlie threw a quick glance towards Gabriel and then nodded casually. "Sure, that sounds like fun."

On Charlie's recommendation, they headed to Johnny's, a small diner located between a store that sold Muggle junk and a shop called Gizmet's Oddities. Johnny's was the latest addition to Hogsmeade eateries and it couldn't be more different than The Three Broomsticks. It had a 50's feel about it. The booths were scarlet red and turquoise with chromed tables and benches, Quidditch paraphernalia and pictures decorated the walls, autographed photos of Wizarding celebrities held conversations with the customers and rock'n'roll oldies played over the wireless. They sat near a picture of Fabius Watkins and, throughout the meal, the legendary captain of the Montrose Magpies Quidditch team told them everything about how he once collided with a helicopter. Fortunately, the food was really good.

They talked about various things, mostly Quidditch and a little bit about music and Charlie really wanted to know what France was like. He told Gabriel that he really wanted to travel after graduation, maybe go work abroad. Then the conversation reached an unexpected subject.

"I thought I would be able to just lay low this weekend, but I've got this three foot long essay for Snape due on Monday. There goes my Sunday afternoon," Charlie winced. "It's on the Draught of Living Death. We're brewing it later this week and honestly, I've read the instructions and I think I'd rather get Dragon Fever than have to make it. It looks crazy hard," he complained, picking at his fries.

"Gabriel's really good with Potions, maybe he could help you," Tonks suggested.

"Wouldn't that be considered fraternising with the enemy?" Gabriel asked with a grin, thinking about what Killian would say if he saw him tutoring Charlie Weasley.

"Probably," Charlie said, laughing. "But aren't you in fifth year? You probably haven't done this potion yet."

"Oh, he's really good," Tonks chimed proudly. "Professor Snape suggested he takes the NEWTS level class, but he refused," she explained

"Why would you say no?" Charlie asked, looking at him like he'd just grown an extra head. "If Snape thinks you're good, you must be some kind of genius."

Gabriel was silent for a while but when he noticed how they were both staring at him in confusion, he tried to explain. "Well, when I was in Beauxbâtons I... Let's just say the students there didn't really..."

"They didn't like the fact that you were better than them?" Tonks inquired, eyes narrowed in disdain.

"They really didn't, no." Gabriel shrugged. "But Professor Snape said it was my choice and if I want to change my mind later it's okay. He was really nice about it."

Charlie laughed. "Snape, nice? I'm surprised he didn't just bite your head off for refusing his offer."

"He's not that bad," Gabriel started.

"With you he isn't," Tonks interrupted. "I thought I would die before I said this to anybody, but Gabe, I think Snape likes you," she whispered. This caused Charlie to laugh louder.

"Don't be stupid, Tonks," Gabriel answered weakly. "Snape doesn't like anyone."

"I'm telling you! How else do you explain this brewing group thing?"

"What brewing group?"

"Snape is starting a brewing group with some students to help him supply the Hospital Wing in Dragon Fever cure potions. He chose all those NEWTs students from Slytherin and guess who else?"


"Gabriel," Tonks nodded. "See? He's got a thing for you," she told Gabriel, grinning.

"That's just because I'm good at potions." Gabriel tried to reason with them but they both seem to ignore him.

"Do you think Snape is into dudes?" Charlie asked then, really thinking it over. "Yeah, I suppose it's possible. On second thought, he had quite an obsession with Professor Medenhall..."

"Who's that?"

"The Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher from last year," Charlie explained.

"Yes, but that's only because everyone knows that Snape would much rather be teaching DADA than Potions," Tonks added, shaking her head. "It doesn't prove anything."

"You guys are talking nonsense," Gabriel said with a sigh. "Snape is only nice to me because I'm a good student and because Dumbledore adopted me. Charlie, from what I heard, Professor McGonagall is giving you special privileges all the time and that's because you're the best Seeker Gryffindor has had for years. It's only natural that she would favour you in some way. And Tonks, you keep saying that Professor Valencia is all over you because you're top in her class."

"You have a point, I suppose," Tonks shrugged. "I'm pretty good at DADA, it's only natural." Internally, Gabriel sighed in relief.

"Does anyone want desert?" their waitress asked with a bright smile.

"I'll have the chocolate milkshake, please," Tonks said brightly before turning to the others. "It's delicious, you guys should try it."

"I'll take one then!" Charlie said.

The girl turned to Gabriel who shook his head. "I'm good, thank you."

"Why, hello kids!" came the shrilling voice of Professor Flitwick who had just entered and spotted them immediately. Gabriel thought it was terribly weird to see a teacher in such an informal setting. This feeling only deepened when he noticed that Professor McGonagall was accompanying the small Charms teacher. Johnny's diner seemed terribly lively and the austerity coming from the woman clashed terribly with her surroundings. The Deputy Headmistress looked at them with an approving glance.

"Hello, Professors!" Tonks said brightly.

"How good to see you three," McGonagall spoke and a small smile tugged at the corner of her lips, "a Hufflepuff, a Gryffindor and a Slytherin having lunch together."

"You are quite right, Minerva," Flitwick chimed, clapping his small hands together. "I wish I had a camera with me now. I would take a picture for our dear Headmaster. This sight would make him most happy!"

McGonagall simply nodded at the students before leading the small, chatting man to a free table farther away.

"That was awkward," Charlie winced once they were out of sight.

"Look guys, I have to go to the Post office to send something. If you don't mind, I'll go ahead while you have desert and we can meet... say, at Zonko's in twenty minutes?"

"That's cool with me," Charlie nodded and Gabriel noticed the incredibly grateful look Tonks sent his way. She didn't mind being alone with Charlie Weasley at all.

Gabriel paid for his food and headed outside. He didn't stop at the Owl Post Office, however. He kept walking and passed Pendleton's Bazaar and Zonko's and stopped before a very small building. He had read about it in the papers the week before. The worn out sign read 'Occultipus'.From the ad in the papers, they were having a sale, but that wasn't the reason Gabriel wanted to go there. The announced merchandise enumerated books and tools used for obscure rituals, but that wasn't what he wished to acquire. Two words had caught his attention from the page in the Prophet: protection amulets. He wasn't a very superstitious person, but it couldn't hurt, could it?

"You're not considering going in there, are you?" someone asked.

Gabriel turned to see Severus Snape standing behind him, looking at him suspiciously, then over at the small shop. "I didn't know you were coming to Hogsmeade," Gabriel said before turning back towards Occultipus.

"I have to get some ingredients from Bobbin's."

"For the brewing club?"

"Yes." They were both silent for a minute and Severus took the opportunity to observe the boy subtly. Gabriel was wearing a navy blue felt coat and a black scarf. His cheeks where flushed from the cold wind and his hair was all over the place. He looked gorgeous, Severus thought, and he longed to kiss him right there, but that was impossible. "I know what answer you hope to find in there," he said in a low voice.

"It can't hurt to look," Gabriel said, shrugging before he turned back towards the older man. "Will you come in with me?"

Severus nodded, knowing that he was one of the few people who knew about Gabriel's unusual situation. "I really despise this kind of store," he sighed, "but I suppose I will sacrifice myself for you."

Gabriel only smiled and approached the store, opening the heavy wooden door and slipping inside, Severus close behind him. A soft bell chime announced their arrival. The shop seemed completely empty. It was dark inside and smelled of musky incense. The aroma made Gabriel feel as though he'd just stepped into the office of Professeur Chopra, an astronomer and former colleague of Valère at the Observatory. Occultipus sold various items such as aroma lamps, ritual daggers, occult books, strange jewellery, candles and chalices.

"You are here to purchase an amulet, aren't you?" a low, slightly drawling voice asked. Gabriel turned to see the silhouette of a tall man, standing in the shadows next to the front counter. He had his hands folded in front of him and was gazing at the Lenoir heir intently. "At least I hope you are."

"How do you know?" Gabriel asked softly, already intrigued by the man.

The stranger stepped forward. He looked like he was probably well into his sixties. He wearing a suit of pale beige linen, his head was shaved and his eyes were of a piercing grey-blue colour. "I can sense... something coming from you," he explained, coming closer to the boy. "Are you perhaps very sick?" he asked softly. "Are you going to die soon?"

"You will stop this at once," Severus intervened angrily, stepping in-between the tall man and his student.

If stares could kill, the stranger would have fallen dead right then and there. And he sensed it, obviously, because he took several steps back. "I am sorry, sir. I am merely worried about the young man..."

"The last thing he needs is for some old crook to frighten him with..." threatened Severus, but before he could finish his sentence, Gabriel put a hand on his arm.

"Wait," he said, eyes still fixed on the stranger. "What do you know? What is it you can sense from me?"

There was a moment of silence where the man seemed to wait for Severus to interrupt again. The Potions Master sighed and allowed the bald man to continue. "You have... a grey aura... There are dark thoughts in your head and they trouble you. There is a dark side to you, but it does not belong there. It was put there..." He stopped talking and stared at Gabriel some more.

"Who are you?" the boy asked then, just as fascinated by the man as he seemed to be by him.

"I am Alfwin Engel, the owner of this shop."

"You think I need an amulet?"

"Is it truly what you came here to acquire?"

"Yes. I saw your ad in the papers and it caught my attention. I didn't know there was a place in Hogsmeade where one could buy such things..."

"Such things," the man said disdainfully with a snort before he turned back and made his way toward the counter. "That's what people say of this store, that it sells such things, like they are merely trinkets."

"I didn't mean to offend you," Gabriel explained, helplessly.

"I know you didn't, my boy," the man said. "Now come here, let me show you something."

He gestured for Gabriel to come forward, near the counter. Severus sighed again and Gabriel looked up at him briefly.

"Gabriel, that man is blatantly a charlatan," Severus whispered so only the boy could hear.

"Don't say anything, please," Gabriel murmured back. "Just let me do this."

Gabriel approached the man. The countertop was glass and inside he could see some more pieces of jewellery, which looked much fancier than the ones on the racks near the entrance.

"Did someone curse you?" Engel asked then, in a low voice, sparing a quick glance towards Severus, who was staring at an array of strangely-shaped glass vials he thought he could maybe use for certain potions.

"No..." Gabriel whispered, thinking hard. "Well, not that I'm aware of..."

"Is there someone in your entourage who would want to harm you?" The man rested his hands on the counter and Gabriel noticed that he had very long fingers, which were almost all filled with large and shiny rings.

"I don't think so. I mean, there are some people that I don't really get along with, but I don't think they would really want to harm me," he said tentatively.

"Did you perform some sort of ritual to get more power or..."

"That's enough," Severus hissed, coming closer to them, but Gabriel put a hand on his chest and pushed him slightly away.

"No, I didn't perform any rituals. What is wrong with me?" he asked urgently.

The man was silent for a second. He seemed very uncomfortable with Severus' presence. Gabriel knew that if the teacher wasn't there, Alfwin Engel would be spilling everything he knew at lightning speed. But Gabriel couldn't deny that he was still glad Severus was there, even with the way he was reacting to all this.

"There is something hovering... almost hiding..." Engel hesitated. He didn't seem to know exactly how to express himself. "It's like something is sleeping inside you, waiting..."

"You watch what you're saying," Severus interrupted once again. "He's just fifteen, for Merlin's sake, he doesn't need to hear that..."

"Fifteen?" the shop owner said, surprised. "Really?" Gabriel nodded. "I would have thought you were much older. Your soul feels older."

Severus would have normally reacted strongly at that statement, but he couldn't help but agree in some way. He, too, always had trouble reminding himself that Gabriel was still so young. He was mature beyond his age and had known much more troubles than any other teenage boy.

"Nonetheless, something dangerous is threatening you. What you need is a seal of Solomon, and a good one at that," he said and, thinking hard, he tapped the glass surface of the countertop with his fingers distractedly.

Gabriel looked down, wondering which one of the pieces of jewellery on display he could need, but instead, Engel opened a drawer under the counter and pulled out a silky cushion on which were pinned different amulets. He pointed four or five of them, on the right side of the display. They all had a star engraved on them.

"King Solomon had great wisdom, wealth and power," Engel started. "In fact, he had more power than you could ever imagine. The legend goes that a magic ring was given to him and he had power over demons. They even say that Asmodeus, the king of all demons, was captured using that ring and Solomon forced him to become his servant. The magical symbol on it was then called the Seal of Solomon, but it's better known today as the Star of David. Now the seal is still used and it protects against spirits and curses. It dates back a long way. Before becoming a symbol of Judaism, the six pointed star was used by alchemists and was said to have been used by druid priests for protection against evil ghosts and demons during their rituals."

Carefully, he unpinned one of the pendants from the cushion. It was round, maybe four centimetres wide and the background was of a deep emerald green. The centre held the seal of Solomon and each different segments of the star contained small runes and symbols. The outer edge held an engraved sentence in a strange language Gabriel could not recognise.

"The characters you see are Phoenician. That was an ancient civilisation in Canaan and the language is almost three thousand years old. Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bow shall be broken," Engel translated, sliding his finger on the edge of the medallion, pointing out each word. "This amulet represents a wall of spiritual protection for the wearer, protecting his soul from evil spirits, demons and other beings that might wish to impair the owner's spirit, to control it, and it deviates their ill intentions on themselves." He looked at Gabriel intently then. "This amulet requires you to believe, or it will be completely useless. You have to be aware of it when you are wearing it and allow it to help you." The bald man smiled softly then. "If worn correctly, it will create calmness and stability in your soul and self-assurance and bring you good things in life."

Alfwin Engel winked then, fished a black leather string from under the counter and tied the amulet into a necklace. "That will be six galleons, seven sickles and twenty-one knuts, please."

Gabriel heard Severus groan but surprisingly, the Potions Master took out the money before Gabriel could even move and he put it on the counter before Engel, who nodded politely. The shop owner put the amulet away in a small box and handed it to Gabriel. When the boy went to take it, however, the man caught his hand in one of his ringed ones, looked him in the eyes and said. "You have a pure heart, Gabriel, do not let it be tainted." The man smiled at him then, left the box in Gabriel's hand, nodded to both the customers before disappearing through a door in the back.

"Thank you," Gabriel said when they stepped outside.

"Whatever helps you sleep at night," Severus shrugged.

It was only then that Gabriel remembered something. He turned towards Severus, frowning. "I didn't say my name, did I?"

"No, but I did," Severus answered and there was a warning tone in his voice, almost begging Gabriel not to think the man was anything but a swindler.

They separated, Gabriel headed towards Zonko's to meet up with Tonks and Charlie, and Severus going to the Apothecary. While he walked, Gabriel replayed the whole scene in his mind many times. He was already convinced that from where they had been standing, on the other side of the shop, there was no possible way Alfwin Engel could have heard them talking, hence finding out his name. But then his heart sank when he was reminded that his own face had been all over the front page of the newspaper for weeks.

When he met up with Tonks and Charlie again, he was late and in a sombre mood and they both thought he wasn't very good company for the rest of the day. Neither of them asked about the little black box that was poking out of his coat pocket.

Chapter Text

"And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in show at the words you utter.  They are so rusty, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long."

-Sylvia Plath



ON HIS WAY back from Bobbin's, Severus stopped at Occultipus once more, but this time he was on his own. He found Alfwin Engel behind his counter, making an inventory of the moonstone pendants on display next to the old cash register. The man was so caught up in his task that he didn't even raise his head when Severus entered.

"Welcome to Occultipus. If you need anything, don't be shy," he said distractedly, as he continued to jot down various notes onto a piece of parchment.

"Oh, it is not in my nature to be shy," Severus drawled as he approached the owner, his thick robes billowing quietly behind him. The dangerous tone in his voice caused Engel to raise his head in alarm and his eyes widened when he saw the Potions Master.

"You again," he said weakly. "Perhaps you would like to acquire some of our crystal vials over there. I saw you looking at them earlier. We have a wide variety of shapes and sizes..."

"Shut your trap, old crook," Severus groaned as he put down his bag of potion ingredients on the counter before the bald man. "I'm not here to buy anything."

"Then, please, how may I help you?" Alfwin Engel asked, uncomfortably. His long fingers were tapping against the counter nervously.

"The boy may be naïve, but I am not. I want you to admit to me that what you told him was complete nonsense," Severus demanded with the same authority he used when giving detentions.

"I couldn't possibly..." Engel started with wide eyes, but Severus groaned and cut him off.

"Look," he said gruffly. "If it makes you feel any better, I will not tell him you said it. I just want to hear it for myself." Of course he was lying. He would reveal everything to Gabriel and get him to take back this useless trinket the man had sold him and stop believing in such...

"You're lying," the man said, shaking his head. "You would tell him everything." Severus glared at him but before he could say more, the man continued. "And I will admit no such thing, for everything I told him was pure truth. I was born with the sight..."

"What are you, some kind of Seer?" Severus snorted in irritation. The last thing he needed in his life was another Sybil Trelawney.

"No, no, not a Seer, I simply sense things. I know things about people that they try to hide from everyone else. I know things about people that they don't even know about themselves. For instance," the man said, staring intently at Severus. "The boy, Gabriel, he is your student and yet you see him in a different light..."

Snape reached over the counter and grabbed the man by the collar of his shirt and pulled him closer, his face livid with rage. "If you want to live to see another day, you best keep your mouth shut about this!" Severus threatened in a voice that would make any of his students wish they would turn to smoke instantly if only to escape his wrath.

"I don't doubt this, Mr. Snape," the man said urgently. "And that is why I will reveal this to no one. Be reassured. I would gain nothingin reporting you."

Severus sniffed frustratingly before letting the man go. Engel stepped back until his backside was almost touching the display of trinkets behind the counter. "That amulet you gave him," Severus said, trying to calm down, "is it legit?"

"Oh yes," the man answered, nodding his head profusely. "Yes, it is real and if he uses it correctly, like I explained to him, it should make things better..."

"But?" Severus pressed, sensing that there was more to come.

"But I would keep an eye on him if I were you," Engel added slowly, as if not to step out of line. "There are some dark things hiding in his mind, things that threaten to pull him into the afterworld."

"Into the afterworld?" the Potions Master repeated sceptically.

Engel nodded briefly. "It's as if he has been in contact with the spirits of the other world quite a few times. The feeling I got from him is the same I get from people who meddle in the Dark Arts, from people much older who try to breach the barrier between our world and the world of the dead."

"Earlier you asked if someone cursed him. Is that what you think is causing this, a curse?"

"I don't know," Engel said, shaking his head. He was frowning deeply as he thought. "It does feel like a curse, but... but it's something deeper than that. It's as if he was born with this burden, and yet it feels like it's not supposed to be there in the first place." He hesitated. "You see, Mr. Snape, certain people are born with... gifts, if you would call them that. And others are born only with thecapacity to acquire such gifts. This power lays dormant inside them. In some cases, it is never revealed, but in other cases, it is triggered by something in particular..."

"So you are suggesting he might have been born with this? Could someone have cursed him before he was born?" Severus suggested. "Like a... like a blood curse?"

The bald man seemed to think it over, then he tilted his head before nodding. "It's possible, yes, but I cannot say for sure." He rubbed his head distractedly. "Blood curses are not my specialty at all. But... wait a second." He opened a drawer under the counter and started rummaging through it. From the noises he made, the drawer was full of paperwork. "I might know someone who can tell you more about this... Here it is," Engel said finally, taking out a small business card and handing it to Severus.

"Corfin Morzguls," Severus said aloud as he looked at the name on the card.

Engel nodded. "He is an expert in dark curses, among other things."

"His office is in Knockturn Alley," Severus added dryly.

"Yes, indeed. He is only an acquaintance of mine, but I've heard many great things about his work." The bald man explained quickly. "If anyone can tell you more about blood curses, it's Dr. Morzguls."

Severus scoffed at the word 'Doctor'. He doubted that anyone practicing in Knockturn Alley deserved such a title. And what kind of name was Morzguls, anyway?

"Enjoy your time with him. It could be shorter than you expect," Engel said suddenly, looking directly at Severus.

"With whom, Morzguls?"

"With Gabriel," the bald man explained softly. There was a deep frown on his face, as if he was concentrating on something. "There is another man coveting him, one with ill intentions."

"Who is it? Can you tell?" Severus asked, trying not to sound too intrigued.

"All I know is he's a... a foreigner... and he is planning something very elaborate, something in regards to Gabriel. He would sacrifice much... very much... to get his hands on him."

When Severus left the shop he wasn't as reassured as he'd expected to be. He had certainly not planned on learning such unsettling information. And most of all, he couldn't decide if he should tell Gabriel any of it.



On Sunday morning, equipped with a very thick mask and after countless warnings from Madam Pomfrey, Gabriel visited Killian in the Hospital Wing.

"Yeah, I know, I look like shit," Burke mumbled, even before Gabriel could say anything. He was prepared to tell his friend that he didn't look half as bad as expected, but then Gabriel had to admit that he did, indeed, look like shit. The circles under his eyes were very imposing and the Lenoir heir didn't think he'd ever seen anyone look so pale before. "I can't believe I missed the first Hogsmeade weekend," Killian continued, eyeing his friend with a frown. "What are you doing here, by the way? Shouldn't you be out there having fun like all those selfish jerks."

Gabriel couldn't help but smirk under his mask. "With whom?" he asked as he sat down by Killian's bed. "Everyone is stuck here." He knew he'd said the right thing when Killian smiled slightly. "I went yesterday, just to visit the Apothecary and then I came back," he said. He thought it would probably hurt Killian to know that, for a while at least, he'd had a good time with Tonks and Charlie Weasley.

"So you're not going back today?" Killian asked, much more pleasantly than before.

"No, I'm spending the day with Professor Snape and his potions group, brewing cures for you guys," Gabriel said, nodding towards all the hospital beds crammed into the room. There were at least forty of them, all occupied.

"That sounds like fun," Killian groaned, but he already seemed in a much better mood.

"Professor Dumbledore said that classes will be cancelled this week until everyone gets better. Too many people are missing, the classrooms are almost empty."

"Ah, that's good I guess." Killian looked at Gabriel then, and feigned an angry stare. "How come you're not stuck in a bed too? Are you immune to this shit or what?"

Gabriel shrugged. "I don't know. I just never get sick."

"Ah well, you don't know what you're missing," Killian said, sighing in contentment, stretching his arms and folding them under his head, smirking at Gabriel as if he was on vacation.

Gabriel laughed. "I'm glad you're taking it that way."

"It's either that or be grumpy all the time, and Garrett is doing a good job of it on his own," he added, jerking his head towards the bed on his right, where Gabriel could see a tuft of black hair poking out from under the covers.

"Oh," he said, uncomfortably. "Hey, Garrett." As expected, he didn't get a response, not even a groan of acknowledgement.

"Don't take it personal, he's been like that with everyone. Yesterday, I thought Pomfrey was going to slap him," Killian said, cracking up, but his laughter turned into a violent cough. Gabriel quickly passed him the glass of water on the bedside table. It took a moment for Killian to catch his breath and then he grimaced. "I hope you potions geeks will hurry your arses and brew us some good stuff because I don't know how much more of this I can take," he huffed.

Gabriel winced in sympathy. "Is it getting any better?"

Killian shrugged. "According to Pomfrey, it should, but honestly it just feels worse every day. I've asked if she could give me more potion but she refused."

"Too big a dose would be dangerous," Gabriel admitted.

"And it doesn't help that I'm bored out of my head, here. I was lying earlier when I said you were missing out. You're not. Truth is, I think I'd much rather be in class."

Gabriel smiled slightly. He thought that much was obvious. "You know what? I think I'll skip the feast tonight and have dinner here with you. You think you'll be up for a game of Exploding Snap?"

Killian smirked. "You bet!" But then he groaned. "I don't think Pomfrey tolerates that in here though."

"How about chess?"

"I suppose that would do."

"See you later then," Gabriel said with a smile.

Before he left Madam Pomfrey tested him again, just to make sure he hadn't caught anything, but once again, he was perfectly fine. She let him go with a suspicious look on her face.



When Gabriel entered the potions classroom after lunch, he found three other Slytherins were already there. They all seemed to know each other and, when Gabriel uncomfortably announced that he was here for the brewing club, he was relieved that they didn't give him a hard time because he was younger. They nodded and, very formally, as almost all Slytherins did, they introduced themselves.

The first of them was named Philip Blackwood. He was a seventh year that Gabriel recognised from the Quidditch team, of which he was captain. The second boy was also a seventh year. He was a very tall and gangly boy with a loud voice and a very imposing set of teeth. His name was Jacob Randall and he was immediately nice to Gabriel, saying that his youngest sister, Elena, who was in fifth year, had said nice things about him. Gabriel wondered what kind of things she could have said but he didn't ask. Now that Jacob had mentioned her, though, he could see the family resemblance. They had very similar faces. The last boy was a sixth year named Emerson Gladwyn. He had a graceful demeanour, pale brown hair that reached his chin, stylish glasses and freshly manicured nails. There was a spark of intelligence in his brown eyes that Gabriel had often seen in scholars he'd met through Valère.

"I see everyone is on time," Professor Snape said when he entered. He shut the classroom door behind him and looked at the four of them with something that looked very similar to pride. "As you all know, today we will be brewing Dragon Fever cure potion to supply the Hospital Wing for your fellow students. You are here because I chose the best and you would do well to not doubt my judgement." Gabriel felt he'd said this as a warning for the others but he wasn't sure. "Now all the ingredients are ready on the table and the instructions are on the board. You can start now."

Without complaining, they quickly set to work and a peaceful atmosphere rapidly settled in the room. Gabriel thought it was pleasant to be around other students who seemed to enjoy potion-making as much as he did and Severus seemed quite content too, despite the fact that he tried not to show it. After an hour, they all finished their first potion around the same time. The teacher checked the cures quickly to make sure they were all in order, and then the bottles were filled and ready to be shipped to the Hospital Wing. Professor Snape called a House Elf who took care of the delivery.

As he worked on his second potion, Gabriel found himself working efficiently without really thinking about what he was doing. The warm fumes from all the cauldrons were making him slightly drowsy and he noticed it was the same for the others. Randall cut himself twice while chopping roots and Gladwyn kept taking off his glasses to wipe the steam.

"If it acted faster there would be no need for all this stirring," Blackwood sighed as he massaged his wrist before starting the second phase of his potion.

"It's the hellebore leaves. Their reaction time is slower than Professor Binn's classes," Jacob Randall added, to which Blackwood chuckled in return. "If we added more hellebore it would be stronger, wouldn't it act faster without having to be stirred as much?" he asked then, turning to Professor Snape.

"Not necessarily. It works with some ingredients, but it's unlikely to work for hellebore."

"Because the veins are so small that even chopped up they don't release the sap very quickly. A different amount would make no difference. The reaction time would be the same, only the potion would be more concentrated," Emerson Gladwyn explained as he poured his finished potion into bottles.

"Very good, Mr. Gladwyn. Do any of you have suggestions on how to accelerate the reaction process?"

"Maybe we could just leave the hellebore to rot," Gabriel said. He hadn't spoken in a long time and the others raised their heads suddenly almost as if they'd forgotten his presence. "If we produce a mix of essence of belladonna and efteril in the correct quantities and we submerge the leaves overnight, they will be stale tomorrow. In that state they would probably be drowning in their own sap. We could brew the potion much faster."

"What made you think of that?" Gladwyn asked, raising an eyebrow in surprise.

"I suppose this one comes from Emil Rousseau?" Severus inquired with a smirk.

Gabriel nodded. "He says fermentation always brings out the best in things."

The other boys laughed at the quote but they seemed to like the idea. Gabriel said he would stay behind afterwards to help Professor Snape prepare the mixture and when they continued their work, the atmosphere in the room seemed much lighter.

"I don't understand how I've never noticed you before. I have seen you around, but I never noticed you," Emerson Gladwyn told Gabriel as they were cleaning and putting the equipment away.

Gabriel smiled weakly, not knowing exactly what he meant by that. After his suggestion on how to make the hellebore leaves more effective, the sixth year boy, who'd mostly kept quiet only to make a few statements now and then, had started chatting with Gabriel. It was as though suddenly he'd decided that the French boy was worth his attention. He asked about Emil Rousseau, being an amateur potionmaker himself, and about Beauxbâtons Academy and many other things.

Suddenly, Gladwyn turned to Gabriel and a confident smile tugged at the corner of his lips. "I just want you to know that I think you would be a suitable match for me and that if you ever want to pursue a relationship, I would be more than glad to reciprocate." And he bowed his head slightly before leaving.

Gabriel stared at the spot where the boy had been standing for a long moment. He heard Severus make a small noise that could have been either a chuckle or a groan. Suddenly, he turned towards the Potions Master, a look of disbelief on his face.

"What was that?"

"That was a courtship offer," Severus said dryly.

Gabriel shook his head. "I know what it was, but..."

This time Severus did smile and that's only then that Gabriel noticed the room was now empty. "Some Slytherin students are very old-fashioned, Gabriel."

"I can see that," Gabriel said and he laughed out loud. The sound echoed in the large room. "Oh Merlin, that looked like a scene from an old romance novel!" He threw himself towards Severus in a very melodramatic fashion and the old man couldn't help but chuckle when the boy, with his cheek pressed tightly against the teacher's chest, batted his eyelashes at him and said, "Don't I look rather dashing today?" with the most hilarious English accent Severus had heard in a while.

In a terribly out of character moment, Severus decided to play along. "You are tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me," he sneered in a true Mr. Darcy manner.

Gabriel burst out laughing again and held onto Severus tightly as he did so. Severus felt a slight shiver of pleasure run up his spine at the feel of the warm body pressed against his. He bent his head and, burying his nose in the blonde locks, inhaled deeply.

Gabriel raised his head to look at him but didn't release his grip. "Oh, I almost forgot... Could you give me a pass for the Restricted Section?" he asked

Severus frowned. "I get the feeling you want to research this whole Seal of Solomon business, am I right?" Gabriel stepped back and Severus had to hide his deception.

"Well, I thought about what Alfwin Engel said. I know you think it's just nonsense, but I happen to think it deserves at least a little bit of attention." He paused and Severus nodded for him to continue. "If I take what I already know, there are two variables to all this: first, the contact with the dead, which started happening when I was eight; second, the doppelganger, which arrived in September. I suppose that the doppelganger found his way in through the same channel I use to communicate with the dead. But there are some things the creature said, though, that are confusing. It insinuated that it was my fault it was there. If it is right, I must have done something to trigger this and I came to the conclusion that this is exactly what is hiding behind the Wall. Because nobody could have put a Wall in my mind without Valère knowing, I suppose he knew what happened and he asked a Master Occlumens to block the memory. We said the Wall was placed when I was around ten or eleven, but then if it's really what triggered the whole thing, it must have happened before the first visitation and I was eight back then." He paused and looked at Severus uncertainly. "What I'm saying, does it make sense?"

"Yes, I suppose it does."

"Then Engel said he felt like there was something sleeping inside me, hiding." Gabriel visibly did not like to think about such a possibility, because when he said the words his jaw was clenched very tightly. "And that made me think, what if the doppelganger has always been there, lurking around? What if it came with everything else but it's been watching me and was only waiting for the right moment..."

Severus reached for a flustered Gabriel and took the boy's face in his hands. With a gentleness that was uncommon coming from him, he said, "Don't start to think like that. You'll poison your mind with such thoughts."

"You have to admit that some things he said sounded legit..." Gabriel said in a weak voice.

"He believed what he told you, it doesn't mean that he was right," Severus insisted. He stepped back before opening the door leading to the large ingredients cupboard in the back of the room. He disappeared for a few seconds then came back holding a bottle of belladonna essence and a jar of efteril paste.

"Still, will you give me a pass? Just so I can get closure at least... if I'm wrong I will find out..."

Severus sighed. With the way Gabriel was staring at him, with those eyes, there was no way he could refuse. "Of course," he groaned. He set the ingredients down on his desk, opened a drawer, took out a piece of parchment and wrote a few words of permission so Madam Pince would let Gabriel in the Restricted Section. The boy smiled as he handed him the note and he slipped it into his pocket casually.

"Thank you."

"This is an interesting combination, by the way," Severus said, jerking his head towards the two ingredients as he took out a large tub to soak the hellebore leaves into.

"Yes, separately belladonna and efteril have devastating effects but together they produce a strong reaction and then cancel each other. That way the hellebore leaves will rot, but once the reaction is over, there won't be any residues of either poison." He stopped and looked up at the smile on Severus' face and he smiled back. "You think I'm rather clever, don't you?"

"That's an understatement," Severus admitted slowly. He wasn't used to praising students, but he had to admit that even if he weren't falling head over heels for this boy, he would find it very hard not to admire his intelligence. Gabriel Lenoir was a breath of fresh air after years of teaching hopeless dunderheads. In fact, Severus thought, the boy was much too smart for his own good. He wondered how much time it would take him once he'd gotten into the Restricted Section, before he unfolded the whole mystery of his situation. Remembering what Alfwin Engel had told him, Severus couldn't help but be slightly worried by what the boy might discover.



As promised, Gabriel spent dinnertime with Killian. Since eating was a difficult task when wearing a mask, Madam Pomfrey cast a rather peculiar spell on him that would allow him to filter the air he breathed so that he wouldn't catch the Dragon Fever. Every breath he took felt very strange, as if he'd eaten a bunch of those strong, minty candies they give you in restaurants before you pay your bill. The nurse smiled bitterly when he told her about it. She said she'd had that spell on her for over a week now, and she warned him not to expect to taste much of his dinner. He supposed he could make this sacrifice if it put Killian in a better mood.

"Who else is in this brewing club?" Killian asked as they were eating.

"Philip Blackwood, Jacob Randall and Emerson Gladwyn," Gabriel said, pouting when he discovered that Madam Pomfrey was right. His steak didn't really taste anything.

"Oh!" Killian suddenly exclaimed. "Talking about Blackwood, they said Quidditch was going to be postponed too, so no worries about losing to Gryffindor."

"Gladwyn made me a courtship offer," Gabriel said casually. He really wanted to talk about this to someone his own age, just to see how they would react. In the next bed, Garret's knife produced a shrieking sound when he cut into his steak. Obviously, he'd heard everything.

"Oh." Killian nodded. He seemed to be thinking it over. "What did you say?"

Gabriel laughed. "What was I supposed to say? I barely know him."

"Well, that's what a courtship is for, to get to know each other. You should consider it. The Gladwyns are an old family, very fortunate, and Emerson's father is pretty high seated in the Ministry these days. I heard he's being considered as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," Killian explained. He was still looking very pale, but having someone to talk to seemed to make him feel slightly better.

"I don't know," Gabriel said slowly.

Killian shrugged. "It's up to you, I'm just saying." He took a small bite of his potato before adding, "And Emerson's pretty fit. I guess if I was into dudes I'd give him a try."

"Okay, that's good, Killian. Thanks for your advice," Gabriel said, uncomfortably. He'd just thought that talking about guys when Garrett was right next to them wasn't the best idea in the world. It wasn't his fault that Garrett was taking his rejection so badly, but still, he didn't want to twist the knife in the wound.

They finished their dinner, which neither of them seemed to particularly enjoy. Killian didn't taste much of the food either because of the fever, which made his whole head feel like it was submerged into an aquarium, he said. Afterwards, they played a game of chess, which Gabriel won and Killian was in the process of taking his revenge in a second game when he fell asleep. While Gabriel was quietly packing the pieces and getting ready to leave his friend so he could rest, he raised his head and saw that Garrett had been staring at him. The black-haired boy turned away quickly, his head hitting the pillow with a soft noise.

Gabriel sighed before saying, very quietly, "For what it's worth, I'm really sorry, Garrett. I never meant to hurt you." He didn't get any answer so he thought it was better if he just left.



The next morning, Gabriel woke up late. Classes were cancelled for the week and he felt he should sleep in, just because he could. It was very quiet, waking up in the empty dormitory, but at the same time, it felt like something was missing. He got up slowly and took a shower. For once he didn't feel rushed. The brewing group was scheduled to start at one o'clock, so that left him plenty of time to use Professor Snape's ticket and visit the Restricted Section.

Since he'd visited the library on his first week at Hogwarts, Gabriel had returned plenty of times and he'd gotten to know the librarian a little better. Once she knew that he went there to actually work, not fool around or be noisy like some of the other students did, she started being a little nicer. He discovered she was also quite resourceful. That morning she was in a good mood. She opened the Restricted Section for him and told him to be careful of the books, to take his time, and to come to her if he needed any help.

First he researched dark curses in general, paying a particular interest to those who could be performed on a large group of people and over a long period of time, like on a family or a legacy, and those who could lay dormant and be triggered into action later in life. In a general annex he was referred to a book on blood curses, which he found a few shelves higher.

"Let his blood be on us and our children!" said the quote on the first page of the heavy, leather bound, dark-red tome. It left Gabriel thinking hard, trying to remember if he'd ever heard about anyone in his family ever having a blood curse placed upon them. He supposed that if such a thing had happened and he'd been informed of it, he would remember. It was generally the kind of thing someone remembered. But to be certain, he would have to access his family history to find out. He wondered if the possibility of a trip to Paris could be discussed with Professor Dumbledore.

According to the book, curses could be transmitted in the womb through the blood, most commonly through the mother. For example, in Christianity, the curse of the original sin was transmitted to all men that way. Blood curses were said to be so powerful that they cannot be broken, only passed on to another. This made sense since Engel had said the amulet Gabriel now wore around his neck, hidden under his shirt, would return their harm upon the evil spirits instead of cancelling it. Gabriel cringed. If this was truly a blood curse and the only way to get rid of it was to pass it to another... How was he supposed to decide who would carry this in his stead? What followed was the description of a ritual to transfer the curse, but Gabriel skipped ahead, not wanting to settle only on this option. There were bound to be more possibilities than just a blood curse.

And that is how he ended up sitting in front of a very large volume, its pages filled with images of monstrous, deformed faces. When he began to read, he was glad that Severus wasn't here with him, because the man would surely yell at him for even considering such a possibility.


Demonic possession, the book said, is the control of an individual by a supernatural being. It often includes erased memories or personalities, convulsions and fainting spells often so severe it looks as if one were dying. Other cases include hidden knowledge and foreign languages, changes in vocal intonation and facial structure, sudden appearance of injuries such as scratches, bite marks or lesions, and supernatural strength. Unlike in "channelling of spirits" or other forms of possession, the subject has no control over the possession entity and so it will persist until forced to leave the victim, most often through an exorcism.

Gabriel's breathing grew heavy as he read. He could only concentrate on three things in this text: erased memories,fainting spells often so severe it looks as if one were dying, and appearance of injuries. He knew the rest didn't apply to him so it most likely wasn't a case of possession, but he couldn't help but feel scared nonetheless. He continued reading. The book enumerated the different kind of possessions.


Demonic possession occurs when the demon takes full possession of a person's body without their knowledge or consent. The victim is therefore morally blameless. Demonic oppression is when there is no loss of consciousness or involuntary action. The victim is merely tormented by a series of misfortunes. Demonic obsession includes sudden attacks or irrationally obsessive thoughts, usually culminating in suicidal ideation and intrusive dreams. Demonic infestation generally affects houses, objects or animals. As for demonic subjugation, it occurs when a person voluntarily submits to the demon...

"Who would ever do that?" Gabriel wondered out loud.


Finally, familiarisation happens when the possessing spirit is seeking to come and live with the subject. If accepted, the spirit becomes the constant and continuously present companion of the possessed. The two persons, the familiar and the possessed, remain separate and distinct, but the possessed is aware of his familiar...

That was enough for today, Gabriel thought, as he slammed the book shut with trembling fingers. He felt nauseous all of a sudden.



The hellebore leaves had rotten remarkably well overnight and the brewing club was able to make twice as much potion as the previous day. They were all in a pretty good mood, except Gabriel, who was still thinking about what he'd read that morning. Gladwyn's attempts at various conversations had failed miserably and after a while he had merely given up.

"We're almost out of beetles eyes, Professor," informed Jacob Randall as he added some to his potion before stepping back slightly to avoid the cloud of steam that rose from the cauldron.

"Mr. Lenoir, would you go to the ingredients cupboard and bring back two jars?" Severus asked and Gabriel nodded slightly before disappearing into the next room. He closed the door behind him and leaned against a shelf of various bottles and vials, stopping for a second to gather his wits. He had to stop thinking about this demonic possession thing. He was pretty sure he was overreacting, but he couldn't help himself... Too many symptoms applied to him...

The door to the cupboard opened and Severus slipped inside. Gabriel had to press his back against the shelf to accommodate the both of them.

"You look preoccupied," Severus told him with a deep frown on his face.

"Do I?"

"You cut your roots too thick, a little more and it would have ruined your potion. What's the matter?"

"Nothing, I'm just tired I guess," Gabriel said with a shrug.

"You're a bad liar. You went to the Restricted Section and found things you didn't like," Severus said dryly. "I knew this would happen, I should have..."

"It's not that," Gabriel lied, stepping closer and pressing his face into his teacher's robes, partly for the comfort but mostly so Severus wouldn't see his scared expression. "I'm just worried about Killian, that's all. He's getting worse."

"I know you, you just made that up," Severus groaned but he wrapped his arms around Gabriel nonetheless.

"But he is getting worse."

"He'll get better soon," Severus said in irritation before changing the subject once again. "What did you read about? What's gotten into that head of yours now?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Gabriel said, his voice muffled by his teacher's robe and he thought he sounded incredibly childish but he didn't care.

"Well then you need to forget about it for now and do your work correctly. I can't always keep an eye..."

Gabriel cut him off by pressing his lips against Severus' softly. When the older man kissed him back, Gabriel grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him closer. Experimenting, he bit Severus' bottom lip slightly and was pleased to get a muffle moan as a result.

"Professor, I think Randall added the powdered fish bones too early and..."

The door to the cupboard opened suddenly and Severus and Gabriel pulled apart quickly. They turned to see Emerson Gladwyn, frozen on the doorstep. He blinked, staring from the teacher to Gabriel, seeing their swollen lips, their wrinkled clothes, and Gabriel's left hand which had made its way towards Severus' belt. Severus stood equally frozen for a few seconds then his mind seemed to pull itself back together at the very moment Gladwyn was opening his mouth to say something. The Potions Master reached into his robes and pulled out his wand swiftly, pointing it at the boy's head.

"Obliviate!" he whispered urgently, his hand trembling with fear.

The white light reached Gladwyn slowly and he stood frozen still staring at them while his memories were wiped. Then, once the spell ended, he fell back on the floor before the cupboard. Severus stepped out and closed the door behind him, leaving a trembling Gabriel inside. There was a pause before he heard anything from the other room.

"Gladwyn, you clumsy boy, get off the floor now," he heard Severus drawled in an icy voice.

"What happened?" Jacob Randall called, chuckling slightly.

"I hit him with the door," the Potions Master continued as if he hadn't just been caught kissing a student. "It was an accident. What did I hear about the powdered fish bones, Randall?" he asked before walking away.

Gabriel came out of the ingredients cupboard a minute later, clutching two jars of beetles eyes in his trembling hands. He put them down on the desks and Gladwyn smiled at him, which was proof enough that Severus' spell had worked.

They finished the potions mostly in silence, with one of them adding something from time to time. Blackwood was questioning Severus about an assignment for his class and Gabriel was glad that no one paid him any particular attention because he was still very jumpy.

"Lenoir, you stay behind," Severus said once everything was cleaned and they were gathering their things, ready to go to the Great Hall for dinner.

Once the others were out, Gabriel couldn't help but apologise profusely.

"I'm so sorry, it was all my fault. I shouldn't have kissed you, I..."

Severus raised a hand to stop him. "It was my fault. I am the responsible adult here. I should have stopped you." Gabriel was going to insist but Severus cut him off. "We cannot let something like this happen again, Gabriel. We have to stop this."

"No... no! We'll be more careful, that's all. I'll be more careful, I promise. I don't want to lose you," Gabriel pleaded, feeling a strong sense of dread wash over him.

"If I hadn't reacted fast enough, you realise what would have happened? I would have lost my job."

Gabriel reached out to grab his hand, desperately. "But then it wouldn't have been so bad because if you didn't work here, we could be together, no one would mind."

Severus seemed furious suddenly. "You are underage!"

"But I don't care..."

"It's not up to you. It doesn't matter if I have your consent, it's still illegal, it's still risky, and we've just seen how much. I could go to Azkaban for this." He shook his head and slowly freed his hand from Gabriel's grip. "We have to stop this, Gabriel. Now go!"

Gabriel felt a great lump burning in his throat. "But... we'll talk more later, won't we?"

"I said go!"

He left without a word, irritated by the fact that Severus couldn't even look him in the face when he told him to leave.



The work of the brewing group proved to be effective and, starting the very next day, more and more students were discharged from the Hospital Wing. Severus continued to brew alone, feeling that there was no need to keep asking students for help now, but mostly because he didn't want to face Gabriel. He was furious with himself both for yelling at the boy, and also for having put himself in such a situation. He barely slept at night, trying to think of a way to keep seeing the boy while being certain that no one would find out. Then he thought considering such a possibility was very naïve on his part and Severus Snape didn't like thinking of himself as a naïve man. Then, as if he wasn't miserable enough, the boy showed up in his office on Tuesday night.

"What the devil are you doing here?" Severus hissed when he saw Gabriel sitting in one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace.

"I've come for our Occlumency lesson..." Gabriel started but he didn't have time to say much more because by now Severus was beyond furious.

"Occlumency be damned! Didn't you hear what I told you yesterday? What part of "we have to stop this" don't you understand?" he yelled.

He almost took back each and every one of those words when he saw Gabriel's eyes fill with tears. "I thought... I thought that was just talk," the boy said, his voice trembling. "I thought you only said that because you were scared..."

"It wasn't just talk! And I am not scared! Now, leave!"

"But... No... I want to be with you..."

"You don't want to be with me, Gabriel! Why don't you go find someone your own age and leave me be? Why don't you go unleash your frenzied adolescent hormones on Gladywn?" Severus spat evilly. "It seems to me he is more than willing!"

"How can you say that?" Gabriel cried out as a large teardrop slid down his cheek. "I don't care about anyone else! I don't care about people my age! I only want you!"

"You are too young! You don't know what you want!" Severus roared.

"I know! I'm not like the others! Don't treat me like a child! I know what I want. I know what I feel... in my heart... for you..."

Severus felt nauseous as soon as the thought crossed his mind, but there was only one thing left to do if he wanted the boy to leave him alone. "I am a bad person!" he said coldly. "You cannot imagine the things I have done! I seduced you, I used you! I'm not a good person!"

Furiously, he pulled back his left sleeve and turned towards Gabriel, showing off the dark mark on his left forearm. Gabriel's face paled and he stepped back, his eyes meeting Severus' with fear and disbelief.

"Leave now, Gabriel!" Severus seethed, slowly unrolling his sleeve. "This is over... if there was even anything to start with."

And, as expected, the boy ran out without one last look towards his teacher. As soon as the door slammed behind him, Severus let himself fall into an armchair, and with his head in his hands, he struggled to calm the frantic beating of his heart.

From a dark corner of his mind, something resurfaced. He found himself at nineteen years old, wrapped in sheets of cold satin, facing Lucius Malfoy's flawless features. With a smirk the blonde traced the curve of his large nose with a long, aristocratic finger.

"Look at you..." the man chuckled, almost affectionately. "Who in the world could ever love you?"

Chapter Text

"Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition.  Man is the only being who knows he is alone."

-Octavio Paz



DESPITE THE FACT that they'd only known each other for a few months, if there was one person in the world who'd made Gabriel feel like there was still something worth living for, it was Severus Snape. Since Valère's death, and with everything that followed his arrival at Hogwarts, he had rarely found any reason to be happy. Sure spending time with Killian or Tonks was a good distraction, but as soon as Gabriel found himself alone, it didn't take long for sadness to take over. Severus couldn't possibly know how much his existence alone made a difference in Gabriel's life these past few weeks. And Gabriel had hardly realised it himself, until everything fell apart. If only he'd had a time turner, he thought. He could go back and keep Emerson Gladwyn from barging in the ingredients cupboard. Or better yet, he could make sure that there were enough beetle eyes on the table, so there would have been no need to even visit the cupboard in the first place. Better safe than sorry, as they say. But try as he might to imagine ways to change the past, it was impossible.

Most of all, worse than the rejection, was the discovery he'd made. Gabriel couldn't rid himself of the image of the Dark Mark marring Severus' skin. He had never seen one of those before in his life, but it wasn't hard to recognise, even for a foreign and sheltered intellectual young wizard. He knew very well what such a tattoo meant. It meant that Severus had once been a servant of the dark wizard who'd terrorised Britain and its surrounding countries for years. It meant that Severus had been an associate of the man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, wizards and Muggles alike, adults and children alike... the man who was probably responsible for his own parents' deaths.

There had been reports and testimonies, after the disappearance of the dark wizard, of what the Death Eaters had done. Horrible tales had surfaced; tales of torture and rape in dark dungeons and rumours of skilled followers creating new spells of unimaginable cruelty and power. Gabriel remembered reading about one Death Eater who'd been interrogated under Veritaserum. The man had talked about the torture and murder of a young Muggle girl who was held captive for three days and given to the followers to use as they pleased. And there was also this other Death Eater who'd managed to kill thirteen Muggles at once before being caught and sent to Azkaban prison.

How could he ever look at Severus the same way now when there was a possibility that the man could have taken part in such inhuman acts? And yet, even with his sour demeanour and the cruel words he could come up with, it just didn't seem to Gabriel like he was capable of such evil. But we never really know people, do we?

The silence in the dormitory was almost frightening, even with the bright sunshine coming in through the artificial window. All this light seemed so out of place, Gabriel thought, turning his back to the wall. Why couldn't it be night? Why couldn't it be dark so he could pretend to be lost somewhere in the nothingness, in a quiet place between life and death? It must have been around two in the afternoon, but Gabriel wasn't sure. He hadn't slept at all that night, or if he did he couldn't recall. And when morning came it didn't feel necessary to leave his bed. There were no classes to attend, no friends to hang out with and no Severus to see. Life, it seemed, had lost its meaning. Many times he'd thought of going back and trying to reason with Severus, but then he would remember the Dark Mark and this small bit of determination would turn back into sadness. He laughed bitterly. If this was all Severus could think of to get rid of him, it was an ingenious plan. He was scared shitless of having to face the man again. Would they let him drop Potions class?

He wondered if Professor Dumbledore was aware that one of his employees had been a Death Eater. Surely, because despite his sometimes naïve and childish behaviour, the Headmaster did not look like a man you could easily fool. But if not, the Potions Master had taken a great risk in revealing this to him. What if Gabriel decided to report him, or to tell everyone in school about it? But of course Severus probably knew that Gabriel would do no such thing. Because even confronted with a strong desire for revenge, he was too much of a coward to do something that might ruin someone else's life. What a poor excuse for a Slytherin he was, Gabriel thought grimly.

For once he wished there was someone he could talk to about this, someone he could trust. He watched quietly as the sunlight danced on the drapes and cover of Killian's empty bed. Maybe Killian would listen? An unwisely talkative as his friend was, he had been known to give good advice in the past and Gabriel was almost certain he could trust him to keep quiet about both his failed relationship with Severus and the Potion Master's affiliations.

He decided he couldn't keep this to himself any longer. If he didn't talk to someone about it, something bad would happen. He just knew it. He already felt the urge to do something stupid, like climb on top of the Astronomy tower and just walk off the edge. Or leave the security of Hogwarts, head into the Forbidden Forest and let himself be devoured by wild beasts.

Slowly, he rolled over and sat on the edge of his bed. Lazily brushing the hair away from his forehead, he noticed he was still wearing the clothes he wore yesterday. He stood, removing his shirt as he made his way over to the washroom.

The mirror over the sink was broken. For a minute Gabriel forgot he was the one to break it the night before. Then he couldn't help but feel shameful at the sight of the broken shards all over the floor. He fixed it with a quick spell but there were still a few cracks visible. He supposed he was just too tired to put enough determination in his spells. And truthfully, he was too tired to care. His own face stared at him, slightly deformed, making him look even more miserable. On his chest the claw marks from the doppelganger had disappeared weeks ago, but somehow he could still feel them there. His skin felt more sensitive where the marks had been, like something was supposed to be there but was invisible. The imaginary scars burned sometimes, but only for a few seconds, so briefly that Gabriel was almost certain he was only imagining the pain. They were not responsible for the pain he felt now though; that one was coming from somewhere inside his chest.

He stripped completely and stepped into the shower, turning the water as hot as he could endure, because his insides were freezing. He rested his forehead on the tiled wall, letting the scorching water run down the length of his back for a long time, trying not to imagine Severus' hands on him. It seemed almost pitiful that they hadn't even had time to go further than a few kisses. They hadn't been given much of a chance. Gabriel often felt like fate had something against him. Or maybe it just didn't really care. "The universe seems neither benign nor hostile," the astronomer Carl Sagan wrote, "merely indifferent." And it was true. The world was too large to care about Gabriel Lenoir's love for Severus Snape and make it reciprocated. He let a few tears fall, but they mixed with the water running from his head to his face and he didn't even feel them.

He avoided his distorted reflection in the cracked mirror as he left the room and dressed in the first clothes he found, a simple black, long-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans. Killian often made fun of him because of how long he took choosing his clothes for the day, but now Gabriel couldn't care less what he looked like. He dried his hair quickly, slipped his shoes on, carelessly tucked his wand into his back pocket and he left the Slytherin dungeons.

He hadn't eaten anything that day, but he didn't feel hungry at all. He knew he still should have gone to the kitchens to get something to eat, but he made his way directly towards the Hospital Wing instead. The door was still locked because of the epidemic. He rang the bell and waited patiently for Madam Pomfrey to come and let him inside. She showed up a minute later, looking slightly less tired than the last time he'd seen her.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Lenoir, but Mr. Burke is in no state to receive visitors today," she said a little dryly.

"I really want to talk to him, Madam. Is there any way you could make an exception?" Gabriel asked and to his surprise he was almost ready to beg her.

"I mean what I say. I'm afraid his fever is getting worse," Madam Pomfrey admitted with a noticeable amount of worry in her voice. "His parents are with him now. If he is not better by tomorrow, he will have to be transferred to St. Mungo's Hospital." Gabriel blinked at her in shock and her face softened suddenly. "I'm sorry, Mr. Lenoir, I can't let you in. Are you sure you are well, child? You should let me test you again. You do look dreadfully..."

"I'm fine, there's no need," Gabriel said shortly. "Would you please tell him I stopped by, at least?"

"Yes, of course."

She might have wanted to say something else but Gabriel didn't give her time to do so. He turned and walked away, feeling a large lump forming in his throat.

Not knowing what to do or where to go, Gabriel went outside. There were a few students out on the grounds, enjoying another day of cancelled classes, and he could see some people hanging around the Quidditch pitch, but there wasn't anyone he felt like talking to. His feet carried him up to the owlery where he found Leo, a short-eared owl that Valère had offered him when he was admitted into Beauxbâtons. The bird flew towards him as soon as he entered and Gabriel smiled as it landed gracefully on his outstretched arm. He caressed the brown and white feathers gently.

"I'm sorry but I don't have anything for you to deliver," Gabriel spoke softly in French when yellow eyes looked at him expectantly. There was a moment of silence and Leo, almost as if he understood that his master was sad, nudged his head against Gabriel's cheek softly. "If you're bored you can go wherever you want, you know," he added. He could imagine how the owl felt, stuck with strangers and with no one to talk to. "I wish I was an owl sometimes," he whispered secretly. "I could fly home and..." he interrupted himself. Leo was staring at him intently, as if he was trying to understand his words. "I guess we're on our own now, aren't we?"

He stayed in the owlery for a while, feeling slightly guilty for not giving Leo more work, but he had no one to write to. Then he left and walked down to the lake, sitting down on a small wooden bench near the water. Even with the sun shining, it was still cold and Gabriel shivered, aware that he'd neglected to put his coat on. But it didn't matter. He never got sick anyway.

"Gabriel?" He turned around at the voice and saw Evelyn Bagnold approach him. "I saw you from over there in the courtyard, but I wasn't sure it was you. Can I sit?"

Gabriel nodded and moved slightly to the left so she could sit next to him. She looked pale and her hair was down, instead of pulled up in a fancy twist like it always was. The wind kept blowing the strands into her face, but she made no move to brush them away. She was wearing a thick, charcoal grey cardigan that she held wrapped tightly around her body. She smiled weakly when she saw him staring.

"How are you?" he asked softly.

"Much better, thank you. Madam Pomfrey let me out yesterday."

"Really?" Gabriel was surprised. Even though Evelyn was walking around, she didn't look completely healed and the nurse was well-known for always keeping her patients in longer than necessary.

"I'm not contagious anymore and she needed the bed," Evelyn explained. "But it's okay. I like being able to come outside," she said with a smile but she still looked sad. "My mother was supposed to visit me but she couldn't come... She's very busy, though. I understand."

Gabriel took her hand in his and squeezed softly. He knew she'd stopped talking because her voice was about to break. "I was young when my parents died, but I remember what it's like," he said and Evelyn sniffed and looked away. "I haven't had them for long but I've had parents like that, too. They always have something, important matters to attend to, meetings, openings, banquets. And they're sorry, of course and we say it's okay and even though they know that it's not, they ignore it because it's easier than knowing they're hurting us."

Evelyn nodded and raised her free hand to wipe the tears from her face. "I really wanted her to come. I was so scared. I thought I was dying and I was scared to be alone when it happened. But of course, it was just the fever. And it wasn't even that bad, not like Killian." She fell silent for a moment. "He might be sent to St. Mungo's, you know?" she whispered. "The potions don't seem to work on him. They can't explain it."

Gabriel nodded. It happened sometimes. Everyone was different and potions worked differently for everyone. There were many possibilities why Killian could be immune to the potions, but Gabriel didn't feel like exploring them all.

"Have you been sick?" she asked then, looking him over intently. "You look... Well, I know I'm not one to talk, but you look exhausted."

Gabriel sighed as he stared straight ahead towards the lake. "Things are just not... going very well for me right now. I can't really talk about it though, it's..." She was looking at him expectantly. "It's not that I don't like you, Evelyn, but it's very personal."

"I understand," the girl said and she rested her head on his shoulder softly.

They were silent for a long time, just holding hands and watching the sunlight glitter on the lake.

"You should talk to someone," Evelyn said a little while later. "It doesn't have to be me, but you should tell someone. It's not good to keep things inside." Gabriel just nodded but said nothing. "Have you talked to Professor Snape? You seem quite close to him..."

"I don't want to talk to him," Gabriel snapped and for an instant he was certain that Evelyn now understood everything. She was very bright after all. But if she'd just discovered his secret, she didn't let it show.

"Then why not talk to Professor Dumbledore? He's your guardian after all. As strange a man as he is, he's clever and powerful. I'm sure he can help you with whatever is wrong."

"I don't know if he would understand."

"He's lived longer than anyone I know," Evelyn said thoughtfully. "I'm sure he's seen all sorts of things and had to deal with many problems before. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith," she finished with a soft smile. She seemed quite proud of herself for her clever words and Gabriel couldn't help but chuckle slightly.

He was silent for a moment as he considered her words. It was dangerous to talk about this to Dumbledore the Headmaster, but maybe if he talked to Dumbledore the adoptive father, without naming anyone and without letting him know he was talking about Professor Snape, then he might tell him what to do.

"Do you know where his office is?" Gabriel asked finally.

"Of course, I'm a Prefect, remember?" she said proudly. "I know where it is, but you'll have to find the password by yourself. It keeps changing. It's usually some kind of sweets though."

He followed her directions, but once he stood in front of the gargoyle that was guarding the entrance to the headmaster's office, he froze. What in the world did he think he was doing? Going to the Headmaster to confide in him that he felt terrible because he'd been dumped by his boyfriend, who not only happened to be teaching at this school but was also thirteen years older than him? Gabriel was the worst liar in the world. There was no way he could get away with this, even if he changed the name or some other stupid trick like that. Even with all the Occlumency he'd been practicing. Albus Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard alive. He would see right through him in a second. Gabriel turned around and headed back to his dormitory. There, he lied on his bed and stared at the canopy of his four-poster, watching the light retreat from the room as the sun went down in the enchanted window.



Severus wasn't faring much better. He had always considered himself a strong, independent man, cold and callous, but since he'd scared the Lenoir heir away from him, his past seemed to have come back to haunt him. Not that it had really ever left him alone in the first place, but now it taunted him, not only at night in his dreams, but also in broad daylight.

He'd been brewing various potions for the Hospital Wing – not only to replenish its stocks after the epidemic, but mostly to get his mind off Gabriel Lenoir's terrified face and Lucius Malfoy's bittersweet words. They still rang through his head now and then, making him seethe with rage. He knew that he was remembering those now because he had pushed away the only person who had shown him any interest in years. He was such a damaged man that he couldn't even appreciate anything good when it came his way. He was so used to being hurt and unhappy that he instinctively turned every good thing into something ugly, miserable, and hurtful.

The boy must be devastated. He knew that for a fact. Gabriel had just recently lost everything and he'd just started being happy again. But of course, Severus had to go and make things worse by not only rejecting him, but telling lies about using him. How could anyone ever use him, innocent and beautiful as he was? Severus felt dirty for what he'd done to him. He was convinced that his years as a Death Eater had rotten him to the core and now he poisoned everything he touched. What had he been thinking, showing his Dark Mark to the boy that way? For weeks he had been trying to find the right way to tell Gabriel about his past and he had to ruin everything by shoving it in his face in such a crude fashion

Severus had joined the Death Eaters almost as soon as he'd graduated from Hogwarts, along with many other Slytherins. Like some of them, he had also been sweet-talked into the ranks of the Dark Lord by Lucius Malfoy, who'd promised him power beyond anything imaginable and, most of all, revenge on all those who had ever treated him badly, humiliated him, ignored him. And since Severus' list of such people was quite long, he was an easy target.

He was completely hypnotised by Lucius Malfoy's cold, ethereal beauty, and more so impressed with the fact that the man seemed interested in him. Truth was, Lucius was betrothed to a beautiful pure-blood witch and his sole goal was to satiate his taste in other men before he married. Of course, even after the wedding, he kept straying into other men's beds, but he was simply more discreet about it, visiting dark and secretive brothels where patrons were too afraid of him to speak of what they'd witnessed there. But back then, Lucius wasn't Head of the Malfoy family yet and his father was not a man you could easily fool. Lucius was convinced that as soon as he tied the knot, he would be trapped and scrutinised and forced to stay with the same person until the end of his life – a woman, worst of all. He kept coming back to Severus, at the half-blood's greatest surprise. Severus had once asked him why, and to this day he still regretted it. "Because compared to you, having to fuck a woman for the rest of my life doesn't seem so bad after all," the blonde had said jokingly, but the smirk on his face told Severus that he might have been serious.

But Severus was not as naïve as he was back then and knew to keep his distance. And luckily, as it turned out, Lucius respected his wife, Narcissa, and Severus knew he would never do anything to hurt her. She knew about his past and probably suspected that he would sometimes seek pleasure from men, but she didn't say anything, as long as he was discreet about his activities. They had a reputation to uphold and such a scandal would not only ruin their image but also affect their son. Luckily, it seemed to Severus that Lucius had changed. He was still an insufferable pure-blood bastard, but at least now he seemed to have gained some moral notions from his wife. Uncomfortably enough, the man seemed to think they were closer than they actually were and, ironically, he'd named Severus his son's godfather. The Potions Master wasn't very happy with this title, especially because the boy was turning out to be quite a spoiled brat. But at least he had a good head on his shoulders, so maybe not everything was lost.

Severus shook his head, trying desperately to get rid of any thoughts having to do with Lucius Malfoy. A few weeks had managed to pass since he'd even been reminded of all the painful things associated with his past, but now that Gabriel was no longer there to keep his mind off those unwanted memories, there was no escape. Severus wondered if maybe he was being punished for pushing the boy away by remembering those dark times. Never before Gabriel had he ever thought he might be able to lead a normal life, an existence as peaceful as it was possible for him to get. And now he'd gone and ruined it all.

He remembered Lily Evans. He had ruined everything with her too, had pushed her away the same way he did with Gabriel. He hadn't shown her any marks, because he hadn't yet joined the dark side then, but with crude words, he had forever lost her. She refused to forgive him afterwards and he was too proud to fight for her. Perhaps she was the reason why he had never loved another until now. Even after they'd stopped talking, she humiliated him further by falling in love and marrying the man he despised the most, the man who had made his life at Hogwarts just as hellish as his life at home had been. He could remember the day Lily had married that bastard James Potter. Severus didn't go to the ceremony, of course. He wasn't even invited, not that he'd expected to be. But he did get very drunk and ended up in a stranger's bed.

After Lily, he had never dared thought that he could ever feel anything for anyone ever again in his life. But then this boy came along, propelled into his world by the death of an old man and the generosity of another. Gabriel Lenoir was breathtaking in every way and Severus had been even more surprised by his attentions than he had been by Lucius'. For a while he had imagined a future for them, a relationship spanning over the course of many years. They could have sold his parents' old house and bough a nice cottage, maybe somewhere in Ireland, next to the sea. But now this would never be. Once again, Severus had destroyed everything.



Gabriel stumbled slightly as he stepped into the washroom. His throat was as dry as if he'd been running for hours, so he approached the sink, turned on the water and cupped his hands underneath the faucet, bending his head to drink the cold liquid.

"You're right, you know," someone said suddenly and he jumped, looking around frantically.

The room was empty. Even though it was dark, the torches on the wall were giving enough light so that no one would be able to hide in the corners. And the voice had sounded too close to be coming from very far away. He'd heard it quite clearly, even with the running water. He came to the conclusion that he'd probably just imagined it. Besides, everyone was still in the Hospital Wing, who else could be there? He turned back to the water and this time splashed it on his face thoroughly.

"Don't ignore me," the voice snapped and it seemed strangely familiar to his ears.

Gabriel turned again but still he saw no one. "Who's there?" he asked, his voice shaking slightly. "Where are you?"

When the voice spoke again, it was in a secretive whisper, but there was a certain malice to the words. "Right behind you... just turn around... here we are... Hello."

Gabriel stood frozen, staring at his own reflection in the cracked mirror. The face before him didn't show any of the fear he knew should have been there. Instead there was a wicked grin.

"So you've figured everything out, haven't you?" his reflection said. "You're clever, much too clever for your own good." The boy in the mirror winked at him.

It felt weird to hear himself talk and Gabriel was almost too frightened to speak. "Who are you?" he asked weakly.

"You know what I am. I've been inside you for a very long time. In fact, I've been here for so long that I've become a part of you. You think you have me under control with that trinket you're wearing around your neck, but I'm the one in control here. Never forget that."

The eyes of the Gabriel reflected in the mirror grew dark and then his mouth fell open and he started retching grotesquely, like he'd seen it happen with the blonde woman whose body the doppelganger used.

Gabriel woke suddenly, sitting up in bed and trying desperately to catch his breath. It had all been a dream, of course he realised that now. But Gabriel, unlike anyone else would, wasn't relieved by such a fact.

With panic in his heart, Gabriel jumped out of bed and, grabbing his wand, stormed out of the dormitory. He didn't know what time it was but it must have been very late because the hallways were quite dark. As he rushed towards the headmaster's office, he didn't even think about the fact that he could get caught by Filch or that he was risking a detention. When he finally stopped in front of the gargoyle, he was out of breath and in no mood to enumerate sweets.

"I need to see Professor Dumbledore," he said in a voice that was almost pleading, but the gargoyle didn't budge. "It's urgent, please..."

Very slowly, as if hesitating, the gargoyle tilted its head and finally it opened its mouth and rasped out, "Speak your name and the Headmaster will decide if you shall be granted entrance."

"It's Gabriel, Gabriel Lenoir."

"Please come upstairs," the gargoyle said as soon as Gabriel had spoken.

The statue slipped aside, giving Gabriel access to a narrow staircase leading up to a wooden door, which opened even before Gabriel reached it. Professor Dumbledore stood on the doorstep, wrapped in a dressing gown of gold satin, and wearing a matching sleep bonnet. There must have been a look of terrible helplessness on Gabriel's face because as soon as he set eyes on him, his adoptive father rushed him inside the office.

"Gabriel, my boy, what happened?" the old man asked kindly but there was worry in his voice.

"It's inside me!" the Slytherin cried helplessly. "You have to get it out! You have to help me!"

Dumbledore grabbed him by the shoulders and looked straight into his eyes. "Calm down, Gabriel. Nothing will hurt you here. Breathe," he said with a firm but gentle voice.

Gabriel tried to, but it felt as though his throat was blocked and he couldn't get any air in his lungs. His eyes widened in panic when he realised he was choking. Dumbledore hurriedly led him to a large armchair near the polished oak desk and pushed on his shoulders, forcing him to sit down.

"Gabriel, listen to me. You need to calm down. You're having a panic attack. Listen to me and try to relax and take deep breaths." The Headmaster crouched in front of him, taking his hands in his own as he kept telling him to breathe. After a little while, when it was obvious that it wasn't working and Gabriel was starting to hyperventilate, the old man took out his wand and sent him a soothing spell, which relaxed his muscles completely and finally allowed him to breathe, but there was a strong burning sensation in his throat.

"Now," Dumbledore said with a gentle smile. "Tell me what happened." He sat in the armchair next to the one Gabriel was occupying.

"I'm being possessed by a demon," Gabriel finally managed, his voice hoarse.

The headmaster merely raised an eyebrow at the words. There was a moment of silence during which Gabriel looked down, fearing that the man might ridicule him for believing such a thing. "And may I ask what makes you think so?" he asked softly, and surprisingly, there wasn't even the shadow of a smile on his face.

"I dreamt about it," he said shakily. "I saw a reflection of myself in the mirror and I saw it. The eyes were dark and lifeless. It's a demon, inside me. He told me so..."

The headmaster held up a hand to interrupt him. The expression on his face was all seriousness. "May I take a look?" the old man asked carefully.

Gabriel frowned but then he understood what the headmaster meant and he finally nodded fearfully. Dumbledore leaned towards him, sitting on the edge of his seat. "Let your defences fall. I only need to graze the surface. I promise I mean you no harm," he said softly.

Gabriel took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes, waiting for the incantation. It never came. He should have known that a wizard as powerful as Albus Dumbledore wouldn't need verbal magic to penetrate anyone's mind. The man's invasion felt much different than Professor Snape. He saw flashes of light but couldn't recognise anything significant. He had let down the defences he'd built with Severus' help, but not completely. He kept a light barrier to hide some things from the Headmaster's knowledge. Severus had thought him to block selected memories and portions of his mind. It had been hard but proved useful for moments such as these. But even without those, he wasn't sure Dumbledore would discover anything. The man seemed, as he had said earlier, only to be grazing the surface of his thoughts, and Gabriel understood that he was searching for something in particular. After a minute, the old wizard pulled out gently and his pale blue eyes met Gabriel's in a soft stare.

"I saw nothing," he told the young man reassuringly, patting his cheek as if to erase the scared look from his face.

"Nothing? But it can't be... I saw it. It talked to me..." Gabriel said disbelievingly.

"If there had been anything in there that is not supposed to be, I would have seen it," he explained kindly. "Trust me, Gabriel. There's nothing in there but you. It seemed to me like you simply had a bad dream."

Gabriel was shocked at this revelation. He hadn't had a real dream in so long that it seemed unreal, but he believed the man. Suddenly he hung his head in shame. "I am so sorry for waking you, sir. This was so foolish of me..."

"Never apologise for being scared, Gabriel, my dear boy. It's quite alright." Dumbledore smiled kindly. Standing up, he took out a silver kettle that he heated with a wave of his hand and conjured two small cups. "I just remembered that we haven't spoken in a while and since you're here, we should have tea. Would you like some crumpets, maybe?"

Gabriel could only nod mutely as Dumbledore rummaged around his desk for various snacks, the pointy tip of his long, golden sleep bonnet bouncing around as he moved. When he finally sat down in his large chair, pushing a cup of steaming tea towards the young man, his face held an expression of sadness and guilt.

"I must apologise to you, Gabriel. Once again I've been neglecting my duties as your guardian. You see, some very disturbing news has reached me recently. Rumours of a potential threat for our world, which I'd suspected for a time, have been confirmed. But I do not want to trouble you with such dark things. What I simply meant to say is that they have been keeping me busy when I should have been keeping an eye on you."

"Is it about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?" Gabriel asked curiously and he saw Dumbledore grin.

"You never cease to surprise me with your wits, my boy," the old man said, taking a sip from his cup. "But please do not hesitate to call him Voldemort."

"People believe that he's not really gone. I've heard some students in Slytherin say that one day he will return," Gabriel explained, uneasy at the headmaster's use of the dark wizard's name.

"I believe so too," Dumbledore admitted. "I've always believed so. But unfortunately, some people prefer to think he is but a thing of the past, mostly because they are too comfortable in their illusions and refuse to see what's right in front of them." Dumbledore grimaced slightly before taking a sip from his cup. He raised his eyes to look at Gabriel, who was staring at his tea intently, wondering whether he should ask him about Snape or not. "What is it, Gabriel? I can feel the words fighting to get out of your mind."

Gabriel raised his eyes slowly. "Did you know that Professor Snape was a Death Eater?" he asked, perhaps a little bit too quickly to sound casual.

He wasn't very surprised when Dumbledore nodded. "I am aware of his past, yes," he said lightly before frowning at Gabriel. "He told you about that?"

"I... I saw the Dark Mark," he explained uncomfortably.

Dumbledore nodded solemnly. "I can assure you that Professor Snape is competent and has proven his loyalty to our side. He returned to us before Voldemort disappeared. Was this troubling you?"

"Not particularly," Gabriel lied, "but I was just curious."

"Good. I would not want you to feel intimidated by him because of this. Severus is a good man. And I believe he has been teaching you well. I've just had the pleasure to witness the results of his Occlumency lessons," Dumbledore said, smiling at him. "Even while letting me into your mind, you stayed on your guards – a fine precaution, I admit. I am certain that Valère would be very proud of you, as I am."

"Thank you, sir," Gabriel mumbled.

"From what I glimpsed, your thoughts are now very well-organised. You received some fine advice from your teacher, I assume, and you're using it well. You have to believe me when I say there's no way anyone but you has been in there. Severus could have told you the same." Dumbledore slowly put his tea cup down on the desk. "But where, may I ask, did you get the idea that there was some entity possessing you? Is it what you think that doppelganger is?"

Gabriel told the Headmaster about Alfwin Engel and the Seal of Solomon and everything he'd read in the Restricted Section on the blood curses and the different forms of demonic possession.

"I can understand that in your desperate quest for knowledge you would feel that this applied to you," Dumbledore said gently. "Sometimes our thirst for answers can lead us down treacherous roads. I have met Mr. Engel on a few occasions and I believe that he does have a certain talent for knowing things he should have no knowledge about. However, even such people can be wrong. And most of them have been so ridiculed for how they present themselves that they now feel the need to dramatise their knowledge in the simple hope that the common folk will one day pay attention."

"I wanted to ask you, sir. Would it be possible for me to go to Paris sometime? I would like to look into my family archives at the manor... to try to find out if any curses might have been placed on my ancestors..."

Professor Dumbledore considered this for a little while and finally nodded. "Yes, it would be possible. If it will make you feel better to look into it, I will allow you to go. I'm sure that Professor Snape would be willing to accompany you, but I think I will be selfish and volunteer if you don't mind? I would very much like to visit the Lenoir manor and library myself. And you and I are overdue for some bonding time, don't you think?" he finished with a bright smile.

Gabriel smiled back and nodded politely before taking a sip of the sweet tea Dumbledore had served. When he returned to bed a short while later, he felt very calm and relieved. Just before he fell asleep it occurred to him that Dumbledore probably added something to his tea to make him relax. But truthfully, he didn't really mind.



In the morning Gabriel took breakfast in the Great Hall with Evelyn. She looked healthier already, but hadn't yet made the effort to do her hair and makeup. When she apologised about it, Gabriel smiled and said he thought she looked better that way. He'd never noticed she had freckles before. It made her blush slightly, but they ate comfortably in silence.

"I took your advice and talked to Professor Dumbledore," he told her.

"I'm glad for you. Did he give you some good advice?" she asked politely, turning to him.

"Yes, and we made a few plans. We'll be going to Paris during Christmas break," he said, smiling. "I'll be visiting my old house and get a few things I left behind. Professor Dumbledore also wants to go shopping, so I expect it will be quite an adventure."

Evelyn laughed heartily. "I wish I could see that. Please tell me about it when you return."

He was about to answer when he saw Garrett Ravensdale approach them. Gabriel had overheard from his sister, Ivy, that the black-haired boy had been released from the Hospital Wing that very morning, but he hadn't seen him yet.

"Gabriel?" he asked in a very quiet voice. "Can I talk to you in private? If you're done eating, that is..."

"I'm done, it's okay," Gabriel insisted. He could see clearly from the look on Garrett's face that he wanted to apologise. Evelyn nodded to let them know she would be fine on her own and Gabriel followed Garrett out of the Great Hall.

"Do you want to go outside?" Garrett asked when they reached the entrance hall.

"Sure," the Lenoir heir said, nodding.

They left through the front doors and walked onto the grounds. It was cold but they both wore their school robes over their clothes so it wasn't so bad. They walked along the stone wall, however, where they were protected from the wind.

"I want to apologise to you," Garrett finally said as they sat down on the steps leading the pair of small wooden doors from a side entrance. "I've been terribly childish. The reason I haven't been talking to you wasn't because I was mad at you. I've just been so ashamed," he said, looking at his feet.

"You don't have to be ashamed," Gabriel replied. He thought this conversation was a good start for the day. He had been feeling guilty for weeks. He was glad at least something was turning out well. "I shouldn't have been so tactless about it. It's just... the night before, I..."

Garrett interrupted him. "You don't have to explain yourself to me. I don't have to know."

"No," Gabriel said, looking at him in the eyes. "I want you to know. You deserve an explanation. I'm not usually that rude to people. It's not the way I was raised. I had an argument with someone the night before and I get... I get those really bad nightmares..." he paused, searching for a way to explain this without sounding completely insane.

"I understand," Garrett said with a soft smile. "My older sister, Tamlyn, she gets them all the time. It started when she was younger and my parents always said they would go away, but they never did. She used to wake up screaming all the time."

Gabriel nodded. "Do you have many siblings?" he asked then because he was starting to be uncomfortable with the subject.

"There's four of us. Tamlyn graduated from Hogwarts last year, and you already know Ivy. Then there's my brother Dominic, he's five years older. He got married last summer to a really nice girl who was in school with him."

"That's good for him," Gabriel said politely.

"Yeah, I was happy for him. He really loves her. Besides, it means I don't have to... continue the bloodline or anything. I can do whatever I want... be with whoever I want." He paused and looked at Gabriel. "I'm not the kind of person who goes crazy over someone, you know. I'm really not. But you... you're different. And I can feel it, how good I could be at all this if you wanted me."

Gabriel shifted uncomfortably. "I can't force myself to love you, Garrett," he said, looking the other boy in the eyes.

"Is there someone else?" Garrett asked suddenly, but his voice wasn't rude or angry, just curious. "I mean... the person you had an argument with..."

"There was... someone," Gabriel said, feeling his throat tighten.

"What happened?"

"He wasn't who I thought he was, and he didn't want to explain. I don't know... I think I would have understood. I think he must have had reasons, but... he said we can't be together. He said he was only using me, but I think he just said that so it would be over quickly. He was trying to hurt me so I would leave him alone."

"He's insane," Garrett said, looking at Gabriel in shock.

"I just don't understand," Gabriel sighed, shaking his head.

"There's nothing to understand, Gabriel. People are like that. Maybe because you have to desire to hurt anyone, you just don't think that anyone would want to hurt you."

Gabriel smiled slightly. "You make me sound very naïve."

"I didn't mean to..." Garrett replied quickly in embarrassment.

"No, it's okay." Gabriel shook his head. "I am naïve. I've been so used to Valère handling everything for me and... now that he's gone I... I feel very lonely. I wish I could talk to him."

"Why don't you?" Garrett suggested carefully. "It's not because he's gone that you can't still talk to him. You should write him a letter. I'm sure it would make you feel better."

Gabriel was silent for a moment. "I've never considered that before." He turned towards Garrett and smiled. "I'm really glad we talked."

"It's Killian who told me I should talk to you. He said you would understand." Garrett turned to him, a sad look on his face. "He will be transferred to St. Mungo's this morning," he announced softly.

Gabriel looked straight ahead at the path leading down towards the lakeside. There were a few students heading down to the large trees near the water. "Hey, don't worry," Garrett added, putting a hand on his shoulder. "They'll take care of him there. He will get better in no time."

Gabriel nodded and smiled weakly. He wouldn't dare say so, but he had a bad feeling about all this.



Dear Valère,

I know that writing you is foolish because there is no way you will ever be able to read this where you are, but I am doing it for myself. I wish I could talk to you. I have tried countless times to reach out to you in dreams, but as you know, I've never been able to contact anyone willingly. There are so many things I want to ask you, so many things I want to tell you about.

After your death I was taken in by your old friend Albus Dumbledore. It was unexpected but the best thing that could have happened to me. He saved me from being placed in many other families that were fighting to get guardianship of me. I was so scared, Valère. Why didn't you make plans for me in case something happened to you? You've always been one to plan every single possibility, why didn't you do so this time? Was I worth so little to you? I'm sorry. I apologise for thinking badly of you. You've always been more of a father to me than my own, but the situation I found myself into when you died left me bitter. If it hadn't been for Dumbledore, I dare not think what would have happened to me.

I left France to enrol in Hogwarts School, which is quite different from Beauxbâtons. I have made friends here. I know you would be happy about that. I thought I had also found something more, but I was mistaken. You see, there is a teacher here, Professor Severus Snape, my Head of House and Potions Master, with whom I got along very well. You know how much I love Potions, and he shares this passion. But what was first a shared interest turned into something more. For the first time in my life, I fell in love, Valère. And I thought he loved me too, but I was mistaken. He turned out to be much different than I thought. He pushed me away and even thought I feel a strong urge to fight to get him back, I am such a coward I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I have been bullied and ridiculed many times, but it doesn't compare to how I feel now. I wish you were here more than ever.

I've always thought you were truthful to me, but I find myself doubting this now. I know there is something inside my mind that shouldn't be there. I have seen it and I know it hides something important. I can only conclude that you knew about that because you have always been so protective of me. You know how I am. You know I always dig further, as deep as I need to find the truth. You would have known that one day I would find out. But I can't be mad at you for not being here to tell me about it, because even I thought you would live for hundreds of years. I realise now that I took you for granted. I just wish you could have left me a hint, something to start with. I will be going back to France soon, for a short while, and I will continue my research. There must be something in the manor for me. I know you. You have never been one to leave me without answers before. I know I can count on you.

You have been there for me in the worst of times. I am forever grateful for this. Now I understand that I have to find my own way and make this life my own. Even though the thought of being left without you is painful, I will go on and try to become the best man I could be. We will meet again one day. Until then I will do my best to make you proud.

With all my love,


There was so much more he wanted to say but every time he thought he'd found the words to say it, they flew away from him. It was like trying to catch smoke. If only he'd managed to say everything, the letter would be as thick as his Ancient Runes class book. But he thought he'd keep the letter simple. It wasn't like Valère would ever read it anyway. Once it was done, he didn't feel the need to read it again. He folded it neatly, took out his wand, and set it on fire. Quietly, in the darkness of the dormitory, he watched the letter burn.

Chapter Text

"Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."

-James Baldwin



TIME SEEMED TO pass incredibly slowly without Severus, and Gabriel was grateful when classes resumed once the epidemic was over. Soon all he ever seemed to occupy himself with was homework. He spent most of his free time doing research or writing essays, preparing for the O.W.L.s exams he would have to take at the end of the school year. He had grown closer to Evelyn after their conversation by the lake, and they had taken the habit of studying together, spending long hours in the library, comparing notes, reviewing each other's work and asking tricky questions to test their knowledge. Sometimes other Slytherins joined them and they had once spent an entire afternoon designing a very elaborate Arithmancy cheat sheet with two Ravenclaw students. It was so clear and helpful that the next day, every fifth year taking the class wanted a copy. As they distributed the rolls of parchment, Evelyn complained that if selling goods on school property wasn't against the rules, they could have made a small fortune.

All this hard work managed to distract Gabriel most of the time. Potions class, however, tended to complicate things slightly. Sometimes Gabriel's neck ended up cramping from keeping from staring at his desk for too long. He tried to avoid looking up as much as he could, less he inadvertently meet Severus' gaze. Luckily Tonks was there to help keep his mind off the teacher. She had been delighted to learn that the famous writer Augustin Lenoir was none other than Gabriel's own uncle. Since this discovery, all they ever talked about while brewing their potions was his books.

Gabriel had to admit that now that he wasn't spending so much time in Professor Snape's office, he had at least made some close friends. He did hang around with them before, but it wasn't the same. Shamefully, he realised that they had only been a distraction, something to occupy his day with in between the time he spent with Severus. Now those students were so much more. If they hadn't been there after Severus rejected him, Gabriel knew that things would have been ugly.

His greatest surprise, however, was how close he'd gotten to Garrett. At first he was reticent to spent time with his roommate because he felt awkward and guilty for not returning his affections, but the more he got to know him, the more Gabriel started to enjoy his company. Garrett was no replacement for Killian though, because they were so different. Severus had been right to say that Gabriel would get along better with Garrett. Whereas Killian was loud and had what Gabriel now considered as the biggest gob in the universe, Garrett was more quiet but terribly brilliant. The other boy even invited Gabriel to his home for a few days over Christmas break. Gabriel told him he already had plans with Professor Dumbledore, but promised he would try to stop by. It was impolite to refuse such a formal invitation.

He had written to Killian a few times but stopped when he didn't receive an answer. He had been sending the letters directly to St. Mungo's and supposed they just never reached him. A week after he wrote the last one, however, a reply arrived by owl. It was written by Killian's mother. She apologised for the delay and told him that unfortunately, Killian was too sick to respond himself. She assured Gabriel that she had read each letter to him out loud and even if she couldn't be sure he really understood, she was certain he appreciated the thought. She thanked him for caring about her son and asked that he concentrate on his studies. In a post-scriptum at the very end, she rejected his offer to come and visit Killian in the hospital. After finishing her letter, Gabriel went through the rest of the day feeling as though there was something large stuck down his throat.

On Halloween morning, Gabriel received a package from Emil Rousseau. It contained not only a heavy bundle of neatly-tied parchments – that he didn't open at the table because it appeared to be notes on the Wolfsbane Variation – but also many delicious sweets and cakes that had probably been included as a diversion. Gabriel could only smile at Emil's paranoia. The candies were some of his favourites, most of them only found in France, and he was convinced that Odette had been the one to pick them out because it was a good selection, and Rousseau really didn't know anything about what teenagers liked. Gabriel shared the treats with his friends and slipped the parchments inside his bag without anyone noticing.

It was only later that day, in the common room, that Gabriel had a chance to look at the papers. He went through them quickly at first and then read them more thoroughly. Rousseau wasn't as advanced in his research as he'd expected. The man insisted this was because he had lost his best asset: his assistant. Without Gabriel, he couldn't brew his potion orders as fast as before and since money came in short, the experiments suffered too. Gabriel had once told the man that he would be glad to finance Rousseau's research, but the potionmaker fiercely refused and they'd argued about it for hours. Emil would not have Gabriel invest money into the development of a potion that might never be. Gabriel insisted that he had so much money he didn't even know what to make of it, but there was no changing Emil's mind when it was set.

Thus the Wolfsbane Variation was struggling through hard times. It didn't seem like the dittany made any difference, fermented or not, and the unicorn horns were now almost impossible to buy. On top of everything was the lack of test subjects. Most werewolves Emil knew were disgusted with the idea of such an invention. He had been trying to reach Remus Lupin as a last resort, but the man appeared to be travelling because the owls he sent kept coming back to him. All in all, the potionmaker had hit a wall. In an enclosed letter, he informed Gabriel that he had decided to take a break, if only long enough to gather his wits. However, Emil urged him to write if he had any good ideas regarding which potion combination he should try next. Gabriel thought about it for a long time, but he couldn't come up with anything.

That night after the feast, Gabriel found a note on his bed, carefully folded and written on paper of emerald green. For a fraction of a second, he thought it might be from Severus, but the handwriting wasn't his.



Meet me in my office tomorrow evening after dinner. I have a surprise for you. We will be going out. The password is "Jelly Belly".


"Who is it from?" Garrett asked curiously as he sat on a corner of Gabriel's bed.

"It's from Professor Dumbledore," he replied, barely managing to hide his disappointment. "He says he has a surprise for me, that we'll be going out tomorrow night. I'm not sure how I feel about that."

"Yeah..." Garrett said slowly, looking thoughtful. "It could either be grand or just... well, the sort of thing Dumbledore likes."

"What kind of things does he like?" Gabriel asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, I don't know," Garrett shrugged. "I was referring to stuff that old people in general are interested in. If I remember correctly, according to his Chocolate Frog card, he likes chamber music and bowling."

Gabriel grimaced. "Do you think he would take me bowling?"

There was a moment of silence before they both burst out laughing at the mental image.

"It's good to see you laugh, you know," Garrett commented once they were serious again. "I guess you're starting to forget about that idiot, are you?"

Gabriel shrugged. "I haven't forgotten. I suppose I'm just learning to live with it."

"Well, it's still nice that you're feeling better," Garrett said with a smile. "Can I ask you something?" he asked then, carefully.

"Yes," Gabriel replied with a frown when he noticed how shy Garrett suddenly acted. Please don't let this be another love declaration, he pleaded internally, not wanting to get on bad terms with Garrett again.

"I just... Don't freak out if I'm wrong, but I just have to ask... Is it Snape?" Garrett whispered even though they were alone in the dormitory.

Gabriel could only stare at him. He was certain he must resemble a deer caught in headlights.

"I'm not going to tell anyone," Garrett assured him quickly. "I wouldn't want you to get in trouble. It's just that I noticed how you never even speak to him anymore. You used to stay behind all the time at the end of lessons, just to chat, and now you hardly ever look at him. And he would always question you in class but now he never pays you any attention. I'm not going to tell anyone, I promise," he finished. He seemed to regret everything he had just said and he looked away, embarrassed.

Gabriel wished he could have just laughed and told Garrett he was mistaken and they would have spent the night joking about the stupidity of it all, but he was too surprised and didn't have the time to act accordingly.

"Yes, it's him," he said softly. "Is it that obvious?"

"No," Garrett said quickly, shaking his head. "It took me a while to figure it out, and it was based on what you told me. There's no way anyone else knows about this."

"Good," Gabriel said, relieved.

"Have you thought about reporting him, though?" Garrett asked suddenly. "With your word against his, there's no way they would believe him. Everyone hates him."

"Why would I want to do that?" said Gabriel softly.

"Well, he's been such a jerk to you... don't you want revenge? You could easily get him sacked..."

"I don't want him to get in trouble. And besides, he had my consent. He never did anything against my will... and we never did get that far anyways..."

"They don't need to know that you were willing," Garrett assured him.

"I won't report him, Garrett. And even if I wanted to, I'm the worst liar in the world, they would see right through me in a second."

"I understand," Garrett said softly. "I was just trying to make you feel better."

"I know... I didn't think you were so vengeful, though. Remind me never to cross you again," Gabriel said. Garrett laughed slightly and there was a moment of discomfort which Gabriel broke by saying, "I did think about it a few times, reporting him. And I came close to going directly to Professor Dumbledore about it, but I realised I just wouldn't be able to go through with it. I just don't work that way. He could risk going to Azkaban and he doesn't deserve that."

"So what happened exactly between you two? Why did he break up with you?" Garrett asked curiously.

"Emerson Gladwyn caught us kissing in the ingredients cupboard," Gabriel recalled, blushing.

"And he hasn't told anyone?" Garrett asked with a stunned look on his face. "Snape must have scared him shitless..."

"He Obliviated him just in time, Gladwyn doesn't remember anything about it. But it doesn't matter. Severus ended it anyways. He said being together was too dangerous and he threw me out of his office. I went to see him the next day. I thought he'd just panicked, that he didn't know what he was doing, but he was furious at me for showing up. He said he was only using me and he told me to leave him alone. And he showed me..." Gabriel interrupted himself, suddenly realising what he was about to reveal.

"What?" Garrett asked. "He showed you what? I told you, I won't tell anyone anything."

"He used to be a Death Eater," Gabriel admitted softly. "He showed me his Dark Mark."

Garrett nodded slowly, but he didn't look as shocked as Gabriel expected. "It's not as uncommon as you think, you know. Some of them are still out there. They weren't all locked up in Azkaban. The ones who were under the Imperius..."

"There's no way he could have been cursed into joining them. He taught himself Occlumency, Garrett. He has too much control over his own mind for anyone else to be able to force him into anything."

"Okay, then maybe he was a spy or something..." Garrett suggested slowly.

"That's what Dumbledore told me. He said Severus came back to the Light side before You-Know-Who disappeared."

"If Dumbledore told you that, then why are you still worried? If Dumbledore keeps him around, he can't be very bad. He's a mean git, but he's not evil. Sorry..."

"It's okay. I know he's not very nice with most people. But he was different with me..." Gabriel explained.

"Of course, he was. How could anyone ever want to be mean to you?" Garrett asked softly.

Gabriel had to suppress a sigh. As much as he liked Garrett, this habit of his to put him on a pedestal was getting annoying. "You'd be surprised," he said, thinking about his first years at Beauxbâtons and how the other students treated him there.

"Did you talk to him at all since then?"

"No, I haven't said a word. He made it clear he doesn't want anything to do with me now, and I don't feel like getting yelled at again. I know I should confront him and do everything I can to get him back, but I'm too much of a coward," he finished sadly.

"This is Slytherin, Gabriel. We're all cowards. We think suffering is easier than fighting for what we want," Garrett said with a weak smile.

Gabriel somehow disagreed with that statement, but he decided not to argue. Garrett raised an eyebrow then, as if he had suddenly been struck by an idea.

"What is it?" Gabriel asked curiously. "What are you thinking about?"

"Have you thought about trying to make him jealous?" Garrett suggested with a smirk that was so very Slytherin.

"That would just be childish..."

"Maybe, but it could work. If Snape did show you some feelings at some point, it is proof enough that he's not made of stone. Surely he is not immune to this old trick."

"What old trick?"

"Parading before his sad face looking happy with someone else."

"Are you volunteering for the task of pretending to be my boyfriend?" Gabriel asked, embarrassed. "Because I already told you that I don't..."

"I am not necessarily talking about me," Garrett said, blushing profusely. "You could very well ask Gladwyn. He would probably accept, but you would have to fill him in, which would be risky. It's up to you. But since I already know the whole story, it would be simpler if I did it..."

"It's true," Gabriel admitted. "And quite honestly I'd rather it be you than Emerson Gladwyn. He creeps me out a little. He wears satin gloves as an everyday accessory..."

"I know, I've noticed!" Garrett said, laughing loudly. "So, do you want to try it out?"

Gabriel shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know, Garrett. I'm not sure it's a good idea." Truthfully, he thought this was a stupid idea and a very immature way to deal with the problem. And, on top of everything, he didn't want Garrett to get false hopes.

"Okay," Garrett said, smiling, but he wasn't hiding his disappointment very well. "It was only a suggestion. It's up to you."

"I'm really sorry," Gabriel added. "I know you're just trying to help, but that's not the way I deal with problems."

"I understand, Gabriel. Don't fret," Garrett assured him with a smile, but Gabriel couldn't shake the feeling of guilt for once again rejecting Garrett. He was making a habit of it.

Maybe another Slytherin would have thought it was a brilliant idea, but Gabriel thought it was distasteful. He was ashamed of himself for just thinking about it. The best way to deal with his breakup, he thought, was to go on exactly like he had before: ignoring the teacher and being ignored by him. It was a little painful, but had worked so far. For a while he could even imagine that if life went on like this, eventually he would forget how good it felt to be in Severus' arms.

There was something Tonks often said to him in a suspicious sort of way which always made him laugh: "Never trust a Slytherin." Maybe he should have taken her seriously and kept that in mind. His plan to remain passive in Severus' presence was ruined the very next day after Potions class. Gabriel was putting away his ingredients, chatting casually with Tonks about a particularly ingenious plotline in the second book of his uncle's series, when suddenly he felt a pair of arms encircle his waist from behind and someone's warm breath against his ear.

"Are you done soon?" a voice asked. "I've got a bit of spare time. I thought I'd spend it with you."

Gabriel cringed in irritation at the nerve of Garrett. Tonks raised her eyebrows so high they seemed to disappear into her hairline. He was about to push Garrett away and curse him into oblivion, but then he caught a glimpse of the teacher's face and he paused.

Severus was staring in his general direction with a blank look on his face. Or it might appear to the others as a blank look, but Gabriel had spent hours watching Severus Snape in everyday life as he brewed potions or read the newspaper, and he'd become very good at noticing the small details that betrayed the man's iron-clad self-control. He stood completely frozen on the spot, but the fingers of his right hand grasping a potion vial had turned white with the force of his grip, and even though his face looked expressionless, there was this very small tic at the corner of his left eye.

Gabriel felt his heart jolt inside his chest. The man's reaction alone, or lack thereof, proved a point. He couldn't be completely indifferent towards Gabriel, or else he would have either ignored the sudden display of affection or simply spat out a scathing comment. The realisation that he had been right to think that Severus had lied about using him and that it was in fact a tactic to push him away dawned on Gabriel.

Tonks was now beaming at him and judging by this reaction, he realised that the expression of irritation and annoyance on his face was probably passing as embarrassment. And then he realised that playing along was not only possible, but it might actually be believable.

"I'll... I'll meet you in the dormitory," he said, blushing, as he felt Garrett's body press against his.

Just as Garrett was leaving, Gabriel heard the sound of swishing fabric and when he raised his head to look to the front of the class. Severus had disappeared into the backroom.

"When did that happen?" Tonks hissed with a mad grin on her face as she grabbed him by the elbow.

Obviously some of the other students had noticed Garrett's actions because they shot Gabriel surprised stares as they left. Ivy gave him an approving smile as she passed him by.

"Why didn't you tell me about this?" Tonks asked again.

Gabriel, who couldn't help blushing at this imposing amount of attention, gathered the rest of his things before answering. He wanted to Tonks this was all a lie, but knowing that Severus was probably listening from the other room, he continued to play along.

"It's... quite new, actually. I didn't want to tell anyone about it just yet. Obviously Garrett doesn't care..." he said softly.

"Well, you do make a cute couple, you know," Tonks said happily.

Gabriel heard the door to the ingredients cupboard snap shut as they left the classroom.



Squeezed in the darkness of the cupboard, Severus was stunned, as if someone had thrown a bucked of iced water in his face. The boy had told Ravensdale about their brief affair. That much was obvious. That Garrett kid was unmistakably like his father. Severus had attended Hogwarts with Lloyd Ravensdale and remembered him well. He looked fairly innocent and good-natured, until you crossed him. It seemed his son was no different, he thought as he recalled the smirk on Garrett's face when he stared directly at him as he pressed against Gabriel. Severus wouldn't have expected such malice from that boy.

He could easily guess what had happened. Gabriel had been devastated by his rejection, and with Killian Burke in St. Mungo's, the only one left to comfort him was the Ravensdale boy. There was no doubt Garrett had fallen for him, with Gabriel being who he was. And he must have realised how much more pleasant it was to be with someone his own age, someone young and handsome and with a clean past, Severus thought bitterly. And then Gabriel had confided in him what happened between them and now Ravensdale was rubbing it in his face, and would possibly blackmail him with this knowledge. Yes, surely he would ask for something in exchange for his silence. But then again... maybe Garrett wasn't the one behind this disgusting little scheme. Maybe Severus was underestimating Gabriel. Maybe he was only using Garrett to torture him. Nevertheless, he almost let his control slip with he saw them together. He could have reached for his wand and castrated Ravensdale's boy right there. Whatever strategy they were using, and whoever was responsible for it, it was working.

Actually, he wouldn't be surprised if Gabriel was behind this. He had been sorted into Slytherin after all. He must have at least one bad bone in his body. And he did seem determined to stay when Severus threw him out. The Potions Master was almost surprised when Gabriel didn't return again to try to talk some sense into him, but there was no doubt that the Dark Mark had scared him away for good. Would he tell Garrett about that, too? Severus groaned when he realised how much trouble he was into. That's what you get for falling for a fifteen year old boy, the little voice inside his head gloated. What the devil had he been thinking when he first kissed Gabriel Lenoir? Now it was only a matter of time before word of his past spread through the school and before the board of governors heard rumours of his affair with an underage student. He would be sacked and end up either in Azkaban or in Spinner's End, ostracised, unemployed, and trapped forever in regrets and contemplation of his own stupidity.

He could just picture Dumbledore's face when the old man came to inform him that he was fired. He could already imagine the condescending look on his face... no, not condescending, disappointed. That was more like Dumbledore. There would be a frown on his face and he would say something like, "What you have done is very grave, Severus," in a soft but authoritarian voice. This statement would be followed by, "I thought you had more judgement", or "I was expecting more of you". Severus cringed just thinking about hearing those words. He could live with Dumbledore being mad at him, but disappointing him was something else. Even if he would never admit it, he had come to see Albus Dumbledore as a father figure throughout the years, maybe because his own father did such a crappy job. Albus Dumbledore had welcomed him with open arms, forgiven his mistakes, kept him out of prison, given him a job and a second chance. Disappointing him would ruin everything they had built over the years. Severus had ruined it all with his foolishness. If only he could go back to the day of that first kiss, he would...

He wouldn't do anything, of course, because as wrong as kissing Gabriel Lenoir was, it had been worth it. It was unlike anything else Severus had ever experienced. He could not compare it with any previous kiss because it was simply incomparable and because it didn't hold any lust, but only pure, untarnished desire. Some might say lust and desire are the same, but they're not. Lust is just a physical need, a need to touch and be touched for the sake of attaining sexual satisfaction. Desire is the pang in your heart that doesn't stop until you give in. Desire is the urge to run your fingers through someone else's hair or graze their skin softly with yours. It holds more than physical need. It's the need to be as close to this person as humanly possible, to entangle your soul with theirs. Now you sound like a hopeless romantic, the little voice mocked him. It's better than sounding like a total pervert, Severus answered. What about a crazy man who argues with himself? his conscience replied.

With a groan of frustration, Severus opened the cupboard door and slipped out. He really needed a drink, he thought as he made his way into his private apartments, if only to stop thinking about what those two boys might be doing inside the fifth years' dormitory.



When Gabriel entered, he found Garrett sitting on his bed, talking quietly with Anthony Wellington. He supposed Garrett was telling him how the two of them ended up in a relationship and wondered what kind of story he had invented. All he heard was the last part, which consisted of, "Sometimes you just can't see what's right in front of you," before the sound of the door closing behind him alerted them of his presence.

"There you are," Garrett said, smiling softly.

Anthony was looking at him with a smirk and all Gabriel could manage as a greeting was a brief nod and something that probably looked like a wince.

"Well," Anthony said as he stood, "I guess I better give you two some privacy." He headed towards the door, with one last smirk for Gabriel as he passed him.

Gabriel hid his face in his hands in embarrassment. "I'm going to murder you, Garrett," he said weakly.

Garrett chuckled as he stood and walked up to him, prying his hands away. "Just relax," he said reassuringly.

"Relax?" Gabriel cried helplessly. "I told you I didn't want to do it! Why did you have to go and act this way in front of Severus?"

"You played along, didn't you!" Garrett protested. "And it worked! You saw the look on his face. I knew it would work, and I knew you were just scared, so I thought I better just take matters into my own hands..."

Gabriel pushed him away slightly and Garrett stumbled back. "Those matters you talk about are my life. You have no right to decide for me what I'm going to do with it!" he hissed angrily.

Garrett blinked at him. "I don't think I've ever seen you angry before..."

"You asked for it," Gabriel said shortly.

"I suppose I did," Garrett sighed. "I'm sorry, but you have to admit that it did work."

"Yes, it worked," Gabriel commented coldly before sitting down on the edge of Garrett's bed. "It might not have looked like much of a reaction, but trust me, he was ready to curse you..."

"Then why are you so depressed about it?" Garrett frowned as he sat down next to him. "Aren't you glad it turned out that way?"

"I'm not glad, Garrett. Unlike you, it's not in my nature to relish in other people's troubles," he said, trying not to sound too patronising. "The only good thing this little show brought me is proof that he cares. The rest is unimportant."

"Do you think he will try to get you back?" Garrett asked then, hesitantly. He sounded a little disappointed.

"I don't think so. He's too proud to admit he has feelings for me. But don't try to change the subject," he said dryly, turning to face Garrett. "When this did jealousy thing, which was supposed to be strictly for Severus, turn into a great big masquerade for the whole school? Why did you tell everyone we're together? Don't I have a say in this?" he asked with anger in his voice.

"Well, I thought it ought to be believable..."

"You thought. Of course, this is all about you," Gabriel hissed. He had rarely been so angry at someone before in his life and Garrett seemed to shrink in on himself. "This whole thing suits you, doesn't it? That's all you've wanted from the start, for everyone to think I'm your boyfriend? I never thought you would turn out to be like this. I thought we were friends. I still love him, Garrett, I can't be with you. It seems to me that you like twisting the knife in your own wound, don't you?"

"Gabriel, I'm sorry. I really am," Garrett said quickly. His face didn't hold any trace of malice now and he seemed to have returned to the soft-spoken, almost shy boy that Gabriel had come to know. "I swear I just wanted to help you. That jerk broke your heart. I just wanted to help you get revenge, that's all..."

Gabriel sighed, more exasperated than angry. "I told you I don't want revenge, Garrett. I'm not like that. I feel ashamed just for playing along even for a minute. I don't want to do this. I never did. The last thing I want is for rumours to spread around about me."

Garrett nodded. "I'll tell everyone I lied. I'm sorry..."

"I know, but..." Gabriel hesitated. "I think it might be better if we didn't spend so much time together..."

"No, it'll be alright. I'm going to fix this. I'll tell everyone the truth. They won't think anything of it if they see us together," Garrett started.

"That's not what I meant, Garrett. I think it would be better for you... if we spent some time apart."

From the look on his face, Garrett wasn't too happy about that, but he knew he'd stepped out of line when he decided to act without Gabriel's approval. It wasn't easy for Gabriel either. He couldn't even begin to imagine how hard it was pushing away someone he loved. He just hoped Garrett wouldn't turn on him or blackmail him with what he'd said about Severus. But this was getting out of hand, he had to risk it.



The first thing Gabriel noticed when he entered the Great Hall a while later was that Severus wasn't there. It didn't help him feel better about what happened. The teacher was probably locked up in his office, brooding in the dark, downing glass after glass of fire whiskey. As Gabriel sat down next to Evelyn at the Slytherin table, he heard Garrett tell everyone how Gabriel and him had lost a game of truth or dare the night before and been forced to make everyone believe that they were in a relationship for one day. Gabriel kept silent about it, only nodding once or twice when people asked him if that was true. For someone as intelligent as Garrett was, he thought that was a poor story, but he was too tired to be upset about it. Either that was all Garrett could think about in such short notice, or the other boy didn't really care to be believable. Gabriel could tell that some of their friends were uncertain, and the fact that he didn't feel like commenting probably didn't help. Evelyn patted his hand softly. Obviously she knew something was wrong. He couldn't wait until this whole thing was over and buried. For the first time since he'd started Hogwarts, he felt like he was back in Beauxbâtons.

He had almost forgotten about his meeting with Dumbledore but remembered when he caught sight of the old man who smiled brightly at him from the staff table. He smiled back, although without much enthusiasm. He hoped that what his adoptive father had in store for tonight was something casual and quiet. Thinking back on what Garrett and said, he realised he really didn't feel like going bowling.

After dinner he headed back to the dorms to change out of his uniform and grab the warmest robe he owned. If they were heading out, he would probably need it. Even as tired as he was by the events of that day, he was terribly curious as to what Dumbledore had in store for him.

"Jelly Belly," he spoke to the gargoyle and it slid to the side without a word.

The door to the Headmaster's office opened on its own and the room looked vacant when he stepped inside. He was greeted by hushed whispers coming from the paintings on the walls and then he heard a few whistled notes from Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix bird, and the sound seemed to have alerted the headmaster because the man immediately emerged from a side room.

"Gabriel, my boy!" he said as he walked up to Gabriel and hugged him tightly. After such an exasperating day, it was a welcomed gesture. "It's been a while since we last talked," the old man admitted when he pulled away. "Once again I am the one to blame, but I have something planned for you tonight, which I think you've been looking forward to," he announced with a bright smile.

Suddenly, Gabriel thought of something and his heart leapt. "Sir, is this about the Wall? Did you find who made it?" he asked eagerly.

Dumbledore first looked surprised then disappointed. "I'm afraid not. I am still searching for the one responsible for it. But tonight will be much more pleasant. Take your worries out of your mind, because I have made you an appointment with Mr. Tatting in Diagon Alley," he finished brightly.

"Is that... a tailor?" Gabriel asked, searching his memory to identify the name.

"Yes, indeed," Dumbledore nodded. "Personally, I prefer Madam Malkin, who always generously plies to my every wardrobe whims and carries the most colourful fabrics, but I understand that Twilfitt and Tatting's is popular amongst the younger gentlemen and I thought it might suit you better. I did promise to get you winterwear, after all."

Gabriel smiled at this, feeling truly touched and honestly relieved. "Thank you, Professor. It's very nice of you, but you don't really have to..."

"Nonsense, my boy, a promise is a promise. Therefore, I absolutely have to. If there is one thing all my French friends boldly comment about every time they visit Hogwarts, it's the weather. Were I to believe their every word, apparently the temperatures in Antarctica are nothing compared to Scotland. It is my pleasure, and it will give us a chance to do something together. And between you and me, you may call be Albus... but not in front of the students, mind you. That would be strange."

"Thank you... Albus," Gabriel said slowly, the name feeling almost foreign on his tongue. Dumbledore answered with a bright grin.

"We will be using the Floo from here to the Leaky Cauldron," he said, guiding Gabriel towards the back of the room. "I take it you must have visited Diagon Alley before, have you?" he asked in a jolly voice as he grabbed a small golden jar of Floo powder from the mantelpiece.

"Yes, I visited a few times with Valère over the years, mostly to go to Gringotts... and I got my wand from Mr. Ollivanders when I turned eleven," Gabriel explained before taking a handful of powder.

"Ah, yes!" Dumbledore nodded. "The finest wandmaker alive, indeed." He grabbed some powder, too. "I will go first if you don't mind. Follow closely."

Dumbledore threw the powder in the hearth and stepped inside, saying, "The Leaky Cauldron." Gabriel followed immediately behind him.

He squinted as he emerged into the dim light of the wizarding pub. Dumbledore was waiting for him next to the fireplace. Most of the tables around were occupied and some people waved at the headmaster, looking curiously at Gabriel while the two of them made their way towards the back door. Diagon Alley was quiet that night. Most of the shops they passed were closed, but many lights were still on inside the Public Library, and on the other side of the street, music was coming out of a small restaurant.

"Mr. Tatting has been kind enough to open the store exclusively for us," Dumbledore told him brightly as they approached the small shop.

Twilfitt and Tatting's was a narrow, three stories high shop squeezed between an apartment building and what looked like a grocery store. It was old and slightly crooked and only seemed to stay in place because it was supported on both sides. The facade was painted a nice shade of blue, with silver wooden carvings, and in the window display were a few fashionable coats that Gabriel imagined would be quite costly. The sign said they were closed, but the lights inside were still on. Smiling excitedly, Dumbledore knocked rhythmically on the door.

Mr. Tatting was an elegant man, fresh out of his thirties, who wore well-fitted clothes and worked quickly and efficiently. He asked Gabriel what he wanted exactly, but Gabriel, who was quite tired and thought the man knew what he was doing, gave him carte blanche. The man nodded and showed him different models he thought would look good. With Dumbledore's advice, Gabriel chose three different fits and Mr. Tatting had him climb onto a stool. He didn't speak much as he worked, but when he did, his words were thoughtful and soft. He wasn't like any other tailor Gabriel had ever met. They usually wouldn't stop gossiping about nonsense or asking questions. But the only small talk Mr. Tatting did was telling Gabriel never to wear pastel colours.

"They say people with pale skin should wear soft neutrals, but in your case I would advice richer colours like black, navy blue and grey. But never wear orange, or beige... avoid beige," he said softly as he fitted Gabriel's robe.

When they got out of the shop after thanking Mr. Tatting, the lights in the library were out. The street was quieter now and the air was colder.

"It's late, we should go back to school," Dumbledore commented and he sounded almost disappointed. "It's a pity. I would fancy a drink, wouldn't you?" he asked Gabriel with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Actually, I would, too," he admitted, suddenly thinking that a Butterbeer would be delicious.

Dumbledore looked thoughtful. They had stopped in the middle of the street, trying to decide what to do. "What class do you have in the morning?" he asked Gabriel in an almost mischievous way.

"History of Magic."

Dumbledore smiled brightly. "Then that's settled! You can get some sleep then, I'm sure Professor Binns won't mind. Come along, Gabriel. Let's get those drinks..."

He trailed off when he saw a silhouette coming towards them into the alley. It was a tall man, walking in large strides. He was coming from the Leaky Cauldron. It was obvious to Gabriel from the way Dumbledore tensed slightly and sighed, that whoever that man was, the headmaster had no desire to talk to him. Nonetheless, his adopted father smiled and, as the blonde stranger reached them, he was suddenly very polite and even looked happy to see him.

"Lucius, what brings you here on this fine night?" he asked amiably.

The man had blonde hair that reached his shoulders and an arrogance about him that made Gabriel want to cringe. He immediately identified him as a pureblood, if only from the way he carried himself. He was dressed in expensive dark robes and carried a walking cane that he didn't need.

"Nothing that regards you, Headmaster," the man said, stopping to stare at Dumbledore in an almost disdainful way. When he caught sight of Gabriel, however, his whole demeanour changed. He looked first surprised then he smiled languidly, examining Gabriel from head to toe. "And who might this be?" he asked Dumbledore in an intrigued voice, but something in his eyes told Gabriel the man knew exactly who he was.

"Why, pardon me. I forgot to introduce you," the headmaster said brightly, placing his arm around Gabriel's shoulders and forcing him to step forward slightly. "Gabriel, this is Lucius Malfoy. Lucius, this is Gabriel Lenoir. I was named his guardian this past August..."

"Ah, yes," Lucius said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, his eyes never leaving Gabriel's face. "I vaguely remember this from the papers."

Gabriel had to suppress a snort at this. It was obvious to him that Lucius Malfoy had been more than interested in the affair. He remembered Severus telling him that he was married to a woman named Narcissa and that they had a son. When they had mentioned the Malfoy family, the name sounded familiar to Gabriel and he thought maybe they were related. Now there was no doubt about it. From some old pictures Gabriel had seen, Lucius Malfoy strongly resembled his great uncles Basile and Blaise.

"I am most pleased to meet you, Mr. Lenoir," Lucius Malfoy said, holding out a gloved hand which Gabriel shook politely. Before letting it go, the man gave his hand a little squeeze that Gabriel chose to ignore. Then, to his surprise, a small smirk tugged at the corner of Malfoy's lips. "You bear an unsettling resemblance to my son," the man said, once again staring intently into Gabriel's eyes. "He is but eight years old, but I can only hope he will grow up to be quite as handsome as you are."

"Thank you, sir," Gabriel answered uncomfortably.

Dumbledore seemed to detect this discomfort. "Now, if you will excuse us, Lucius," he said suddenly, "Gabriel and I were heading towards the Leaky Cauldron to enjoy warm drinks before we head back to Hogwarts."

"Very well, and I must continue on my errands," Lucius Malfoy drawled. With one last look towards Gabriel, the man continued on his way, his long dark robe billowing behind him.

"Probably heading towards Knockturn Alley to take part in some obscure business," Dumbledore commented and they headed back towards the Leaky Cauldron, his arm still wrapped around Gabriel's shoulders. "I think we deserve those drinks now more than ever," he said with a soft smile.

The bar was quieter at this hour, which was probably to be expected for a Tuesday night. There was a group of wizards drinking in a corner and, but Gabriel's attention was caught by the man sitting at the counter, speaking with the bartender. He recognised the man he had seen in the Three Broomsticks with Tonks, the Auror. The coat he wore was the same, and even from the back he was identifiable. He had an unusual silhouette. This was confirmed when Dumbledore suddenly called, "Alastor!"

The man turned around but he looked not at all surprised at seeing Dumbledore there. Gabriel, however, had to suppress a gasp. He had only ever seen Alastor Moody from the back, which was burly but not abnormally so. His face, however, looked quite surreal. It had obviously seen much better days. The skin was covered in nasty scars and part of his nose was missing. The most disturbing sight, however, was that one of his eyes had been replaced by a large, glassy orb, which spun almost constantly in its socket. It seemed to have been looking around the room, but as they approached the table, the magical eye settled on Gabriel for a few long seconds, scrutinising in a very intimidating way that made Gabriel feel like the man could see right through him and read his very thoughts. Finally, it turned away from Gabriel and disappeared towards the back of the man's head.

"Out on a school night, Albus?" he asked the headmaster with a grin that deformed his mangled face even more.

"Yes, Gabriel and I have been doing some shopping," the old man said brightly, showing him the bags they carried.

Alastor Moody chuckled and the sound reverberated through the almost vacant room. "That the boy?" he rumbled, his eye settling once again on Gabriel who was quite speechless and trying not to stare. "He doesn't look very strong, does he?" Moody grumbled in an almost amused voice.

"Now, now, Alastor," Dumbledore said with a quiet laugh. "Don't try to scare him..."

The Auror stood up suddenly, his wooden chair rattling on the floor as he moved. As a reflex, Gabriel took a quick step back. "You scared of me, boy?" the man asked, stepping closer.

"No," Gabriel lied quickly, causing the man to laugh gruffly.

"You should be," Alastor Moody asked. "Be afraid of everything. First rule of this life, boy: Constant Vigilance!"

Gabriel had never met a man quite like Alastor Moody before. Once you got through the initial shock of meeting him, he was incredibly interesting and resourceful. He couldn't imagine Tonks' face when he told her he'd had a drink with the famous Auror. The man had tried to order him a Firewhiskey to "toughen him up", but the bartender, Tom, narrowed his eyes at him without a word.

It was quite late when they took the Floo back to Professor Dumbledore's office and Gabriel could barely hide his yawns. After quick farewells and promises to meet again soon, he left the headmaster's office and headed back to the dungeons, carrying the three bags from Twilfitt and Tatting's. He had almost reached the dormitories when he rounded a corner and almost walked directly into someone. As luck would have it, it was Severus.

"What are you doing out of bed?" the teacher asked dryly, eyeing the shopping bags in confusion.

"I was with Professor Dumbledore," Gabriel said, trying not to sound annoyed. All he wanted was to go to bed. "You can ask him if you want."

"You've been... shopping?" Severus asked with something like an amused tone in his voice.

"Yes," Gabriel said simply.

There was a long and uncomfortable silence. It was the first time they'd talked since the breakup, and with what had happened with Garrett earlier that day, Gabriel had even more trouble looking his teacher in the eyes.

"What do you want from me?" Severus asked suddenly.


The teacher's face was hard and his jaw was clenched. "I've seen you with Ravensdale. I've seen your little display this afternoon. What do you want from me in exchange for your silence?"

Gabriel was taken aback. He let out a sigh of disbelief. "You think I'm blackmailing you?"

"You told him. You told Ravensdale, didn't you?" Severus hissed dangerously.

"I told him because he's my friend!" Gabriel said defiantly. "I told him because I had no one else to talk to. I had to live alone with all of this and it was killing me! You can't blame me for this! I had no one else but you!"

"And you think parading him before me would make me take you back!" Severus spat indignantly.

"I wasn't thinking! We're not even together! I just wanted to see if you would care... And I know you do, even though you try so hard to hide it. I'm sure you've done things I can't even begin to imagine. Dumbledore told me that you were a spy, and that's one of the bravest things anyone could ever do. So I don't understand why you're too much of a coward to admit that you love me and that you want to be with me."

When it was clear that Severus wasn't going to say anything, and because Gabriel could feel the tears threatening to fall, he simply walked around the man and headed towards the dormitories, seething angrily.

Chapter Text

"Sometimes I'm terrified of my heart, of its contant hunger for whatever it is it wants, the way it stops and starts."

-Edgar Allan Poe



ON THE FIRST day of the Christmas holidays, the artificial window next to Gabriel's bed displayed a snowy landscape. It was charmed to match the weather outside. That morning, the large willow tree, which had now become very familiar to Gabriel, stood perfectly still, its long branches packed with a few inches of snow. There was a fine layer of ice on the surface of the lake, but the sunlight already peeking at the horizon would surely have it melted by noon.

It was as if the weather outside arranged itself according to Gabriel's feelings. In the last few weeks, he had been troubled, trying to keep out of depression's eager clutches, and immersing himself in his studies to keep busy, all the while struggling to hide the barely manageable anger he felt every time he was in Severus Snape's presence, but also fighting his intense longing for the man. Meanwhile, the weather outside had been nothing but heavy rains, greyish skies and cold winds. But this morning, as if sensing that a certain peace was finally settling in Gabriel's mind, the world was quiet and still, with sunshine seeping through. Oh, he wasn't feeling particularly better about Severus that day. It was just that the Christmas holidays brought with them a respite from his daily torture of having to hide his feelings. That very day, after breakfast, while the other students were taking the train back to London, Gabriel would be leaving for Paris with Professor Dumbledore.

Lying on his side in bed, lost in his thoughts, Gabriel watched silently as the sun rose over the lake. The light reflecting on the immaculate carpet of snow outside barged into the Slytherin dormitories suddenly. There was a groan from the other side of the room and the distinct sound of bed curtains being closed.

Not much had changed since that night when Gabriel had gone to Diagon Alley with his guardian, apart from the fact that he had been spending more time with Professor Dumbledore. They met regularly now, and Gabriel understood why Valère and the headmaster had gotten along so well. They were very similar in their interests as well as their personalities.

He hadn't spoken to Professor Snape again after their altercation about Garrett in the corridor. They barely even looked at each other in class. Gabriel brewed his potions with Tonks without any intervention or interest from the teacher. Snape told Dumbledore he was working on an important research article and didn't have time to tutor Gabriel in Occlumency anymore. Gabriel didn't know if it was true, but he didn't really care. There was still no sign from the doppelganger anyway, so Occlumency was useless for now.

As for Garrett, they hadn't really talked either, except for necessary dormitory or class related matters. But still Gabriel sometimes felt like the boy was watching him during class or during meals. He pretended not to notice, but he could only hope that Garrett wouldn't decide to report Snape to the headmaster out of revenge or jealousy that Gabriel was...

Actually, there was one thing that had changed.

Two weeks ago, while Gabriel was studying in the library for his Transfiguration exam, Emerson Gladwyn approached him and asked if he could sit with him. Gabriel accepted, and an uncomfortable silence settled as they worked on their respective studies. They hadn't talked again since the potions group and Gladwyn either seemed to have forgotten about his courtship offer, or just decided that Gabriel wasn't worth the trouble. At least, that's what Gabriel thought had happened. He himself hadn't thought it a good idea to approach Emerson Gladwyn if it wasn't necessary. Perhaps if they interacted too much, he thought, a very vague memory of having witnessed him kissing Snape in the ingredients cupboard would resurface in Gladwyn's Obliviated mind.

"Can I ask you something, Gabriel?" the sixth year Slytherin asked after a while.

"Well... yes..." Gabriel hesitated. He could tell the other boy was trying to phrase his question delicately and was sure he already knew what this was about.

"I've heard a rumour that you and Garrett Ravensdale are in a relationship. I'm just wondering if that's true. I hope I'm not out of bounds..."

"No," Gabriel said quickly, trying not to blush. Emerson Gladwyn was visibly irritated by this rumour, and since Gabriel felt the same way about this whole mess of a story, he answered honestly. "We're not together," he admitted in a low whisper. "It's a long story, but... we've never been together. He lied to everyone."

Emerson Gladwyn frowned when Gabriel mentioned Garrett's faux pas, but he was obviously trying very hard to hide his joy. "He lied, you said? That's completely unacceptable," he declared, looking very much upset about Garrett's behaviour, which Gabriel thought was quite flattering. "Would you like me to do something about it?"

"It's not necessary," Gabriel said. "I made things clear between us. We're not even talking anymore." He couldn't help smiling a little at how flustered Emerson appeared to be, but he didn't want to be mistaken for a damsel in distress. There was no need to defend his honour. And most of all, he didn't even want to imagine what kind of chaotic warzone Hogwarts would turn into if Emerson and Garrett started going at each other.

And so, with this rumour put to rest, Emerson Gladwyn seemed to think it was appropriate to continue sitting at Gabriel's table in the library. Gabriel knew it was because of this whole courtship thing, and wanted to tell him he was wasting his time, but never really got around to do it. Little by little, he realised that Emerson was different from what he'd thought at first. In fact, he was unlike anyone else Gabriel had met at Hogwarts. At first he did think the boy was slightly weird, but he was terribly brilliant and the most polite person in school. His manners were impeccable and he never once crossed the invisible line that Gabriel wanted to maintain around himself. Emerson didn't talk more than necessary, and even if he was interested in Gabriel, he didn't put him on a pedestal or shower him with compliments like Garrett did. Gabriel kept his guard up, because Garrett had seemed fine at the beginning but turned out deceitful and selfish, but he rapidly saw that Emerson wasn't like that. The more time they spent together, the more he realised they had very many things in common. He never felt uncomfortable in Emerson's presence. With time, he thought he could easily come to love him. And most of all, when he was with Emerson, he often forgot to think about Severus.

Gabriel grabbed his pocket watch from the bedside table. The glass that covered it was cracked and he had to squint to see the time correctly. It was a quarter to eight. He really should get up and start packing. With a yawn, he pushed his covers away and slipped his feet inside his slippers before standing up. He wore a long-sleeved shirt and flannel pants to bed now because of the coolness of the dungeons, but the bright sunlight seeping inside warmed the room considerably. The heavy amulet Gabriel still wore about his neck at all times had twisted around while he slept, and he adjusted it distractedly so it rested on his chest again, carefully hidden under his shirt. Placing a hand on top of it, he could feel the slight heat that seemed to emanate from the seal of Solomon at times. It was strange at first, but Gabriel didn't let this worry him. It was probably just a sign that the amulet worked correctly. Gabriel shook his head. He always made an effort not to remember that this amulet was practically a gift from Severus.

Silently, trying not to wake the others, Gabriel searched underneath the bed for his largest suitcase and pulled it out gently. He heaved it on top of the bed and opened the chest where he kept his belongings, ready to transfer what he needed into the suitcase.

"Are you leaving already?" a voice asked.

Gabriel raised his head. The door to the dormitory had opened and closed silently and Emerson Gladwyn stood there, staring at him with his eyes narrowed because of the blinding sunlight. The curtains were drawn around Anthony's and Garrett's beds and he could hear soft snores coming from one of them.

"I'm just packing," Gabriel said with a smile. "I'll be leaving around the same time as you do."

"Will you come down to breakfast with me?" Emerson asked in a low voice as he carefully approached Gabriel's bed, trying not to wake his roommates. Gabriel noted that instead of his school uniform, the older Slytherin was wearing a tailored suit under his robe. It was black and very elegant, as was expected of a pureblood wizard like Gladwyn.

"Sure," Gabriel said. "This won't take too long. I don't have much to pack."

"Good, I want some waffles before they're all gone," Emerson said with a smile. He watched in silence as Gabriel started packing a little faster. "You should have done this last night," he added with a reprimanding tone that slightly reminded Gabriel of Valère.

"I played chess with Professor Dumbledore last night and neglected to do it," explained Gabriel.

"Who won?" Emerson asked.

"He did, of course," said Gabriel, shrugging.

"How long will you be gone?"

"Just a week, we'll return on Christmas Day. Professor Dumbledore insists we spend it with the rest of the staff." Gabriel didn't mind that. In a week, he would surely have enough time to do everything he had planned, and he quite enjoyed the castle at this time of the year. All the decorations put him in a good mood, and besides, with almost all of the students gone and no classes, he would have the library all to himself to research whatever subject he wanted. Even though he didn't speak to Professor Snape anymore, he still had his permission to access the Restricted Section whenever he wanted.

Once he was sure all the clothes he needed for his stay in Paris were packed, Gabriel started searching through his books and notes, deciding on what he needed to bring and what he could leave behind. He looked inside the large chest near his bed and passed Emerson the books he wanted so he could put them in the suitcase.

"What does this say?" Emerson asked, holding up a piece of parchment.

It was the letter Gabriel had received the night before. It was written in French, which Emerson, blushing slightly, admitted he couldn't read.

"It's a confirmation from Mr. Valois, the butler of Lenoir Manor, saying that he's ready to accommodate us for the week," Gabriel explained, taking the parchment from Emerson and reading it again quickly.

"So you'll be staying at your old house," Emerson said. "You must be happy to see it again."

"Yes," Gabriel admitted softly before going back to his books.

When Dumbledore had gotten guardianship of Gabriel in August, he'd visited Paris to meet his adopted son, and to discuss arrangements concerning his education, but also his family's estates and possessions. Since Gabriel was not yet of age, Albus Dumbledore was responsible for everything he owned, but not one decision had been taken without consulting the boy. Even though no one occupied the Manor anymore, the people who had lived there for years – the cook, the maids, the gardener, the butler – had been allowed to stay and were responsible for looking after the residence. Most of Gabriel's personal effects and possessions that he hadn't thought necessary to bring to Hogwarts, were still there. The other Lenoir estates, which had been vacant for years, remained empty, protected by security spells. As for the Observatory, it was still open, with a new Director in charge – Oscar Lemaître, a middle-aged Astronomer who had worked under Valère Henri for many years. Even though it broke Gabriel's heart to know the Observatory was run by someone other than Valère, he trusted Oscar and knew the place was in good hands. If he had time, Gabriel really wanted to stop by and see how Mr. Lemaître was doing.

When all the necessary books were packed away in the suitcase, Gabriel grabbed some clothes and headed towards the washroom.

"I'll just be a few minutes," he told Emerson who nodded.

When Gabriel came out, fully dressed and ready to go to breakfast, he found Emerson sitting on Killian's empty bed, waiting for him.

"Don't forget that Colin Margrave book you told me about," he said as he watched Gabriel put on his shoes.

"Yes, I'll bring the first three," Gabriel said distractedly as he double-checked his suitcase for any forgotten items.

Gabriel had promised to lend him his copy of The Centaur Rebellion, the first book in his uncle Augustin's series. Emerson had wanted to borrow it from the library, but when he asked Madam Pince for it, she frowned deeply and told him that kind of books was unavailable in the school library. The series, even though intended for teenagers, was known for being educative, albeit extremely graphic and well on the gory side. Emerson had been utterly repulsed by such censorship, but Gabriel told him not to worry, that he would lend him his own copy which he'd left at Lenoir Manor.

He looked up when he heard Emerson clear his throat. His friend was now standing before him, holding out a long, expensive-looking velvet case that he'd just taken out of his robe pocket.

"It's a Christmas present for you," Emerson said. "I know it's not Christmas yet, and I could have sent it here on Christmas day, but I really wanted to give it to you myself, and since we probably won't be seeing each other until January, I thought it would be best if I gave it to you today." He said all of this very formally and Gabriel was almost sure he had rehearsed the whole thing many times. He held out the case for Gabriel to take. "Merry Christmas."

Gabriel smiled uncomfortably. "I haven't gotten you anything yet..." he started, but Emerson gave a small shrug and held out the case again.

"I know it's early, but I really want you to have it now," he said.

Gabriel finally took the case from him. For a second he looked at it, hoping he wouldn't find inside a pair of satin gloves like the ones Emerson was so fond of, but the box looked too narrow and unnecessarily long to contain that. When he opened it, he could only stare in amazement at the content.

It was a writing quill, elegant and probably terribly expensive. The feather was long and slightly curved, of a jet black colour with a tinge of iridescent green at the centre, and the tip was silver, with light dents for a more comfortable grip. At the base of the feather was an intricate design, silver also, that Gabriel recognised as Scrivenshaft's logo. It was the kind of quill you could find at the store in a glass case behind the counter with no price tag on it.

"It's the tail feather of a black sicklebill," Emerson explained. His voice sounded pleased at the expression he saw on Gabriel's face. "It's a bird of paradise from New Guinea."

"You shouldn't have," Gabriel said softly, looking up at his friend, who was smiling with something akin to glee.

"I wanted to," he said, looking at Gabriel intently. "I wanted to very much."

"Thank you," Gabriel said, looking back at the quill. He slid a finger carefully along the feather. It was like velvet to the touch.

A moment of silence followed, broken by a loud snore coming from either Anthony or Garrett. Emerson and Gabriel both jumped slightly and laughed.

"Gabriel..." Emerson hesitated for only a second. "May I kiss you?"

Three weeks before, Gabriel would have furiously refused, but at that moment... Maybe it was the gift he'd just received, or the good mood he was in because of the coming holidays and his trip to Paris, or maybe it was because he wouldn't have to see Professor Snape for a whole week, but upon hearing Emerson's request, the little voice in the back of his head replied with, Why not? After all, he wasn't with anyone else at the moment, and it was just a kiss. As inexperienced as he had been before Severus, he now knew that kissing was pleasant, so why would he deny himself pleasant things when they were so rarely coming to him? And he enjoyed Emerson's company, and as Killian had told him a few months ago, Emerson was a good catch. And he was handsome and nice. And he had just given him an amazing gift that probably cost a fortune.

"Yes, I would like that," he heard himself answer.

And so they kissed. It was different than with Severus, but Gabriel couldn't decide if it was better or worse. It was just different. Emerson's lips were softer, but more insistent. Severus' kisses tended to be more careful, as if the man expected Gabriel to pull away at any moment. Emerson held on, slipped his arms around Gabriel's waist and pressed his hands on the small of his back to pull him closer. The kiss was deeper than any of those Gabriel had shared with Severus, and for a second he hesitated before responding. It was enjoyable, but it was obvious to Gabriel that something was missing. When they finally separated, and he saw Emerson's bright grin, he smiled back.

"I wouldn't mind another one of those as a Christmas present," Emerson said and Gabriel blushed.

"We should go to breakfast," he replied softly. He could hear Anthony groan feebly as he stirred awake.

Gabriel reached over to shut his suitcase and grabbed his robe before heading over towards the door, followed by Emerson. Before he left the room, he noticed the drapes around Garrett's bed billowing slightly.

"Are you coming to Bagnold Manor for New Year?" Emerson asked as they walked through the cold corridors towards the stairs leading up to the main floor.

"Probably," Gabriel said. "I got an invitation from Evelyn. I suppose it depends on Professor Dumbledore, but I think he's intending to go."

Just a few days before, Gabriel had received an elegantly written note inviting him to the official Ministry of Magic New Year's Eve Banquet, which was held at the Bagnold residence on December 31st. Many important people would be attending, and he knew some of his fellow students, those coming from high status families, would also be present. He couldn't help but wonder for a few seconds if Severus would be there, but decided that he probably wouldn't. He was just a member of the Hogwarts staff, after all, and he didn't belong to a particularly important family either, so it was unlikely he had been invited. Even if he was invited, Gabriel didn't think he would go. He wasn't really one for social events, especially formal ones.

"I hope you'll be coming," Emerson announced. His voice was calm and happy. The kiss they had just shared seemed to have made his day. "I would really like it if you considered coming as my date. If you want to, of course..."

Gabriel smiled. He had never been anyone's date before. It would be nice, not having to hide being with Emerson. It wouldn't be inappropriate or forbidden, and neither of them could get in trouble for it. Most of all, Emerson wasn't afraid to show that he cared for him.

"Certainly," Gabriel finally said, suddenly aware of the fact that Emerson seemed to be waiting for an answer. "I'll have to ask Professor Dumbledore first, but I'll let you know as soon as I can."

"Perfect. Will you owl me while you're away?" Emerson asked again.

"Sure. I'll send you Leo tonight," Gabriel said with a nod.

"The coming week will surely be incredibly boring. I suspect I will have to spend most of my time in the company of house elves," Emerson said grimly. "Your letters will be the highlights of my life."

Emerson lived alone with his father. His mother died when he was in his first year at Hogwarts. Since then, his father, Aldrich Gladwyn, had been climbing in the Ministry hierarchy, immersing himself in his work. At first, Emerson had been angry, thinking that his mother's death didn't matter to his father and that he took advantage of the fact that she was dead. But as he grew up, Emerson realised that Aldrich was working so much because he wanted to forget. Like Gabriel, Emerson was of the solitary type, used to being by himself. His older brother Cadwell was married with two small sons and lived in Ireland, where he was manager of the Kenmare Kestrels Quidditch team. In Aldrich Gladwyn's mind, it wasn't a very respectable job, but as long as his son continued the Gladwyn bloodline, he couldn't care less what he did with his life.

Neither of them spoke until they reached the main floor, where a bright light filtered through the stained glass windows, casting rich colours onto the stone floors. The railing of the main staircase was decorated in red and green garlands entangled with sparkling lights. An immense Christmas tree had been placed next to it, near the giant hourglasses filled with jewels used to keep count of the House points. On the branches, small golden enchanted birds sang little yuletide songs, their cries echoing happily into the entrance. Students were entering the Great Hall, talking excitedly about the upcoming vacation. A few of them had already started piling their luggage along the walls near the large front doors. Gabriel paused to look up at the tree as the singing birds started a new song.

"I meant to ask you," Emerson started, his voice low so that the students nearby wouldn't hear the conversation. "I don't mean to rush you or anything of the sort, but..." He trailed off and Gabriel turned back to him, waiting patiently for him to continue.

Emerson's fingers slipped around Gabriel's wrist and he pulled him to the left, into the small alcove under the staircase where a suit of armour stood solemnly.

"I just want to know... What does this mean exactly?" Emerson asked, looking at him expectantly. Maybe in his head the question was clear, but for Gabriel it was only confusing.

"What are you talking about?" he asked, frowning.

"What are we?" Emerson said softly. "I mean, we kissed, but... are we...?"

"You mean, are we a couple?" Gabriel asked in a low voice as a group of students passed by the alcove without noticing them. Emerson nodded, his brown eyes suddenly nervous behind thin glasses. "I don't know," Gabriel said honestly.

"Would you like to be?" Emerson asked slowly. Then, noticing Gabriel's hesitation, he quickly added, "Forget it." The sixth year shook his head with a soft smile. "We don't have to be anything just yet. I understand if you're not ready, what with all this mess with Ravensdale. I don't want to force you. It's just that I know what I want, and I suppose I tend to rush things."

"I'm sorry," Gabriel said, looking down at Emerson's hands where they held his own.

"Don't be sorry," the other Slytherin said honestly. "I don't mind waiting for you. You're worth it."

Gabriel nodded. He really wanted to be with Emerson, or at least try to, but a small part of him, the part that still held onto Severus, simply wouldn't give in. He felt on the edge of falling in love with Emerson, and maybe this week away from Hogwarts would help him do just that.



After breakfast, Gabriel headed to Hogsmeade with the other students to see his friends off on the train. Outside, the air was cold but the sun shone warm and bright. Everyone was in a good mood and the bumpy ride aboard the carriage was filled with laughter, jokes and plans for the holidays.

"Remember you have to confirm your attendance to the Banquet before the 25th," Evelyn told Gabriel on the platform as she hugged him goodbye. "And remind Professor Dumbledore. I really want you to come."

"I'll try to convince him," Gabriel said, smiling in the hug as Evelyn's hair tickled his nose. "I might go with Emerson," he whispered into her ear before letting go.

Evelyn smiled broadly at these words. She was pleased to see Gabriel spend so much time with Emerson, who was a good friend of hers. Their families were very close and they'd known each other since childhood.

"I take it you liked your gift?" Evelyn asked excitedly.

"You knew about the quill?"

"Emerson asked my opinion, of course," she said, grinning. "As fashionable as he can be, I haven't yet met a boy who's able to pick adequate gifts." Gabriel smiled. "He likes you a lot," Evelyn added sincerely.

"I know. I just have to get used to it," he admitted.

Evelyn smiled softly and nodded.

Emerson hugged him next, but it didn't last too long. Gabriel knew from the other boy's slightly loose arms that Emerson was terribly afraid to step over the line and ruin all his chances. Gabriel wanted to smile at this, but he refrained from doing so, thinking that maybe Emerson would think he was making fun of him.

He watched the train take off and disappear across the snowy landscape beyond the borders of Hogsmeade. When he turned to go back, Rubeus Hagrid, the school's gamekeeper, was walking along the platform towards him. Gabriel had already met the man a few times while wandering the school grounds.

"'ello Gabriel!" the giant called loudly with a grin.

"Hi, Hagrid. How are you doing?" Gabriel replied politely, slipping his hands inside his pockets to warm them up.

"Good! 'tis such a nice day!" Hagrid exclaimed, stopping next to Gabriel, his shining black eyes narrowing as he stared at the barely visible train disappearing through the fields. "What r'you doin' here all by yerself?"

"Oh, I was just saying goodbye to my friends," Gabriel explained.

"I'll walk ya back ter the castle then! Don't want Dumbledore worryin'!" he said cheerfully before giving a great slap on Gabriel's back. The Slytherin staggered forward with the force of the blow but smiled as the giant walked beside him towards the path leading back to school. They followed the tracks from the carriages. "How d'yer exams go? Ya musta been studyin' hard cause I haven't seen ya around too much lately," Hagrid said as they walked. He was right. When the end of term approached, Gabriel had spent all his spare time in the library instead of spending it outside taking long walks and brooding.

"It went well. I got good marks," Gabriel said over the quiet crunching of the snow under their footsteps.

"Better than good, I heard," Hagrid said with a laugh. "Rumour's goin' around that ya got top grades in everythin'."

"Well, fairly great marks, I suppose," Gabriel admitted with a smile. Despite everything going on, he was quite proud of the results of his intense study sessions.

There was a moment of silence before Hagrid spoke again. "So yer off with Professor Dumbledore, aren't ya? Goin' on some vacation, I heard?"

"Yes. We're going to Paris."

"Ah, I never been to France but I bet it's beautiful," Hagrid continued. "Don't really need travellin' though. Hogwart's me home."

Gabriel nodded. "I can understand why." They had just taken a fork in the path and he could glimpse the castle in between the snowy trees. "It's a wonderful place. How long have you worked here, Hagrid?"

"Been here since I was thirteen," the giant explained but he quickly changed the subject, suddenly uncomfortable. "It's gonna be weird Christmas at Hogwarts without Professor Dumbledore. He's always the life o' the party."

"Oh, we'll be back for Christmas day," Gabriel assured him. "He doesn't want to miss the feast."

Hagrid was suddenly even cheerier than before. "Good! Couldn't imagine it just with the rest o' the staff. Most of 'em would just spend it locked up in their office if it wasn't fer Dumbledore. And Snape's been worse than usual lately, specially mean ter the little ones. Found a first year sobbin' her heart out after the Potions exam last week. Merlin knows what's gotten into him this time, broodin' all over the place, snappin' at everyone."

Gabriel chose not to comment on that. He had a pretty good idea what had gotten into Professor Snape.

"Yer really a quiet one, aren't ya?" Hagrid said after a while had passed where not a word was spoken. His voice was gentle, though.

"I'm sorry," Gabriel said. It was just a reflex because he didn't really feel sorry. He was once again lost in his thoughts.

"Don' apologise fer that," the gamekeeper said with a grin. "Want me ter walk you up ter the castle?" he asked.

"No, it's fine, thank you. I have to go to the owlery."

Hagrid nodded and they were silent the rest of the way. The giant went back to his hut and Gabriel climbed up to the owlery with a sigh of relief. He liked Hagrid and his cheerfulness, but he had been impatient to be left on his own again. Leo was perched on a beam and hooted softly once he caught a glance of Gabriel. There weren't many owls left in the tower. The students probably brought their birds with them on holiday and the remaining ones belonged to the school. Gabriel told Leo to fly to Paris and the owl flew away enthusiastically into the bright blue sky. Gabriel watched him fly away before heading back to the castle.

The entrance hall was vacant and warm. Gabriel removed his fur-lined winter robe and sat down on a wooden bench near the grand staircase. As soon as he approached the tall Christmas tree, the golden birds perched on the branches started whistling God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen in a melancholic tune. Gabriel looked up at them absently.

So Professor Snape was being a pain... well, a worse pain than usual. As much as Gabriel tried not to pay any mind to whatever the Potions Master was up to, he couldn't help himself. Had the teacher seen him with Emerson? Was that why he was acting this way? Severus' reaction to his fake relationship with Garrett had been indication enough that he was of a jealous nature, Gabriel thought, so he couldn't imagine how the man would react if he knew that he actually was starting to develop feelings for Emerson. Gabriel tried to remember if the teacher had been present earlier at breakfast, but the thought hadn't even crossed his mind to look up towards the staff table. That was usually the first thing he did when he walked into a room: check if Snape was present. And yet, that morning had been different. Perhaps, as he was really starting to feel something for Emerson, he was starting to forget Severus... But was that really a bad thing? At least Emerson wasn't afraid to tell Gabriel he liked him, or to show it. But then, again, Emerson didn't risk going to prison if he was seen with Gabriel.

Some part of him didn't want to forget Severus, wanted to keep holding on to the man. He knew he still loved him because every time he thought back to that day when Severus had told him to leave, and all the horrible things he had said, his heart twisted painfully in his chest. At first he could feel like crying whenever he thought about those events, but now this feeling had turned into anger. They could have been great, if only Severus wasn't such a coward.

"There you are, Lenoir," a voice said, tearing him away from his depressing thoughts. He looked up to see Professor McGonagall making her way down the staircase towards him. "Professor Dumbledore has been looking everywhere for you. You are to collect your belongings and meet him in his office as soon as you're ready." She smiled at him then, a rare sight. "And do enjoy yourself, will you? You look like you need it."



Professor Dumbledore was in an extremely good mood that day. Gabriel didn't think he had ever seen an old man so excited before. It had been so long since he'd last been on vacation, he told Gabriel, that his suitcase had collected a thick layer of dust inside the cupboard where it had been put away since his last trip. He was dashing around his office, babbling cheerfully, wearing long dark robes sprinkled with stars and moving waves of colour that formed breathtaking nebulas.

"Nice robes, Professor," Gabriel commented with a smile.

The old man grinned and he spun around so that Gabriel could admire the robe fully. "These are latest acquisition. I knew you would like them. And remember to call me Albus, will you?"

"Yes, sorry, Albus." He couldn't count how many times he'd been told, but even though Albus Dumbledore was now particularly a member of his family – the only one, actually – it still felt impolite to call him by his first name. It had taken Gabriel at least six months to start calling Valère anything else than Mr. Henri. "I suppose we'll be taking the Floo from here?"

"You're right," Dumbledore said as he dragged his suitcase near the fireplace. It was bright, fire engine red leather. "But leave your luggage here for now. We'll come back for it. There is a place we have to go before we leave for Lenoir Manor."

"Do you have to run errands?"

"No, no, I just wanted to... well, not exactly cheer you up, but... I thought you might want to stop by St. Mungo's," Professor Dumbledore said softly.

Gabriel kept silent, trying not to look shocked at the offer. After a moment, Dumbledore put a hand on his shoulder.

"We don't have to go if you don't want to," he said sincerely. "I just thought you might like to see your friend Killian..."

"I want to," Gabriel admitted, "I'm just not sure Mrs. Burke will appreciate us coming unannounced. When I wrote that I wanted to visit Killian, she told me not to bother. I don't think she likes me much."

"Nonsense, my boy," Dumbledore said firmly. "She doesn't know you, how could she not like you? She's worried and feels protective of her son, that's all. Besides, we won't be unannounced. Mr. Burke knows that we intend to visit."

"Killian's father?" Gabriel asked, perking up slightly.

"Yes. I wrote to him a few days ago and he seems to think it a good idea for Killian to have one of his friends visit. Mr. Burke tells me his son has had many good days lately. If we're lucky, today will be one of them."

Gabriel sincerely hoped it would be.

He had never visited St. Mungo's before, but to Gabriel all hospitals were the same. They were either too noisy or too quiet, filled with moaning and coughing and strange, strong smells that attacked your nostrils and made your eyes water. The second floor was reserved for patients suffering from magical illnesses. It was mostly very quiet, almost as if the people there were already in mourning. It reminded Gabriel of the quiet, eerie atmosphere of his visitation dreams. He couldn't help feeling uncomfortable and completely helpless as he walked along the dim hallway leading towards the room the receptionist had said was Killian's. Gabriel might have turned around and fled many times if it hadn't been for Dumbledore. The old man kept a firm but gentle hand on his back as they walked, offering support and encouragement. He could probably sense just how afraid Gabriel was.

Room 219 was in the intensive care ward. It was quite a large room, but Killian was the only occupant. There were two other beds, which were empty. In an old armchair beside Killian's bed sat a man, a book opened on his knees. He was obviously Killian's father in the same uncanny way that Gabriel had been his father's son. They looked much alike, with the same curly brown hair and slightly stocky build. A pair of reading glasses was perched on his nose and he was biting his nails nervously as he looked at the book before him. He had probably been staring at the same page for a while, Gabriel thought, judging from his demeanour. He looked up as he heard them enter and stood to shake the headmaster's hand. If his son wasn't so sick and they'd met under different circumstances, Gabriel was quite sure that Mr. Burke's eyes would be playful and his mouth displaying a cheerful smile not unlike Killian's, but of course it wasn't so.

"It's nice to see you again, Dumbledore," he said in a low voice before turning to Gabriel. "Mr. Lenoir," he continued and managed a small smile. "Killian has told us much about you. I'm glad you came."

"Thank you," Gabriel said, shaking the man's hand. "I wanted to come sooner, but..."

"Yes, I'm sorry about that," Mr. Burke said with a sigh. "My wife has been..." he trailed off and shook his head. "Let's just say it hasn't been easy for anyone. I sent her home this morning. She hasn't slept very well..."

And as Mr. Burke was talking, Gabriel glanced over the man's shoulder towards the bed in centre of the room. When he caught sight of Killian, he felt something cold spread inside his chest and fear gripped him, along with a strong sense of dread. The last time he'd seen Killian, the other boy looked sick, but sick in the way of someone who just caught a bad cold. Now was a different matter.

The bed was surrounded by a protection spell, preventing visitors from being contaminated while protecting Killian from catching other viruses while his system was busy fighting the Dragon Fever. His skin looked pale and clammy and his hair clung to his forehead with sweat. His eyes were closed and he was breathing with difficulty, letting out shallow, raspy, shaking breaths. Gabriel couldn't seem to be able to take his eyes off Killian and he watched his friend, transfixed.

A hand on his shoulder pulled him out of his trance. Mr. Burked was looking at him softly, with comprehension in his eyes, but it was Dumbledore who spoke. "Gabriel, I'm going to take Mr. Burke upstairs to the visitor's tearoom for a drink. We shouldn't be more than twenty minutes."

Gabriel nodded and slowly approached the bed. He couldn't believe how much Killian's state had worsened. But then again, he thought, he should have expected this. He wouldn't be in this ward if he was doing better. He sat down in the armchair, his eyes never leaving Killian. His friend's hand was lying limply on top of the blankets, shaken now and then with slight tremors. Gabriel reached out to take it but pulled back quickly when he remembered the protection wards.

"You can touch him," Mr. Burke said suddenly. "The spell protects you from being contaminated." Gabriel nodded absently. "He's having a good day," Killian's father added, "but he might be slightly delirious."

A few seconds later, Gabriel heard them leave the room. A moment passed before he even moved an inch. Slowly, trying to get rid of the fear inside him, he reached out past the spell and touched Killian's hand tentatively. His friend sighed and turned his head slowly to look at Gabriel who wrapped his hand around Killian's clammy one.

"Hey, Killian," he said softly while the other boy stared at him with unnaturally shiny eyes.

"Lenoir?" he asked quietly with a frown.

"Yes, it's me," Gabriel blurted out, his throat suddenly tightening around his voice.

Killian looked around at the room with a confused look on his face, then he turned back to his friend and said, with a slur, "We've got Transfiguration in ten minutes. Why didn't you wake me up sooner?"

Gabriel was at a loss for words. The fever was making Killian delirious and Gabriel's presence probably had him confusing the hospital with Hogwarts. "It's... Saturday," he said finally with a pained smiled. "There's no class today."

There was a moment of silence before Killian, with narrowed eyes looked away and said, "Oh, that's right, I suppose I'm just a little confused."

Another uncomfortable silence filled the room and once again Gabriel was not sure what to say. He almost regretted coming, but Dumbledore never really gave him a choice. He had never been really good at dealing with sad people, troubled people or, in this case, generally sick people. What was he supposed to say to Killian? At this point, was his friend even conscious of the fact that he was sick? If not, it probably wasn't a good idea to bring up. It would only trouble him more, and Gabriel didn't want to make him worse. Just as he was anxiously lost in his thoughts, Killian spoke again.

"Have you seen Evelyn recently?" he said casually. "I feel as if I haven't seen her in years."

Gabriel felt his throat tighten. "I saw her this morning. She is busy planning the New Year's Ministry Banquet for her mother. That's probably why we haven't seen her much."

Gabriel had hoped this would do it, but when Killian next spoke, it was as if he hadn't said anything at all. "I really like her, you know. I know I'm complaining all the time about how much of a snob she is, but it's just because I don't want her to know that I like her. I know she is too good for me, and she would push me away if she knew. But really, if I ever thought that I had a chance with her, I think someday, if she would have me, I would like to marry her. She's really the most amazing girl I know."

And then, Killian turned his head back towards Gabriel to look at him. Suddenly, his eyes didn't seem so distant anymore. "You'll tell her, will you? I don't think I'll ever come around to tell her myself."

"Sure," was all Gabriel could say before silence fell upon them once more.



When Gabriel came stumbling out of the fireplace and onto the marbled floor of Lenoir Manor's entrance hall, he still couldn't quite stop thinking about Killian. Mr. Valois, a tall, gangly man with long dark hair tied back into a low ponytail, immediately stepped forward to greet him. The butler had been waiting for their arrival near the grand staircase. Gabriel shook his hand and exchanged the necessary pleasantries quite absently. He was wondering whether he should write to Evelyn to tell her she should visit Killian. He didn't like to think that way, but Killian sure wasn't getting any better. He had witnessed this with his own eyes. And there was still the risk that... Well, let's just say that Gabriel didn't think his friend would ever make it back to Hogwarts.

As Dumbledore was coming out of the hearth behind him, Gabriel saw that all of the house's occupants had assembled to welcome him back. They stood in line next to the staircase, facing him and he couldn't help but smile when he looked at their familiar faces. Agnes, one of the older maids who had been employed at the Manor since Gabriel was just a little boy, embraced him lovingly, telling him how much they missed him, and Hugo, the Manor's cook, ruffled his hair affectionately.

When the courtesies were over with, and Dumbledore had been properly greeted by all present, Gabriel promptly excused himself, grabbed his suitcase, and set off up the stairs towards his bedroom. He saw Mr. Valois shoot a questioning glance towards Dumbledore and the guilty look on his guardian's face. The house elf standing ready to take his luggage upstairs looked disappointed, but Gabriel didn't pay him any attention.

He let his fingers slide along the dark polished wooden railing as he climbed the stairs. It had been freshly re-varnished, he noted, and supposed that the whole household had worked hard all week to make the house presentable for Gabriel and Dumbledore. For an instant he felt guilty to be fleeing on them all so soon, but then he remembered Killian's distant eyes and his strangely insistent request.

Gabriel's bedroom was in the main wing of the Manor, on the third floor, right next to the library. In fact, if you tilted a certain book in the shelf containing Gabriel's personal books on the east wall, you uncovered a secret passageway that allowed you access directly to the second floor of the immense Lenoir Library, where Gabriel had spent most of his time when he was home from Beauxbâtons.

The room hadn't changed much since the last time Gabriel had been there. He couldn't help but smile when he saw the large four poster bed in the middle of the room. It looked huge in comparison to the one in his dorm at Hogwarts. The bedding of black and silver, the colours of House Lenoir, was thick and comfortable looking. Gabriel dragged his suitcase into the room and eased it on top to the bench at the foot of the bed before letting himself fall back on top of the covers. How he wished he could just climb under the blankets and let himself sleep for the rest of the day. But he couldn't do such a thing, there was too much to do. He allowed himself a long moment of rest, however, staring at the canopy above the bed. He remembered vaguely that the one from his room in the house where he lived with his parents, in Provence, had been enchanted to look like the starry sky. But this one didn't. It had been his "grown-up bed", as he called it when Valère offered to enchant it too. Gabriel smiled at the memory. The frame of the bed was made of pure ebony and it glinted in the soft light of day.

All of Gabriel's personal effects were exactly as he'd left them. On his desk near the window on the right, were a few spare rolls of parchment, some ink and a few quills. There was even a pile of books on the corner of the desk. He hadn't been able to decide which ones to bring with him to Hogwarts and had finally decided to just leave them all here. On the left side of the room, a door led into Gabriel's private bathroom. Next to it, through the large window framed with heavy drapes, Gabriel could make out the tall, white-washed stone building on the other side of the narrow street. Muggles lived in there, unsuspicious of the fact that wizarding folks occupied the handsome mansion across from them. There was a protection spell on the house, of course, to dissuade burglars of any kind from attempting to break in.

Lenoir Manor was surely one of the oldest buildings in the city. On the inside, the house was filled with light from tall windows and pale walls, but the dark draperies and floors of polished stone were just enough to remind visitors of the rich Lenoir ancestry. From the outside, the façade was in greater parts made of dark stone, but some sections of the house were made of wood – mostly the oldest wings and the tallest turrets – dating back centuries to the very first Lenoirs who occupied the manor. The house as it was now was an amalgam of various architectural styles, as family members throughout the years added and removed elements and renovated others. The main wing was the oldest, and higher than any of the surrounding buildings. It was possible to climb up to the attic, then directly into the tallest turret, following a narrow, white marble spiral staircase completed with black metal railings, up to the top where small windows offered a breathtaking view of the surrounding neighbourhood. The tallest windows had some fine gothic tracery and each floor was defined on the outside by artistically sculpted cornices. The Manor was only five storeys high, but its ceilings were so elevated that it looked much taller. A majestic wrought-iron fence surrounded the residence, decorated during the summer with vines and rose bushes. Lenoir Manor emitted an aura of silent magnificence that made tourists and locals stare in curiosity. There was a hidden courtyard in the back as large as a Quidditch pitch, with a beautiful garden in summer. Long ago it had been host to receptions and garden parties and was seldom used now, but the gardener still tended to it perfectly. Valère had been incredibly fond of this house, which was, as he said many times, Paris' best kept secret.

"Master Lenoir?" a voice asked from the doorway and Gabriel turned his head to see Mr. Valois stepping inside the room. "I apologise, I did not mean to disturb you."

"No, Gaspar, you're not disturbing me," Gabriel said, standing from where he had been lying on his bed. "Is there a problem?"

"I wanted to inform you that Mr. Dumbledore has been shown to his rooms, sir. He was given the guest chambers on the second floor, just like you requested."

"Thank you, Gaspar." Thebutler bowed his head in response. "It's great to see you again," Gabriel added, moving to stand near the window.

"And you too, sir," Gaspar Valois answered. There was the smallest trace of a smile on his face then, which was a sign of greatest joy for a man like him. "You have grown to look even more like your father, if I may add. I expect he would be most proud of you." Gabriel only nodded silently, staring out the window at the cloudless sky above the rooftops. "He has been asking about you," the butler said then, delicately. "He has been particularly bothersome since Master Henri passed away."

"Has he been yelling at the servants again?" Gabriel asked softly.

Mr. Valois looked slightly uncomfortable then. "We moved him into the west wing, sir. He was distressing your mother. I apologise since this was done without your permission, but we did not want to burden you with such..."

"Gaspar, it's okay. You do what you think is best," Gabriel said as he opened the window to let Leo inside, surprised at how fast the bird was. "I will go talk to him and tell him to behave. He won't be troubling you anymore."

"Thank you, sirLunch will be ready at one o'clock. Shall I order for the dining room to be prepared?"

Gabriel shook his head. "Professor Dumbledore and I will eat in the library's sitting room. There is no need for all this fuss."

"Very well, sir," Gaspar said before leaving the room.

Leo had perched himself on the large cage that hung from the ceiling in the corner of the room. He hooted softly as soon as the butler had left.

"If you leave again, don't go too far. I might need you to deliver something later," Gabriel told the bird as he opened his suitcase. He had promised Emerson he would write to him. The owl hooted again, as if in response.

Gabriel stared at the content of his luggage, wondering if he should really bother to unpack. He would only be here a week, after all. Don't be lazy, he told himself, grabbing an armful of his clothes and approaching a large wooden wardrobe. There was still some clothing left inside. Most of it was clothes too fancy for Hogwarts, which he had left behind, and a few old uniforms from Beauxbâtons. He ran his fingers along one of the blue silk shirts embroidered with his old school's logo, and realised he didn't miss Beauxbâtons at all. Even though Hogwarts castle was colder than the sunlit halls of the French Academy's palace, the thought of Beauxbâtons left a coldness in his heart, which the warmth of Hogwarts' residents seemed to melt.

Once his clothing was put away, he grabbed all his notes and notebooks left them on the bench at the foot of the bed. He was going to need them later. Then he turned back to the bookshelf and pulled on his copy of The Little Prince. The wall opened silently and he stepped inside the library.

The Lenoir library was a wide, circular, two storeys room, with a high ceiling, a spiral staircase in the centre, and dark wooden railings. Some bookshelves were up to eight feet high, and you needed a ladder to reach the upper shelves. The scent of this room was one of Gabriel's favourite smells: polished wood, parchment, and old pages bounded by ancient leather. He was not surprised to see, the very moment he walked up to lean on the railing and take a glimpse downwards at the ground floor of the library, that Dumbledore had just entered the room and was staring up at him.

"Mr. Valois said I was likely to find you in here," the Headmaster said softly. "Would you come down, Gabriel, so we can talk?"

Slowly, Gabriel walked up to the spiral stairs and climbed down to the first floor, where Dumbledore was waiting for him. There was a grave and almost sad look to the old man's face.

"Forgive me, Gabriel. I didn't know seeing Killian would be so hard for you. Had I known our visit would affect you that much, I would have never brought you to St. Mungo's."

Gabriel shook his head and managed a smile. "You don't have to worry about me, Professor. I... I'm glad we visited. It made me realise things that... that I didn't want to know." Dumbledore nodded sadly but said nothing. "Killian is my first real friend. I'm glad I could see him..." He'd wanted to add 'one last time', but somehow the words couldn't quite make their way out.

"I understand, my boy," the old man said with a soft smile. "If there is anything I can do to make you feel better, please don't hesitate to ask."

And suddenly, Gabriel realised that there was. "Actually," he started, unsure how to phrase his request, "there might be something."

"Yes?" Dumbledore asked, seemingly surprised.

"I've been invited to this Banquet on New Years' Eve," he said nervously.

"Ah, the Ministry Banquet," Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eye.

"Yes. Most of my friends will be there, and I was wondering if I might attend, with your permission, of course."

Dumbledore was looking around them at the numerous books on the shelves and he spoke distractedly. "Yes, of course you'll be allowed to go if that's what you want. As it turns out, I was also planning to attend. I'm not really one for those formal events, but I do enjoy the dancing and the decorations. There is also the fact that, apparently, a man of my position is expected to attend this sort of party. Formalities are, of course, the boring side of occupying an important profession in wizarding society. I gladly give you permission to go, on one condition. You have to watch out for Cornelius Fudge. The poor man keeps harassing me, demanding I help him plan his political campaign for the next elections. It would be most gracious of you to keep an eye on him and get me out of his proximity if he ever proves too insistent. A simple request to talk to me in private should do it nicely."

"I can do that," Gabriel said with a smile.

"Is there something else?" Dumbledore then asked with a raised brow.

"Well..." Gabriel couldn't help but blush as he spoke. "Emerson Gladwyn has asked me to accompany him, but I thought I should ask you first."

"Oh?" Dumbledore said again, with a glimmer of interest in his eyes and the shadow of a smile on his lips. "Has he made a formal demand?"

"He made me a courtship offer two months ago..." Gabriel said, now blushing intensely. "I just didn't know if I was interested back then."

"And are you now?" the Headmaster asked casually as he looked at the titles of books on the shelf next to where they were standing.

"I... I think so." There was a moment of silence, and Gabriel waited while Dumbledore browsed.

"I happen to know Aldrich Gladwyn from the Ministry of Magic," Dumbledore said after a while. "They call him the Ice Man," he continued with a chuckle. "Oh, I think his heart is in the right place, it's just that he's not very affectionate, but I understand that his son is a very intelligent young man, with a bright future ahead of him." Dumbledore turned back to his adopted son with a smile. "Gabriel, to be honest with you, I am not very familiar with how these things are usually done now. I know some parents would want to meet with the young man and determine by themselves if he is a correct match by way of his exact intentions. But I know that you are sensible and mature enough to know what is right for you and to understand what you want. Hence, I will give you my permission and trust your good judgement. Just know that you can talk to me if you have any questions or concerns... about this, or anything else."

With relief, Gabriel nodded.

"Now," Dumbledore said with a determined look on his face. "As there are so many of those books, where am I likely to find something about shrinking charms?



Severus knew this was a mistake even before he accepted the invitation. So why in the world did he say yes? Because at the time he thought that spending Christmas at the Malfoys was probably better than spending it alone in his dungeons, brooding and drinking too much Firewhiskey. Now he wasn't so sure anymore. At least, away in the dungeons, he wouldn't have to suffer the unfortunate company of Lucius Malfoy.

The man sat before him in the dim sitting room of Malfoy Manor, sipping brandy, his legs crossed leisurely on top of the low table between them. For half an hour now, he had been boring Severus with talks of politics and possible candidates for the next election.

"So, how was your school term?" Lucius drawled suddenly with disinterest as he watched the brandy twirl around in his glass.

"Ordinary," Severus answered with a voice just as monotone as that of his host. "Another four months spent trying to teach a crowd of dunderheads the finer points of potionmaking. It was quite eventless, naturally."

"And what about that new pupil of Dumbledore's?" Lucius asked, and it was obvious to Severus that he'd wanted to bring up this particular topic for a while now. "I've heard through the grapevine that he's quite... skilled." The way he said this last word, with the knowing smirk Severus knew too well, had the Potions Master fight furiously to hide his anger.

"He's only fifteen, Lucius," Severus snapped in a reprimanding tone.

There was a pause while a sneer formed on Lucius' face. "I was talking about his rumoured potionmaking abilities," he finally said slowly, as if speaking to a child. It was a tone of voice Severus was unfortunately familiar with. "I know he's only fifteen. But you,Professor, would do well to remember it."

"What on earth are you insinuating?" Severus sighed, trying to look exasperated instead of panicked.

"I have met the boy in Diagon Alley, with Dumbledore. I have to admit he looks exquisite. And you, my friend," he paused to take a sip from his drink, "are way too defensive of the boy to be indifferent to his many charms," Lucius drawled with a malicious glint in his eyes.

"You're talking nonsense. You best not spread any of these lies around the Ministry. I won't let you ruin the life of a perfectly innocent fifteen year old boy, Lucius. That's completely unacceptable..." Severus said in a deadly tone that sent Lucius in a fit of laughter.

"Calm down, Severus..." he managed once he'd stopped laughing. "I'm only messing with you. I would never dare taint the reputation of your precious student." There was a moment of silence while he took another sip from his brandy and Severus stared at him in dull rage. "You should give it a shot, though," Lucius continued lightly, visibly amused by Severus' lack of response. "Maybe he is interested in older... moribund-looking... frankly boring men," he said with a shrug. "Those French have very strange tastes in lovers, after all."

"If you're trying to get a rise out of me, you're wasting your time, Lucius."

"Oh why, of course he's interested in men," Lucius continued as if he hadn't even heard Severus. "He is too pretty for any woman. It would be such a waste to have him wed some rich old lady." A grimace formed on his face as he spoke. "I ought to arrange something for him, don't you think? It's such a shame my Draco will have to take a wife. That young man would have made him a fine husband one day."

Severus saw in those words an opening to change the subject and grabbed it fast. "You are still young, Lucius. You can have plenty more spawns to brainwash with your ludicrous notions."

Lucius shook his head almost sadly. "I'm afraid not, Severus. Narcissa is frail. Bearing Draco was too hard on her. I don't want her to have to go through the whole ordeal again," Lucius said in a caring voice that surprised Severus. "I should have listened to my mother and married the Bulstrode girl, the fat one. I expect that with her immense bosom she would have given me a myriad of sons. Of course, if they took from her side they might have turned out looking like a cross between a disfigured house-elf and a Saint-Bernard, but maybe with a little luck one of the litter would have had some of my good looks."

Severus shook his head and had to fight a smile from forming on his lips. Lucius' vulgarity never ceased to amaze him. But he knew this distasteful speech served only to mask the hurt he felt at not being able to have any more children.

"But back to the matter at hand," Lucius said suddenly and Severus could only sigh. "I suppose there is always the possibility that the Lenoir boy will take a wife and try to get himself an heir." He scoffed at his own words before taking a sip. "It's useless, if you ask me. This bloodline is a dead end. One of the oldest wizarding families, going back to the first founders of our society, and yet in the last century none of them have seemed to be able to live past the age of forty. For the past hundred years Lenoirs have been dropping like flies. It almost makes you wonder..." Lucius trailed off to finish his drink, but afterwards he didn't seem intent on ending his sentence.

The end of a pure magical bloodline wasn't a subject any wizard was very comfortable with, especially one like Lucius Malfoy, for whom lineage was so important. Severus had to agree though. It had become common knowledge that the Lenoir bloodline was decimating rapidly. Of course some descendents from the line were still alive, because all pureblood families are in some way related, but Gabriel was actually the last person alive bearing the Lenoir surname. In Severus' opinion, it was mainly the result of a series of premature deaths in children and scholars too busy to settle down and form a family.

"Are you related to the Lenoirs?" Severus asked curiously, reminded of a conversation he had with Gabriel a few months ago about Lucius' family.

Lucius shrugged passively as he poured himself another brandy. "I suppose a Malfoy girl married some Lenoir lad sometime in past, but I doubt it's a strong enough connection to link me to the boy in any way. Narcissa is more closely related... through the Blacks, of course." He laughed bitterly. "A daughter of Balthazar Lenoir himself got married to some German wizard in the 1700s. Their daughter married a Black, and here's the result. Of course they descend from an old branch, that's probably why they haven't yet suffered whatever curse the Lenoirs seemed to be affected with. The Blacks are too nasty to suffer from any curse. They still grow like weeds all over the place, inbreeding and producing degenerates. I swear to you, Severus, at the end of the human race, when the Muggles have blown everything up and all wizards have drowned themselves with Dark Magic, all that will be left afterwards will be the cockroaches, and the Blacks."

Severus had to chuckle at this. Despite Lucius' respect for any Pureblood line, his dislike of his wife's family had always been obvious. And honestly, Severus couldn't blame him. The large majority of all the blacks he had known were not exactly good role models for anyone, except maybe a dark wizard in the making or a raging lunatic. This was especially true for Narcissa's sister Bellatrix, who was fortunately locked up in Azkaban prison.

"So, how is the old codger?" Lucius said suddenly, no doubt referring to Dumbledore. "Still berating everyone with his great wisdom?" His voice sounded bitter as he took a sip from his brandy. Severus was not offended. Lucius detested Dumbledore deeply, and the Headmaster didn't exactly fancy the head of the Malfoy family either.

"Oh, you know how he is," Severus said lightly. "That's a pretty accurate definition of his daily activities."

Lucius grimaced like he often did whenever anyone mentioned Albus Dumbledore. "This reminds me! I meant to inform you or something," Lucius said suddenly. "A seat has opened on the Board of Governors. I'm thinking about taking it."

Severus sighed. "Are you still on about trying to get Dumbledore sacked? I thought you had finally ceased to hold whatever mysterious grudge you had against him. This is getting exhausting, Lucius..."

Lucius waved a lazy hand to interrupt him. "I'm not doing this just to get him sacked. I was just thinking that soon Draco will start school, and it might be in his best interests to have his father on the Board of Governors if some things are not working out the way they should." This was a nice load of crap, Severus thought. But he didn't say anything. After a short pause, Lucius smirked. "But of course, if I ever have an opportunity to throw him out, I would be a fool not to seize it," he added.

Severus had no patience for this. Dumbledore had helped him in ways that Lucius would never understand, and he wasn't particularly keen on listening to anyone bashing on his mentor.

"He thinks the Dark Lord is trying to return," Severus said suddenly. He silently rejoiced in the look of pure surprise on Lucius' face.

There was a pause before Lucius said anything. His voice was strangely casual as he spoke, but Severus knew it was just a façade. "He's not the first to suspect such a thing, of course," he started, staring vacantly at the flames dancing in the large fireplace next to them. "There has been talk of this over the years, by people on either side. What makes him think so?"

"Are you familiar with Nicolas Flamel?" Severus inquired, taking a sip from his own glass of brandy, which he'd mostly ignored until now.

"The name rings a bell," Lucius said distractedly.

"He's an alchemist, creator of the Philosopher's Stone," Severus explained. He obtained no particular reaction from Lucius, which made him think that there was something the man wasn't keen on telling him. "Someone tried to steal the stone from him. Dumbledore is convinced it was the Dark Lord."

Lucius scoffed and turned back to Severus, leaning back into his armchair. Suddenly he was back to his own disinterested self. "That proves nothing," he announced. "A stone that gives immortality... anyone would want to steal it."

"That's true, that's what I thought when he told me," Severus agreed. "But of course, there might be something else, some detail he hasn't told me about... No matter, that was months ago. If something else had happened, we would know by now..."

There was another moment of silence during which the two men were particularly aware of the existence of the mark on their forearms. It seemed to tickle whenever they thought about the fallen dark wizard.

"I don't think he will return," Lucius said suddenly, before taking a particularly large sip of his drink.

Maybe it was something in the way he said the words, or maybe just a little something in the way his eyes came to rest on the newly-painted family portrait that was hanging over the mantelpiece, but somehow, Severus knew that very second that there was something Lucius wasn't telling him – something vital, important and terrifying.



Christmas time was proving terribly busy for Emil Rousseau's little potionmaking business. It was so crazy, in fact, that he'd finally done what he'd been dreading for months. He had hired a new assistant. Well, technically Gabriel was never hired because Rousseau didn't have to pay him. He was doing the job because he wanted to, because he was passionate. But this new boy, he did it for the money. And it showed. Oh, he was decently good at his job, but he lacked the curiosity and inquisitiveness that made any good potionmaker. Mostly, Rousseau had him prepare the ingredients and make the simple potions. The boy didn't complain. He was paid well for little effort. If put in the same situation, Gabriel would have frowned and said something like, "A nutriments potion? Is this a joke? Who do you take me for?"

Yes, Gabriel would take this as an insult, Rousseau thought with a smile. But the new boy, however, seemed content doing as little as he could. Was this how today's youth had become, he wondered. And he felt very old thinking that way. At least, the boy didn't complain. He worked in silence, never saying a word about the strange music Rousseau played sometimes when he was in a particularly good mood, or the stench of the fermenting ingredients, or the explosions.

An owl flew suddenly through the open window. It was a Great Sooty, almost pitch-black in colour, with a letter attached to its leg. The boy raised his head briefly before returning to his potion, promptly ignoring the disturbance. Rousseau sighed as he approached the owl. Come January, he would fire the lazy brat. He could at least have the courtesy to check the mail, that wasn't asking too much. He froze as he took the parchment from the bird.

He recognised the handwriting. And the parchment was the same: very thick and almost brown in colour. He had yet to open it, but he was sure he knew what it contained.

Rousseau had received a similar letter months ago, in July, to be more precise. He had never told anyone about it, not Odette, not even Gabriel. Why? At first, because he thought no one needed to know, that it wasn't really any of their business, and afterwards, probably because he was ashamed. He prided himself on his business, which was small, but noble in the way that he brewed only common, perfectly legal potions, and with it, managed to support his experiments. This letter, however, unveiled him as a cheater. Last July, for a hundred and fifty galleons, he had secretly brewed a little-known variation of Conium Serum for a man who, to this day, remained unknown.

This was a poison, of course, nearly undetectable, if there ever existed such a thing as an undetectable poison. There was always a way to detect a poison, if one knew where to look, but if the use of it was unsuspected, Conium Serum was the perfect solution. It acted fast and didn't leave any undesirable hints to its use. Rousseau had brewed it during the night when Gabriel was away. It took six hours to prepare, and he'd sent it just before morning, without anyone else knowing. He had received the money less than twenty-four hours later. He didn't want to know what the potion had been used for, and he hadn't heard back from the mysterious customer since then... until now.

His hand shook slightly as he held the parchment between his fingers. Was this another order? What kind of concoction would this man ask from him this time?

"David," he said to the boy without taking his eyes off the letter. "It's getting late, and I'm tired. You can go home now."

The boy looked up from where he stood, cutting roots and mashing herbs, and a smile formed on his face.

"Thank you. I'll see you on Monday, Mr. Rousseau," he said. He seemed to wait for an answer, but when none came, he shrugged and left the room. A minute later, Emil heard the roaring of the fireplace and the boy was gone.

He sat down on a worn stool by the massive work table, looking at the letter, still folded in his hands. What would it contain this time, and at what price? Would Rousseau do it again? Would his conscience permit him to brew another doubtful potion without knowing what it would be used for? What would Gabriel think of this? If the price offered was similar to the previous one, there was no doubt that Rousseau would be able to continue his experiments on the Wolfsbane Variation.

"Ah, just open it," he groaned to himself, and his fingers unfolded the parchment, shaking slightly.



Your latest concoction proved flawless. It exceeded my expectations. For this reason, I feel no reticence in asking you to produce another potion for me. I would require another vial of the same one, although in larger quantities. 15 ml should do. I will pay you 50 galleons more than last time for this extra amount. Then, if you please, I also require a 250 ml flask of Veritaserum for which you will receive 100 galleons. I will add an extra 40 for your discretion and fast delivery.

Please proceed promptly.


Rousseau stared at the initial for a long time. All he knew of this M was that he was English. In fact, he wasn't even sure it was a man, but he had just assumed, judging by the handwriting, which was slightly untidy.

He was requiring more poison. Emil had been dreading so. And in larger quantities this time. But what of that Veritaserum? What situation could require such a large amount? Who was he planning to interrogate?

Rousseau put the letter down onto the table and rubbed his brow tiredly. In whole, this order was worth 340 galleons. With such a sum, he would surely succeed in finding the right combination for the Wolfsbane Variation. The only problem was, would Emil Rousseau's conscience allow him to do what was necessary?

Chapter Text

"Errors, like straws upon the surface flow.  He who would search for pearls must dive below."

-John Dryden



LENOIR MANOR HAD been decorated splendidly. When he first arrived, Gabriel was too preoccupied by his visit to Killian to notice it, but as he walked along the hallways later, he found himself admiring the subtle yet elegant decorations set up throughout the house. Delicate branches of mistletoe were hanging above doorways and twisted around columns, pillars and railings. Large, luxurious bouquets of crimson red poinsettias brightened up every corner, and Gabriel must have seen at least four decorated trees in the main wing alone.

He couldn't help being touched that the house residents had gone through all this trouble for a one-week visit. He had always loved the manor at Christmas time, and they were probably trying to cheer him up, thinking that Valère's death still weighed heavy on him. Remembering how miserable he was when he had left the house last September, he could understand why they were all still walking on eggshells around him, as if they expected him to break down in tears at any moment. But months had passed, and Gabriel realised that even though at first it had seemed like he would be sad for the rest of his life, he was coming to terms with Valère's absence.

All thoughts of Christmas and decorations vanished from his head when he reached the long hallway of the west wing. It was completely silent, but this wasn't surprising since this part of the manor contained nothing but guest quarters which had been empty for years.

He found the portrait further down the hall, near the staircase leading to the second floor. The man had certainly heard him coming, because when Gabriel finally stood before him, his father was looking away, carefully avoiding his eyes with a blank expression on his pale face.

Hadrian Lenoir sat inside a large silver-framed canvas with a teal-coloured background, wearing an elegant dress robe with the Lenoir family crest over his heart. He was still in his early thirties, frozen in time. Alive, he had been a handsome man with a good heart and an honest disposition. But the representation of Gabriel's father in this portrait was an odd one.

Something had gone wrong either with the making of the portrait itself, or with the spells to activate it. Some said the painter had done a poor job in capturing the man's essence, but since it was the same artist who had painted his wife, and she was just as perfectly charming as she had been in real life, Gabriel doubted this was true. The man in the painting was an abominable, greedy lunatic whose favourite activity was yelling insults at anyone passing by. The residents usually ignored him, but since Valère's death – and according to Monsieur Valois, especially since Gabriel's departure – he had been particularly untamed. When Gabriel's mother – whose painting hung directly across from his in the entrance hall – started sobbing hysterically at his verbal abuse, they moved him out here, where he couldn't bother anyone. Fortunately for them, Hadrian Lenoir refused to ever leave his frame, which made it all the more easy to isolate him.

The thing was, the portrait hadn't always been that way. When the painting had been revealed, shortly after Hadrian's death, it was perfectly fine. Years had passed and one day he had simply stopped talking. He hadn't said a word in weeks, and then he had started screaming. He hadn't really stopped since that day.

"Look at you being all sulky. Aren't you bored out here with no one to yell at?" Gabriel asked lightly, although he wasn't amused in the slightest.

The portrait didn't answer, but Gabriel detected a slight twitch in the man's left eyebrow.

"What are you brooding about now?" he asked, sighing.

Once again, he received no answer. However, he could clearly see that the man was dying to say something very rude. His lips were pressed together tightly as he stared down his nose at the ground next to Gabriel.

"Come on, spit it out already."

"They had no right to move me out here!" the man finally erupted, his eyes shooting daggers as he turned to his son.

"They had. You were insulting everyone, and you were disturbing Mother," Gabriel explained with a warning tone.

"They have no respect! No respect!" the man in the portrait yelled, his voice becoming shrill as it heightened in anger. "I was master of this house once!"

"Yes, well you no longer are."

Hadrian Lenoir fell silent for a moment, looking at Gabriel with an offended, almost horrified stare.

"This manor has gone to the dogs! Valère would never..." he started.

"Valère is dead, Father. Get over it!" Gabriel cried, feeling his patience slipping away.

"Don't you raise your voice at me, young man!" his father said, pointing a threatening finger at him.

"Or what?" Gabriel replied boldly. "What will you do? You're stuck in a portrait. You're too stubborn to even go out and take a walk. What could you possibly do to me from in there?"

"You are a shame to this family! Your manners are despicable!" the man yelled, his face turning red in anger.

"If you hadn't gotten yourself killed and had raised me yourself, we wouldn't have this problem," Gabriel said bitterly. "Now listen to me. I have a guest here this week, and I won't have you disturbing this house any longer. You will keep quiet, and think about what a nuisance you are to everyone here. When I leave, I will tell Gaspar to move you back into the entrance hall. If you cannot behave after that, I'll have you put away in the attic for a year. I'm pretty sure no one will miss you."

Gabriel didn't give him a chance to reply, because he would have either protested or insulted him. He simply walked away, as fast as he could, back to the main wing and up the stairs to his bedroom. Then he shut the door behind him, sat on the old wooden swivel chair next to his desk and put his head in his hands, sighing. No wonder Valère had always refused to have a portrait made. He was probably afraid to end up like his father, a grotesque mockery of his former self.

As he sat there, trying not to think of his father screaming insults at him, Gabriel remembered his promise to owl Emerson.

He looked through the books on the desk and smiled. On top of them was a Sherlock Holmes book, the very first English novel he had read, which he'd received from his first tutor. It had been his favourite book for a long time, until he discovered the second in the pile, The Picture of Dorian Gray. This particular tutor had great taste in Muggle literature – an inclination he had passed on to Gabriel. He thought about sending them to Emerson for some reading during the holidays, but surely someone as educated as him had read them already, even if they were Muggle classics. He walked up to the bookshelf and picked out the first three Colin Margrave books. Out of a drawer, he found some paper and wrapped the novels into a parcel. He took out his best parchment and ink and got his brand new quill out of the velvet case. He felt reticent about using it, because it looked like the kind of beautiful object you just leave on display, but Emerson would probably be flattered to know that he was using it.


Dear Emerson,

You should have arrived home by the time you receive this letter, which I am writing with the beautiful quill you gave me. I hope your journey was pleasant. As for me, I am glad to be back at the manor, even if it is only for a short time. The house has been fully decorated, but it lacks a little bit of the Christmas cheer it never failed to have whenever Valère was around. Professor Dumbledore has yet to set foot out of the library. I suspect he will read at least half the books in there by the time we leave.

Since you were dreading the boredom of your house, I decided to send you the first three Colin Margrave books directly, hoping they will help you pass the time. The third one, The Goblin Conspiracy, remains the best of them in my opinion. I know you are a fast reader, so tell me when you're done with them and I will send you the other three. I wish you happy reading and only ask that you be careful with the books, even though I have no doubt that you will. I received them from my uncle when I was only a little boy and they are very precious to me.

Professor Dumbledore has given me permission to attend the Ministry Banquet. I would be happy to accompany you, if your offer still stands.

Hoping to hear back from you soon,


He was going to sign with Love, Gabriel, but it would have been awkward, especially since the two of them had decided that they weren't yet a couple. He didn't really feel comfortable writing more details about his life either. He somewhat feared that if he revealed to Emerson all the strange things happening to him, he would scare the other boy away for good. But then again, would that really be such a bad thing? Gabriel liked Emerson, but somehow the idea of being so close to someone seemed surreal to him. And he didn't want to have to lie about his life constantly. It was so simple with Severus, because the man knew everything. He could tell him his fears and ask him advice. But it didn't matter anymore. He knew Emerson wanted to be with him, to be there for him, but it just wasn't that simple. Why was it easy for others to be in relationships? Why was it so difficult for him?

When the package was ready, Gabriel stuck his head outside the window and whistled for Leo. The owl must have been perched on one of the high turrets because he flew in only a moment later. The three leather-bound books made the package quite heavy, but Gabriel knew without a doubt that the bird was strong enough to carry it all the way to London. Once Leo had taken off, he changed into casual clothes, grabbed his research and returned to the library.

The table had been set in the sitting room in the corner. A variety of light snacks was served, along with some sweet tea for Professor Dumbledore, who was already eating.

"There you are, Gabriel," he said happily when he saw his adopted son coming down the spiraled stairs. "Do sit down and have some of this wonderful food. I don't know about you, but travelling always leaves me famished. Remind me to congratulate your cook before we leave..."

He paused when he saw the preoccupied look on Gabriel's face.

"Is something bothering you, my boy? Are you still thinking about Killian?"

"No, it's not that," Gabriel said, managing a smile. "I'm just a little tired."

But the old man wasn't easily fooled.

"Did something happen? Please tell me," he asked with a gentle smile.

The window next to the sitting room showed a large view of the courtyard. The garden outside was quiet, grey and lifeless at this time of the year, but a few birds still lingered there, drinking from puddles. Gabriel stared at them for a little while before he spoke.

"Something is wrong with my father's portrait," he confessed. "Well, to be quite truthful, everything is wrong."

"How so?" Dumbledore asked, intrigued.

"He was fine for the first two years, but then one day he changed. He's different now. I might not have known him very long before he died, but he wasn't like that when he was alive. He was a good man. Everyone loved him, you can ask them. But this man in the portrait, he's not my father. He is crude and disgraceful and vicious."

"It happens sometimes," Dumbledore said gently, after a while. "Capturing the exact character of a person is no easy task. It's like trying to duplicate their soul. Even the most talented painter can fail, and then details of the model's personality can get distorted. It's very rare, but in some cases, the being in the portrait ends up only as an echo of the original, with many differences to their personality and memories. The cause of this remains unknown."

He paused for a moment, easily guessing what made Gabriel so worried about this.

"It has nothing to do with you or whatever is affecting you..."

"How could you possibly know?" Gabriel started moodily, but he turned apologetic a moment later. "I'm sorry. I know you're only trying to help me, and you're probably right. It's just that... it seems like there are so many bad things happening in my life all at once. I can't help but think that they're all connected somehow."

"Maybe we shouldn't have come here," Dumbledore said sadly. "Maybe we should have gone on vacation, somewhere sunny, somewhere you could rest your head for a time..."

Gabriel smiled weakly.

"It's very kind of you, but I need to be here. I want to go through the archives, and also look into Valère's documents. I'm certain he knew something about the Wall, and maybe even everything else. He might have left a clue somewhere."

"I understand. You remind me of myself when I was young, Gabriel," he said with a smile.

"Really? How?"

"I was constantly searching, constantly seeking answers to everything. It drove my parents mad."

"Yes, that sounds like me," Gabriel admitted with a laugh. "But Valère always encouraged me."

"And right, he was. Curiosity is the best quality anyone can possess," the headmaster added. "It can lead you on unimaginable adventures and the most unexpected of journeys. As long as you remain curious and keep the urge of discovering, your life will never be boring, even if you are stuck someplace you'd rather not be."

The old man was silent for a long moment, as if lost in his own thoughts, and Gabriel didn't much feel like interrupting him.

"I know you think you can't outshine any of your ancestors," he man continued suddenly. "And it's only natural for you to think that way because you are so modest, but I know better."

Albus Dumbledore's eyes twinkled as he looked at his adopted son.

"I can see all the potential in you, Gabriel. With all the strength you have, there is nothing you can't accomplish if you set your mind to it. Just remember that all those terrible things happening to you, they really do make you stronger. You might not notice it now, and you probably hate hearing this, but at some later point in your life, you will see. Perhaps when events that would make others powerless occur, you will be surprised to realise that they are of no danger to you because you will have lived through so much worse. You and I, we have a lot in common. If there is one piece of advice I can give you, it is this: always do what your heart tells you. And remember that what is right is never easy."

This whole speech felt like a personal testimony of some sort, and Gabriel didn't quite know what to answer. He simply nodded and started eating a few of the snacks that had been prepared, just so he would have an excuse to remain silent.

"Something just occurred to me lately," Gabriel said after some time, when Dumbledore started pouring himself another cup of tea. "I haven't had a dream in a while... a visitation, I mean. I can't help but wonder if the doppelganger took those away, too."

"It's possible," Dumbledore admitted, nodding slowly. "Maybe in making himself scarce he closed off the channel you normally use to reach out. Does that trouble you?"

Gabriel hesitated.

"Not really... It's just strange. I haven't felt so normal in a long time. But I don't know whether I should be relieved of worried. I have a strange feeling that this is just the calm before the storm. It would probably be unwise to let my guard down."

"I agree. Once we return to Hogwarts, we will have to ask Severus if he can continue your lessons in Occlumency. I know you've developed some admirable skills, but it would be safer for you to practice regularly," Dumbledore said, carefully selecting a few biscuits from the colourful plate on the table.

At the thought of having to spend some time with Professor Snape again, Gabriel almost asked the headmaster to teach him himself. But then he remembered all the things in his head that would be better left unseen, and he said nothing.



Gabriel spent most of the following days between bookcases, climbing up and down ladders and stairs, searching through directories, and consulting old, worn leather-bound books that smelled like death itself. The Lenoir family ancestry seemed to go back indefinitely. He wasn't sure he could ever manage to look through all of its history even if he had a month to spare, or even if he spent his every waking moment in the library.

He spent three full days reading old chronicles and browsing through genealogy documents, peeking at family trees and pages ripped from diaries. Everything was interesting, of course, but also quite exhausting. It was when he reached the 13th century that he finally decided he had looked back far enough. No blood curse could jump that many generations or last that long. When he was done, all Gabriel had discovered was what he already knew: that there had been a few Seers in the family, but they hardly counted because they weren't even coming from the Lenoir line itself but from other families by alliance.

And of course, since you find black sheep in every family, certain Lenoirs had dabbled suspiciously in the Dark Arts. But most of them had been dead for such a long time that it was impossible to verify the facts and determine the exact extent of their dabbling. From the few details he did find, and based on the general fascination of the Lenoirs for experiments, Gabriel decided that those few individuals were probably working with educational purposes, or just out of curiosity. Even if he had suspicions, the lack of information made it impossible to prove anything. Gabriel comforted himself by thinking that if one of them had done something particularly horrible or unusual, there would still be records of it somewhere in the library. However, he did jot down their names for good measure.

He had been so busy with his research that he hardly paid any attention to what Professor Dumbledore was doing with his own spare time. When Gabriel finally emerged back into the world of the living, after putting the numerous documents back in their respective places, he found the headmaster in a darker corner of the library, sitting before a pile of dusty, ominous-looking tomes. He barely noticed Gabriel approaching, concentrated as he was on the book opened before him.

"I see you've found something interesting," Gabriel spoke.

The old man jumped and finally looked up at him. He seemed confused for a moment, probably still caught up in his reading, but then he smiled pleasantly at his adopted son.

"Yes, indeed," he said. "I didn't think the Lenoir library would hold such materials as these."

On the narrow bookcases around him were aligned thick, darkly-bound books, on most of which the spines were falling apart. They were covered in strange symbols and some were in foreign languages. It was the oldest section of the library, where could be found the most ancient texts. Those books contained long-forgotten magic and obscure spells. They would probably sell for unimaginable amounts of money if one decided to get rid of them.

"I haven't been in this part of the library much," Gabriel said, examining the titles of the books on the shelf next to him. "Valère wasn't too keen on letting me read these. Maybe he was afraid I might get some ideas."

"And how did your research go?" Dumbledore asked, closing the book he had been reading and putting it back on its shelf.

"I haven't found anything of substance. This was more or less a waste of time," he admitted, shrugging.

"Oh, don't lose hope, my boy," the old man said with a smile, but underneath his good-natured manners, he still looked somewhat preoccupied. "I'm certain you will find something soon. The truth can be found in the most unexpected places."

He sounded like he was speaking from experience.

"You're probably right. And I have yet to look into Valère's office," Gabriel added, not too keen on the idea of searching through a dead man's possessions.

Dumbledore wrapped an arm around his shoulders as they walked to the dining room for supper, wondering what kind of wine would be served. He babbled happily as they walked, talking about trivial things, but certainly not mentioning the obscure books he had been reading. All through the meal and during tea afterwards, he seemed strangely joyful, in the way of people who are trying to hide something. Gabriel had enough experience in unwanted discoveries to know that his adoptive father had read something that displeased him.

Trying as he might to be casual about it, he was pretty sure that Dumbledore had much more on his mind than Shrinking Spells when he first voiced his intentions to visit the Lenoir library. Gabriel wouldn't question him about it though, because if there was something he himself despised, it was people unable to mind their own business. But the whole thing had pricked his curiosity. What was the man researching that lead him into this section of the library? What did he find in that old book that troubled him so much? And, Gabriel wondered, remembering the title of the enormous volume, what in the world could Horcruxes be?



Valère's office was on the second floor of the manor, adjacent to his old rooms. All his personal belongings were still there, left untouched since his death. Gabriel hadn't thought necessary to throw away or move anything. This way, although Valère was gone, a part of him would always remain at Lenoir Manor. It had been his home as much as it was Gabriel's.

He stood in the doorway for a moment, facing the large work desk on the other side of the room. On both sides were two large windows, and above it had been hung a large canvas painting of a ship sailing through rough waters. Like all magical paintings, it was animated. You could hear the roaring of the stormy tides, the creaking of the deck, and if you listened closely enough, even the feeble yells of the crew on board. Now and then, bolts of bright lightning broke through the cloudy sky, hissing like angry snakes as they touched the water.

In the centre of the room, on both sides of a large scale model of the galaxy hanging from the ceiling, were two leather couches. The manor had plenty of sitting rooms, but Valère had always preferred receiving his friends and colleagues in his study. The right wall was occupied by a fireplace, bookshelves and a large window next to which stood a telescope. Along the left wall were a tall grandfather clock and more shelves. Those were mostly filled with strange astronomical instruments that were barely used anymore, but that Valère insisted on collecting. The gold, silver, and brass devices were quietly rotating on themselves. To Gabriel, they were an eerie but familiar sight.

When he was a young boy, this room fascinated him to no end. Even now, it remained one of his favourite parts of the house. Everything in here brought back fond memories: the dark wooden furniture, the lingering smell of tobacco, the crammed bookcases, those strange rotating mechanisms clinking like clockwork gears, and even that painting which he couldn't help finding extremely annoying. As a child, he used to curl up on one of the old Chesterfields with a book while Valère worked at his desk. Often, all those soft sounds, combined with the ticking of the pendulum, the scratching of Valère's quill on parchment, and the dim light from the oil lamps lulled him to sleep.

The room had only been vacant for a few months, but already it smelled of dust and the absence of life, even thought it was cleaned every week. The interior was almost pitch black when Gabriel entered, with the only source of light coming from the streetlamps outside the window. He had planned to do this in the morning, but his thoughts kept him awake and he decided he might as well do something useful if he couldn't fall asleep.

He felt a certain anxiety at the thought of doing this in the middle of the night. It almost felt like he was breaking rules, sneaking into a forbidden place while the rest of the house was asleep. Of course this was his own house, and he could do in it whatever he pleased, but he couldn't remember ever being alone in this room before. Although he had been a curious child, he always respected Valère too much to risk being caught creeping into his office and going through his papers. More than once he'd wondered what the numerous drawers on Valère's massive desk contained, but he had never really felt the urge to peek. But he had also thought that the man had nothing to hide from him. He knew better now, and he could think of no other way to gather information. Besides, it wasn't as if Valère could really say anything about it.

He lit a few of the lamps, and soon the room was filled with a soft glow. The shifting instruments on the shelves cast strange shadows on the walls. Gabriel sat in the large leather chair behind Valère's desk and he paused for a moment, staring around him at all the familiar sights that seemed quite different from this point of view. When he leaned back, the creaking of the chair startled him slightly and he shook his head. Better get this over with, he thought, reaching out to open a drawer on the right.

It slid out smoothly. Inside were pages and pages of scribbling in Valère's familiar handwriting. Gabriel browsed through them rapidly. It seemed they were notes for something he had been writing, probably a research paper. Gabriel couldn't help feeling disappointed that he would never get to read it. Valère's papers were always fascinating.

The second drawer held similar parchments, along with a pack of Muggle cigarettes and a bottle of Firewhiskey. Gabriel smiled and closed it again, remembering how Valère often suffered from writer's block and would try to find inspiration by getting tipsy. It rarely worked and instead of falling into a writing frenzy, he would most often pass out on the couch and only wake up late the next morning.

The third drawer was stuck. Actually, it felt like a fake drawer at first, but this was highly unlikely since all the other drawers were real, and when he tried the third one on the other side, it opened easily. Gabriel slid his hands underneath the desk, searching for a button, maybe, or any other device that could trigger the opening of the drawer, but he found none.

He sighed. Now he couldn't help but be convinced that what he was searching for was hidden in this particular drawer. It could probably only be opened with magic, which meant that Gabriel couldn't do anything about it. He wasn't allowed to use magic outside of school. He would have to wait for morning and ask Professor Dumbledore for help.

He leaned back into the chair, listening to the stormy wind coming from the portrait behind him. That was it, he thought. No sleep for him tonight, this time for sure. There was no way he would be able to sleep knowing that the contents of this drawer remained hidden. From the painting, he heard the captain shouting orders to his crew. He tried to grip the sides of the drawer, attempting to force it out of the desk, but it just wouldn't budge.

Gabriel groaned in anger and hit the desk with his fist. The whole thing shivered under the shock and the ink pot fell over, spilling its contents across the wooden surface. He quickly gathered some spare parchment to try and absorb the mess before it stained the wood, but he stopped suddenly, staring. A bolt of lightning ripped through the grey sky of the portrait with a threatening growl.

There was a dent in the desk, a small round circle, used to hold the ink pot. It was common on any desk, and you could find the same indentations even on the students' desks at Hogwarts, but what was particular about this one was the small little button at the bottom of it. Gabriel wouldn't have noticed it if the light from the lamp nearest the desk wasn't shining directly on it. It was golden, similar to the one you would find on old city houses to trigger the doorbell. It was level with the bottom of the indentation so that the ink pot had covered it perfectly without activating it. A wave of excitement shot through Gabriel's body. Surely this was what he had been searching for.

Forgetting all about the mess of ink now dripping off the edge of the desk, and ignoring the annoying noises from the portrait, Gabriel leaned forward and pressed the button. With a muffled, almost velvety sound, the stuck drawer slid open. The smile forming on Gabriel's face froze. It was empty.

He sat back into the chair, groaning. A crew member form the ship let out a particularly loud yell.

"Will you just sink already..." Gabriel mumbled moodily, rubbing his temples.

But then he started to wonder... Could anyone else have known about this secret drawer? Could someone have emptied it before? It seemed the only explanation. Gabriel closed his eyes, thinking hard. He had to admit, coming from someone as intelligent as Valère, this wasn't much of a secret drawer, really. Anyone who had wanted to go through Valère's things would have quickly noticed, just like he did, that one drawer on the desk did not open. It wasn't very subtle. And even if it wasn't for the spilled ink, Gabriel would have probably found the button, although it would have taken much longer. Because honestly, who would have thought to look under the ink pot? But he was confident that he would have found it eventually. So this trick drawer wasn't much of a hiding place...

Gabriel opened his eyes again and smiled. Of course... The drawer was not the hiding place. It was the key to it.

He leaned forward, exploring the bottom of the drawer carefully. It soon became obvious that there was no false bottom hiding any secret compartment. He felt the inside with his fingertips, searching for any irregularities on the surface of the wood, on the sides and the top. Then, he searched the outside of the drawer, and finally, on the underside, his finger caught a small switch. Full of hope, he flicked it.

At first he thought nothing was happening. He was just starting to lose hope, and anger was about to fill him again, when he heard a very soft click coming from behind him. It was barely audible. In fact, he wouldn't have heard it if the room hadn't been so silent... Wait, since when was the room silent?

Gabriel turned. The painting was completely frozen. The waves were still, the ship tipping dangerously on one side, and not a sound was coming from the crew. Then he noticed a shadow under the corner of the frame and saw that it was no longer pinned against the wall it was hanging from. Gabriel caught the corner of the frame and pulled.

There was a safe behind the portrait – an old wooden box with a combination lock on it. Gabriel had read plenty of mystery novels so he wasn't very surprised by this, although it was a very Muggle thing to do. But it was definitely something Valère would do. Coming from a Muggle family, he could live perfectly without magic, so he tended to do things simply. Gabriel could only thank him for this one. Of course it would be easier to open the safe with magic, and much faster, but he didn't want to have to wait and ask someone for help. It would take a while, but he would do this the hard way.

He didn't even bother trying to guess what the combination was, because he already knew for sure. 14-03-40: March 14th 1940. It was the date Valère had married Petra, the only woman he ever loved.

He expected to find paperwork inside the safe, but what he discovered was even better. There were no important documents, but letters – hundreds of them, tied together in about twenty little parcels grouped by sender. Gabriel's heart jumped inside his chest. This might not be what he expected, but it might be exactly what he needed.

He took the letters out of the safe and set them on the desk, keeping them safely away from the mess of ink still spreading on the wood. Then he shut the safe and put the portrait back into place.

Valère had corresponded with many famous and important people over the years, and here were all the letters they had send him. As he was looking through the parcels, one letter fell out. It wasn't joined to any batch because the sender had only sent this one letter. Gabriel stared at the symbol on the envelope. It was the Lenoir family crest. He opened it quickly.


Lenoir Manor,


May 10th, 1973

To Professor Valère Henri,

Beauxbâtons Academy of Magic


My dear Valère,

Despite our recent differences, it was good to hear from you after all this time. Since receiving your letter a few days ago, I have many times tried to respond but have found myself wordless on all occasions. I still cringe when I think of our last meeting and I regret not what was discussed, but the way the matter has been handled. I think we all reacted rather rashly when we should have made an effort and expressed our opinions like grown adults instead. But now the storm has passed and I think it is time to speak frankly.

I must inform you that, despite your thoughts on the matter, we have decided to keep the child. For us, there was never any other option. I am writing to you without Catherine's knowledge, as she is not as forgiving as I am about this. Our latest meeting still bears heavily on her heart and I fear she might still hold a certain grudge against you. She is of fragile disposition and the Mediwizards have her confined in bed for the next few months until the child is born. She has never been this far along before, so it is a simple matter of precautions. Catherine's own mother had similar troubles during her pregnancy. I believe it is nothing to worry about.

All possible tests have been made and the child appears to be in perfect health. We have been told that it is a boy. This news brings me great joy and a chance to pass on my father's name. Catherine is delighted and ever so eager to see him. She has wanted a child for so long and after all our attempts, it finally seems like this time our wish will come true. We might name him Gabriel after Catherine's dear brother, rest his soul.

My dear friend and mentor, even though your last letter has left me somewhat disappointed, I can only hope that you will come to see reason and realise the wrongness of your allegations. When you do, Catherine and I will be more than happy to forgive and forget. The child will be born in July. I would be honoured if by then you agreed to become godfather.

Deepest regards,


A deep frown formed on Gabriel's face as he read the letter written by his own father a mere two months before his birth. He would have given anything to be able to read the previous letter sent by Valère.

Gabriel had never known the reason why Valère and his parents had grown apart but he never thought it could have anything to do with him. Despite your thoughts on the matter, the letter said, we have decided to keep the child. Did this mean that Valère was opposed to his birth, and if that was so, for what reasons?

"Master Lenoir?" a voice suddenly called.

Gabriel looked up from the letter to see Mr. Valois standing in the doorway.

"Yes, Gaspar?"

"I was doing my round and saw light in the corridor. Is everything all right, sir?" the man asked carefully.

"Yes, yes. Everything is fine, Gaspar. I couldn't sleep and I took a little stroll," Gabriel said, feeling somewhat embarrassed. "It led me here..."

The butler stared at Gabriel in silence for some time, a look of pity on his face.

"I understand, sir," he said finally. "Do you need anything?"

"No, thank you, Gaspar. I'll return to my room shortly... Actually," Gabriel continued, "may I ask you something?"

"Yes, sir?"

The man waited patiently while Gabriel chose his words. Almost nervously, he folded the letter he had been reading and set it on the desk.

"You've worked at Lenoir Manor for a long time, haven't you?" he asked the butler.

"For almost thirty years, sir," Gaspar answered politely. From the look on his face, he was wondering what the point of all this was, but he said nothing.

"So you worked for my parents before I was born? Before we all moved to Provence?" Gabriel asked again.

"That's right, sir."

"Gaspar, do you know what happened between my parents and Valère, why they stopped talking?"

Gaspar Valois looked thoughtful, almost wondering whether or not it was appropriate for him to speak of this.

"I am only a butler, sir," he said finally. "It was not in your father's habits to inform me of such details of his life. But I do know that they had a fight. I remember that there was yelling and some broken things to clean up afterwards. But I don't know the reason of the dispute, sir."

Gabriel nodded. "Very well. Thank you Gaspar, goodnight."

"Goodnight sir," the butler said before leaving the room.

As he walked to his bedroom later, Gabriel couldn't help thinking that Gaspar Valois was hiding something from him.



When Severus entered the headmaster's office on Christmas Day, he found Dumbledore clearly preoccupied. The Potions Master had expected the old man to be excited on such an occasion – well, at least more excited than usual – but the sight that greeted him that morning was unsettling. Albus Dumbledore was rummaging through his office noisily. His red leather suitcase was still next to the fireplace, unpacked, and the spots of soot on his golden robes were a clear indication that he had yet to change his clothes since returning from Paris.

"You do know this is supposed to be a holiday, don't you?" Severus drawled as he watched the old man remove books from a shelf to peek at their titles.

"I am aware of it, but I'm afraid that this matter cannot wait, Severus," Dumbledore said with a mix of distraction and urgency. "Thank you for coming by so early."

"I passed Mr Lenoir in the hallway. He did look troubled also," Severus said. Well, more troubled than he usually is when we happen to meet, that is, he thought. "What have you two been up to this past week? I thought you were to go visit the fancy stores in Paris. I trust Christmas shopping is not responsible for this erratic behaviour of yours."

"Of course not," Dumbledore said distractedly. "Shopping was enjoyable enough. As for Gabriel, he is simply disappointed. He has searched through the whole manor for any hints left by Valère Henri about his... situation, but he hasn't found anything. I, though, have found something unexpected during my stay at Lenoir Manor."

"You've been doing research?" Severus asked, raising an eyebrow.

At that moment, a house elf appeared suddenly next to Severus, who couldn't help but jump slightly in surprise. The little creature was carrying a heavy load of leather-bound books, very dusty and smelly. Stumbling under the weight of them, he walked forward to try and set them down on the headmaster's desk.

"Tinky, thank you so much for your trouble," Dumbledore said, rushing forward to take the books from the elf.

"You're welcome, sir Headmaster. Tinky is greatly honoured to be helping Albus Dumbledore, sir," the creature answered shyly before bowing and disappearing with a pop.

"What is all this about?" Severus asked curiously. "You're having house elves raid the Restricted Section while Pince is away on holiday?" he said, recognising the seal from the closed-off part of the library on the spines of the books.

"I'm simply borrowing some material from my own school's library," the headmaster answered, looking the books over. "And I daresay I don't think any of the students would want or need to consult those. I'm actually thinking about taking them out of the library permanently. Do you know what Horcruxes are, Severus?"

"Yes," the Potions Master answered carefully.

He couldn't help but wonder if this was a trick question. The headmaster knew he had studied the Dark Arts in his earlier days. Was he trying to use this knowledge against him now? Surely not...

"I had vaguely heard about these objects before," Dumbledore continued, "but because I didn't have all the information, I didn't realise their importance. And for that reason, I never thought to look into the Restricted Section to find out more. This past week, however, I found myself into an old section of the Lenoir library going through Dark Arts books and I stumbled upon the subject. My skills with the French language are unfortunately rusty and I fear I have missed many key elements. I could have asked Gabriel to help me translate, of course, but I didn't want to worry the boy. As you know, Horcruxes are somewhat... disturbing."

"Yes..." Severus said trailed off, trying to keep a blank face.

He had a feeling he already knew where this was going. This was going where half the conversations he ever had with Albus Dumbledore usually went.

"I cannot be certain of this now, and much research is necessary to prove this, but I believe Lord Voldemort has made a Horcrux," the headmaster spoke boldly, looking directly at Severus.

"What am I supposed to say to this?" Severus said somberly after a long pause. "Is it even worth trying to reason with you anymore?"

"Think about it, Severus," Dumbledore said, his eyes alight with a fierce determination. "What does Voldemort want most of all? Power, of course, which he gained... but also immortality. And what better way to achieve immortality than creating a Horcrux?"

"If he had created one and was already immortal, how do you explain that he disappeared? And why would he try to steal the Philosopher's Stone if he was already immortal?" the Potions Master asked blankly.

Dumbledore sighed.

"Those are all things that I need to figure out. I expect these books will help me understand the Horcruxes better, but then I will have to look into Voldemort's past and..."

"Yes, well don't expect me to help you," Severus drawled with discomfort. "I'd rather eat nothing but Hagrid's cooking for the rest of my life than meddle with these affairs again."

Dumbledore smiled softly at him.

"It is quite alright, my friend. I can manage on my own. There is, however, one favour I want to ask of you."

A moment of silence passed. Severus wondered what on earth would be asked of him now.

"What is it?" he said finally, sighing.

"Would you be willing to continue Gabriel's Occlumency training?"

"Is that even a favour or is it more like a request?" Severus groaned, rubbing his forehead.

"Please, Severus," the headmaster asked softly. "It would put my mind at ease to know that he can protect himself if this creature that plagued him was to return."

"Yes, I suppose I can sacrifice my spare time for the well-being of your precious boy," Severus answered, somewhat weakly.

Dumbledore smiled knowingly.

"Oh, I'm sure you don't think it's as much of a chore as you make it sound, Severus," he said with amusement. "I know you took a liking to the boy. He is very intelligent, even you can see that, and terribly skilled at potions. And he reminds me a little bit of you when you were younger... quiet and trying to hide in the shadows. "

Severus snorted.

"I was hiding from James Potter and his little friends. You can thank Merlin kids like those only come once in a lifetime because if the boy is anything like me, his stay at Hogwarts would not have been as peaceful with such classmates."

"You should let go of this grudge you hold against James, Severus," Dumbledore said tiredly as he sat behind his desk. "After all these years, I think it's time to move on, don't you? And you should come to terms with it before young Harry comes to Hogwarts..."

"I will continue Mr Lenoir's lessons," Severus interrupted him impatiently. "Is that all you wished to discuss?"

"Yes," Dumbledore said with a sigh.

"Good, then I will see you later at the feast, Headmaster," Severus drawled as a clear warning that he had no desire to talk about anything else. "And when exactly would you like me to resume the lessons?" he added before he left the room.

"Oh, only when term starts again," Dumbledore explained as he opened one of the heavy books. "Gabriel will be leaving tomorrow morning to visit a friend for the remainder of the holidays."

"A friend?" Severus asked, despite himself.

"Yes, he was invited by Mr Gladwyn. They are to attend the Ministry Banquet together. Isn't this charming, Severus?" he asked, raising his head and smiling. "Ah, to be young and in love..."

Severus didn't hear the rest of the headmaster's sentence. He'd already slammed the door behind him.

Chapter Text

"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it."

-Terry Pratchett



GABRIEL HADN'T TOLD Dumbledore about the letter. He knew he probably should, that the man might be able to help him understand, but somehow he felt the need to keep this new discovery to himself. He could talk about the visitations, even the doppelganger, but this was different. This was yet another thing to add to the list of ways in which Valère had deceived him. First, there was the lack of arrangements for Gabriel after his death, then the Wall, and now this. He shuddered to think of what could be next. Of course, he didn't know exactly what this new development involved, but it was hard to be indifferent to it. And people respected Valère. They loved him. Somehow it felt like revealing this last discovery would taint his memory.

He had gone through all the possible answers in his head in the last few days, but none of them made sense, and none of them managed to reassure him in the slightest. Why would Valère be opposed to his parents having a child? What business was it of his in the first place? Gabriel already knew for a fact and yet couldn't quite remember who had told him this that his parents had tried for many years to have a child before he was born. His mother had a few miscarriages earlier on. They had been so happy when they found out that Gabriel was coming. Whatever his reasons were, what made Valère think he had the right to ruin their happiness?

There was one possibility that came to mind, but it was highly unlikely. Gabriel knew about the rumoured curse on the Lenoir name, of course, although there really was nothing to support this theory. If his research had proven one thing, it was that there wasn't a curse at all. The Lenoirs just had a tendency to die young, in his opinion. It was just bad luck. And he knew that Valère had never believed in such rumours either, so it couldn't be the reason why he would have wanted to prevent Gabriel's birth. But why then did he feel the need to tell his parents that they shouldn't keep their unborn child?

Gabriel would have given anything to read the letter sent by Valère, but he had searched the whole manor looking for it, from the basement up to the attic, and through boxes and boxes of his father's old possessions. There was no trace of it anywhere. Gabriel cringed at the thought, but it had probably been burned or thrown away if it was that offensive to his parents. This whole thing was driving him mad with worry and fear, and it was starting to show.

Sometimes he wished he could be more like Professor Snape not in the way that he was a heartless bastard with trust issues even worse than his own, but in the way that he possessed the will and strength to hide his feelings from others. Gabriel was pathetic at hiding his emotions. You could read him like an open book. Most of the time he felt like he was walking around with a neon sign over his head announcing his every thought. It was a real wonder how he had ended up being so skilled in Occlumency when a simple glance his way could tell you his life story. If someone tried to penetrate his mind, he thought, he was only safe as long as they didn't take a look at his face.

He was in a foul mood all morning, and the fact that Professor Dumbledore seemed quite eager to get him out of his office as soon as they set foot back into Hogwarts didn't help. What also didn't help was when he passed Professor Snape in the hallway leading down to the dungeons. He was so grumpy that he didn't even raise his head to nod at the man and wish him a Merry Christmas as he would have done despite their failed relationship. They might not have parted on very good terms, but Severus remained a figure of authority and Gabriel still had manners although the same could hardly be said of the Potions Master. But Gabriel kept his eyes downcast as they passed each other in the long, dim hallway, and disappeared inside the common room as quickly as he could.

Slytherin House was strangely quiet. There were surely other students left for the holidays, but they were probably still in their dormitories since it was quite early. Gabriel carried his suitcase into the fifth years' room and unpacked only a few things. He had brought back some dress robes that had been left at the manor. If he was going to spend the rest of the holidays in a Pureblood house, he needed to be dressed accordingly. All this clothing took up an awful lot of space and he resigned himself to use a larger suitcase. He could have enchanted the small one to magically expand the inside, but those spells really weren't his strength, and as Emerson would probably say, an undetectable expansion charm would damage the leather.

Gabriel smiled for the first time that day. He was a little nervous about meeting Emerson's family, but he couldn't wait to spend some time away from his own life and worries. His week with Dumbledore had been uneventful, sure, but the old man's mysterious behaviour, combined with Gabriel's own worries, made them extremely incompatible for the time being. There had also been the stress of finding Emerson a Christmas present that would equal the magnificent quill he had received. Gabriel smiled again. That had been taken care of a few days ago. He placed the carefully wrapped package in an inside pocket of his suitcase and closed it. Then he sat on the bed and sighed. He really was quite nervous about this upcoming visit.

Two days ago, a letter had arrived to Lenoir Manor. It was sent with Emerson's owl, but addressed to Professor Dumbledore. Terribly curious, Gabriel delivered it to his adoptive father, who informed him, a few minutes later, that it was a request from Aldrich Gladwyn, on behalf of his son, asking his permission for Gabriel to stay at his house for the remainder of the holidays. Gabriel was surprised by this. Emerson had never mentioned any invitation in his letters, but Dumbledore told him that it was customary Pureblood tradition to ask the parent or, in this case, the guardian for official permission beforehand, and that the Master of the House himself had to make a formal request in any courtship affair.

Gabriel blushed at those words, but he understood. It seemed to make sense, but he had never been invited anywhere before, so he didn't know about how those things were usually done. Professor Dumbledore asked if he was okay with it, wanting to make sure Gabriel really wanted to go before he sent his answer. He didn't want his adopted son to be sent to the Gladwyn home against his will, but Gabriel decided to give it a try. It might be a good idea, a good way to take his mind off things. Anyways, it wasn't as if there was anything left for him to research in the Hogwarts library, like he had planned. He had definitely hit a wall in his quest for information, and unless he had a new lead, there was no need to dig further. And so Dumbledore answered with his permission and it was arranged for Gabriel to floo over to Gladwyn Manor on the morning of the 26th.

Emerson, who had managed to read his way through the three books Gabriel had sent him at the beginning of the week, was ecstatic well, as ecstatic as a Pureblood Slytherin whose father is nicknamed "the Ice Man" was really allowed to be. He told Gabriel that Aldrich had been pleasantly surprised when his son announced that he was intending to attend the Ministry Banquet with Gabriel Lenoir. Emerson said his father rarely took any particular interest in his personal life, but this time he had apparently asked a lot of questions and finally came to the conclusion that he wanted to meet the young man in person hence the invitation.

And now Gabriel was starting to be nervous. This felt a lot like an audition of some sort, a trial, or an evaluation of his worth as a person. It was quite nerve-wrecking. Emerson would have it easy at least, Gabriel thought bitterly, since he didn't have any family left for him to meet. Of course, there was Dumbledore, but he hadn't expressed any intentions to meet Emerson. Sure, he knew him vaguely from Hogwarts, but he trusted Gabriel was old enough and responsible enough to choose who he wanted to be with. Gabriel couldn't help thinking that if Dumbledore knew about his last "boyfriend", he might feel differently.

Christmas dinner was an awkward affair. Even if obviously excited by the event, Professor Dumbledore still had this worried look in his eyes. It was driving Gabriel crazy with curiosity, on top of everything else. The other teachers didn't really seem to notice the Headmaster's behaviour, except for McGonagall, who was the most perceptive of them all. She was wearing a ridiculous Christmas cracker paper crown on top of her pointed hat and threw suspicious glances towards the Headmaster now and then. Professor Snape seemed more moribund than usual. Gabriel wondered if maybe, when they'd met in the hallway earlier that day, the man had been on his way to see the Headmaster. Had the old man shared his worries with him? In a strange way, Gabriel almost felt irritated to be left out of those confidences. But then he felt quite stupid about it. Albus Dumbledore was an important man whose duties were much, much bigger than just being Gabriel's adoptive father. And besides, they hadn't known each other that long. If Valère had been hiding things from him, why wouldn't Dumbledore? Be reasonable, Gabriel thought as he poured himself a glass of eggnog.Not everything revolves around you.

There were only six other students left behind for the holidays and amongst them was a Gryffindor first year girl who kept staring at Gabriel from behind the large pitcher of pumpkin juice.

"Hi," Gabriel told her after a while. "What's your name?"

But she merely squeaked and seemed to disappear more into her seat. Gabriel turned back to his plate, slightly uncomfortable.

"Don't mind her," a Hufflepuff girl said with a chuckle.

She was a tall, brown haired seventh year with very large, very white teeth. She sat next to Gabriel at the table, wearing a large purple hat that she'd pulled out of a cracker earlier.

"The Gryffindors probably told her that all Slytherins are evil devil worshippers or some rubbish like that," she finished with a grimace.

"Who says I'm not?" Gabriel asked somewhat somberly.

She laughed loudly at this, and it sounded slightly like she was choking.

"You, evil? You're a funny one! You're friends with Tonks, aren't you?"

"Yes," Gabriel said shortly, slightly offended by her reaction.

She continued babbling on and on throughout the meal. Gabriel nodded now and then for good measure, but he barely listened to her. He didn't think he'd ever met anyone this annoying before, and he was pretty sure it wasn't just because he was in a bad mood. For some reason, he felt really upset that she refused to take him seriously. Of course he wasn't a devil worshipper, and he didn't consider himself evil well, as far as he knew, he wasn't but he wished she would have shown him more respect. He was still a Slytherin, and Slytherins were feared, for the most part. Not that he absolutely wanted to be feared, but perhaps it would be nice for a change.



Gabriel stayed up late that night, settled comfortably in a large leather armchair near the fireplace, reading. It felt good to have the whole common room to himself for once, with no one chattering or playing stupid games nearby. The only other Slytherin left a fourth year boy whose name he couldn't remember had retreated to his dormitory without a word soon after dinner. But Gabriel wasn't tired at all. This was partly because the book, which he had received from Professor Dumbledore, was fascinating, but also because he was extremely nervous about having to meet Emerson's family the next day.

On the other hand, he really wanted to see Emerson. And he wanted to get away from Hogwarts. It was too quiet here. He felt alone with his thoughts and everything that haunted him seemed to be coming back: the doppelganger, the Wall, his parents' deaths, Valère's death, his father's portrait, Killian's illness, that damned letter, the Dark Mark marring Severus' forearm... Yes, he really needed to leave for a while, no matter how insecure he felt about it.

He didn't see another living soul until morning, when he made his way to Professor Dumbledore's office to use the Floo. By then, he was unbelievably nervous, and it probably showed because the old man gave him a reassuring smile, reminding him that they would see each other again soon, at the Ministry Banquet, and that until then, if anything went wrong, he was only an owl away. Gabriel nodded, too anxious to say anything, and threw the powder into the fireplace, calling out his destination.

A few moments later, he emerged into a large, elegantly-furnished sitting room. It seemed empty at first, and he wondered if he should call out to announce his arrival, but as soon as he took one step out of the massive fireplace, Emerson appeared from the left. He was wearing a black tailored suit with a green shirt underneath, completed with a plain but elegant robe. Although Gabriel knew that this outfit had been carefully chosen for the occasion, he doubted Emerson ever dressed casually, even when at home. Gabriel himself had taken some time to select his clothes, knowing that he was meeting important people today. He had opted for a black suit and shirt.

Emerson's eyes were bright behind his glasses and a large smile formed on his face. Gabriel smiled back, feeling slightly more at ease already.

"Hey, you," Emerson said softly as he stepped closer to hug Gabriel.

"Hi, how are you?" Gabriel asked, hugging back somewhat awkwardly out of nervousness.

"Better now that you're here," the other boy said without letting go. "Merlin, I am so glad you came. I've been bored out of my mind."

"Are you... are you alone?" Gabriel asked, looking around.

Emerson stepped back. He was smiling softly, almost knowingly.

"No, my father is upstairs in his study, and my brother and his wife are in the living room with the kids, I believe. They all wanted to be here when you arrived, but I knew you would be really nervous so I threw them all out and told them that they could meet you later at breakfast."

Gabriel blushed but nodded gratefully.

"You know me well," he said with a laugh.

"You're not that hard to know," Emerson answered.

Coming from someone else, this statement might have irritated Gabriel, but for some reason, it didn't really matter.

"Should Trinket take the young Master's suitcase upstairs?" a voice asked.

Only then did Gabriel notice the house-elf in the room standing near a large armchair on the left. It was quite a strange house-elf. It didn't act like they usually did. It stood straight, almost as a butler would, and the pillowcase it was dressed with was a dark colour, perfectly clean and presentable. Its ears were upright and alert. It almost looked proud. Gabriel couldn't help thinking that the name Trinket really didn't suit it at all.

"No, it's okay," the black-haired boy told the elf. "I'll do it."

He took Gabriel's suitcase in one hand, and Gabriel's hand in the other.

"Come, I will show you your room," he said.

As he was guided out of the sitting room and up the grand staircase, Gabriel heard children's laughter coming from a room nearby.

The Gladwyn home was smaller than Lenoir Manor, but it was colder and more austere. Fit for an Ice Man, Gabriel thought as he looked around. But the room in which Emerson led him was much, much better. It wasn't as big as his bedroom at the Manor, but it had shelves of books aligned on the walls, and it actually looked like someone was living here. There was a fireplace and cozy armchairs on one side, and a desk on top of which was potionmaking equipment.

"This is my bedroom," Emerson announced, but he made his way to the right to a side door that Gabriel hadn't noticed before. "And this one is yours," he added, opening it.

Gabriel smiled, intrigued, before stepping inside the room. It was very nice, quite similar to Emerson's room. It was the same size, and the furniture was similar, although it was more impersonal, of course, being a guest room. A fire was already roaring in the fireplace and the wardrobe was opened, ready to hold Gabriel's clothes.

"This is where my friends usually stay when they visit," Emerson said, putting Gabriel's suitcase down on the bed. "Let's just say it hasn't been occupied that often," he admitted with a shrug.

"Thank you," Gabriel said politely. "It's very nice. I like it."

Emerson approached him, almost carefully, took Gabriel's hands in his and kissed him softly on the lips.

"You're welcome," he said. "I'm so glad you came."

"I'm glad too, but I'm very nervous about meeting your father," Gabriel admitted with an uneasy smile.

"Don't be. You're clever, handsome and rich. I'm sure he'll love you," Emerson said before sitting down on the bed. "He isn't bad, just... indifferent to most things. My brother is the one you'll have to worry about. He isn't mean either, but he is insufferable. Cadwell teases me all the time. I beg you not to listen to all the embarrassing stories he will tell you about me. I would have preferred you to visit after he left, but he is attending the Ministry Banquet too so he's here until New Year. And then there's his little monsters..."

"How old are they?" Gabriel asked as he opened his suitcase and started unpacking.

"Alcott is five and Orwin is three, and Victoria has another one on the way. Merlin help us all. In the three days they've been at the manor," Emerson complained, "they've broken at least five antiques, they finger-painted in my Ancient Runes textbook, and they stole my wand twice."

"They're children, Emerson," Gabriel said with a smile. "Do you really expect them to sit down and do nothing all day long? In fact, if you've been so bored, why didn't you play with them a bit?"

Emerson looked at him with a horrified face.

"I don't want to play with them. They're always dirty. How do they manage to get so dirty? Their hands are always greasy. It's like they spend their time in the kitchens smearing food all over their faces."

"Well, they're kids, that's what they do," Gabriel said with a shrug.

"Does not loving kids make me a bad person?" Emerson asked suddenly, a bit of worry on his face.

"I don't particularly love them either, if that can reassure you, but I don't dislike them," Gabriel replied as he put the last of his robes away. "I haven't really known any young kids, though. I spent most of my life in the company of studious adults, and most of my childhood hiding from other kids my age."

"I would hate them even more if my classmates had been as mean to me as yours were," Emerson said with a frown.

"I've managed to convince myself that such characteristics are only proper to a select number of people," Gabriel explained with a shrug.

Emerson smiled.

"You're lucky to have grown up on your own though, with no annoying siblings and with a scholar as your guardian."

Gabriel thought that he would have much rather lived with his own father, like Emerson, no matter how cold or uninterested he might have been, but he said nothing. That would have probably made him uncomfortable.

"Oh!" Gabriel exclaimed as he was just starting to shut his now empty suitcase.

He had almost forgotten the Christmas present in the inside pocket.

"What is it?" Emerson asked.

"My Christmas gift for you," Gabriel said, blushing as he handed him the small package wrapped in green paper. "I didn't think I could find anything that would equal your gift, but I suppose this is as close as I'll get."

He watched nervously as Emerson smiled, ripped open the paper and stared in silence at the book he found underneath.

"You can't be serious..." he muttered slowly, turning it over in his hands carefully. "This is a fake... You're kidding me..." he finished, raising his head to look at Gabriel with wide eyes.

Gabriel smiled wildly and shook his head.

"It's real, I swear. I found it in the Lenoir library. No one uses any of the books anymore. I thought, why let it sit on a shelf for years, unnoticed, when it could..."

He didn't have time to finish his sentence because Emerson was hugging him tightly.

The book was a copy of The Spellbound Numerals by Bridget Wenlock, an ancient arithmancer and one of Emerson's idol. This particular copy dated back from the 1500's, and it was probably one of the oldest editions still found today. Emerson already owned a copy, a much more recent one, but the book had been adapted and edited so many times before that much had been changed. Most of the original texts had been lost through the years.

"You keep surprising me," Emerson said, his voice muffled by Gabriel's shoulder. "Every time I think you couldn't possibly be more amazing, you prove me wrong."

"You're exaggerating," Gabriel complained, laughing. "It's only a book."

Emerson stepped back and looked at him, shaking his head slowly.

"You really have no idea, do you?"

"About what?"

"Forget it," Emerson said with a smile. "Come, I'll take you to meet my father."

Gabriel hesitated, suddenly nervous again, but Emerson took his hand gently.

"You have nothing to worry about, believe me," he said. "I'm sure he'll love you."

They went back downstairs and headed towards the back of the house. Gabriel could hear voices and the sound of clinking dishes and kitchenware coming from somewhere inside the manor as the servants were getting ready to serve breakfast. Emerson guided him along empty and dim corridors until they reached a pair of half-opened wooden doors.

"Ready?" Emerson asked with a reassuring smile.

"Yes," Gabriel said, knowing that he should get this over with as soon as possible.

Emerson knocked softly one of the doors and pushed them open wider, not bothering to wait for an invitation.

Emerson and his father were similar yet different in various ways, Gabriel thought as he looked at the man inside the room. He didn't think he had ever seen anyone so tall before except Hagrid, of course, but he was half-giant. Even sitting down, Aldrich Gladwyn looked so tall it was almost intimidating. Emerson was a bit taller than Gabriel, but he was nowhere near his father's height. They had the same dark hair, though Aldrich's was longer and fell elegantly around his face in loose waves. He was dressed in black robes and wore an intricate satin neckcloth that added to his aristocratic image. He sat behind a massive desk and was writing something down. The scribbling of his quill on parchment was the only noise in the room.

"What is it?" he asked distractedly as he heard them enter the room.

"Father," Emerson said politely, "I would like you to meet Gabriel."

The man finally raised his head. Some of his facial features were familiar from Emerson's face, Gabriel noted, yet his eyes were a dark grey instead of Emerson's warm brown. His jaw was also more squared, while his son's face was longer, but they had the same cheekbones and forehead.

Aldrich Gladwyn stared at Gabriel for a long time, and then his lips curled, very slightly, into a smile that Gabriel wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't seen it many times on Professor Snape's face. He set his quill down into the ink pot and rose from his desk. The man was even taller than Gabriel had imagined, and if he had been much younger, he would have shied away from him. But he stood still as Emerson's father approached them, still not saying a word, and looked Gabriel over carefully.

"Father," Emerson said in a reproachful tone, "say something or you'll scare him away for good."

Aldrich cleared his throat before speaking, without taking his eyes off Gabriel.

"You have very good taste, my son, impeccable," he said in a deep voice with an undertone of appreciation that made Gabriel blush. "I am delighted to finally meet you, Mr. Lenoir," he added.

Aldrich Gladwyn shook Gabriel's hand softly, as if he might break it if he wasn't careful. Gabriel had no doubt that he could.

"Please call me Gabriel, and thank you for inviting me into your home, Mr. Gladwyn," Gabriel said politely. "Your house is beautiful."

And Aldrich smiled for real this time. Emerson almost looked taken aback at such a sight.

"Why, thank you, and you're welcome, young man. Such a lovely accent you have..."

He turned to his son and shot him an approving glance that had Emerson rubbing the back of his neck embarrassingly. Then he turned back to Gabriel.

"Tell me, is the room to your liking, Gabriel? I wanted to give you one of the bigger suites, but Emerson insisted that a guest room would suffice," the man said with a tinge of annoyance in his voice, as if it was blasphemy to have Gabriel stay in such common quarters.

"It's perfect, sir. It's more than enough for me."

At that moment came the deep sound of a bell, and it resonated throughout the whole house.

"Breakfast is served," Aldrich announced before offering his arm to Gabriel, who took it after a nod from Emerson.

They walked through the hallways in the opposite direction from where Emerson had led Gabriel before and emerged into a long corridor lined with moving portraits who watched them with interest. Aldrich talked as they walked, telling Gabriel about the house and the family and their legacy, while Emerson followed behind them silently. A portrait of Emerson's deceased mother was the last one before they emerged into the entrance hall, and Gabriel recognised on her face the features of Emerson's that didn't come from his father.

When they entered the dining room, the rest of the family was already seated, and the food was appearing on the table progressively. The Gladwyn house's staff was composed exclusively of house-elves, unlike at Lenoir Manor, where there were only three of them. Trinket was standing silently by the fireplace, ready to fulfill any request from the wizards. Once again, Gabriel was unsettled its unusual behaviour.

Cadwell Gladwyn was very much unlike his father and brother. His hair, which he was wearing shorter than the both of them, was in complete disarray, but Gabriel understood that it was done on purpose. He was wearing glasses similar to Emerson's and had a short beard that, in contrast to his hair, was well-groomed. He was dressed, elegantly enough, in a dark blue, pinstriped suit completed a wizards robe, but it was his manners that set him apart from his kin. He was loud and laughed a lot clearly still a child at heart.

Cadwell's wife, Victoria, was of a gentle nature. They balanced each other out, Gabriel thought. She wasn't very pretty, yet had a smile that could light up the room. She was pregnant with her third child, but her silhouette remained graceful even with her heavy belly. Their children were almost identical, except for the difference in height. Emerson had exaggerated their behaviour. Gabriel had imagined them to be little monsters who never ceased to yell and scream, but they were agreeable enough. Alcott was quite shy and barely said a word the whole meal, but Orwin, the youngest, sat across from Gabriel at the table and made faces at him before breaking out in a fit of giggles. He was quite adorable, to say the truth.

"So, Gabriel, do you like Quidditch?" Cadwell asked after a while.

Gabriel heard a soft groan coming from Emerson, who was sitting next to him. Cadwell was manager of a team in Ireland, and Emerson had told Gabriel that whenever he got started on the subject of Quidditch, he could go on and on for hours. Despite Emerson's annoyance with his brother, Gabriel thought he was good company. He reminded him of Killian.

"I've never played before, and have only seen a few games, but I enjoy flying," Gabriel answered diplomatically.

"I see... not much into sports, are you? So you're more of an intellectual, like Em. Even when he was a kid, you could barely get him away from his room and his books..."

"Here we go..." Emerson whispered, frustratingly spreading some jam on a slice of bread as his brother starting talking about his childhood.

"...sometimes he got into his head the... Orwin, don't play with your food... He got the strangest ideas. When he was five or six he spent a whole week pretending to be a ghost, walking around the house covered in a white sheet. Until he walked straight into a wall and broke his nose!"

Cadwell erupted in loud laughter and Orwin followed suit. Whether the little boy had really been listening to the conversation, or whether he was just laughing because his father was, Gabriel didn't know.

"You remember that, Em?" he managed in between guffaws. "That was bloody hilarious!"

Emerson was silent, staring at his plate. The fingers clutching his fork were turning white.

"Cadwell, watch your language in front of the children," Victoria reprimanded softly.

"Sorry, darling," Cadwell said, wiping at his eyes with a napkin.

"Indeed, Cadwell," Aldrich said suddenly, "it would be most gracious of you to abstain yourself. Need I remind you that we have a guest?"

He had been reading the Daily Prophet since the start of the meal and when he finally folded the paper to look at him, Gabriel realised had almost forgotten he was still there.

"Forgive me for bringing up the matter, but I was very sorry to hear about Mr. Henri's passing. I wanted to give you my condolences," Emerson's father said in a soft and polite voice. "I understand Albus Dumbledore is your guardian now?"

"Yes, that's right, sir," Gabriel said as he set down his tea cup.

"And how are things going with him, if it's not too improper to ask?"

"It's going well. Better than I expected."

Aldrich nodded, genuinely interested.

"And he is in charge of all your affairs until you reach majority, am I right?" he asked again, picking up his knife and fork and cutting a piece of ham.

"Oh, I know that face," complained Cadwell. "You're getting ready to bore us with political talk again, are you, Father?"

Aldrich frowned deeply before turning to his son.

"This is not boring talk, Cadwell. I am merely interested in our guest. Behave yourself!"

He turned again to Gabriel, waiting for an answer.

"Officially," Gabriel started, feeling very much on the spot, "Professor Dumbledore manages my affairs and my estates, but he has yet to take a decision without consulting me first. He has been very respectful."

"Unless the French have recently opened a bank of their own, I suppose you're in business with Gringotts?" Aldrich asked again, between two very elegant mouthfuls.

"Yes, they hold all my accounts."

Gabriel was honestly starting to wonder where all this was going.

"And are the goblins keeping you well-informed concerning your affairs?"

"I beg your pardon?" Gabriel asked, uncertainly.

Cadwell had fallen silent and was looking at his father rather severely. Gabriel turned to look at Emerson and found that he was doing the same.

"If someone was to... help himself to your belongings, would you be warned?" Aldrich asked lightly, just as if he was asking about the weather in Paris.

Emerson cleared his throat loudly. It might have been a warning for his father, but the man ignored him.

"You think Professor Dumbledore would do that?" Gabriel asked quietly.

Aldrich Gladwyn shrugged before taking a sip from his tea.

"Albus Dumbledore is a powerful man, Gabriel. He has lived a long, mysterious life. Despite what all of you younger people seem to think, he has not always been the childish old man he is today. In his youth, he has meddled with a whole other type of people."

"Alcott?" Cadwell told his eldest son. "Are you finished with your toast?"

The little boy nodded solemnly.

"Then take your brother into the playroom, will you? We have some grownup talk to do and it's going to be really boring. Trinket will watch you."

The house-elf almost seemed disappointed to be put on babysitting duties, but he followed the two youngsters out of the dining room.

"If you'll excuse me," Victoria said suddenly, rather uncomfortable. "I think I will retire to my rooms and rest for a bit. The little one has been restless all night," she explained, rubbing her belly lovingly.

They all stood as she left the room, and when they sat down again, there was a full minute of silence.

"What was I saying?" Aldrich said then. "Ah, yes. Well, for example, few people know that Dumbledore's father was sent to Azkaban for the murder of three Muggles," he started.

"That doesn't really mean anything, does it?" Gabriel said, feeling it was his duty to defend his guardian, but doing his best to stay polite. "No one is responsible for their parents' actions."

"Indeed," Emerson's father said, staring deeply at Gabriel. "Let's just say that his past is not as clear as he lets on, and as Shakespeare said, What's past is prologue."

Cadwell laughed. Gabriel was grateful, for it broke some of the tension in the room.

"Do you expect Dumbledore to go on a rampage and start killing Muggles any time soon? Really, have you met the man, Father?"

"On a few occasions," Aldrich said casually as he ate his breakfast.

He seemed so calm you could hardly believe he was in the process of bad-mouthing one of the greatest wizards alive.

"Do you know it was he who convinced the whole board of governors to include Muggle studies in the Hogwarts curriculum?" Cadwell continued.

"How do you know that?" Emerson asked.

"It happened when I was in third year. Albus Dumbledore is one of the most openly Muggle-friendly wizards out there. With all due respect, Father, your claims make no sense to me."

"He wasn't always so friendly towards them. In fact, I think all these dealings with Muggles is done out of nothing more than culpability. Few know this, but Albus Dumbledore was friends with Gellert Grindelwald in his youth. From what I heard, they were more than friendly and they shared the same ambitions for glory and power."

"But Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald," Emerson interrupted.

"Some people believe that the whole thing was staged," Aldrich replied.

"And are mostly considered conspiracy theorists," Cadwell said with a sigh. "They also believe that the goblins are conspiring with house-elves to take over the wizarding world and that Harry Potter is a reincarnation of Merlin himself."

Aldrich pushed his plate to the side and sat back in his chair, eyeing his son for a moment in clear annoyance. Then he turned back to Gabriel and spoke softly.

"My point is that some people are more than meets the eye. The best of us have been known to stray from the path now and then. I am merely worried about you, Gabriel. It would be disastrous for one so young to be unknowingly dispossessed of his wealth by a trusted individual. If you are to one day be wedded to my son, it is only natural that I would want to protect your interests."

Emerson hid his face in his hands and Cadwell chuckled around a mouthful of bread.

"Isn't it a bit early to be talking about marriage?" he asked with a frown. "I mean, Em only just met the lad."

His question was merely ignored, as Aldrich, deep in thought, continued to address Gabriel.

"I ought to put you in contact with Rokakrok at Gringotts. He is very discreet about his business and doesn't mind doing a few extra hours for a fair price..."

Gabriel, who had found himself wordless many times during the conversation, seemed to find his voice again, and when it came out, it sounded bitter.

"That won't be necessary, Mr. Gladwyn. Although I appreciate your concern, I fully trust Professor Dumbledore with my affairs. I have no doubt he would never use his guardianship of me to his own profit, and there is nothing that was discussed here that I didn't already know," Gabriel said.

It was probably the best lie he had ever told because he saw genuine surprise on Aldrich Gladwyn's face.

"Now if you could excuse us, Father," Emerson said, standing up and nodding to Gabriel to do the same. "Gabriel has yet to unpack his suitcase, and we have some catching up to do."

Emerson slammed the guest room door behind them.

"What the hell is wrong with him?" he groaned in a fit of rage. "Gabriel, I am so sorry! I had no idea he would be like this... Merlin, I am so ashamed," he said before letting himself fall into an armchair next to the fireplace.

Gabriel sat down next to him and stared into the fire distractedly. He was thoroughly shocked by all this new information.

"It's not your fault," he said, but Emerson interrupted him before he could continue.

"I can't believe what he is trying to do!" the black-haired boy complained, hiding his face into his hands. "I genuinely thought he was happy for me... for us... But really, all he's thinking about is what my marrying you could bring him in fortune and titles. And he doesn't even have the shame to be subtle about it! You should have told him straight up to mind his own business."

"I am guest in this house, Emerson. That would have been terribly rude."

"Maybe, but that would have shut him up," Emerson sighed. "I understand if you want to leave."

"No," Gabriel said quickly. "No, it's okay. I will stay for now."

There was a moment of silence. Emerson was picking nervously at his nails. Gabriel had seen him do so throughout the meal and they weren't so well manicured anymore.

"Did Dumbledore really tell you all this stuff?" he asked after a while.

"No," said Gabriel, shaking his head. "He never said a word. But then again, he has no reason to tell me anything about his life, and I have no right to question him about it..."

"Do you tell him personal things?"

"Well, of course... He has to know, he's my guardian."

"Then there is no reason for him not to confide in you also. Any relationship of any kind should go both ways," Emerson explained.

"So you think I should confront him about it and ask him directly?"


Gabriel shrugged, not sure how to respond to that.

"I don't think I'm that selfless... I am terribly afraid of making people uncomfortable, you know," he admitted.

Emerson smiled, raising his feet and resting them on the low table between them. This move was very unlike him, but after what they had just gone through, he didn't seem to care.

"If they make you uncomfortable, it's only natural to reciprocate," he told Gabriel with a shrug.

"Yes, I understand that's how most Slytherins think," Gabriel mused. "Sometimes I wonder why I was sorted into Slytherin in the first place."

Emerson raised an eyebrow at this declaration.

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you think I'm... I don't know... different from the others?"

"Yes, of course. That's why I like you. Is that a bad thing?"

Clearly Emerson didn't understand what he was talking about.

"All of you, you seem so... bold and vengeful, and fearless... I feel like a sheep in the wolf's den... or more like a mouse in the snake's den..." Gabriel trailed off.

Emerson looked at him in silence for a few seconds and then shook his head.

"You're really sensitive about this, aren't you? What brought this up?"

"Well, some Hufflepuff girl at dinner yesterday, she..."

"You're that upset because of a Hufflepuff?"

"I know, I'm pathetic..."

"That's not what I meant..."

There was a knock at the door, and Cadwell opened it only a moment later. His face was very serious.

"Gabriel," he started, "my father wants a word with you in private. He's in his study."

And although the two brothers might not always get along, they shared a long worried stare.

"That's out of the question!" Emerson said finally, standing up. "I will go talk to him..."

"No, Em," Gabriel interrupted urgently. "It's okay..."

"I talked to him after you two left. I made some things clear with him and I think he might want to apologise. But you don't have to go if you don't want to, Gabriel," Cadwell said kindly.

"I'll go with you," Emerson announced when Gabriel stood up to leave.

"There's no need. I'll be fine."

"Well... I'll walk you there and wait outside the door, then."

When Gabriel entered, Aldrich was standing behind his desk, looking out the window When he closed the door softly behind him, the man turned around.

"Gabriel, sit down, please," he said politely, gesturing towards a chair in front of his desk.

And Gabriel sat, wondering how many times Cadwell and Emerson had sat in this same chair while being reprimanded by their father.

"My sons seem to think I was tactless and terribly impolite to you," he started.

There as a long pause and then he shrugged before continuing.

"I have trouble understanding what exactly I did wrong, but nonetheless... I deeply apologise if I have offended you."

"I am not offended, sir. Everyone is entitled their opinion, but personally, I placed my trust in Professor Dumbledore, whom I consider a good man, and it pained me to discover that some people think otherwise," Gabriel managed after searching for the right words.

Aldrich looked irritated, but this feeling seemed to be directed at himself.

"Yes, I can imagine that my words struck you as particularly distasteful... Here I was, denigrating the only man you feel you can trust..."

He paused again, rubbing the bridge of his nose with long, graceful fingers.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt that Albus Dumbledore is a good man, or at least, tries his very best to be, and he was undoubtedly the best choice for your guardianship better than the Marlows or that prick Angus Moram, for sure but the best, in my humble opinion, would have been for you to be placed with a normal, middle-class family. Although Merlin knows that there isn't one out there selfless enough to take in a rich young orphan without wanting something for themselves. And even if there had been one, they stood no chance against the vultures fighting over your guardianship. It's a cruel world we live in, Gabriel, cruel and unforgiving."

"Yes, I am aware, sir," Gabriel said softly.

Aldrich stared at him almost sadly.

"I am sure you are, young man. Has Dumbledore discussed with you the responsibilities you will hold as his heir?" he asked again, and it was obvious, this time, that he was trying not to rush Gabriel into any topic.

"No, sir, we haven't talked about it yet. In fact, I don't know if he intends to discuss it with me at any point..." Gabriel trailed off.

"I think it's important that he should," Aldrich admitted. "I am only giving you my opinion here, or you can consider it advice which you can choose to consider or ignore, but Albus Dumbledore is not so young anymore, and when he dies, as his heir, you will inherit not only his fortune, but everything else that comes with it. I know he seems in perfect health, but even the healthiest can die before their time, as you know."

"Nobody dies before their time, sir," Gabriel said. "That's what 'their time' means."

Aldrich seemed bemused.

"That's a very mature way to see things, I must admit."

"Professor Dumbledore says that to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure."

"He does have a way with words, doesn't he?" Aldrich mused with annoyance. "However, you should really consider discussing these matters with him as soon as you can. You know Dumbledore holds three seats on the Wizengamot council."

"I am still unfamiliar with British politics. What does this mean?" Gabriel asked curiously.

"This means that whatever matter is being voted, if he is for or against, his vote counts three times. In the past, seats were mostly passed on through lineage in high born families, but it is not always so now. Dumbledore won his first after he defeated Grindelwald, then the other two were passed onto him by former members. He is one of the most influential men in wizarding society today. When he dies, these three seats will, by law, be passed on to you... unless he gives them away to someone else in his will, of course. But the point is, you need to know how to play the political game, Gabriel, or society will swallow you whole."



If Gabriel thought this visit away from Hogwarts would clear his head, he was mistaken. He rapidly found himself with more worries than he had before he came to Gladwyn manor. Now he couldn't wait to talk to Dumbledore and be reassured, but at the same time, he didn't know if he should even mention any of this to him.

Luckily, the next few days were uneventful. Gabriel and Emerson talked and played chess a lot. There were kisses, but not so many because the children were often around. Aldrich spent most of his time working in his study, and meals were more enjoyable for that reason. Cadwell told them all the irresponsible things he had done while at Hogwarts, and even though Emerson frowned upon most of them, Gabriel liked to hear how things went in a different house. Cadwell had been in Gryffindor. Maybe that's why the two brothers didn't get along well, since Gryffindors and Slytherins were supposed to hate each other. Sure, Gabriel had no problems with the Gryffindors, but he had come to understand that he was an exception.

The only unpleasant event happened at night, three days after Gabriel arrived at the Gladwyns. There was a storm outside, and you could hear the wind howling shrilly and the swish of the snow as it whipped against the windows. Gabriel had trouble falling asleep because of it. In the dungeons at Hogwarts, even with the worse weather, you wouldn't hear a thing, and in Paris, the weather was generally very mild. He wasn't used to sleeping through so much noise. He could hear the sounds even as he fell asleep, they remained in the background as he slipped into uneasy dreams.

He found himself in a long, dim and cold hallway that he recognised quickly as the one leading to Slytherin House in the dungeons of Hogwarts. The torches on the walls were burning dimly, the flames were dancing lazily, almost in slow motion. Gabriel knew that he was supposed to go to the common room, that someone was waiting there for him, and he tried to walk faster, but his legs were numb and aching. It was like walking through deep snow. Moving his body was hard, as if he weighted twice as much as usual. After what seemed like hours, he reached the door and pushed it open. The light in the common room was scarce. Everything seemed blurry, but Gabriel could see a silhouette near the fireplace. He made his way towards it, still held back by this strange heaviness. It was like he wasn't supposed to be here, like he was forcing his way through something forbidden that was trying to throw him out.

And the person next to the fireplace turned to face him, but unlike everything around, their face was clear. Killian Burke frowned as he saw him, as if utterly surprised by his presence there.

"Gabriel?" he said.

Gabriel's eyes opened as the wind outside Gladwyn Manor gave a particularly loud howl, but the name still resonated inside his head so clearly that for a moment he was sure someone in the room had talked. He sat up in bed and looked around, alert. The room was empty, of course. The fire had gone out and only embers remained in the fireplace, lighting up the room dimly.

Suddenly Gabriel knew that this hadn't been a normal dream. But it hadn't felt like a visitation either. Visitations seemed much more real than that. Where had all this blurriness and vagueness come from? He had never had such a dream before... And then his heart leapt painfully. If he had seen Killian in a dream, could this mean he had died?

He jumped out of bed and ran across the room, opening the door linking his guest room to Emerson's bedroom. His friend was sleeping peacefully, wrapped into his covers as in a cocoon.

"Em! Wake up!" Gabriel said, urgently, shaking him slightly.

"Argh... what is it?" he asked, his voice thick with sleep.

But when he opened his eyes and saw Gabriel's face, he sat up quickly.

"Did something happen? What's wrong?"

"It's Killian!"

"What?" Emerson asked, confused, as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. "Killian Burke? What about him?"

"I just... I have this feeling something happened to him," Gabriel explained, terribly aware of how crazy he sounded.

"What makes you say that?"

Gabriel didn't know what to answer. He stayed silent, searching for words. Emerson put a hand on his shoulder, smiling gently.

"Gabe, I think you just had a nightmare..."

"No, no, it wasn't a nightmare. I don't have nightmares..."

And Gabriel had no other choice but to tell him everything.

Well, not everything, of course. But he did tell him about the visitations, emphasising the fact that every time he saw someone else in a dream, it meant only one thing. When he was done telling the tale, Emerson was silent for a long time, unsure what to do.

"So you think that Killian is dead?" he said tentatively, visibly shaken by the revelation of Gabriel's gift.

"I don't know... I think he might be... I should send Mr. Burke an owl to ask if everything is alright..."

"I don't know, Gabe..." Emerson said, wincing. "It would be really strange if he really died and you just happened to write and ask about him a few hours later..."

"Would it really? He's been sick a long time, and when I visited him he was clearly getting worse. It would just be normal for me to worry about him..."

Emerson sighed.

"Just wait until morning and we'll talk about it, okay? You're shaken and you're tired. You'll think better when you're rested."

In the morning, they came to the conclusion that if something had happened, they would know soon enough. There would be mention of it in the papers at least, in the necrology section, but there was nothing. And there was nothing again the next day. And Gabriel decided that it might be a bad idea to bother Mr. Burke at this time of the year. And he decided to believe that he had just had a nightmare. Believing the opposite was just too painful.



December 31st came quickly enough, and all afternoon, the Gladwyn home was in complete disarray as everyone rushed to get ready for the Ministry Banquet. Even after having weeks to plan ahead, Emerson still couldn't decide what he was going to wear. Victoria was wondering whether it would be rude to stay only for an hour or so, for she had terrible back aches lately. Cadwell had spent the day arguing on and off with Trinket, trying to get the elf to watch over the kids while they were at the Bagnold residence. A whole night of babysitting, it seemed, was too much to ask of a busy house-elf like Trinket, even after Cadwell insisted that the kids would be put to bed early. This caused a long fight between Cadwell and Aldrich over his choice of servants.

Gabriel and Emerson arrived at Bagnold Manor around eight, emerging from the fireplace in the entrance hall one after the other, followed by Victoria, who wasn't so keen on Apparating while she was pregnant. Aldrich and Cadwell Apparated outside and walked in by the front door. Evelyn was greeting the guests, wrapped in a splendid dress of dark purple velvet. She looked very formal and polite until she saw her two housemates. She let out a small cry of surprise and rushed towards them, pulling them into quick hugs.

"Look at you two! You're so handsome!" she whispered in glee.

After what seemed like hours, Emerson had finally decided to wear a classic-cut, dark blue dress robe. Gabriel, however, had opted for something a little more old-fashioned, which he knew was more popular among the English. He wore a black suit, and tall-collared shirt under an elegant velvet waistcoat. The neckcloth, which had been carefully adjusted by Aldrich before they left, was a little bit tight, and he desperately longed to slip his fingers beneath it to scratch his neck.

A continuous flow of people kept walking in, handing their invitations to two butlers standing nearby before disappearing inside what looked like a vast and richly decorated room filled with numerous tables.

"This place looks amazing, Eve," Emerson commented, looking around the hall at the neutral but elegant decorations. "You've outdone yourself this time."

She waved her hand selflessly but smiled. Her face was slightly red and her eyes very bright.

"Wait until you see the ballroom!" she said, grabbing Emerson's arm in her excitement. "And I managed to get the orchestra I told you about..."

"Have you been drinking?" Gabriel asked, noticing an empty champagne flute on a step of the staircase near them.

Evelyn followed his gaze and blushed even more.

"Canton told me to. He said I needed to relax a little," she defended herself, pointing at one of the butlers, who nodded at them solemnly.

Just behind him, Gabriel glimpsed Aldrich Gladwyn, who was in deep conversation with a group of Pureblood witches and wizards. From what he could see, it was obvious that Aldrich was telling him about his son's new beau. They were all looking in Gabriel's direction.

"Show off," Emerson muttered when he noticed them. "Where did you get that champagne, exactly?" he asked Evelyn. "I think we're going to need it if we want to get through this."

As soon as Emerson was out of sight, Evelyn turned to Gabriel and smirked.

"So, how is it going with you two? Tell me all the details! Any new developments?"

Gabriel smiled but shrugged.

"There isn't much to say. With his family around, there's not really any time or place for any... developments, as you say."

She pouted briefly, clearly disappointed. It was strange to see her so expressive and uninhibited, but Gabriel liked it.

"Well, that's too bad. How was Paris?"

But Gabriel didn't have time to respond, because the tall form of Aldrich Gladwyn was suddenly towering over them both.

"Pardon me, Miss Bagnold, but I must borrow Gabriel for a little while, if you don't mind," he said in this same charming voice that he used when speaking to important people.

"No, I don't mind at all. I should probably go and check on the seating arrangements. I'll talk to you later, Gabriel. Have a good evening, Mr. Gladwyn," she said brightly before walking away and into the ballroom.

Aldrich slipped a strong arm around Gabriel's shoulders and his face broke into a smile as he headed back to where the group of gossipers stood, patiently waiting.

It didn't take very long for Gabriel to feel like a circus animal, or more like a trophy, really. At some point, Emerson returned, a deep frown on his face. He had obviously been searching for Gabriel and was furious to find him in his father's grasp, being paraded around like a purebred dog. Emerson slipped a glass of champagne into Gabriel's hand and put a hand on his arm to let him know that they would slip away the first chance they had.

By the time they sat down to eat, Gabriel felt like he'd met with more than half of the hundreds of guests attending. It was a relief to finally take a break from all those introductions and interrogations.

"Have you seen Professor Dumbledore anywhere?" he asked Cadwell as the waiters started serving dinner.

"Of course I've seen him," he chuckled. "He's a bit hard to miss, he's parading around in golden robes."

And indeed, Gabriel spotted him across the room. He was, regrettably, sitting at the same table as a small man with greying hair that Cadwell pointed out as being Cornelius Fudge. Although the food was good, Gabriel, remembering his promise to help his guardian out of any lengthy conversation with the man he was sitting with, was eager for the meal to be over.

When the waiters started clearing the tables and the orchestra started playing more lively songs, the guests progressively stood and headed towards the dance floor. As Emerson was finishing his desert, Gabriel finally had a chance to head towards Professor Dumbledore, but he didn't have time to reach him because a familiar man suddenly stood in his way.

"Mr. Lenoir, what a pleasant surprise to see you here tonight," the man drawled charmingly, taking Gabriel's hand and shaking it importantly. "I don't believe you have met my wife, Narcissa?"

The woman accompanying him was very beautiful, but she looked cold and distant. However, she smiled as she shook Gabriel's hand.

"Lucius was right," she said softly, "you do look like my son."

"I heard that you are a guest of Aldrich Gladwyn's, is that right?" Lucius Malfoy asked before Gabriel could say anything.

"Actually, I came here with his son," Gabriel said, trying not to sound annoyed, for it was surely the twentieth time that night he had been asked to explain. "But otherwise I would have attended with Professor Dumbledore."

"Of course, you would," Malfoy said with a smirk. "An important man like Dumbledore, surely the Minister wouldn't forget to invite his sole heir. That would be bad for business if she intends to be re-elected next year."

"Lucius, dear," Narcissa whispered, "do be polite. Don't you forget we are guests under Minister Bagnold's roof."

But she didn't sound very reprimanding.

"What is it exactly that you do at the Ministry, Mr. Malfoy?" Gabriel asked, curious to know how this unpleasant man was involved in the affairs of the country.

The man straightened up slightly.

"I am Head of the International Magical Law Office, a sub-department of the International Magical Cooperation Department," he announced.

So he was doing business with international wizards. Foreigners must have an interesting idea of wizarding England if they dealt with Lucius Malfoy.

"I am sorry, sir, but I have to talk with Professor Dumbledore. It was nice to see you again, and good to meet you, Mrs. Malfoy," he excused himself before walking away.

He reached Dumbledore just as the small man, Cornelius Fudge, was calling to a photographer from the Daily Prophet to come and take their picture. Professor Dumbledore's face lit up as soon as he saw Gabriel approaching.

"Gabriel, my boy!" he exclaimed. "I apologise deeply, Cornelius, but I haven't talked to my adopted son in a week. This will have to wait!"

He wrapped an arm around Gabriel's shoulders and walked quickly towards the entrance of the room, where the butlers were carefully surveying the guests. Dumbledore's golden robes were attracting a lot of attention, but almost everyone knew him and were used to his eccentric clothing. In the corner of the room, the orchestra had started playing Auld Lang Syne.

"I can't thank you enough," Dumbledore said once they were far enough from the others. "Sometimes I wonder if Cornelius was cursed with a permanent sticking charm. You look magnificent, my boy. Have you..."

He interrupted himself when he noticed the preoccupied look on Gabriel's face.

"Is something wrong? Are things going well at the Gladwyns'?" he asked in a low voice, clearly worried.

"It's nothing bad," Gabriel started. "It's just something Mr. Gladwyn said..."

At that moment a group of witches walked by them and he decided it wasn't a good idea to discuss anything of importance at a banquet.

"It's doesn't matter," he said, shaking his head. "It can wait until after the holidays."

Dumbledore didn't seem convinced, but Gabriel smiled reassuringly.

"Very well," the old man said after a while. "Do enjoy yourself, my boy, and a happy new year to you if we don't see each other again tonight. Now, I want to see if there are any of those delicious little shrimp left. This is the best part of those dreadful social events, the free food," Dumbledore said with a wink before walking away.

Gabriel was going to head back to the Gladwyn table, but there was a new crowd around Aldrich and the man was looking around, surely searching for him, so Gabriel turned on his heels and walked in the opposite direction. Canton the butler nodded at him as he left the ballroom.

He was considering stepping outside to get some fresh air, or finding a washroom with a mirror so he could try to loosen this damn neckcloth, but that's when he noticed Evelyn. She was sitting on the bottom step of the grand staircase, near the spot where they found her when they arrived. But there were no more guests coming in, and she was alone, her arms wrapped around her knees and a piece of parchment crushed between her fingers. Gabriel saw that she was crying.

"Evelyn?" he said as he approached her.

She raised her head to look at him, tears streaming down her face, makeup dripping down her cheeks. She started sobbing harder when she saw him.

"What's the matter? What happened?" he asked as he sat next to her.

"I got... a letter..." she managed painfully between sobs. "From Killian's father..."

And Gabriel knew, at that very moment, what she was going to say next.

"...he died this morning..."

Chapter Text

"It isn't possible to love and to part.  You will wish that it was.  You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal."

-E.M. Forster


IT HAD BEEN years since Severus had gone to a funeral. He had known people who died, of course, but he was rarely close enough to them to feel obligated to pay his respects. But this time it was different, with the deceased being one of his students. He had never been particularly fond of the kid – in his opinion, Killian Burke talked too much and laughed too loudly – but Severus had been his Head of House, so attending the service was the least he could do. And Burke had been Gabriel's friend, said the little voice in his head. In all honesty, this was mostly the reason he was there.

A good majority of the Slytherin House students were present. All the fifth and sixth years were there, and many seventh years as well. Some younger students whose parents were acquainted with the Burkes also came along. There were even a few Ravenclaw students – Purebloods, for the most part – but no Gryffindors or Hufflepuffs. Besides Severus, a few other teachers had come: McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout, Hooch, and Dumbledore, of course.

Despite all these people, the Burke residence was quiet. The inside of the house was dimly lit, full of sniffles and murmurs and mourners in black clothes. The casket had been placed in the largest sitting room. It was closed. The only indication that Killian Burke lay inside was a framed photograph of his brightly smiling face on top of the polished wooden box. Severus cringed when he first saw this. He was familiar with the long-term effects Dragon Fever had on a body. In the last phase of the sickness, the skin turned a strange muddy colour. The closed coffin was undoubtedly a good idea considering what Killian Burke might look like... Severus shook his head to get rid of these macabre thoughts and walked away. Oh, how he hated funerals.

In a corner of the room, Burke's mother was sobbing. Her husband stood beside her silently. Dumbledore was chatting quietly with the Minister and a few other important people. Sitting farther away were Killian's classmates. Severus spotted Gabriel immediately – his pale hair stood out in the small crowd of students. He was comforting Evelyn Bagnold who sat next to him, crying silently. Sitting on the other side of the Minister's daughter was Ivy Ravensdale and her twin brother, that wretched Garrett. Severus still had trouble withholding his anger around him, even though months had passed since that day when the Ravensdale spawn had tried to make him jealous by pretending to be with Gabriel.

The other couch was taken by the rest of the fifth years, but Severus' attention was caught by the tall boy standing behind Gabriel, with a hand on the Lenoir heir's shoulder. He remembered the Headmaster telling him that Gabriel was spending the rest of the holidays at Emerson Gladwyn's house. In fact, Severus hadn't thought about much else in the last few days. He didn't know how he should feel about that. It was not surprising that Gabriel wouldn't be alone for very long – he was the kind of person who attracted others. And Severus had to admit that Emerson Gladwyn was a much better choice than that Ravensdale kid, although the episode of the ingredients cupboard when Gladwyn had surprised them together made the whole thing quite strange. He couldn't help but wonder if Gabriel had told him everything. Probably not, Severus decided when Gladwyn raised his head to look at him. The sixth year nodded solemnly at his teacher, and nothing on his face indicated that he remembered anything he shouldn't, so Severus nodded back. But he walked away before Gabriel could notice him.

Like many old Pureblood families, the Burkes had a small graveyard near the manor. The body of their son would be kept in the nearby crypt until spring, when the ground thawed and he could be properly buried. The casket was carried by some of his friends from the Quidditch team and the rest of the guests followed silently under the grey sky. Thick, heavy snowflakes were falling, and by the time they reached the edge of the woods, where a few sparse gravestones were casting dark shadows on the snow, a good amount of snow had accumulated on the shoulders of their cloaks.

As the parents were saying their last goodbyes before Killian Burke's lifeless body was locked into the crypt, Severus raised his head to look at Gabriel.

He was holding hands with the Gladwyn boy. Together, they were perfection: youth, beauty, intelligence. Compared to them, Severus felt worthless and ugly, yet he couldn't take his eyes off them. Emerson Gladwyn fitted Gabriel Lenoir like one of those satin gloves he so often wore. And suddenly Severus was disgusted for thinking, even for a minute, that he could have this boy for himself.

Gabriel Lenoir was a mystic sight, a bewildering creature. The world's mysteries seemed hidden in his smiles and the arches of his body. Surely no finer thing had ever graced England, and Severus had let him escape – worse, pushed him away. Gabriel had been ready to settle for him, out of all people, to be with Severus Snape while boys like Emerson Gladwyn were pinning after him. And instead of just keeping his bloody mouth shut and realising how lucky he was, Severus had to question this decision! After everything he had done in his life, what a foul time to start being righteous. It was almost ironic. What had he been thinking?

Severus barely noticed the journey back to the house. He followed the procession unconsciously, his body moving but his mind still reminiscing on numerous past mistakes. Was there any way to fix what he had done? Could he get Gabriel back if he tried? When he came back to reality, he was standing in the large entrance hall of the Burke residence, surrounded by people. Some were heading back into the sitting room, but most of the guests were leaving, lining up before the fireplace, disappearing in a series of roars that echoed into the vast hall. He looked around the room in boredom, searching for any familiar faces, but then he heard the Headmaster's voice nearby.

"I think it's best that I take Gabriel back to Hogwarts," he heard the old man say.

Severus turned and saw that he was talking to Aldrich Gladwyn. The man towered over Albus Dumbledore, making the powerful wizard look even older.

"He should get some rest before term starts," the Headmaster explained.

"I understand," Gladwyn said sincerely, although Severus didn't much like the way he was looking at Dumbledore. "He is very affected by young Killian's death. I think it's best that you take him home. I'm sure my son will understand. I will have one of my house elves pack his things and deliver them to your office as soon as I can."

"Severus," Dumbledore said, turning to him suddenly. "Would you please fetch Gabriel and Floo back to Hogwarts. He is in the sitting room with young Mr. Gladwyn. I will follow you shortly."

Severus said nothing but merely nodded before heading into the next room, trying to ignore Aldrich Gladwyn's piercing stare on his back.

The crowd in the sitting room was quite smaller by now. Gabriel was sitting with the Gladwyn boy and they were talking quietly.

"Mr. Lenoir," he said in a low voice.

The room was so quiet he had the impression that if he spoke normally something would break. The two of them turned to him.

"Professor Dumbledore has instructed me to take you back to Hogwarts," he announced.

Immediately, Gabriel turned to Emerson Gladwyn, who smiled softly and nodded. They stood and hugged each other for a long moment that left Severus slightly uncomfortable. If he hadn't been present, he wondered, would they have kissed? Then he thought he would rather not know. And suddenly Gabriel was walking away towards the hall.

"Professor?" Gladwyn said before Severus could turn to follow him. "Can you talk to him?" he asked, genuinely worried. "He seems to think he could have prevented it..."

Severus sighed. Yes, that sounded like something Gabriel would get into his head. He nodded and left, not wanting to spend too much time in Emerson Gladwyn's presence. Looking at the sixth year Slytherin only made him feel inadequate. He had rarely felt that way about a student before, and he was impatient to go back to his usual state of comfortable denial.

When he stepped out into the Headmaster's office, he bumped into Gabriel, who was still standing in front of the fireplace. Severus gently grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him around. As soon as their eyes met, Gabriel started sobbing quietly, and the only thing Severus could do was wrap his arms around the young man and press their bodies together. He cradled his student's head against his chest as Gabriel cried silently.

"There's nothing you could have done to stop it," Severus said quietly.

"I had a dream..." Gabriel gasped painfully in between sobs. "I knew it would happen... I knew..."

"There's nothing you could have done," Severus repeated. "Burke was sick, Gabriel. He had been sick for weeks. The treatments didn't work. You couldn't possibly keep him alive."

"It's my fault!" Gabriel cried, and his desperate voice broke Severus' heart.

He was about to respond when he remembered exactly where they were standing: in the middle of the Headmaster's office, where the man could pop out of the fireplace at any moment and find him hugging a student. On the walls, the portraits of the old Headmasters were staring at them curiously. Already, quiet whispers were floating around the room.

"Come," Severus said, regrettably prying a still sobbing Gabriel from him. "Let's get you back to your dorm, Mr. Lenoir."

They met no one as they walked the hallways of the castle. By the time they reached the dungeons, Gabriel had stopped crying and there was a numb, tired expression on his face. Severus followed him into the Slytherin common room and the fifth years' dormitory. He realised how wrong this seemed, being alone with Gabriel in his room, but he felt he couldn't leave the boy alone without making a few things clear first.

Gabriel's hands were shaking as he tried to unclasp his heavy winter robes so Severus did it for him.

"It's not your fault," he repeated as he slipped the garment off the boy's shoulders before putting it down on the nearest bed.

Gabriel sat down, trembling hands folded on his lap as he stared at his feet. It was a while before he spoke.

"There's something wrong with me," he whispered, fearful. "Everyone close to me dies..."

Severus knelt in front of him and grabbed Gabriel's face in his hands, suddenly enraged.

"Don't ever say that again, do you hear me?" he said angrily. "Bad things happen to everyone. People die! This is how life goes. You never asked for any of this. These things are beyond your control."

Gabriel's eyes widened, but he didn't say anything for some time. He reached for one of Severus' hands, which was still on his cheek, and held it, leaning into it slightly with his eyes closed. After all this time, Severus couldn't deny that it felt good to touch him, and be touched by him.

"Why are you here? I thought you didn't like me anymore," Gabriel said quietly.

"That's not true," Severus declared. "I never stopped."

"Are you only doing this because you saw me with Emerson?"

"No..." he hesitated. "I don't know. Maybe..."

"I wasn't trying to make you jealous," Gabriel admitted, opening his eyes to look deep into Severus' black orbs. "I was just trying to move on. Are you... jealous?"

"Yes, of course I am," Severus said, thinking there was really no point in denying it. "Did you tell him... about that time in the ingredients cupboard?"

"No, and I don't plan to, if that's what you're worried about. I would never do that to you..."

"I know. I'm sorry for thinking otherwise before."

"It's okay."

Severus caressed the boy's cheek softly.

"He suits you," he admitted even though his heart tightened inside his chest as soon as he spoke the words.

"He is nothing compared to you," was Gabriel's only reply.

"He's still better than Ravensdale..."

"But not better than you."

Severus sighed before standing up. He knew he had to go now. If he didn't, he might end up staying.

"You should rest," he said softly, fearing that Gabriel might be angry with him for refusing to talk about this further.

"Won't you stay with me?" the boy asked, wrapping his arms around himself as if he were suddenly cold.

Severus was deeply tempted to, but he shook his head.

"You know I can't. That's not appropriate. Get some sleep."

"But we'll talk again?"

Gabriel's eyes were so lost that Severus wouldn't have been able to say no even if he tried.

"I promise."

He waited until Gabriel was lying down on his bed and covered him with the thick winter cloak he had put aside. He couldn't help slipping his fingers through the boy's hair before he left.



Gabriel slept for a few hours and woke, strangely enough, only a minute before the door to the dormitory opened and Dumbledore slipped inside, carrying the suitcase he had left at the Gladwyns. He watched the Headmaster set it down near the window, then the old man sat on the edge of his bed and put a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"How are you, dear boy?" he asked softly.

"I don't know," Gabriel mumbled.

"In circumstances such as these, I find that a good cry usually makes me feel better."

"I've had one. It didn't help," Gabriel replied, too tired to even be amused at the thought that a powerful man like Dumbledore could feel like weeping sometimes.

"I have spoken with Professor Snape," the Headmaster said after a little while. "He told me you mentioned having a dream. Was it a visitation?"

Still wrapped in his winter cloak, Gabriel sat up until his back was to the headboard.

"No, I don't think so. It was different," he said, thinking back to the strange dream. "It was blurry and felt like I wasn't supposed to be there. Killian looked surprised to see me. I tried to stay but it's like the dream pushed me away."

"When did you have this dream?" Dumbledore asked, genuinely concerned.

"Wednesday night," he said, "three days before the Banquet..."

Dumbledore fell silent, looking towards the enchanted window. Soft snow was falling on the frozen lake, undisturbed by the absence of wind.

"I'm sorry," he said finally. "Mr. Burke wrote to me on that same day. In the afternoon, Killian was hit with a very high wave of fever. They did everything they could, but he fell into a coma. I didn't tell you because I didn't want to disturb your holidays. I wanted you to be happy with your friend for a little while. I am deeply sorry, Gabriel."

Gabriel shook his head numbly.

"It doesn't really matter now, does it? I suppose Professor Snape was right, there's nothing I could have done either way. At least now I know that the dream was real."

Dumbledore patted him on the knee but he said nothing.

"I wish I could have talked to him once more," Gabriel continued, staring out the window. "Killian was my first real friend. He never asked me for anything, he didn't have any expectations. He just wanted to laugh and have a good time. I don't understand why someone who loved life so much should have to die."

"Unfortunately," Dumbledore said gently, "it is often the case. Death has a way of taking the best of us. Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life."

Gabriel raised an eyebrow.

"I know you didn't just make this up. That's from Tolkien."

Dumbledore chuckled.

"Yes, I am quite fond of Gandalf. He is a very wise man."

"A relative of yours?" Gabriel asked, slightly amused.

"I can only wish," the Headmaster said with a grin.

They were silent for a little while. Dumbledore had turned towards the window again and Gabriel was distractedly staring into space.

"When I spoke to Killian that day at St. Mungo's," he said suddenly, "he wasn't really himself. I mean, he was feverish so he didn't make much sense, but at the same time, he did. I think even with the fever and the hallucinations, he knew he didn't have a lot of time left. He asked me to tell Evelyn that he loved her. He knew he wouldn't be able to tell her, that he wouldn't get to see her again. I wanted to give her the message today... but I couldn't. She was already so sad... I didn't want to add something else to her sadness."

"I understand," Dumbledore said softly. "I don't think it was the right moment. It would have only made matters worse."

"That's what I thought," Gabriel said, thankful and relieved to have someone agree with him on that matter. "Evelyn has always been really hard on Killian, but I know that she liked him. She just wished he was more... mature. He would have been, eventually, I think. I mean, he was fifteen... technically, he was supposed to be immature. He would have had plenty of time to be serious later on in life, but Evelyn... Well, she has her plans for the future and her aspirations, and when she sees someone with no fixed goal, she just doesn't know what to make of them. And Killian is... was... chaotic. But he was so honest and true. He always said what was on his mind. I've never met anyone so optimistic in my life. I think he would have made a better Gryffindor than a Slytherin, although I never told him that. I think he would have been upset to hear it."

"It's possible. Many young people whose parents were sorted into Slytherin House also end up there in an attempt to make them proud or follow in their footsteps," Dumbledore explained.

"So the Sorting Hat can let us decide?"

"Our choices define us more than anything else, that's what makes us who we are," Dumbledore explained solemnly. "If you had known your choice was taken into consideration, would you have asked for a different House?" he asked then.

Gabriel had to think about it for a moment.

"No," he said finally. "I don't think it would have changed anything. It's not as if Killian wouldn't have died if I had been sorted somewhere else. He still would have gotten sick. The only difference is that I probably would have never met him, and what good would that be? None of my problems would have vanished either."

"Yes, I daresay you're right, my dear boy," Dumbledore said gently. "Rarely does anything good come out of wondering what might have been if things had happened differently."

"So that dream I had..." Gabriel hesitated, "what do you think it was exactly?"

"I cannot say for sure, but if I had to venture a guess, I would say it was a visitation of some kind, although you didn't wander as far as you usually do," Dumbledore explained, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"I've never met anyone I knew in a dream before..." Gabriel mused. "Except for Valère, but even then, it wasn't really him."

Dumbledore seemed to hesitate.

"Maybe in this case... it's Killian who sought you out?"

"No, I don't think so," said Gabriel, confused. "He was surprised to see me. I'm sure that he wasn't expecting me."

"Maybe he didn't mean to bring you in," Dumbledore said softly. "Maybe he was just scared and looking for reassurance..."

Gabriel smiled grimly.

"If that's the case, I'm sure I wasn't much help. I didn't even have time to say anything. I've been thinking about this dream a lot and I don't know what to make of it at all. Maybe it was just a dream. Maybe it's just a coincidence that Killian happened to fall into a coma a few hours before I dreamt of him..."

Dumbledore smiled softly.

"You don't really think that, do you?"

"Frankly, I don't believe in coincidence," Gabriel replied.

"Is that what was bothering you when we met at the Banquet?" his guardian asked. "You said you wanted to talk to me about something, but that it could wait."

Gabriel shifted the cloak around him, suddenly uncomfortable.

"No, it was something else..." he started, but interrupted himself, blushing.

Dumbledore smiled reassuringly.

"You can talk to me about anything, my boy..." he said kindly. "Now, is this about you and young Emerson? Do you have question about..."

Dumbledore paused, as if unsure of the correct words to use. Suddenly realising what the old man was talking about, Gabriel blushed violently.

"No! Merlin, no... That's not what this is about..."

Dumbledore seemed almost as relieved as he was to change the subject.

"It's actually something that Emerson's father said," Gabriel started.


Dumbledore sighed shortly, and there was some exasperation in his voice as he continued.

"Yes, I suppose Aldrich talked a lot during your stay. He does seem to enjoy the sound of his own voice," the Headmaster said with a small smile. "Now, what has he told you about me?"

At the surprised look on Gabriel's face, Dumbledore continued.

"I'm hardly surprised, Gabriel. In fact, I was expecting as much. I knew there was a risk that Aldrich Gladwyn would pounce on you as soon as you stepped foot into his home, but I told myself that this wouldn't be the last time you had to encounter such people, and I am convinced that you dealt with the matter impeccably. I have nothing against Mr. Gladwyn, but for some reason, we never managed to get along. I don't think it is anything personal, only a matter of political beliefs and moral values."

"Wouldn't a conflict of moral values make it personal?" Gabriel questioned, confused.

Dumbledore smiled.

"Yes, it might. I suppose it depends on which way you look at it."

"Well, it sounded personal to me, sir..."

"Albus, please," Dumbledore corrected.

"It sounded personal to me, Albus. He kept saying that you aren't the person I think you are, that you had a dark past... He talked about your family and about..."

"He told you that I knew Grindelwald?"

"Yes, he did," Gabriel said softly. "I wanted to defend you, but..."

"But you don't know anything about me," Dumbledore said with a sigh. "Yes, I understand. I think it's time we discuss this. You have a right to know. After all, you told me your deepest secrets, it's only natural that I should do the same."

Gabriel nodded. That was exactly what Emerson had told him a few days before. The Headmaster and his friend often seemed to think alike.

"You might find it hard to believe," Dumbledore started with a smile, "but I was young once. I was born to a Muggle-born mother and a Pureblood father, in Mould-on-the-Wold, a charming little village. I was the eldest of three children – my brother Aberforth was three years younger and my dear sister Ariana four. I think I don't need to tell you what year it was. You already know that I am old."

Gabriel smiled softly. Dumbledore was silent for a moment, and a deep sadness settled in his eyes when he continued.

"When she was six years old, Ariana did accidental magic in front of three Muggles. They were young. It frightened them. Shocked and confused by her actions, they attacked her. This incident changed my sister greatly. She was left deeply traumatised, scared of her own powers and unable to control her magical abilities. She became self-destructive and a danger to not only herself, but others as well. My father was furious, heartbroken. He went to get revenge on those boys, but he lost his temper and everything got out of hand. He was arrested and sent to Azkaban for life since if he had defended himself, he would have had to reveal my sister's problems.

"After that, my mother had us move to Godric's Hollow, in West Country, where she isolated Ariana, fearing that if her state was discovered, she would be considered a threat to the Statute of Secrecy and sent to St. Mungo's. But people like to talk, and of course, rumours started spreading that my sister was either a Squib or deformed in some way, and that my mother kept her locked in the cellar out of shame. These stories made me sick, but you'd be amazed what one can get used to...

"Luckily, I was sent to Hogwarts soon after, and I sorted into Gryffindor. My father's crime was still fresh in everyone's minds and people seemed to believe that like him, I harboured a hatred of Muggles. Blood purity was much, much more important then than it is now. Some students tried to befriend me this way, by praising my father's actions, but I pushed them all away. I was ashamed of this unwanted celebrity. So I decided that people should get to know me for me, not as the son of a Muggle killer, and I started studying very hard, hoping to make a name for myself. I wrote a lot, published papers, astounded my teachers, became prefect, and then Head Boy. I had the greatest plans for myself. After graduating, I wanted to travel the world, much like Valère did, but then everything fell apart. My mother was killed by one of Ariana's outbursts of magic, and I had no choice but to stay behind and take care of what was left of my family.

"I returned to Godric's Hollow, bitter and resentful. I felt like I had been tricked by life, like some unknown forces were playing against me. I felt trapped and doomed to an ordinary life. And then I met the most peculiar boy, a German wizard who was staying with his great-aunt, one of my neighbours in Godric's Hollow. He was brilliant and talented. He fascinated me. His name was Gellert Grindelwald."

Dumbledore fell silent and turned towards the window. Gabriel had never seen the old man so emotional before. On his face was a mix of various expressions: nostalgia, disappointment, shame. He had stayed silent throughout the whole speech so far, feeling privileged to hear the life story of one of the most powerful wizards alive.

"It was inevitable that I would fall in love with him," Dumbledore said suddenly. "He was like a breath of fresh air in the never-ending boredom of my life. But he knew of my sentiments, and although I can't be quite sure of it even now, I think he used them against me. Gellert was selfish and a master manipulator. He saw my intelligence and thought it could be useful to him. Of course, I am not completely innocent in this. Blinded by his charms or not, I quickly started seeing the appeal in his plans and ideas for wizarding domination.

"Then my brother took it upon himself to give me a reality check. There was no way I could run away with Grindelwald to carry out our plans – I had to take care of my sister. I was furious with him and him with me, and Grindelwald joined in the fight and all hell broke loose. Ariana tried to stop us, but in the chaos, she was hit by a stray spell and killed. To this day I don't know for sure who cast the fatal spell. All I know is that Grindelwald fled. He was already in trouble back home, having been expelled from Durmstrang and caught practicing dark magic. And I was left behind to pick up the pieces.

"After that, I came back to Hogwarts to teach Transfiguration. I felt safe here. It reminded me of my place in the world. Perhaps I wasn't meant for greater things after all. And I discovered a passion for teaching. But during that time, Grindelwald was building an army. I knew I should act, but I was afraid to face him. I was certain that he knew who had cast the fatal spell on my sister, and I didn't want to know the truth. But as time passed and he killed more people, I had no choice but to track him down. We duelled, as you know, and I defeated him.

"That is, I think, all you must know for now."

Gabriel didn't dare ask more of him. He wondered how long it had been since Albus Dumbledore had confided to another in such a way.

"Thank you, sir... Albus," he said. "It means a lot that you trust me enough to tell me that story."

"How much of it does Aldrich Gladwyn know?" the Headmaster asked, and he seemed a little flustered.

"I can't know for sure, but he did mention your father being sent to Azkaban and you being close to Grindelwald at some point. Just the basic facts, I think... But he also asked me if we'd discussed the... implications of being your heir."

Dumbledore nodded, and Gabriel saw exasperation on his face.

"I am not surprised by this," he said with a sigh. "Politics are all men like Aldrich Gladwyn seem to think about. It might very well be the reason why we don't see eye to eye. Unfortunately, he is right. This is definitely something we should discuss. And we will. I didn't want to bother you with such matters too soon. I wanted to give you enough time to settle into this new life. Forgive me if you've been worrying over this..."

"No, it's okay," Gabriel insisted. "Truthfully, I never really thought about it before Mr. Gladwyn brought it up. He started talking about political responsibilities and seats on the Wizengamot and how society would swallow me whole if I didn't learn everything there is to know in time. I think I panicked a little."

Professor Dumbledore cringed and shot him a compassionate look.

"Don't trouble yourself with this, Gabriel. Mr. Gladwyn made it sound much worse than it actually is. Sitting on the Wizengamot council is mostly very boring business, believe me. The majority of the matters dealt with only require a small portion of the council. Only once in a long while does something interesting or important come up. We will discuss this in more details at a later time, but for now I think you should want to concentrate on studying for your O.W.L's. I assure you that I have plans, and all the paperwork has been done, in case something was to happen to me," he said softly. "What happened with Valère will not repeat itself. But I assure you that I have another many good years, and there's no need to worry seriously over this matter before you come of age. Whatever happens, you need to be seventeen to sit on the council."

"Great, thank you," Gabriel said, relieved.

"You're welcome. I'm glad we talked about this, my boy," he said before standing up. "Now, I think we both need some rest. Today has been truly exhausting. Try to sleep some more. I'll get some food sent here at dinnertime if you don't feel like coming to the Great Hall," the old man said with a gentle smile before leaving the room.

Gabriel was truly grateful for this discussion. He still felt horrible about the loss of Killian, but it was like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He lay down on his bed again and closed his eyes, thinking of everything Professor Dumbledore had confided in him about his life. He couldn't even begin to think how difficult it had been for his guardian to be in love with Gellert Grindelwald. And he thought that his feelings for Severus were complicated matters? Next to the disastrous story of Albus Dumbledore's first love, it was almost a fairy tale.



The last days of Christmas break went by slowly. Gabriel barely left his dormitory, but Professor Dumbledore sent a house elf with food every time he missed a meal. And every night, his guardian paid him a visit and they talked and played chess. To pass the time, and because he didn't feel like seeing anyone else, Gabriel reread his favourite chapters in the Colin Margrave books that Emerson had given back.

The day after the funeral, Emerson wrote him saying that he was going to stay at Evelyn's house for the remaining days, but that he couldn't wait to see him again when he returned to Hogwarts. Gabriel couldn't help thinking that he ought to be more excited at the prospect of seeing Emerson than he actually was. He didn't like to admit it, but it felt like his last conversation with Severus had changed some things. Deep down, he knew that he shouldn't think that way. Of course, they hadn't talked that much since Severus had rejected him, but still, it didn't completely change everything that had happened between them. He hadn't forgotten all the horrible things Severus had said to him, and there was still the Dark Mark and the affiliations with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The fact that they had talked reasonably and showed each other that they still cared didn't change the fact that much remained unsaid. But if they talked, maybe they could resolve their differences and everything would go back to the way it was before? However, Gabriel couldn't help fearing that Severus had only been nice to him because of Killian's death and that when they next saw each other, he would be cold and spiteful again. Maybe that was part of the reason why he wanted to stay hidden in his room.

On the day before the other students were due to return, Gabriel decided to have lunch with the rest of the remaining residents. The colourful House banners in the Great Hall had been replaced by plain, black ones. Dumbledore told him they would stay for a week, in homage to Killian. As the Headmaster said this, Gabriel caught Severus looking at him carefully, but he didn't react. The Potions Master looked worried about him. This was a good sign, wasn't it?

Once they had finished eating and were progressively leaving the room, Gabriel managed to catch up with Severus on his way back to the dungeons.

"Can we talk?" he asked softly, gripping the sleeve of Severus' robe to prevent him from walking away.

Severus looked at him uncomfortably for some time, unsure what to say.

"Please," Gabriel continued. "Emerson is coming back tomorrow and I'd like to talk to you before then."

"Gabriel," Severus said before sighing. "I have things to do..."

"I can help you..."


Gabriel didn't respond, but he felt coldness spread inside his ribcage and wrap around his heart. He let go of Severus' sleeve as if he had been burned and fought the urge to run to his dormitory and hide.

"Look..." Severus started calmly. "This is my fault. I made you believe that it could work..."

"You promised," Gabriel interrupted him sharply, not caring how childish he probably sounded. "You promised me that we would talk again."

"And we will!" Severus said defensively. "I just need some time to think things over. We'll be resuming your Occlumency lessons on Wednesday. We can talk then."

Gabriel had no other choice but to accept. A lump had formed in his throat and it burned in such a way that he would probably have been unable to talk even if he tried. He watched as Severus turned and disappeared around a corner of the dim corridor, the torches on the walls flickering as he walked past.

When Emerson arrived, the next day, he hugged Gabriel tightly, and Gabriel tried his best to act as if everything was well. Luckily for him, any lack of interest or joy was attributed to Killian's death so no questions were asked. Emerson understood that he didn't feel much like talking and in the following days, all the spare time in between classes was spent studying or taking long walks outside, when the weather was nice enough. But Wednesday was drawing nearer and Gabriel was nervous at the thought of having to face Severus again.

While he was caught in his own worries, the students had noticed that Hogwarts had a new couple, and whispers followed them around at first. Their friends seemed happy for them, perhaps with the exception of the Ravensdale twins. A few Muggle-borns, who weren't yet familiar with wizarding views on same-sex relationships, frowned at them, although no one said anything to their faces – either because they were Slytherin or because it was obvious that the majority of the school population had no problem with two boys being in a relationship. For now, though, Gabriel couldn't care less about what any of them were thinking.

On Wednesday morning, Gabriel was distracted for some time after receiving a letter from Rousseau. They hadn't written to each other in a while. Gabriel had been busy with his midterm exams and his new... boyfriend, and he didn't have time to visit the apothecary during break. He was quite surprised when the letter announced that the holidays had been kind enough to Emil moneywise so that he could continue his experiments on the Wolfsbane Variation. The man happily enumerated some of the rare ingredients he was able to get his hands on, but Gabriel frowned as he read the list. All that must have cost a lot of money! What on earth did Emil brew to be able to afford paying for that stuff? He knew that Rousseau had hired an assistant, but still... Gabriel wasn't narcissistic to the point of thinking he was irreplaceable, but a novice potionmaker couldn't possibly have been that much help! Finally, he decided to let it go. He didn't have time to worry about this on top of everything else, and Rousseau was a grown man, he could do whatever he wanted.

At least, because Emerson now knew about the visitations, Gabriel could tell him the truth about why he had to see Snape that night. His boyfriend was really curious about Occlumency and asked if one day he might be able to sit in on a lesson. Gabriel said he didn't think Professor Snape would agree, but that he would ask anyway. He had no intention to do so. He was getting better at lying, but he wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not.



Severus hadn't borrowed Dumbledore's Pensieve this time. When Gabriel asked about it, he said he had simply forgotten and could go fetch it if it was that important.

"No, it doesn't matter," Gabriel assured him. "I have nothing to hide from you."

"Are you sure?" the Potions Master asked, scoffing. "I have no interest in witnessing your love feats with Gladwyn."

Gabriel's heart was beating fast. He was standing in the middle of the room nervously, with his hands deep into his pockets. He had expected some form of insult ever since he entered the teacher's office. He certainly didn't have to wait very long. It wasn't surprising that Severus would resort to verbal abuse. It seemed for him to be a defense mechanism when he felt particularly upset or vulnerable. Since he always refused to show his emotions openly, they had to come out in a modified form.

"Don't look so horrified," Gabriel replied, deciding to act like he wasn't affected by the words. "There's nothing to see. And even if there was, I wouldn't let you see it."

Truthfully, he was somewhat upset that Severus would think he had gotten over him so quickly. He couldn't understand how a man like Severus Snape, who always seemed so confident and sure of himself, could have such a poor self-esteem.

"Very well... I doubt it would have been very entertaining anyway," the man sneered before laughing condescendingly.

Gabriel took a deep breath and looked away, trying to stop the tears from falling, taken aback by Severus' tone of voice. He had expected the man to be defensive, but not cruel.

"We don't have to do this, you know," Gabriel said in an angry voice that betrayed his feelings immediately. "In fact, forget it, I'll just go. I'll tell Dumbledore that I cancelled because I wasn't feeling well, which, honestly, is not far from the truth now. You can go back to being a stupid jerk on your own. I won't spend three hours here being insulted because you're too childish to talk about your feelings, face your problems or admit your mistakes..."

He turned back and headed for the door, his lips shaking and face already streaked with tears. But he heard a movement behind him and suddenly Severus had caught his arm in a tight grip.

"No, wait... stop," the man said softly.

He turned Gabriel around and wiped the tears from his face gently. Gabriel didn't dare look into his eyes, scared of what he might see in them.

"I'm sorry," Severus continued. "I didn't mean any of that. I... Why do you waste your time on me?" he finished, shaking his head.

"Because you matter to me," Gabriel replied, his voice still shaking as he grasped Severus' hand in his. "That's what you do with the people you love. You fight for them, you love them for who they are, even when they're being a royal pain. And you come back when they push you away, even if it hurts you more every time..."

For a second, Severus looked almost as though he might start crying too, but a moment later, the expression vanished. It was replaced with a deep look of self-loathing.

"I don't mean to hurt you," he said weakly. "I'm so sorry... about everything..."

He wrapped his arms around Gabriel and held him, every molecule of his being begging for forgiveness.

"I'm not good at this... at any of this... I always ruin everything..."

"Why do you hate yourself so much?" Gabriel asked, his voice muffled into Severus' chest. "Why can't you see yourself the way I see you?"

"All I can see is that I don't deserve you, or anyone remotely like you. I have done terrible things, Gabriel. My past never leaves me a moment of rest. I would only let you down time and time again... I already do..."

"But I don't care," Gabriel protested. "I only want to be with you..."

"Stop it," Severus said firmly as he stepped back.

He hesitated for an instant before guiding Gabriel to the two armchairs near the fireplace.

"Sit down. We will negotiate something," he said finally.

"Negotiate?" Gabriel repeated fiercely, but he sat down nonetheless.

"Yes," Severus said as he settled in front of him in the older chair. "We will attempt to make a compromise of some sort."

"What kind of compromise?" Gabriel asked, starting to be curious, but already quite certain that he wasn't going to like the sound of it.

"We both feel the same, obviously," the Potions Master started, "but regardless of those feelings, being together is too risky. You are underage, and nothing would make this acceptable, whether you are consenting or not..."

Severus sighed deeply before he continued.

"What I have to suggest is this: let's wait two years. In two years, you'll be old enough, you'll have had more life experience, you'll be surer of what you want... If, by that time, you still want me, I will be yours and we can be together legally with no one risking prison."

"But I'll be seventeen in a little over a year," Gabriel protested. "Why not wait one year? Why two?"

"You'd still be a student..."

"I could skip a grade," Gabriel interrupted. "You said yourself that I could do it if I wanted to. If I skip a grade, I won't be a student anymore at seventeen..."

"Gabriel," Severus said with a heavy sigh. "Seventeen is barely legal. Eighteen is better. You'll have graduated, you'll have a year to do all the crazy things you want to do legally. After that, if you still want to settle for an old man, then so be it. What do you think?"

Gabriel was silent for a long while, knowing that if he didn't accept this deal, there would be nothing.

"I would still risk it sooner, you know..." he said finally, "but if you're afraid for your reputation, I understand..."

Severus groaned in annoyance.

"Gabriel, it's not only about my reputation. You are the sole heir to the Lenoir fortune and successor of Albus Dumbledore. I don't want your life or your public image destroyed by a scandal should your illicit affair with a teacher be discovered. Haven't you thought of that?"

Gabriel shrugged.

"I've never really cared about my public image..."

"You should. Believe me, once it's ruined, you cannot polish it back. No matter how many people look past it, there will always be obstacles in your way. I speak from experience," he added bitterly. "I know that having worked for the Dark Lord is a very different matter, but I doubt I could find a job anywhere if Professor Dumbledore hadn't hired me, spy or not. Your reputation is a fragile thing. Don't take it for granted."

"I've never thought of it that way," Gabriel admitted.

"That's the reason why I want us to wait. You might be much more intelligent than the others in many ways, but you're still young and have a lot to learn about life."

Gabriel ought to be angered by this statement, but he was too tired at this point to protest.

"Even if we're not together, can I at least still visit you sometimes?" he asked, resignedly.

"If you don't try to molest me, we should be able to do that," Severus said with a small smile.

Chapter Text

"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.  Who looks outside dreams.  Who looks inside awakens."

-Carl Gustav Jung



WHEN DUMBLEDORE STEPPED inside Professor Snape's potions laboratory, he was immediately startled by an alarming wheezing sound – not unlike that of an overheating kettle. It was coming from the smoking cauldron sitting on the large work table in the centre of the room. Clouds of thick, purple mist hovered around it, floating heavily up to the ceiling in great clumps. The smell coming from all this was aggressively repulsive.

The Headmaster looked around the room. The countless shelves lining the walls – most of which were packed with jars of floating creatures – had obviously been placed under a protection charm. The bluish gleam coming from the magic was easily distinguishable, like electricity in the air – crackling in the smoky laboratory like a defective streetlamp in a rainstorm. Alarmingly enough, there didn't seem to be anyone else in the room. What on earth was happening here? Surely Severus had more sense than to leave a clearly unstable potion unattended!

"Severus?" Dumbledore called out, but at that moment, the wheezing sound started growing louder, and he whipped out his wand, ready to intervene.

Suddenly, from behind a shelf, a face appeared. It was a very peculiar face, with huge eyes. In the noisy chaos of the laboratory, it took a few seconds for Professor Dumbledore to realise that it was merely someone wearing large, very thick protection goggles.

"Professor!" the masked person yelled, their voice muffled by the threatening noises from the concoction. "Quick! Get down!"

Dumbledore didn't have time to duck as the potion exploded – and truthfully, he doubted this course of action would have been very useful – but he did manage to conjure, just in time, a very good shield to protect himself from the scalding liquid flying around the room. It took almost a full minute for the explosion to stop, and even afterwards there was a constant sizzling as the resulting splashes of potion kept smoking. There must have been a permanent protection spell on the surface of the table as well as the floor – otherwise the liquid would have surely eaten through the wood, maybe even the stone.

The face behind the shelf reappeared, followed by a body that was too slight to be Severus Snape's but that the Headmaster recognised immediately. Surely enough, only a second later, a similarly-protected man emerged from its own hiding place underneath the worktable.

"All in one piece?" asked the distinct voice of Professor Snape as he dusted himself off – a useless gesture given the state of his clothing.

"I'm fine!" said Gabriel Lenoir as he stepped around the shelf behind which he had been crouched and approached the table to take a look at the source of the explosion. "And so is the cauldron!" he exclaimed. "I can't believe it!"

Albus Dumbledore watched in astonishment as Hogwarts' most hated teacher and his newest student laughed and high-fived each other, their thick leather gloves clapping loudly as they collided. The old man cleared his throat and immediately the two misfits turned to him.

Severus, who hadn't noticed his presence before, straightened up suddenly, clearly uncomfortable at having been caught off guard. Gabriel grinned at his adopted father, removing his goggles with difficulty. The fifteen year old boy's hair was in complete disarray, and his face so dirty it looked tanned – except for the area around his eyes, which had been protected. As for Severus, his dark hair had been tied into a loose ponytail and his face, although much cleaner, looked flushed, either with the heat of the potions or embarrassment. Both of them were dressed casually, with the sleeves of their shirts rolled up at the elbows and their clothes dusty and soiled with various substances. They looked like a couple of mad scientists.

"Is this what you have been doing all day?" Albus asked, unsure whether he should be scolding them or laughing at the sight they made. "Making things blow up?"

"It's an experiment," Severus said, slightly out of breath, as he removed his own goggles.

He took out his wand and threw a quick cleaning spell around the room. The sizzling puddles of potion disappeared immediately, although it was impossible to know for sure if the smell had vanished along with them. It was the kind of odour that just clung to your nostrils for hours after it was gone.

"I received a new cauldron prototype from a colleague at Pottige's," Severus explained. "The advertisement says that it should withstand even the most unstable concoctions although it's not even a quarter of an inch thick..."

"It's made from some sort of crab shell from Malaysia," Gabriel added, cringing in pain as he slipped his fingers through his tangled hair.

"And our young prodigy here was being skeptical and suggested we test it out," Severus finished before taking a long look around the room.

The protection spells on the shelves were crackling dangerously and he removed them before another catastrophe could occur.

"We might have gotten a little bit carried away at some point," he added.

"I believe so," Dumbledore remarked, trying to sound stern, but he couldn't help smiling. "Mr. Filch came bursting into my office earlier, in hysterics, claiming that someone had planted bombs in the school."

Gabriel guffawed and the corners of Severus' lips twitched slightly.

"Well, no harm done, I suppose," Dumbledore continued. "Gabriel, why don't you go get washed up before dinner? I hear Professor Trelawney might come down and join us at the feast. We see her so rarely. It would be a pity if you scared her away for good."

"Sure," Gabriel said, laughing as he picked up his goggles and gloves and threw one last look towards the still smoking but seemingly harmless cauldron.

The two adults watched him leave in silence, but as soon as he'd disappeared, Dumbledore chuckled deeply, shaking his head.

"Have I gone temporarily insane?" he finally asked. "For a second there, I thought two teenagers had taken over your laboratory, Severus."

The Potions Master grunted in annoyance.

"It was the boy's idea."

"And you're so easily impressionable, of course," the Headmaster said gently. "Oh, Severus, it won't kill you to admit that you had fun."

"It was an... interesting day," Severus said simply as he cleaned the cauldron thoroughly with a flick of his wand. "I hadn't blown up a batch of Memory Potion since I was nineteen... and never on purpose. You should have seen the mushroom cloud. It was like a nuclear blast."

The Headmaster smiled, knowing that Severus was more excited about all this than he let on.

"You have been spending a lot of time with Gabriel lately," he said as he watched the younger man put the room back in order. "I wasn't expecting this last week when you said you were stopping the Occlumency lessons. I thought you'd finally had enough of spending your spare time teaching."

"They are useless to him now," Severus explained distractedly. "The boy doesn't need any more Occlumency training. He is perfectly able to defend himself should someone, or something, attack his mind. But he continued to show up at the appointed times. I don't quite know why..."

Two full months had passed since Killian Burke's funeral, and although Gabriel was still sad when he thought of his friend, he had gotten back on his feet. Most of the students had gone home for Spring break and he had once again been invited to the Gladwyn residence, but this time he had politely refused the offer, wanting to study for his O.W.L.'s. But Albus wasn't sure this was the true reason. He was sometimes under the impression that Gabriel's relationship with Emerson wasn't going very well, although whenever he casually asked his adopted son about it, the boy simply said it was "okay" before changing the subject. Not wanting to force him to talk about it, Albus would let it go, but he couldn't help worrying slightly.

"Has he talked to you about Emerson?" Dumbledore asked with a frown.

Severus seemed to hesitate.


"I sometimes fear that he is not entirely comfortable with this relationship, but every time I try to bring up the matter, he changes the subject."

Severus shrugged.

"Has it occurred to you that he might simply be uncomfortable talking about this sort of thing with you?" the teacher suggested simply.

"I suppose it might be a reason," Dumbledore admitted, "but has he talked to you? If there is a problem, Severus, I want you to tell me immediately. Aldrich Gladwyn has raised a little bit of mayhem a few months ago and I had to have a long talk with Gabriel to fix everything. If something similar has..."

Severus sighed heavily, clearly annoyed.

"Will you cut it out, Albus?" he finally snapped. "Stop worrying about the boy or you'll soon start looking your age. He isn't as fragile as you seem to think he is. If his relationship with Gladwyn is a problem, I'm sure he will put an end to it, but as of now, as far as I know, everything is fine. I don't know more about it than you do, and I sure don't feel the need to pester him about it."

Dumbledore smiled softly.

"You've become quite fond of him, haven't you?"

"Unlike the rest of those kids, he isn't a hopeless idiot, which is enough to set him apart considerably. I endure his company, but that doesn't mean I want to know every detail of his existence."

Dumbledore laughed.

"My poor Severus, when will you learn that it's perfectly normal to enjoy spending time with other people without having to justify yourself. I will see you at the feast," he finished once it was obvious that, for the Potions Master at least, the conversation was over.

The fool. He doesn't know anything, does he? Severus thought as Dumbledore walked away. Luckily, replied the little voice in his head, or else what would become of you? Severus leaned heavily on the table and sighed again. Then again, he thought, maybe I am the fool in all this.

He had thought that things would be easier after that night in January when he suggested to Gabriel that they make a compromise. Nothing was easier. The only consolation was that he wasn't risking Azkaban anymore, but Merlin it was hard... It was hard to see the boy every day and have to act like he was just another student, just another ordinary Slytherin. And most of all, it was hard to see him walking around hand in hand with the Gladwyn kid. It was his hand Gabriel should be holding! It was him Gabriel wanted. And it was even worse now that Gabriel was certain that his feelings were returned. He had started playing dirty.

Dumbledore was right about one thing: Gabriel's relationship with Emerson Gladwyn was nothing but a farce, a cover. But of course, Gabriel would never admit this. He wanted Severus to believe that he truly felt something for his fellow Slytherin, but Severus knew it was all a lie. He had seen them kiss, and that was not how Gabriel kissed someone he truly liked. He might be fooling everyone, but he certainly wasn't fooling Severus Snape, oh no. The boy was only doing this to torture him, to change his mind and make him admit that he wouldn't be able to wait two years even if he tried. And the little brat was always there, nearby, everywhere he looked. Whenever he had ten minutes of spare time, there he was, knocking at Severus' door. And of course Severus was always too weak to tell him to just sod off. He might not be allowed to touch the boy, but he could look, and looking at Gabriel Lenoir had become one of his favourite activities.

They never said anything that might betray them, even when they were alone. There were no misplaced compliments, no hints of their attraction whatsoever – at least not in language form. But they had whole conversations in absolute silence. They had mastered the art of communicating things unsaid with their eyes, even in a crowd. There was no way an outside observer would know what forbidden imageries were floating around in their heads, but they did. Maybe this came from the fact that they had spent so much time inside each other's minds during Occlumency lessons. They hadn't touched each other in months, not even brushed against one another in passing, not even a pat on the shoulder was given. But in their thoughts, they caressed and kissed constantly.

Severus felt like a whole different person when Gabriel was around, like a better person, even through the guilt that still plagued him for being attracted to a fifteen year old. Gabriel made him feel like a schoolboy again – like the normal schoolboy that Severus had never been. He made Severus forget about his drunk father, his dead mother. He made Severus forget the Dark Lord had ever existed. He even made him forget Lily Evans sometimes – a feat not one had managed thus far. He had just spent hours voluntarily exploding potions to test the strength of a cauldron, for Merlin's sake! That was not the kind of childish thing Severus Snape took part in! And yet, he hadn't felt that young in years. Gabriel managed to make him laugh...

Severus thought he would have had some respite with Spring break, that Gabriel would accept the invitation and spend a few days with his dear boyfriend, but no, things could not be so simple, not for him. Gabriel wanted to stay and study for his O.W.L.'s. What a joke! Severus would be damned if the boy had even opened a book since break had started. Gabriel didn't need to study any fifth year material. He knew all of that stuff already. No, he had spent the last few days following Severus around like a permanent sticking charm, carrying his school bag around for good measure. If only he had gone to Gladwyn Manor, if only he would give Severus a break.He is going to be the death of me, Severus thought, moaning in annoyance. And yet, and yet he didn't want the boy out of his sight.

Gabriel holding hands with Gladwyn, he could live with. Gladwyn kissing him, Severus could bear. But the thought of the sixteen year old spawn of Aldrich Gladwyn trying anything more on Gabriel gave Severus murderous thoughts. And the more the two boys were apart, the less chances this would happen. Boys these days only had one thing on their mind, and Gabriel was still innocent in this... department. In fact, with the life he had led so far, it might just be the only department in which there was any innocence left. And Severus would be damned if he didn't do his best to preserve that. Severus Snape, great defender of teenage virginity, that voice said again, mockingly. You dirty, filthy liar... you only want him for yourself, don't you? We ought to start calling you Humbert!

It was a cruel thought to was a vile man, in Severus' opinion, and he didn't think he was that bad yet... or he hoped he wasn't. Besides, if he remembered correctly from his long, boring summers spent reading Muggle classics, Lolita was what... twelve years old? And Gabriel had nothing to envy to that little bitch.

"Light of my life, fire of my loins..." Severus whispered as he remembered the opening lines of the novel. "My sin, my soul..."

That was about as much as he remembered of this book. But no... there had been something else, something about having to be an artist and a fool... no, a madman, to recognise a deadly demon standing among children, unconscious of their fantastical power.

Unconscious? Severus scoffed. Gabriel was perfectly conscious of the power he had over him. And he certainly wasn't afraid to use it. People seriously underestimated kids... but no, Gabriel was not a kid. He hadn't been in a long time. He had grown up too quickly, had been forced to by early isolation, by the sudden and violent death of his parents, by the loneliness of spending his childhood among books, by abandonment. Maybe this is more than a teacher and his young student being in love,Severus thought. Maybe this was just two lost and broken souls finding each other. Maybe... although that didn't make it right. But it wouldn't always be wrong. And until then, no matter what Gabriel did to change his mind, he would have to wait.



A drop of exploding potion had hit Gabriel on the arm and it hurt like hell. He hadn't told Severus about it, however, because he would have cussed and complained that they needed to stop this childish nonsense immediately and that he knew better than to let Gabriel talk him into such irresponsible stunts, or something similar.

Once he was back in his dormitory, he put a cooling charm on the burn and jumped in the shower. Washing his hair was a chore, so sticky and matted it was with potion fumes. No wonder Severus' hair was always a mess. Maybe if it was shorter, it wouldn't be so bad. He wondered how Severus would look with shorter hair...

Today had been the most enjoyable day in a long while. In fact, Gabriel had long ago been judging the quality of his day-to-day life on the amount of time he spent with Severus. He hadn't told Emerson that his Occlumency lessons were over, because then he wouldn't have any excuses to see Severus outside of class anymore. At least, Emerson had stopped asking to come.

Emerson hadn't changed, he was still the same, but for some reason, he was starting to get on Gabriel's nerves. He was often trying, although very subtly, to change Gabriel's mind about skipping a grade so that they would attend seventh year alongside each other and graduate together and whatnot... He expected Emerson to start talking about marriage anytime soon. Obviously, it was Aldrich's intention – that much was clear – that they should be married as soon as Gabriel graduated. Gabriel was constantly wondering if the man really liked him or if what enticed him first and foremost was everything that came along with Gabriel Lenoir and that would inevitably become his son's – the money, the estates, the political legacy. Whatever the answer was, the more time passed, the more Gabriel knew with certainty that he had no intention of marrying Emerson. And he had no intention of graduating earlier either. He wanted to stay at Hogwarts as long as he possibly could. He wanted to stay close to Severus, and in two years, when he turned eighteen and the deadline for that stupid compromise was over, they would get married. After that, maybe he could even remain at Hogwarts to teach – after all, the Defense teachers never stayed very long. But then again, that was if it actually took two years...

Gabriel grinned as he rinsed his hair. To be honest, at this point, the only reason why he was still with Emerson was to anger Severus. It wasn't very noble – in fact, he himself would have condemned such a dishonest scheme not very long ago – but desperate times called for desperate measures. All is fair in love and war, as they say. If there was the tiniest chance that he could flunk Severus' damn compromise out the window, then good riddance. There was no way he would wait for two years if he could help it. He remembered something Garrett Ravensdale had told him some time ago about Slytherins being cowards who thought suffering was easier than fighting for what they want. Well, Gabriel wasn't a coward, and he'd had enough of suffering. He knew why Severus had imposed that stupid compromise in the first place – because he thought Gabriel would forget him and just stray way. But he wouldn't. He was going to stay right here and Severus would have to deal with it.

As much as he tried to distance himself from Garrett's definition of the Slytherins, Gabriel had never felt more like a Slytherin in his life before. It did cross his mind once in a while that he might break Emerson's heart in the process, but he tried not to think about it too much. It wasn't his fault if Emerson was already making long-term plans. If he took those for granted, it was his problem. Gabriel had never agreed to anything. But Gabriel knew that if he had never had this conversation with Severus after Christmas break, everything would be completely different, and it made him feel a bit guilty. He had enjoyed Emerson's company before, and had seriously considered, many times, a future with him... But that was only because he thought he didn't have any chances with Severus. Now that he knew that everything wasn't lost, he wasn't going to let anything distract him from his goal. And Emerson constantly wanting to spend time with him was very distracting.

To his greatest disappointment, Gabriel ended up sitting next to bulgy-eyed Professor Trelawney at dinner, with Severus at the other end of the table. The food was delicious, as always, and it wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't noticed Trelawney staring at him every time he looked up from his plate. She hadn't said a word to him yet, but he knew she was dying to speak to him from the way her lips twitched constantly. Professor McGonagall sat facing them, eyeing the Divination teacher in disdain.

"Don't you dare, Sybil," she finally snapped, attracting the attention of the rest of the eaters.

Trelawney turned to her, slightly flustered.

"I... I'm afraid I..." she stuttered nervously, clutching at the amulets around her neck. "I beg your pardon, Minerva?"

"You were just about to trouble Mr. Lenoir with another one of your ridiculous predictions, and no one here wants to hear it, so you would do well to abstain yourself."

Trelawney blinked many times before replying, in a somewhat condescending tone.

"My dear Minerva, you haven't been blessed with the gift of the Inner Eye, but it is no reason to be so bitter to those who can see clearer," she said, almost in a whisper, although everyone present heard her very clearly. "The poor boy has a right to know of the coming darkness..."

"Oh please... the coming darkness..." Minerva scoffed, looking around at her colleagues, silently urging them to help.

"No, no, Minerva, she's right," said Professor Sinistra from her spot near Professor Flitwick. "It has indeed been predicted that this will be a very dark and cloudy night," she finished with a small smile.

"Do not mock me, Aurora!" Professor Trelawney said breathlessly as she pointed a shaking finger at the Astronomy teacher. "It is clear as day to anyone possessing the Sight that this boy's life will be full of hardships..."

"A very easy deduction considering his past," commented McGonagall sourly.

"Ladies, please," Flitwick intervened, but he was obviously entertained by their dispute.

"...hardships past yes, but many hardships to come also..." continued Professor Trelawney as if no one had interrupted her.

Gabriel saw Severus put down his knife and fork. A deep frown was forming on his face as he opened his mouth to say something.

"No," Gabriel said suddenly as he turned to Professor Trelawney. "I want to hear what she has to say. Let her speak."

He had to stop a smirk from forming on his face at the scowl he received from the Potions Master. Severus had the same expression he always wore whenever Gabriel mentioned Alfwin Engel – a severe and reprimanding look, as if warning Gabriel not to search for trouble. He was sick of Severus trying to protect him. As soon as he'd spoken, perhaps expecting that she would be interrupted once more if she waited, Professor Trelawney grabbed his hand with her trembling ones.

"My boy... my dear, dear boy," she started ominously with a look of pity on her face. "I see despair... great despair. First I see brief joy, but then long years of despair, isolation, absence of love, suffering and pain..."

"Enough..." McGonagall snapped.

"And I see a man," Trelawney continued, speaking faster now, "a man, a stranger, with eyes everywhere, watching you from afar, and waiting..."

"Sybil, my dear," Professor Dumbledore said suddenly, with a kind but firm voice. "I believe that's quite enough now."

"...and a darkness, inside you, threatening to take over..."

"Enough!" Severus said loudly, with a tone much more threatening than any darkness and Trelawney fell silent at once. "Mr. Lenoir," he continued, standing up, "I will accompany you back to the Slytherin quarters now, it's getting late."

Gabriel stood to follow him outside the room, where most of the teachers seemed to be addressing Professor Trelawney with reproaches.

"I wasn't finished eating, you know," Gabriel said as they left the Great Hall, but Severus grabbed his arm and pulled him aside, away from the tall oak doors.

"Now don't you go believing anything that twit just told you, understand?" the Potions Master said.

"I was just curious," Gabriel protested, frowning at the tight grip the man had on his arm. "I've heard enough about her not to believe anything she says," he continued, looking curiously at Severus. "No one here takes her seriously... so why does it seem like you do?"

"I don't," Severus said, slowly letting go of his arm. "I only wanted to make sure that you wouldn't start being all paranoid again like after that business with Engel..."

"Well, I'm not," Gabriel replied dryly.


They fell silent for a moment, before Severus simply turned and left. But Gabriel knew there was something on his mind. Something Trelawney said had gotten to him, although he couldn't imagine why. She was a fraud, wasn't she?



The next day, shortly after lunch, Dumbledore sent for Gabriel to meet him in his office. When he entered, he found not only the Headmaster, but also Severus, who was leaning casually against the fireplace with his arms crossed.

"Ah, Gabriel, thank you for coming," Dumbledore said, sitting down behind his desk and gesturing for him to take seat.

"What is happening?" Gabriel asked, wondering why Severus was present. "Am I in trouble?"

Dumbledore smiled kindly.

"No, no, dear boy, don't worry. It is customary, for every Hogwarts student, when they reach their fifth year, to have a discussion with their Head of House concerning their choices of N.E.W.T. classes and future ambitions," he said, thus explaining why Severus was there. "And as your guardian, I felt I should also be included in the conversation. If it doesn't bother you, of course..."

"No, it's fine," Gabriel said, relieved that this was only about classes.

"Very well," the Headmaster started. "Have you thought about what you want to do after you graduate?"

Since 'Marry Professor Snape and stay with him at Hogwarts' probably wouldn't have been an appropriate answer, Gabriel decided against it.

"I have thought about it, but I haven't really been able to decide. There are just so many choices..."

"If I may," Dumbledore continued, handing him a thick pamphlet from his desk. "Agrippa University has a very extensive curriculum. I took the liberty of ordering some information should you be interested in applying. That is, unless you would prefer a French establishment?"

Gabriel stared at the leaflet of parchments he was now holding – recognising the purple logo of what was considered one of the best wizarding universities in the world – before raising his head to look questioningly at his guardian.

"You think I could get into Agrippa?"

"If you keep the marks you have so far, of course, my boy. They would be lucky to have you," Dumbledore assured him.

"Especially with Professor Dumbledore here as your guardian," said Severus, speaking for the first time since Gabriel had entered the room.

"But... I don't want any special treatment," Gabriel complained helplessly.

"I'm afraid it's unavoidable in your situation..." Severus started before Dumbledore interrupted him.

"Nonsense, Severus. I may know a few people on the teaching staff who also happen to sit on the admission committee, but Gabriel couldn't possibly get into Agrippa without his own merits," he replied before turning back to his adopted son. "You can take a look at the programs they offer and see if one of them suits you. Nothing is definitive, and you can take all the time you want."

Gabriel nodded as he opened the pamphlet curiously. It was strange, he realised, that with his thirst for learning and desire for knowledge, he had never really thought that he could want to attend university. And now that he was holding the opportunity for higher education, he could feel something flutter in his stomach, like the urge to go further. Agrippa... this was the university Evelyn desperately wanted to get in since she was a little girl, and Emerson was already preparing his application. Apparently the entry test for Agrippa was lethal, but the thought of taking it almost gave Gabriel an adrenaline high. Suddenly he felt a wave of disappointment wash over him.

"They want extracurricular activities," he said after a while. "I have never done anything like that."

"What about the Potions group last October?" Severus said.

"Yes, that's true. But I don't think it will suffice..."

"You still have two years of schooling left," Dumbledore explained. "I'm sure there is something at Hogwarts that might interest you."

"I'm not really into Quidditch or singing," Gabriel hesitated.

"Didn't you tell me you had a fencing master when you were younger?" Severus said suddenly.

"Yes, but I stopped last year, and Hogwarts doesn't have a fencing team, as far as I know," Gabriel replied.

"We used to have swordplay competitions back in the day," Dumbledore mused. "I wonder if it would be possible to bring it back, with the necessary precautions. I will have to see to this at the next budget meeting."

"Professor Flitwick did talk about trying to resurrect the duelling club next year," Severus added. "Perhaps it was only small talk, but it could easily be done. I know a lot of Slytherins would want to join."

"The point is, we'll figure something out, Gabriel," Dumbledore said with a smile. "We still have two years ahead of us."

Gabriel tried to smile back honestly, but he was starting to get sick of people telling him to wait two years.

"However, there are still many options for you should you decide not to attend university," Dumbledore continued. "After all, many great wizards succeed in life without a higher education," he finished with a smile.

"I have to ask you if you've considered a career in potionmaking?" Severus asked then. "Agrippa does have a very good program in the field of research, but there is always apprenticeship if you're more interested in the practical aspect. Rousseau told me that he was going to offer you a spot with him before you transferred to Hogwarts."

"This would have been a very great opportunity," Dumbledore agreed, impressed.

"What about you, sir?" Gabriel asked suddenly, looking at Severus with defiance in his eyes. "Would you take me as your apprentice?"

Severus stared at him in silence. As my apprentice and so much more, his eyes said.

"This is not a bad idea, Severus," Dumbledore said. "Horace took in three apprentices back when he was teaching here and they all turned out to be very successful. Gabriel could do a three year apprenticeship with you and then if he wants to, attend Agrippa to get the official paperwork."

"I doubt I would have the time to..."

"That's what an apprentice is there for, sir. Not only learning, but also helping," Gabriel said, staring straight at Severus. "It's not very different from what I'm already doing..."

"I suppose," was all Severus said.

Dumbledore smiled at them both.

"Right, then, we'll see what you both decide. I think that's all for today."

They left the Headmaster's office together in silence, but as they were walking down the stairs, Gabriel's hand brushed Severus' accidentally and he shivered. Severus' fingers slid up to his wrist softly before sliding down and their hands clasped together only for a second. When they reached the end of the stairs, Severus walked away in a different direction. For the rest of the day, Gabriel's left hand felt strangely cold, like it was missing something.



For the next few days, Severus was in such a bad mood that even Gabriel seemed to stay away. Three times, the Potions Master had to stop himself from going up to the Divination Tower to interrogate Professor Trelawney. Three times he walked up the stairs leading to the Seer's classroom, but stopped before the ladder.

If someone here knew that despite her theatrics, Sybil Trelawney was sometimes capable of giving accurate predictions, it was Severus, for he had once witnessed it. But even if he deeply wanted to know exactly what she had sensed in Gabriel's future, he was scared to face her. What if she saw his true feelings for the boy? After all, they had been quite obvious to Alfwin Engel. He wouldn't have thought about her words twice if he hadn't heard something terribly similar from the owner ofOccultipus. They had both talked about a strange man watching Gabriel from afar, and waiting. At first, he had thought about the doppelganger, because the creature had said that it would be coming back, so it was also waiting. But it was clearly not a man, so neither of the Seers would have mentioned it in this way. Were they talking about an actual man? A stranger, they had said.

It was this part of the whole story that bothered Severus. Who could be watching Gabriel from afar, and what were they waiting for exactly? He really didn't like the sound of that. Perhaps he should talk to Dumbledore about it, but then he would have to explain why he had been in Occultipus in the first place, talking about Gabriel with the mysterious owner. Then maybe he should discuss this with Gabriel, but he feared that this whole thing would just scare the boy, and a scared Gabriel was never good news.

Another reason why he was in such a terrible mood was because of Dumbledore. He was furious at the man for trying to push Gabriel to attend Agrippa. Of course it was a wonderful opportunity for the boy and he would undoubtedly be very successful there, but Severus was disgusted at the thought of all those college boys trying to woo Gabriel. He could already imagine what would happen. Gabriel would go off to university, meet a nice, intelligent and beautiful young man and forget all about his old, ugly Potions Master. He would go on to become successful and get married and Severus would live the rest of his life alone and trapped teaching idiots how to make potions without blowing up the classroom.

Severus sighed. He really needed to get some air, to get away. Perhaps this was the right time to travel... He had wanted to go to South America for years, maybe he could do it this summer. Colbert Trumble, a former Ravenclaw that Severus had attended school with, was doing research in Peru. They had been exchanging letters for years and Colbert constantly suggested Severus come and visit him. He was starting to think that this was the right time. A nice, long trip would help clear his mind. He would spend some time apart from Gabriel, which would be very relaxing indeed. He could leave at the beginning of July and only return before the new term. Yes, he thought with a smile, this is definitely a good idea. Why spend another summer locked up in Spinner's End when he could travel a bit. He rushed into his apartments, eager to start planning everything.



When Emerson found the university pamphlet on Gabriel's nightstand, a few days later, he looked like a five year old in a candy store.

"You're planning to go to Agrippa?" he asked, eyes wide and a smile already forming on his face.

Gabriel, who was sitting on his bed, finishing his Ancient Runes homework, shrugged.

"I don't know yet. Dumbledore gave that to me. He wanted me to consider all the options," he explained.

"But you're considering it, aren't you?" Emerson interrogate, sitting next to him. "I mean, you would have no problem getting in, for sure! And it would be perfect for you! They have a great potions program, or maybe you could come with me in Arithmancy. It would be brilliant! If you graduated early, we could even start together..."

Gabriel sighed before putting down his quill.

"Em, I told you I don't want to graduate early," he insisted once again. "I just want to go through the whole schooling thing like everybody else. I don't need any special treatment. I'm fine just being normal. If I graduate early, everyone will think it's just because I'm Professor Dumbledore's adopted son."

"No one will think that," Emerson assured him, touching Gabriel's cheek softly. "Everybody knows you're brilliant. And since when do you care what others think?"

"That's stupid," Gabriel said with a smile, but removing the other boy's hand from his face. "Everyone cares about what others think, one way or another..."

"Well," Emerson said, looking slightly disappointed. "I suppose it's okay, then. You do what makes you happy, but I beg you to think about Agrippa. It would be perfect. We could see each other in between classes, and maybe even get a place together, what do you think?"

"I..." Gabriel hesitated, seriously annoyed but trying not to show it. "I don't know... It's really early to make plans like that. As I've told you, I haven't decided yet what I want to do. There's not just Agrippa...," he said, smiling. "Professor Snape was talking about maybe taking me as his apprentice after I graduate..."

He interrupted himself when he saw the disbelieving look on Emerson's face.

"An apprentice ship is what... three years? You would stay at Hogwarts for three more years? But it's eight hours away from Oxfordshire! We would barely see each other."

"Em, I haven't decided anything yet, I told you!"

Emerson shook his head.

"Yes, I know. I'm sorry... it's just... the thought of not seeing you at all after next year... So this is why I brought you this..."

He smiled as he took out a small velvet jewellery box from his pocket and Gabriel suddenly paled. No, oh Merlin, no...

"Em! Stop! Don't tell me this is an engagement ring..."

Emerson grabbed his hand softly.

"Don't panic, it's not an engagement ring, not exactly."

He opened the little box, revealing the little band of silver on the inside. It was very simple, with small carvings on the outside and it glinted in the sunlight coming in from the artificial window.

"I'm sorry but it looks to me like an engagement ring," Gabriel said nervously, trying to get his hand free of Emerson's grasp.

"It's not," the sixth year assured him. "It's been in my family for generations. My father gave it to my mother before their married, and Cadwell gave it to Victoria, too..."

"And it's not an engagement ring?" Gabriel asked again, skeptically.

"It's a promise ring, Gabe. It's just a token of my love for you, and a promise that we will get married when we're ready..."

Emerson stopped just as he was slipping the ring on Gabriel's finger. He had just noticed the look of fear on his boyfriend's face and realisation dawned on him suddenly.

"You don't want to marry me, do you?" he said softly.

Gabriel looked away, feeling terrible, before shaking his head.

"It wouldn't be now," Emerson continued. "In a few years, you can think about it. It doesn't have to be right now..."

"I can't accept this, Em," Gabriel said, removing his hand. "This is not going to work out... I thought I loved you, but..."

"I know," Emerson said suddenly, his eyes suddenly very clear. "I think I've known for a while..."

He put the ring back into the little box and closed it before removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes.

"I saw that you were slipping away from me," he admitted. "I didn't want to lose you, so I asked my father for the ring. I thought that maybe it would change your mind... but deep down I knew it wouldn't make any difference."

"I'm so sorry, Em..." Gabriel said, but his throat felt too tight to say anything more.

"It's okay. It's not your fault... You can't force yourself to feel something for me," he said before standing up. "I need to be alone now, I'm sorry..."

"Sure, it's... it's fine," Gabriel said, watching as Emerson headed for the door. "We can... we can talk about it later."

But the door had closed behind the other boy before he could finish his sentence.

Chapter Text


"I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only.  I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary."

-Magaret Atwood


HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH Emerson had slightly estranged Gabriel from his friends. Between the time he used to spend with his boyfriend and his frequent visits to Severus, he felt like he hadn't talked to Evelyn or Tonks in weeks. It was only on the morning after he refused Emerson's ring, when he found himself walking to breakfast alone for the first time in months, that Gabriel realised how badly he had treated the few friends he had.

He had feared that Evelyn might be upset with him for breaking up with Emerson, since the two of them had always been so close, but that day, she smiled at him kindly, told him to sit with her, and asked him how he was. She said she knew it must have been very hard for him because Gabriel wasn't the kind of person who likes hurting others. He was immediately very uncomfortable, knowing that he had been playing Emerson for months. He was also reminded that he had never given Evelyn Killian's message. But so much time had passed since then... He thought it was probably way too late now to tell her. It would only make things worse.

Luckily for him, the O.W.L.'s were approaching quickly, and he didn't have that much time to think about how he had broken Emerson's heart, or about his severe lack of close friends. During the following weeks, he spent most of his time studying alone or with either Evelyn or Tonks – but never the both of them because, unsurprisingly, they couldn't stand each other. It was strange not seeing Emerson anymore – the sixth year usually avoided him now, sitting away from him in the library and the Great Hall – but even through the guilt, Gabriel felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He wouldn't have to try so hard to be social anymore. He could go back to being plain, old, lonely, boring, bookish Gabriel.

About a week before the exams, when all the fifth years were entering panic mode and falling into a last minute binge studying frenzy, Gabriel realised that he was tired of reviewing things he already knew, and he decided to take it easy from then on. He visited the Muggle literature section of the library, found a few Dickens novels he had yet to read and sat under a tree near the lake. When he didn't feel like reading, he would knock on Severus' door, seeking company. But lately, more often than not, the Potions Master wouldn't answer. Gabriel knew he was in his office because he undoubtedly had exams to prepare, and because he couldn't be found nowhere else in the castle. And still, when he knocked, there was no answer most of the time. He had the feeling that Severus was up to something... or maybe he just found it difficult to be in Gabriel's presence. Gabriel grinned whenever this thought crossed his mind. Maybe that meant he was finally seeing reason? Maybe he was starting to regret this stupid compromise, especially now that it was known around the school that Gabriel Lenoir and Emerson Gladwyn were no longer a couple. Anyhow, Severus had the habit of isolating himself when he needed to think. So Gabriel waited.

"Gabe?" a voice asked.

He removed the book covering his face to see Tonks standing in the shade of the tree. He was lying on his back in the grass, drowsily bathing in the afternoon sunlight.

"I thought that was you," she said, smiling, but a moment later she frowned. "Is that Bleak House?" she asked, taking the book from his hands to take a look before giving it back, slightly disgusted. "How can you have time to read a novel and lounge by the lake while the rest of us are working our arses off?"

"The difference, you see, is that I study all the time instead of waiting until the end of the year. That's why, when the exams are only a few days away, I can allow myself to rest while all of you procrastinators try to catch up," he said slowly with a grin before yawning.

"So you're done studying?" she asked skeptically.

"Yes. I decided that I won't open another schoolbook before September if I can help it. I think if I have to read my History of Magic notes one more time, I might vomit."

"Great," Tonks said suddenly, sitting down next to him on the grass. "Then you have plenty of time to help me study Potions."

"Have I just been drawn into a trap?" Gabriel groaned, shutting his book.

"You brought this on yourself, Blondie," said Tonks, taking out her textbook. "That'll teach you never to brag about having time to spare before exam weeks. Merlin, I'm glad I found you first! A bunch of Gryffindors were looking for a last minute tutor. But too bad for them, you're all mine! Who better than my partner to help me, right?"

Gabriel smiled. He didn't mind helping Tonks study. He enjoyed her company – her carefree nature and her good mood always rubbed off on him. Together, they reviewed the potions they had brewed in Professor Snape's class, discussing the instructions and sharing their thoughts on which ones had a chance to end up on the O.W.L.'s practical exam. Gabriel reminded her of the best way to slice the different types of roots, to always start by crushing the moonstones first to avoid running out of time, and to be careful not to lose too much blood when chopping salamander heads. About two hours later, Tonks felt very confidant and decided that a rest was well-deserved. She lied down on her back next to Gabriel and they watched the sun blink between the branches of the large tree.

"So what are your plans for the summer?" Tonks asked after a while, stifling a yawn.

"I haven't made any plans yet. Professor Dumbledore has been busy and we didn't have time to discuss it," explained Gabriel lazily.

"Does he usually stay at Hogwarts in the summer?" she asked, frowning. "Somehow I can't picture Dumbledore anywhere else than here."

"I have no idea. I know he has a house in Godric's Hollow... I suppose he might spend some time there," Gabriel suggested.

"Would you prefer going back to Paris? I bet it's wonderful," said Tonks enviously.

"It's a beautiful city, but I don't really have any friends there and... With Valère gone, the house is a little bit empty."

Tonks turned to him sadly.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring that up," she said, cringing slightly.

"It's okay," he assured her with a smile. "Every year on my birthday we used to spend the whole day at the Louvre. I think this is probably what I'm going to miss the most..."

He watched distractedly as two small birds chased each other in the branches of the tree above.

"Wait... when is your birthday?" Tonks asked, sitting up.

"Next month, on June 30th."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Tonks said again, scowling.

"It never came up, and you didn't ask..."

"If you hadn't said anything, I would have missed it and felt really guilty for not giving you a present."

Gabriel sat up slightly, leaning on his elbows.

"You don't have to get me a present."

"Are you kidding? After those fancy chocolates you sent me for Christmas, it would be a crime not to! They were so delicious! All the chocolaty goodness almost killed me..." she said, shivering at the memory.

Gabriel laughed.

"Then I'll know what to get you on your birthday," he said before letting himself fall back on the grass. "What are you doing this summer?"

"Oh, you know," she said, shrugging, as she twirled a tall blade of grass between her fingers, "the usual stuff – mostly lots of sleeping in, lazing around the house and annoying my parents. There's also this little lake not very far from home where I like to go, although it's packed with Muggle kids on the warmer days. I just love to swim."

"Yes, me too," Gabriel said with a sigh. "I wonder if Professor Dumbledore would want to go on vacation. I could do with a trip to the beach."

"I somehow can't quite picture him there," said Tonks with a grin.

They both laughed at the thought of Dumbledore casually putting on sunscreen before tucking his long beard into his swimming trunks on a beach full of Muggles.

"If you do go to the beach with him, you have to take pictures!" Tonks said, cracking up.

"Mmm... but honestly, I'm not sure he's really planning anything interesting," Gabriel admitted, slightly disappointed. "He's been busy with something for months and it's getting worse lately. He looks really worried."

"Do you have any idea what it might be about?" Tonks asked curiously.

"He's been like that since Christmas in Paris..." Gabriel hesitated. "You wouldn't know what Horcruxes are, would you?" he asked suddenly.

"Hor...cruxes?" Tonks pronounced the word tentatively and there was no recognition in her eyes. "Not a clue, why?"

"Over Christmas break, he was looking through those old books in the library. They were labelled with that word. He's been acting odd since then," Gabriel explained. "From the look of those books, it's something really dark."

Tonks looked thoughtful.

"I wonder what Dumbledore would want with books of Dark Magic," she said finally.

"You know what they say. The best way to defend yourself against something is to learn everything there is to know about it," Gabriel said, closing his eyes as the sun moved away from a group of white fluffy clouds.

"Too true," Tonks agreed. "Maybe it's some sort of dark curse. What is the word again? Horcruxes?"


"No, definitely never heard it before... Maybe you could check into the Restricted Section!" she said suddenly. Do you still have that pass from Snape you've been bragging about?"

"Oh, I've looked already," Gabriel said with a frown. "Nothing. There is an empty spot on the shelf where the books are supposed to be. I expect Professor Dumbledore has them. The ones back at the Manor were in French, so I doubt they were much help to him."

"Maybe you could ask Professor Valencia..." Tonks started, but suddenly she trailed off. "Oh right, I forgot she left..."

The Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Gwendolyn Valencia, had left Hogwarts a few days ago, but no one knew why. Everything seemed fine with her one day, and the next she was walking into the Great Hall straight to Professor Dumbledore and giving her resignation. Rumours started to spread around that she had been shaking, as pale as a ghost, but with the speed at which gossip travelled at Hogwarts, it was impossible to know for sure. Some people had claimed to see it weren't even in the room that morning. The same afternoon, Professor Valencia had cleared her office, packed her things and walked out of the front doors, without saying goodbye to anyone. The general hypothesis was that something had scared her off... People didn't worry for very long, however, because the Defense exams were cancelled for all students, except the fifth years, since their examinations were made by the Ministry.

"I really wonder why she left," Gabriel said, turning to Tonks, who was pouting slightly. "Even Professor Dumbledore is at a loss. But then again, from what I've heard, the Defense teachers never stay very long anyway."

"That's true," Tonks said, nodding. "We've had a different one every year since I started Hogwarts. I was hoping Professor Valencia might stay, though. She was brilliant."

"Of course you would think that, you were the teacher's pet..."

"Hey, look who's talking, Snape's official ass-kisser!"

Gabriel grinned. You have no idea, he thought.



That very evening, as if by coincidence, Gabriel played chess with Professor Dumbledore. It had been a while since they saw each other, and it felt good to catch up. Maybe it was the thought of summer coming, but the Headmaster looked less preoccupied, which was a welcomed sight.

"How are your studies coming along?" he asked as he moved his rook to take Gabriel's knight.

"Oh, I've stopped studying," the young man replied. "I think I've learned everything I can possibly need this year."

Dumbledore looked at him proudly when he heard those words, but a moment later he groaned as Gabriel's queen took his.

"You're losing your touch," Gabriel said softly with a smile.

"I think I am," the Headmaster admitted, eyeing the board in confusion.

"I was wondering," Gabriel started while Dumbledore was contemplating his next move, "what will happen when term is over? Do you usually stay here for the summer?"

"Of course not, my boy," Dumbledore said, smiling gently as he rubbed his chin, still looking at the pieces. "We will be staying at Godric's Hollow for the summer. Only Hagrid and Mr. Filch will remain to keep an eye on the school," he finished before moving his rook tentatively a few squares to the left.

"Oh," Gabriel said simply.

"You seem disappointed. If you absolutely want to stay here, I'm sure Hagrid wouldn't mind some help..." Dumbledore said with an amused smile.

"No, I think I want to keep all my limbs," Gabriel responded with a laugh before moving his queen. "I just thought... Well, maybe I could stay here and help Professor Snape...," he said casually, trying not to make it sound like exactly what it was. "I mean, I spent all last summer helping Mr. Rousseau and I thought it was time well spent."

"You've grown attached to Severus, haven't you?" Dumbledore said with a smile. "I think that's the first time it's happened to a student, quite honestly."

"He's brilliant," Gabriel admitted, "although he is certainly the rudest person I've ever met."

"I think he has a soft spot for you," his guardian said, taking Gabriel's queen. "He enjoys your company."

Quite right you are, Gabriel thought, trying not to smirk. Although lately, one might doubt this...

"Severus never stays at Hogwarts during the holidays either," Dumbledore added. "He spends them at his home. However, this year, he will be leaving England shortly after the end of term."

Gabriel froze for an instant before moving a pawn.

"He never told me that," he said simply, but he was raging inside. "Where is he going?"

Dumbledore was staring intently at the board, for which Gabriel was grateful – he wouldn't risk seeing the pure irritation in his adopted son's eyes.

"South America," he announced. "He has wanted to make this trip for years now. A friend of his, Mr. Trumble, is doing research in Peru and has been asking for him to visit. I was surprised when he told me he had finally accepted the offer. Severus never had a particular inclination towards travelling, but it seems something gave him a taste for adventure. He only informed me of his intention to go a few days ago. I believe he is planning his itinerary as we speak."

Gabriel was silent for the next few moves of the game. He had a very clear idea just what might have given Severus a taste for adventure. He did not suddenly want to travel, that much was obvious! He was running away, the coward! He knew he wouldn't be able to resist if he had to spend any more time in Gabriel's presence, so he was leaving to avoid the situation.

"Don't look so devastated, Gabriel," Dumbledore said softly after a while. "You cannot spend all summer locked up in a potions laboratory. You have to see the sun a little bit, enjoy life. I am sure you will feel very much at home in Godric's Hollow," he added with a mysterious smile. "The house holds a few surprises I think you'll enjoy. Check."

After losing two games – due in great part to his distraction at hearing the news of Severus' vacation – Gabriel walked back to the dungeons. Instead of heading directly to his dormitory, he stopped only when he reached the door to Severus' office. He knocked, and as he had expected, there was no answer. A ball of rage seemed to be growing inside his ribcage, and with a frustrated sigh, he started hitting the door noisily with his fist, determined not to stop until someone opened. It took less than thirty seconds.

"What do you want now?" Severus said as he opened, and he didn't look at all surprised to see Gabriel there.

"Why have you been avoiding me?" Gabriel demanded, his eyes shooting daggers.

He didn't have time to say much more because Severus had grabbed the front of his robes and pulled him inside, taking a quick look into the corridor to make sure no one had witnessed this, before shutting the heavy door behind them.

"Could you make any more noise? I think someone on the third floor hasn't heard your racket!" Severus hissed, walking back towards his desk, where piles of books and papers were waiting for him.

"You haven't answered my question!" Gabriel said through gritted teeth. "Why have you been avoiding me?"

Severus sighed deeply. He sat down in his chair and leaned back to stare at Gabriel with tired eyes.

"I haven't been avoiding you," he snapped. "I am a teacher, I happen to be busy sometimes. I can't always be available to listen to your constant babbling..."

"I don't babble..." Gabriel snapped back, crossing his arms indignantly.

"...I have essays to correct and exams to prepare," Severus finished, ignoring his interruption completely.

"You could have just told me! I would have left you alone."

"Oh," Severus said with a derisive laugh. "You would? Five months ago, I told you I wanted to take a break, to wait it out, and yet you're still here..." he finished with an exasperated gesture.

"You told me we could still see each other," Gabriel drawled.

"Not necessarily every day."

Gabriel was silent for a while, fighting the urge to yell, but it would only make matters worse.

"Then why don't you tell me to leave if you don't want to see me? I don't know what you're thinking! I'm not a bloody Seer."

Severus scowled.

"Five points from Slytherin. Watch your language," the Potions Master said dryly.

Gabriel was shocked.

"You've never taken points from me before," he said quietly.

"Then I might have to start, if it's the only way for you to behave yourself."

"Don't make the other Slytherins pay because you can't solve your problems properly," Gabriel answered boldly.

"So you admit that you're becoming a problem?" Severus said harshly.

"Fine, I get it! You don't want to see me!" Gabriel cried. "But why do you always have to be so cruel? And why didn't you tell me you were leaving?"

Severus sighed, obviously annoyed that he had found out. What had he expected? To slip away unnoticed?

"I don't have to tell you about everything I do," he said more reasonably. "I told you to wait two years because I want you to live your life, and you have done so with Mr. Gladwyn... for a time, at least. Now I intend to follow my own advice and do the same..."

"So is that why you're leaving?" Gabriel interrupted. "To be with that colleague of yours in Peru?"

Severus frowned, maybe wondering how he knew all of that.

"His name is Colin Trumble, and he is just a colleague..." he started.

"Now. He is just a colleague now. But he used to be more than that, didn't he?" Gabriel interrupted once again.

"There was a time, when we were in school... But it's none of your business," Severus snapped.

"Oh," Gabriel said bitterly. "That's none of my business, is it? What happened with Garrett or Emerson is your business but not what happened between you and Colin... or Lucius Malfoy."

Severus stood stiffly and advanced towards him threateningly.

"Ten points from Slytherin," he said dangerously. "You are way out of line, Gabriel Lenoir. You better stop this right now..."

"I know what happened between you two. I saw it during Occlumency lessons, only I was too polite to say anything about it," Gabriel explained, his eyes never leaving Severus' angered gaze. "So that's how you're going to deal with this? You're just running off to another continent to sleep with a guy you used to know?"

"I don't intend to sleep with anyone!" Severus replied with a voice that would have sent any other student running. "Now you stop this instant, you hear me? This trip is purely for educational purposes..."

"It doesn't sound like that to me."

Severus let out a growl of rage, raking his fingers through his hair.

"Why should I care what it sounds like to you? I can't stand this anymore, Gabriel! Why can't you just fixate yourself on some nice boy and leave me be? Why couldn't you stay with Gladwyn? He loved you! He would have been good for you!"

"It's not enough! I don't care about him! Unlike you, I'm not into fucking just anyone who shows interest in me!"

Gabriel heard the sound before he felt the pain. And even then, it took him a few seconds to realise that Severus had hit him. It wasn't very hard, just a slap, but the shock of it soon had his eyes filling with tears. He looked up into Severus' face and found his eyes wide and lips trembling.

"No... No..." Severus whispered, reaching out to grab him with trembling hands, but Gabriel shifted away from him, rubbing his cheek, which was now tingling with pain. "I didn't mean to... I..."

"We don't have to play this game, you know," Gabriel said tiredly and he felt a few tears fall as he spoke. "We don't have to hurt each other all the time. Why does everything have to be so complicated with you? Why can't you just take what is there and be happy?"

"I constantly ask myself the same," Severus said weakly, reaching out to grab him again, his eyes desperate and hands shaking almost violently.

He seemed even more shocked than Gabriel with the brief violence he had shown.

"I get it," Gabriel added softly. "I'll leave you alone from now on."

A moment later, the door was closing softly and Severus was left standing in the middle of his office, feeling sick.



To say that Severus was miserable would be a monstrous euphemism. He spent exam weeks drowning in self-hatred and disgust. Through the chaos around him, he was aware of only one thing: he had hit a student. Not just any student – he had hit Gabriel. He didn't dare think about what would happen if Dumbledore ever found out about this. But most of all, he had hit someone he loved. This was more unforgivable than any dark curse. If calling Lily a Mudblood all those years ago had driven her away from him, this was incomparable. The look on the boy's face when he had struck him was engraved into Severus' brain. First there had been confusion and shock, and then a mix of anger and heartbreak... but most of all, the horror of having been betrayed.  It's over , he thought. Gabriel would never be his now. He had lost him completely

Maybe it's better this way, don't you think? the little voice asked, strangely quiet. He would have left you at some point, everyone does. At least now you took care of it yourself...

"Oh shut up!" Severus yelled into his empty office, nearly knocking the ink pot over on the exam he was correcting.

If this bloody school term could only end so he could disappear!

However, he had to admit that Gabriel wasn't very far from the truth when he'd talked about Colin, or about the reason Severus was visiting him in the first place. The thought had crossed his mind many times... Perhaps caressing another body would help him forget about Gabriel's. He had a brief fling with Colin years ago, after the downfall of the Dark Lord, before the other man left the country. At first, Severus had thought it was just a pity fuck. Or maybe Colin had simply been turned on by the thought of sleeping with a Death Eater spy. The fact that he had kept writing to Severus after he moved overseas was unexpected. And now in the midst of all this mess with Gabriel, maybe Severus thought he could give Colin another try. After all, the man was his own age, reasonably clever, and he wasn't bad looking. Men like Severus Snape had to settle for what they could have...

"My God, the boy was right," Severus muttered in the emptiness of his office, resting his forehead on the surface of his desk.

No matter. His trip was all planned, and he was going. Everything was almost ready. He would go directly to Buenos Aires and take the train to Santiago. Then he would board another train and travel all the way to Cusco, to see the ruins of Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman. He would meet Colin there, and together they would make their way back to Iquitos, where Colin lived. They were also planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands, where Severus would collect rare samples and potion ingredients. Yes, it would feel good to leave for a while.

And yet, the thought of not seeing Gabriel's face for two whole months was painful. Not that I would have seen him anyway, after that stunt I pulled, he thought spitefully.

He had watched the boy carefully from afar, relieved that his face showed no bruises or scratches. Severus would surely have died of shame if this had been the case. He probably hadn't hit him very hard, but it was no excuse. The mere thought of having marred Gabriel's perfect face made him nauseous. Why did he always have to destroy everything beautiful? He was like a cruel little boy who plucked the wings off butterflies to make them suffer like he did. When would he learn that suffering justified nothing? He had no right to hurt others so he wouldn't be the only one miserable. And he had no right to hurt Gabriel. The boy had suffered enough without Severus' help.

He was asked to help supervise the Potions written examinations on Friday afternoon. Like every year for the O.W.L.s, the Great Hall was lined with desks already furnished with special quills and parchment to prevent cheating. The head examiner was a very old, severe-looking Ministry official who nodded at Severus when he entered. He was probably half-blind, which would explain why Severus was asked to help. The room filled up progressively as the fifth years took their seats. Gabriel was one of the last to enter, chatting quietly with Evelyn Bagnold, who looked like she might have a nervous breakdown. He looked up and saw that Severus was present, but their eyes barely met for a fraction of a second before he turned away and chose a desk near the centre of the room.

Severus knew he was supposed to keep an eye on everyone, but he found it hard to look at anyone else but Gabriel. The boy was leaning over the desk, his quill scratching rapidly on the parchment, writing swiftly as if he couldn't wait to finish this essay and be done with it. That's probably the case, the voice said. It's obvious he wanted to be out of here as soon as he took a look at your face.

Ignoring the damned voice, Severus made his way through the rows of students, carefully making sure they were all working according to the regulations. He stopped behind Gabriel. At that exact moment, Gabriel stopped writing and raised his head slightly. Severus stared as a beam of afternoon sunlight caressed the skin on the back of the boy's neck. How he longed to touch him, but he was in a room full of students. And after what he had done the last time they had seen each other, Severus had no right to touch him anymore. He noticed how the boy's shoulders lifted slightly with every soft breath he took. Severus was sure Gabriel could feel the weight of his gaze on him, the caress of his eyes on the skin of his neck, the strength of the apology he longed to yell out desperately into the vast, silent room. As soon as he walked away, Gabriel started writing again.

Consumed with shame, Severus hid in his office until the school started emptying and it was time to leave. He packed some of his belongings – clothes and books, mostly. The rest of his things were usually left at Hogwarts, for Severus wasn't a big enthusiast of packing and unpacking things. Dumbledore was in the entrance hall when Severus emerged with his suitcases. He was saying goodbye to members of the staff, who were heading out with their belongings floating behind them.

"Severus, my boy!" he said happily when Severus approached. "I wish you a very good trip, and I would quite like to get a postcard or two if you have the time," the old man finished with a bright smile.

"Yes, sure," Severus said quietly.

For a second he had been terribly afraid that Gabriel had told him about their last encounter, but then he knew there was no way the boy would say anything. He was noble like that.

"Gabriel wishes you a nice time, too. Unfortunately he cannot be here to tell you himself. I believe he is still packing as we speak," the Headmaster said in an apologetic tone that Severus could have done without. "We are heading for Godric's Hollow in an hour. I do wish you could come by for dinner before you leave, but I suppose you still have many things to put in order."

"Quite right," Severus said dryly. "Have a nice summer, Headmaster. Don't let the boy wear you out too much."

Dumbledore laughed loudly.

"Worry not, Severus. If anything, he makes me feel young again," he called out as Severus was walking out the doors and into the sunlight.

Yes, I know the feeling, he thought.

As soon as he was outside the border of Hogwarts grounds, Severus Apparated in the middle of his living room at Spinner's End. He could hear noises coming from the kitchen and knew that Kiki was already there. She was a Hogwarts house elf that he employed during the summer. In fact, it was Dumbledore who had sent her the first time, claiming that Severus was unable to take proper care of himself – just because once, he had been so immersed in his work that he'd forgotten to eat for two days. But Severus didn't mind the elf much. She worked efficiently and minded her own business. She was the only one of those creatures brave enough to accept working for him – a fierce little one, he had to admit. Not that he was attached to her, mind you. But he did sometimes ask her to chop up some roots for his potions.

The elf had gone as far as to clean the house before he arrived, Severus noted, looking around. There was not a speck of dust to be seen, and the drapes on the windows were clean and wide open. Somewhere down the street, he could hear children laughing. He let out a disgusted groan – disgusted that he couldn't seem to be able to get away from children's shrill voices even when away from Hogwarts, but also disgusted by the fact that some parents could want to raise their kids in this rat hole of a town.

"Welcome home, Professor Snape, sir," the little elf said as she walked into the room, carrying a tray of tea and biscuits. "Should Kiki take Professor Snape's luggage to his room, sir?"

"Yes, you do that," Severus said as he sat on the worn but clean chesterfield, reaching out to pour himself some tea. "I'll be leaving next week," he added. "You can go back to Hogwarts then. There's no need for you to stay here in an empty house."

The elf simply nodded before climbing up the stairs behind Severus' floating suitcases.

He hated being alone in this god-forsaken place. He would never force anyone else, human or elf, to do the same.



This wasn't exactly like going to the beach, Gabriel thought as he adjusted the sunglasses on his sweaty nose, but it was quite alright. He had been at Godric's Hollow for three days and had done absolutely nothing. Yes, this was absolutely how summer was meant to be spent.

He wiped at his forehead, realising that he was starting to feel a bit dizzy, and put his book aside. He had been sitting there for hours and the heat was starting to get to him. He stood up, set his sunglasses on the table next to the book, took a few steps forward, and dived.

When Dumbledore had told him that the house in Godric's Hollow held a few surprises, Gabriel sure hadn't been expecting this. But then again, now that he thought about it, a swimming pool was exactly the kind of thing he would suspect a man like Albus Dumbledore to have in his backyard.

Godric's Hollow was quite a lovely place – an old town with charming houses and generally quiet streets. Dumbledore's residence was surrounded on all sides by a low stone wall and the facade of the large house, also made of stone, was almost completely hidden in trees and climbing plants. Professor Dumbledore seemed to be a very fine gardener, for the path leading up to the front door was line with colourful flowers that Gabriel was certain weren't normally supposed to grow in England. The house was welcoming and very average-looking on the outside, but the inside was typically wizarding. Dumbledore had a great amount of books, but no library, so the tomes were everywhere – covering all available surfaces, being used as doorstops and piled up in the staircase. The Headmaster was growing his own vegetables in a greenhouse adjacent to the kitchen and Gabriel had seen a small sheep walking around the house and the garden on many occasions. When asked where the animal came from, Dumbledore said it was a long story, but that he never ran out of knitting wool.

The glass doors leading outside the house were wide open and when Gabriel's head emerged from the water, he could hear music coming from inside – a string quintet from Schubert, playing at full volume. He smiled when, a second later, Dumbledore emerged from the house, wearing an old swimsuit that might have been in fashion in the early 1900's. It was a long one-piece with short sleeves and pants that stopped slightly above the knee. It was striped navy blue and white, making Dumbledore look like an old sailor. The man was carrying a tray of sandwiches and lemonades.

"Come out, Gabriel!" he called happily, sitting down in the chair next to his adopted son's empty one. "I've made us some lunch."

Gabriel heaved himself out of the pool and sat down, completely drenched, in the deckchair. The Headmaster grinned at him, biting into a sandwich.

"What is it you're reading?" the old man asked, taking a look at the book on the table as Gabriel was putting his sunglasses back on. "Ah, Tender is the Night! I remember enjoying this one, although I sometimes tend to fall asleep while reading Fitzgerald," Dumbledore said, sucking on his straw.

"I thought it was appropriate for the weather," Gabriel said, before taking a sandwich.

"Yes, I expect we'll be having a very warm summer. I do apologize for being too busy to go on vacation, my boy. I admit a trip to the beach would have been delightful," Dumbledore continued, sadly.

"Oh, don't apologize. This is fine too," Gabriel said with a smile.

They were interrupted by a loud bell that they managed to hear over the music somehow. Dumbledore hopped up suddenly.

"That's the doorbell, I'll be right back!" he said as he rushed back inside the house. "Don't forget to put on more sunscreen!"

"Are you expecting someone?" Gabriel asked, but either the man didn't hear or just didn't want to answer.

Gabriel shrugged, leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes.

Severus hardly reacted when Albus Dumbledore opened the door in his bathing suit.

"Ah, Severus, how nice of you to come!" the man said brightly. "Will you be staying for dinner?"

"You said this was an emergency," the Potions Master drawled as he stepped inside, grateful for the coolness of the house.

"Yes, yes, there is something I would very much like to discuss with you. Why don't you step into my office?" the old man asked, climbing up the stairs rapidly, his sandals clapping noisily as he walked.

Severus looked around, relieved that Gabriel was nowhere to be seen, before following Dumbledore, careful not to knock over any of the books piled up on the steps.

"I have the strange feeling this is not as important as you made it out to be," he said dryly when they entered the small, cramped room where Dumbledore had squeezed in a large desk.

The old man sat in a large swivel chair, propping up his sandaled feet on the desk. If Albus Dumbledore seemed slightly crazy while at Hogwarts, he was going all out during the summer holidays.

"I have a favour to ask you," he admitted.

Severus sighed heavily. Here we go, he thought. How is it I already know I won't like the sound of it.

"What is it? I don't have much time," he said impatiently. "Just say it."

"Would you bring Gabriel with you, Severus?"

There was a moment of silence.

"I beg your pardon?" Severus asked, not because he hadn't understood the question, but because he didn't want to understand it.

"I'm asking you to bring Gabriel with you to South America," Dumbledore repeated.

"Why? Are you tired of the boy already?" Severus drawled, but inside he was panicking.

"Of course not, he is a delight, but I'm afraid he will be terribly bored here all summer... He already is, only he is too polite to say it. And I am too busy with my research about Horcruxes to really spend much time with him..."

"So that's why you want to dump him on me? So you won't have to bother with him?" Severus said again, feeling almost angry at the man.

Dumbledore frowned, looking hurt.

"Of course not," he said softly. "I just thought he would much rather have a summer full of traveling and adventure than spent reading Muggle books and lounging by the pool. And besides, if he is to become your assistant one day, it might be beneficial for him to take this trip..."

"I never said I would take him as my assistant," Severus interrupted him. "I said I would think about it."

"I would pay for all his expenses, of course," Dumbledore explained.

"This is not about money... I don't really fancy spending the next two months on babysitting duty," Severus insisted.

"Oh, Severus," Dumbledore said with a smile. "You know Gabriel doesn't need any babysitting, as you say. He is hardly a child anymore."

I wouldn't know about that sometimes, Severus thought bitterly.

"His birthday is this Friday," Dumbledore continued. "It would be a wonderful gift."

"I don't really have a choice in the matter, do I?" Severus asked with a dark stare.

It was always like this whenever Dumbledore asked a favour of him. He could refuse, but this would mean walking around knowing he had disappointed his mentor, which Severus could hardly bear.

"No, you do have a choice," Dumbledore said with a frown before leaning forward. "If you take him with you, I want it to be because you want to have him. If you're going to spend two months snapping at him and letting him know you'd rather he never came, then by all means, refuse my request. I would much rather have him here bored than miserable with you."

His protective tone took Severus aback. Dumbledore really seemed to be taking his fatherly duties seriously. When Severus had started planning this trip, it was almost solely to get away from Gabriel... but did he really want to get away from him? He was desperate for the boy to forgive him... and wasn't taking him along the best way to get this forgiveness he sought.

"Does he have a passport?" Severus asked finally, resigned.

Dumbledore smiled brightly.

"Yes, yes he does! Thanks you, Severus. You're warming my heart," he said as he stood up. "If you're going to stay for dinner, I have to get some things from the market! Now, would you mind telling Gabriel the news? He is outside, by the pool."

Severus froze as he stepped out of the darkness of the house into the sundrenched backyard. There, a few feet away, lounging comfortably in a wooden deckchair, was Gabriel. Severus felt his breath catch in his throat at the sight of him. He wore nothing but dark swimming trunks and sunglasses, his slender body exposed to the sun and the eyes of anyone – in this case, Severus. The buzzing sounds of summer surrounded them, the surface of the pool almost completely still and terribly blue. The chamber music that Dumbledore loved so much was still playing inside the house, drifting through the open doors – it was Vivaldi this time.

"Who was it?" Gabriel asked when he heard Severus approach and the Potions Master understood that his eyes were closed behind the sunglasses.

His skin glistened slightly, and he must have been swimming not long before Severus arrived. On his chest, the Potions Master noted, the scars from the doppelganger were still slightly visible. Severus tried his best not to stare at the boy's half-nude body, and not to think about what Gabriel's flat stomach would feel like underneath his fingertips. When he didn't receive an answer, Gabriel raised his head and turned to him. He was silent for a moment before he spoke.

"Oh, it's you," he said, slightly surprised, before removing his glasses and taking a long look at Severus. "Merlin, don't you ever wear anything else..." the boy mumbled before slipping the sunglasses back on and leaning back.

Severus was suddenly conscious of how odd he probably looked, standing beside a swimming pool in the blazing sunlight dressed in his black teaching robes. It was obvious that Gabriel didn't really want to speak to him, so the man approached him and sat in the empty chair.

"I'm sorry I hit you," he said in a low voice, just in case Dumbledore was still around.

"Where's Albus?" Gabriel asked simply, as if he hadn't heard anything.

"He went to the market. Did you hear me? I said I'm sorry I..."

"I heard you."


"And I suppose it wasn't completely uncalled for," Gabriel said, but it was impossible for Severus to know if he was really looking at him.

Severus reached out to remove the sunglasses from his face. He grabbed the boy's chin in his hands and looked at his face closely, searching for any bruise he might have missed from afar, even though three weeks had passed since.

"Still, it was totally inappropriate," Severus said softly.

"No one noticed. It seems I don't bruise easily."

Severus let go of his face trying not to give in to the temptation of kissing him. The sunlight had sprinkled light freckles across Gabriel's nose and cheeks. It was completely... adorable, for lack of a better word.

"Are you staying for dinner?" Gabriel asked again, as if nothing had happened.

"Yes," Severus started before hesitating. "But I want to make a few things clear, Gabriel..."

"I know what you're going to say, there's no need to," the boy said stubbornly.

"Don't be such a child..."

"You're the one treating me like a child!" Gabriel hissed. "You think I don't know what I want, that my feelings are worth nothing!"

"Gabriel, we made a deal," he started desperately. "We agreed to..."

"Oh, fuck your stupid compromise," the boy said, sitting up. "I agreed to nothing. I didn't have a choice – it was that or never seeing you again. That arrangement of yours, it's never going to work and you know it. That's why you're running away!"

"I'm not running away, I'm visiting a friend," Severus said in warning, a frown rapidly forming on his face.

"And we both know why," Gabriel mumbled, sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms like a child on the verge of a tantrum.

"Would you stop that!" Severus said tiredly. "Jealousy really doesn't suit you well."

"Why are you here anyway?" Gabriel said stubbornly. "I thought you were too busy to come by."

"I'm... bringing your birthday present," Severus explained.

Gabriel face softened. He was silent for a minute as he stared at Severus, a smile forming on his face.

"You got me something?" he asked quietly.

"Well... it's from me and Professor Dumbledore," Severus added.

"What is it?" the boy asked again, eyeing Severus' thick robes impatiently.

"It's not something I can keep in my pocket," he started. "It's a trip to South America."

Gabriel blinked. He was silent for almost a full minute.

"What do you mean? You... you want me to go with you?" he asked quietly, slightly hopeful but not quite willing to react immediately.


"You're not just doing this because Albus asked you?" he asked again.

"He did ask me," Severus explained. "I could have very well said no. But I said yes, because I want you to come with me."

Gabriel hopped off the deckchair swiftly and hugged him tight. Severus was still sitting down, so he found himself with his cheek pressed against Gabriel's chest. His skin was warm, slightly damp, and he smelled of sunscreen. Severus shivered and slipped his arms around the boy's waist, pressing himself against him, his fingers caressing the skin of Gabriel's naked back softly. Merlin, it felt so good to touch him after all this time.

"Thank you," Gabriel said softly.

Severus said nothing in response, but he pressed his lips on the boy's abdomen and pressed a gentle kiss on his skin.

"Boys!" came a sudden voice from somewhere inside the house. "Come help me with dinner!"

They broke apart, not wanting Albus to see them so intimate. Gabriel caressed Severus' cheek softly before he turned to head inside the house.



Severus gripped the armrest, his whole body tensing as the plane gave a nauseating lurch forward. He couldn't understand this. Wizards had been around for centuries, their magic defying all physical laws, and yet... and yet they were too bloody stupid to set up something like an International Floo Network, and it was still forbidden to Apparate on another continent simply because a few foolish people had drowned trying to do so. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to breathe steadily and concentrate on the illusion that he was not currently trapped in a metal box thirty-five thousand feet above the ground.

"Can I get you something, sir?" a girl's voice asked on his left.

He shook his head rapidly, never bothering to open his eyes.

"Will he be okay?" she asked again.

"Do you have whiskey or... any kind of alcohol?" Gabriel's voice asked. "I think that would help. With a lot of ice, please."

"Yes, sure," the stewardess said, and there was a swish of fabric as she walked away.

He felt Gabriel reach over him to shut the small curtain over the porthole. Then a soft hand grasped his.

"Sev, are you alright?" the boy asked, but there was amusement in his voice. "I didn't know you were afraid to fly..."

"Me neither," he said through gritted teeth. "First time."

"Oh," the boy said, and Severus could feel the smile on his face even with his eyes closed.

"How long has it been now?" he asked, breathing in deeply.

"Mmm... an hour and a half," Gabriel said before chuckling. "11 more to go..."

"Don't torture me!"

"Well, you're the one who asked! You'd rather I lie to you and say it's been five hours when we barely just got on the plane?"


"Here is your whiskey, sir," the stewardess said, and Severus heard soft thumping of ice as it hit the plastic cup.

"Sev... come on, open your eyes now and drink this..." Gabriel said. "Be reasonable."

"I don't..."

"Come on. You won't see outside."

When Severus opened his eyes, it was slightly darker than before. Gabriel was looking at him, amused, and the pretty stewardess, a girl of about eighteen years old, was standing in the aisle next to a cart full of drinks, staring at Severus with a concerned look on his face. He took the glass Gabriel was holding out with trembling hands and downed it in one go, feeling the burn of the alcohol down his throat. He took a mouthful of ice and munched on it, breathing deeply. He felt slightly better.

"Thank you," Gabriel told the stewardess.

She smiled at him brightly, like everyone smiled at Gabriel.

"You're welcome. Anything for you?" she asked, gesturing at a variety of drinks.

"Oh, thanks, but I'm not old enough to drink any of those," Gabriel told her and she looked genuinely surprised.

"Really? How old are you?"

"Sixteen... today."

Her face lit up.

"Happy birthday! I have just the thing for you, then," she said, still smiling. "I'm not supposed to do this, but since it's your birthday..."

She took out a few different bottles and mixed something in a small cup.

"Here," she said, placing the glass on top of a few napkins. "Shirley Temple! Don't tell!"

Gabriel laughed.

"Thank you!"

"And don't hesitate to ask if your father needs anything else," she said pleasantly before walking away.

Severus glared at her as she left. What a little bitch! She knew perfectly well that Severus wasn't Gabriel's father – unless he impregnated a girl when he was twelve, and there was no way someone so... blonde had come out of Severus' genes.

"Hey, look at this!"

He turned to Gabriel and groaned. The boy was grinning as he held up one of the napkins the girl had given him with his drink. She had written her phone number on it.

This was the start of a very long trip indeed.

Chapter Text

"Love is its own rescue, for we, at our supremest, are but its trembling emblems."

-Emily Dickinson


It took Severus about half an hour to recover from the flight once they landed in Argentina. He sat for a while to gather his wits, sipping water from a bottle and watching over the luggage while Gabriel explored the little shops around the airport. All Severus wanted was to get to a bed as soon as possible. He hadn't had a wink of sleep since they'd left London. As for the newly sixteen year old, he looked absolutely delighted, very much unlike someone who had just spent twelve hours on a plane. The boy was like a cat – apart from the fact that he was so easily fascinated by the simplest things, he could sleep practically anywhere. He had spent the best part of the trip dozing off on Severus' shoulder.

"Look what I got!" he said, rushing back towards Severus and waving around a small book entitled Essential Spanish. "I thought it could be useful."

"There are translation charms we can use to make ourselves understood," Severus reminded him before draining the last of his water and throwing the bottle in the trash.

"Oh..." Gabriel moaned in annoyance. "You always have to be such a killjoy! Those charms might work with simple English, but for more complex languages, they just sound ridiculous."

"I don't care how ridiculous I sound, as long as I can communicate what I need to say. Meanwhile, all you will learn from that book is ten different ways to greet someone, how to order coffee and how to ask people for the loo."

"Well, that's already twelve more things than you'll know," Gabriel mumbled somberly.

Severus smirked. He was starting to enjoy these little arguments they had, especially when he managed to leave Gabriel speechless. Most of the time, they just kept on going until they had nothing to say, fighting to have the last word. And Gabriel was quite adorable when he was irritated.

He stared at the boy, who was now browsing through the book silently with a frown on his face. He was dressed in shorts and a Muggle t-shirt, but still he seemed to wear those clothes with the elegance of a Pureblood wizard. He had the kind of grace that Severus – as a Half-Blood Slytherin who had been raised by his father's fists – had always envied his housemates. Gabriel seemed comfortable in his body in a way that was quite rare in teenagers. He sat slouched in the chair next to his, his foot tapping a random rhythm on the shiny floor of the waiting room. His naked knee brushed against Severus' jeans every few seconds.

Severus honestly wondered how he would make it through this trip with his sanity intact. Already the boy was provoking him constantly – brushing against his body with every move, leaning in too close when he talked to him, sending him soft stares from under his eyelashes. How was Severus supposed to endure two months of this? He might have thought this was a good idea at first, but now he wasn't so sure anymore. What would happen when they were alone in a room together, or trapped in a train compartment for hours? And there was the heat... It wasn't yet noticeable in the acclimatised waiting room, but it was already visible through the windows – a shiny gleam surrounding every car and every building, like everything was giving off steam. Severus wasn't used to the heat. He spent his life in dungeons and behind closed curtains. Heat had the habit of making him lose his mind.

"Are you mad at me already?" he asked Gabriel, who had been avoiding his eyes.

"I just don't see what the point of travelling is if you're not willing to make the effort to live a bit differently. Don't you want to learn anything while you're here?" the boy said, finally lowering the book and staring at him stubbornly.

"I suppose you're right, Freckles," Severus drawled and Gabriel smiled at the nickname. "No translation charms, then. Let's speak Spanish. But honestly, I'm surprised you don't know it already."

Gabriel grinned.

"No, not Spanish, but I'm still more advanced than you. I know French, and both languages have basically the same roots, so it'll be much easier for me to learn."

"Right..." Severus sighed. Everything seems easier for you somehow, he thought. "Remind me again what the rule is to differentiate the masculine nouns from the feminine."

"There isn't one. You just have to know them," Gabriel explained, amused at the look of horror on the teacher's face.

"Well, this will be very gratifying," said the Potions Master sarcastically. "Now, is there anything in there on how to give directions to a cabbie?"

They tried to communicate in Spanish with the driver, but he spoke so quickly that even Gabriel, with all his confidence, couldn't figure out what he was saying with the guide book. They eventually discovered that although he didn't speak English, the man could manage in French and Gabriel, who rarely had the chance to talk to anyone in his native tongue, was completely delighted. The two of them chatted constantly as they drove through the city. Severus had always hated talkative cab drivers, and it didn't help that the boy was encouraging him. From what he could understand of their conversation, Gabriel had told him they were from London and the driver then proceeded to enumerate all the places he knew of in Europe. He was throwing glances in the mirror as he babbled on and on, grinning at the two of them. Severus kept silent. Gabriel had initiated the conversation – he could entertain it himself.

At least the cabbie dropped them off exactly where Severus had told Gabriel to direct him, and he even stopped the cab's meter at every red light, for the "nice English friends", he called out in a terrible accent. It took a very long time to get to San Telmo, and Severus, to whom trust didn't come easily, was convinced that the driver had voluntarily taken detours, taking advantage of the fact that they didn't know the city at all. He paid the man while Gabriel helped him take out their luggage, and after some more rapid French talk that he doubted even Gabriel could understand, the driver left.

"I hope everyone we meet is as nice as he was," Gabriel said with a grin.

Severus, who had been ready to fall asleep in the car, yawned widely.

"Let's just pray that not being able to shut up is a characteristic restricted to him," he mumbled before grabbing his suitcase and leading the way. "We have to get to the inn or I think I might collapse."

They made their way along the cobblestone streets of San Telmo, the oldest neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, but it was a slow walk. First there was the heat, which was quite different from what they were used to in England. Not that Gabriel seemed to mind, since he had just spent a full week outdoors roasting in the sun and was more lightly dressed. But Severus, who tended to avoid the sun as much as he could, and had the skin complexion of an albino vampire, now felt terribly exposed. And the noisy crowd also didn't help. The streets were packed with tourists and performers and they had to push their way through all these people. What also didn't help was that Gabriel kept stopping to watch them, and Severus constantly had to come back and drag him away.

"There will be time for sightseeing later!" the Potions Master urged him, and on they kept going.

"Do you even know where we're going?" Gabriel asked after a while. "Or are you just walking around randomly?"

"Of course I know!" Severus snapped, but he was so exhausted he was starting to doubt this himself.

At that exact moment, he saw what he had been looking for.

"There! Do you see those steeples? We need to get to that church," he announced with renewed hope.

If he hadn't been so cranky, Severus would have enjoyed looking around like Gabriel did. It was a charming neighbourhood they were walking through, with splendid architecture that were slightly reminiscent of some streets in Paris. There were plenty of cafes, antique shops and restaurants. But the most amazing thing, in Gabriel's opinion, were the tango parlours. There seemed to be one on every street corner and some of the doors were left wide open so you could catch glimpses as you passed, of couples twirling along with the languorous music.

Then they finally reached the old church Severus had spotted from afar, he led Gabriel inside a narrow alley left of the building. It was dark and damp and somewhat ominous, but a second later, they emerged in another busy street, although this one was quite different.

The Wizarding District of Buenos Aires looked a little bit like Diagon Alley, except it was noisier and much more colourful. And it was Spanish, of course. Gabriel wanted to stop and explore, but Severus grabbed his wrist and dragged him along the street until they came to a very tall house painted in royal blue and purple, with flowers at the windows and a terrace out front. Gabriel didn't understand the signs outside, but from the look of relief on Severus' face, he understood that this would be their inn for the next few days.

The inside was dim and cool, and breathing seemed easier. There was a small pub with a bar and tables on one side and a reception area on the other. From the entrance hall, you could raise your head and see very far up to the roof of the inn, counting the storeys as the staircase spiraled around the centre of the building. On the second floor, Gabriel glimpsed the maid, pushing a cart of linens, before she disappeared out of view. In a corner of the pub were three wizards with strange-looking guitars – street musicians on break, probably. They waved at Gabriel in greeting when he glanced their way and he waved back politely before Severus dragged him over to the reception desk.

"Reservation for Snape," Severus announced to the pretty, middle-aged woman behind the desk.

"Yes, Mr. Snape and guest, welcome," she said with a charming smile and a thick accent. "Your room is ready, you can follow me."

She shouted something at the man behind the bar, which was probably a warning for him to watch the desk, before leading them up the stairs. The more they climbed, the stuffier it got. Then suddenly, they stopped and she opened a door before letting them in.

The room wasn't very large, but it was slightly cooler than the hallway. It was clean and there were flowers on the windowsill and the dresser. There was a large window, and since they were on the fourth floor, a nice breeze came in. There was also a private bathroom with a shower.

"I hope you had a good trip," the innkeeper said politely. "Breakfast is served downstairs from seven to eleven, and then dinner until two o'clock, and the pub is opened from seven into the night. In the meantime, if you would like anything from room service, just send a floating note downstairs."

Severus nodded to her absently, but Gabriel smiled.

"Thank you," he told her pleasantly.

"You're welcome. Have a nice stay," she replied before leaving.

Severus was already rummaging through his suitcase for a change of clothes.

"How come there's only one bed?" Gabriel asked curiously.

"Because until three days ago, I was supposed to come alone," Severus told him with a warning tone. "You'll have to live with it."

"I don't have a problem with that at all," he said boldly, approaching the window to take a look outside. "Do you?"

Severus glared at him.

"Of course I do... I'd much rather have my own bed," he mumbled before heading into the bathroom.

Gabriel scoffed as the door closed behind Severus. A moment later, he heard the sound of running water. He knew why Severus was so opposed to them sleeping in the same bed. It was because he was afraid to lose control, afraid to finally give in. Gabriel grinned at the thought of sleeping next to Severus, but that was not how the Potions Master saw things. Until now, he had somehow managed to resist Gabriel's advances, but how could he keep his end of the bargain if they were forced to share one bed. This whole compromise thing was almost a war now, with Gabriel trying to prove his point, and Severus doing his best to stand his ground. And this trip would only make it difficult for him, but easier for Gabriel.

The view from the window was quite interesting. Down below, he could see into the main street of the Wizarding District, the alley the inn was on, but also the little streets surrounding it. Further away, he could see some skyscrapers on the Muggle side of the city. There was a cloud of smog above the buildings, and he could hear an airplane flying nearby. He wondered for a moment if you could see wizarding neighbourhoods from up there. Probably not, he supposed. He rummaged through his suitcase, found an old camera that he had borrowed from Albus, and snapped a shot from the view.

Some minutes later, Severus came out of the bathroom, already dressed. He had put on some lighter clothes and his hair was wet. He took the suitcases off the bed, putting them on the floor near the dresser.

"I need to sleep," he told Gabriel. "A few hours should be enough."

"I'll be silent," Gabriel said, nodding.

"No, you should leave," Severus said in a snappish voice.

"You're kicking me out of the room? We just got here! What am I supposed to do in the meantime?" Gabriel asked with disbelief.

"I don't care," Severus said. "Go downstairs and eat something, or take pictures, or go practice your Spanish with the shopkeepers, whatever you feel like doing. Just give me some space."

"I could sleep too," Gabriel argued with a shrug. "I'm not really tired, but I could stay and take a nap..."

"Gabriel, just get out, would you? A few hours, that's all I'm asking."

Gabriel's eyes were shooting daggers at him.

"Can I at least shower first?" he said through gritted teeth.

Severus just nodded before letting himself fall back onto the bed.

He completely ignored Gabriel as the boy grabbed some clean clothes and stepped into the bathroom. When Severus looked up, he caught a glance of Gabriel in the bathroom mirror. He watched as the boy stripped off his shirt, noticing the sheen of sweat along his spine. A moment later, the door slammed shut.



Severus slept for four hours. When he woke, the sun was lower in the sky, preparing to set, and the room was filled with a golden glow as the light reflected in the window of a building nearby. He was still tired, but he felt much better already and besides, it wouldn't do to sleep too much right away or the jetlag would nag him for a week.

Gabriel had respected his wish for solitude and was nowhere to be seen. He couldn't have kept away from the inn all this time, Severus thought as he adjusted his watch to Buenos Aires time. The boy must have gone out for a little while and now be waiting downstairs to be allowed back in the room. Severus had fallen asleep while he was still in the shower because he couldn't remember the boy leaving. I better go and get him now, he thought. He would have to face Gabriel's brooding sooner or later anyway.

It was much more crowded downstairs in the lobby than it had been when they arrived that afternoon, and a young man was sitting at the reception desk instead of the innkeeper. Severus nodded at him briefly before heading into the pub area. He couldn't see Gabriel anywhere, so he checked outside on the terrace, where a group of people were talking and laughing loudly. There was no sign of him there either. Where has he gone to now? Severus thought impatiently. He walked up to the man at the desk – Manuel, his name tag read.

"Do you speak English?" he asked, but received nothing but a raised eyebrow in response.

He sighed and flicked his wand to cast a translation charm. Gabriel was nowhere around, so he wouldn't get scolded for it.

"I'm searching for my friend," he told the man at the desk. " Did he leave a message for me? We are in room 12."

"I am sorry, sir. There is no message for room 12," the young man said kindly.

"Perhaps you've seen him then," Severus said with a sigh. "About this tall, sixteen years old, French, with blonde hair... maybe he had a camera and he probably tried to talk to everyone in Spanish..."

He interrupted himself when he saw a grin stretch on the young man's face.

"Oh, I've seen him!" Manuel said happily. "He was taking photographs and had dinner with Arturo."

"Who's Arturo?" Severus asked, immediately frowning.

"He lives nearby. He's an artist," he continued. "They had dinner and they left."

"When was that?"

"I don't know. Three hours ago, maybe."

"Do you know where I can find this Arturo?" Severus asked and the man at the desk probably noticed the enraged look on his face because his smile disappeared and he was suddenly serious again.

"I don't know, sir. Arturo, he is all over the place. But sometimes he draws portraits on the street over there..."

Severus was out the door before the man could finish his sentence. He was going to skin Gabriel alive when he found him! What the hell was he thinking, running off with a stranger in a city he didn't know? Damn it, if he found this Arturo, he would skin him alive too... and then he would hang the bloody scalp on the chandelier in the inn lobby for good measure.

Severus walked through the street, unsure where to go or where to look. He started by searching for an artist making portraits, but couldn't find any such person. Arturo is all over the place, the man had said. They could be fucking anywhere! Was it too much to ask of Gabriel to take five minutes and leave a note for him? It didn't help that he had no idea what Gabriel was wearing when he left the inn. He also had no idea what this bloody Arturo might look like. If Gabriel was no longer with him and Severus saw him on the street, he wouldn't even recognise the man.

He thought maybe Gabriel had decided to visit the shops, so he started entering some of them that the boy might be interested in, looking over shelves for a glimpse of Gabriel's pale hair, which stood out amongst the locals. There was an apothecary shop, and for an instant, Severus was convinced that he would find the boy in there, but there was no trace of him. If he hadn't been so worried, he would have found this place very interesting and would have probably spent a lot of time inside, but he couldn't just browse through the ingredients not knowing where Gabriel was. Using the translation charm, he asked the shopkeeper if he had seen anyone matching Gabriel's description, but the man shrugged and shook his head. He must have noticed how worried Severus really was, since the old man promised that if Gabriel came along he would tell him to get back to the inn immediately.

When Severus was sure he had gone through all the shops, he went through them again, and then went back to the inn. Maybe Gabriel had returned in the meantime. He didn't need to go up to the room to check because as soon as he saw him return, the man at the desk shook his head.

And suddenly, it clicked. Gabriel had been fascinated by the Muggle side of the city, maybe he had returned to San Telmo to see the street performers, or to get coffee, and maybe he had gotten a little bit lost and that's why he wasn't back yet. So Severus left the inn once more and walked back the way they had first arrived.

By the time he exited the alley near the church, the sun had started to set. The streets, however, were just as crowded as they had been that afternoon, if not more so. Severus walked around, trying not to stray too far from the church – he didn't want to have to go through the whole ordeal of finding his way there again. After about half an hour of looking around, Severus decided to give up. He would never be able to find Gabriel in such a crowd, and he wasn't even sure the boy was there in the first place. Once again, he made his way back to the inn.

Gabriel wasn't in the room when he returned, of course. Fidgeting, Severus sat on the bed and tried to clear his thoughts. Yes, the best thing he could do was to wait here for the boy to return. He was smart – if he was lost, he would find his way back. If he wasn't lost... No, he was probably just lost. And he would find his way back, definitely. Severus would wait another few hours. He searched through his suitcase for a book and settled in the armchair next to the window. He needed to think about something else.

He read three pages and then realised he hadn't the slightest idea what the text had been about. With a groan of frustration, he shut the book and threw it on the bed. He couldn't concentrate on anything. He just stared out the window and waited.

Time went by. The sun set completely. And some time later, it started to rain. Not rain, pour – in buckets.

This was all his fault, Severus thought, taking his head in his hands. If he hadn't insisted the boy leave the room, he would still be here. What if Gabriel hadn't gotten lost? What if something happened to him? What the bloody hell would he tell Dumbledore? That he'd lost his son on the first fucking day! What if Gabriel was in danger? What if he needed help? He didn't even know the language. A small guidebook of a hundred pages wasn't going to help him fight for his life!

Another hour passed and by that time, all fear seemed to have left Severus. At first he was filled with anger, terrible anger towards anything and anyone that might have pushed the boy to stray from him. And then another hour passed, and there was only numbness and resignation. If something had happened, there was nothing he could possibly do to fix it.

There was a flash of lightning, then a growl of thunder echoed in the night and the rain worsened. Severus was forced to close the window before the room got flooded, and just as he was shutting the latch, he saw a reflection of the room in the dirty glass of the window. The door opened and Gabriel fumbled inside, drenched to the bone.

Severus stood frozen for a long moment, just staring at the boy's reflection. At this point, he was unsure what he was feeling, so he didn't know how to react. He didn't know whether he should start crying in relief or start yelling. He breathed in deeply. Gabriel had yet to say a word. He was just standing there, head bowed slightly.

"Where..." Severus started, but the words had difficulty making their way through his throat, which had started burning as fury filled him. "Where the hell have you been?"

His voice was dangerously quiet – the kind that sent many Hogwarts students running.

"I went out, like you asked," the boy said boldly.

Severus closed his eyes. Don't lose it, he told himself. Just breathe deeply, talk reasonably, and don't lose your temper. He turned finally, and the boy raised his head to look at him. The blue t-shirt he was wearing stuck to him like a second skin and a puddle of water was rapidly forming around his shoes. The camera around his neck would probably need fixing from the water damage.

"Do you have any idea how worried I was?" Severus asked, and he was almost proud of himself for not yelling, although it was close.

Gabriel had the nerve to shrug!

"You told me you needed some space..."

"Not for eight bloody hours!"

"Has it been that long?" the boy asked distractedly. "I'm sorry, I forgot my watch..."

He finally moved, removing his shoes and leaving them near the door, then heading into the room and towards his suitcase to get dry clothes.

"What are you trying to prove?" Severus demanded, his voice getting louder. "Are you trying to test me? Is that what this is? You can't manipulate me like this, Gabriel! I was so fucking worried! I thought something had happened to you! You could have left me a note to tell me you were leaving! For all I knew, you could have been killed or raped or..."

Gabriel guffawed and Severus almost slapped him right there. He removed the camera from around his neck and grabbed a shirt from his luggage and headed towards the bathroom. It was then that Severus noticed something odd... the boy's shoulders were stiff and he was limping slightly as if in pain. He grabbed Gabriel's wrist before he could hide in the bathroom.

"What happened? Are you hurt?" he asked furiously, not exactly knowing if he was mad at Gabriel for getting hurt or mad at whoever could have hurt him.

"No. What are you talking about? I'm fine," Gabriel said quickly, eager to get away from him.

And then horror struck Severus and his grip on Gabriel's wrist tightened.

"That man... that man you ran off with..." he managed, his breath shaking with fury, "did you let him fuck you?"

Gabriel freed his arm violently.

"What are you talking about? Have you gone mad? You have no right to talk to me this way!" he yelled in fury.

"I have every right to talk to you whichever way I want!" Severus yelled back. "You are under my responsibility. I didn't bring you with me so you could run off and whore yourself..."

"Fuck you, you bastard! I haven't done anything!"

Gabriel looked so mad he was ready to break down in tears. He turned around and that's when Severus noticed that the back of his shirt looked strange. There was something underneath his clothes. He grabbed the boy by the shoulders and raised the fabric of the drenched shirt to reveal a bandage wrapped across Gabriel's lower back. Despite the boy's protests, he ripped off the white paper and tape, revealing what had been hidden underneath.

"What the devil is that?" Severus hissed, half-furious, half-awestruck.

"A birthday present from Arturo," Gabriel said weakly.

He had obviously planned to hide this from Severus and was deeply disappointed by his failure.

Severus could only stare in shock. It was a tattoo – the design of a phoenix in various shades of yellow, gold, red and orange. It was would have been quite large if it wasn't almost completely curled up on itself, but part of its long tail feathers extended on one side, stretching as far back as the contours of Gabriel's ribs. Severus stared as the bird trembled and whimpered slightly, as if in pain. He had vaguely heard of magical tattoos, but had never seen one before.

"How does it come off?" Severus demanded, refusing to believe that this was actually happening.

"It doesn't," Gabriel snapped and the bird whimpered once again, as if startled by his voice.

"It's a real one?" Severus hissed, now furious beyond words. "Are you insane? How am I supposed to explain this to Dumbledore?"

"I don't intend to tell him," Gabriel said, slightly offended.

"He will find out! This thing is as obvious as the nose in the middle of your face. You know these are tied to your magical core, don't you? Do you realise how dangerous they are?"

"Arturo makes them for a living. He is a professional..."

"I don't care what this bloody Arturo thinks or does! You have more sense than that! These are dangerous! The slightest mistake could hurt you severely!"

"Well, I'm fine, aren't I? Now let it go."

"I will not let it go. This has to stop now! From this moment on, you will not leave my sight! You will do what I tell you..."

They were both yelling by then. There must have been a silencing charm on the room because surely someone would have coming knocking otherwise.

"I did what you told me, I left the room!"

"Don't play this game with me! You know what I mean!"

"You told me to leave, so I left! And now you're mad at me for doing what you asked! Make up your bloody mind!"

"Stop acting like a fucking child! I never told you to run off with a stranger and get a bloody tattoo! You are out of control! You need to learn discipline..."

"What are you going to do? Hit me again?"

"Maybe I should, if it's the only way to make you see reason!"

"Well go ahead! Hit me!"

Severus wasn't quite sure what happened at that moment, but things went downhill from there. Something in him finally snapped. One minute he was yelling at Gabriel, and the next he was kissing the boy hard, deeply and almost viciously, hands gripping his soaking wet hair. He didn't know if he could have stopped if Gabriel had shown resistance, but it wasn't the case. The boy responded frantically, grasping Severus' forearms and kissing him hungrily, as if he would willingly give up oxygen and live only on the man's breath for the rest of his life. Every kiss, every touch they had deprived themselves of in the last eight months was contained in this one kiss.

Eventually, Severus had to separate their lips to take a large gulp of air.

"For a second I thought you were really going to hit me," Gabriel whispered, just as out of breath.

"Now would be a good time for you to shut up," Severus warned before pulling the boy's drenched shirt over his head swiftly.

He let his hands wander freely over the wet but soft skin of Gabriel's chest and stomach, feeling the young man shiver under his fingertips.

"This is what you've been waiting for, isn't it?" Severus said in a hoarse voice that sounded almost weak even to his own ears.

"It's not like I'm coercing you into anything..."

Gabriel trailed off, his fingers undoing the buttons of Severus' shirt and sliding the soft cotton fabric off his shoulders slowly. His eyes never left the man's face as he was doing so, but as soon as Severus' chest was revealed, Gabriel's gaze travelled down, taking in the sight. Suddenly, the Potions Master felt incredibly exposed.

"I'm not... I'm not beautiful like you..." he said apologetically.

He almost winced at how pathetic this sounded, but Gabriel didn't laugh. The sixteen year old raised his head to look at him once more.

"I think by now we can both agree that you're a very poor judge of yourself," he said and simply wrapped his arms around Severus' waist to press their bodies together. "I happen to think you're gorgeous."

Tolerable, Severus had been called, even elegant, and once handsome, but never gorgeous. He bent his head to press a tender kiss onto one of Gabriel's freckled shoulders.

"You can't want me," he whispered, the words barely audible through the rain and thunder outside.

"I can. I tried to fight it, but it's impossible."

"Then you must be mad," Severus said, shaking his head, but still refusing to let go of Gabriel.

"I'm mad for you," was the boy's only reply.

"What do you want?" Severus asked, fearful of the answer and conscious of the fact that there was no turning back now – he couldn't deny himself this any longer.

"Everything," Gabriel whispered.

Severus' heart tightened painfully. He was touched by this declaration, flattered beyond words, but also frightened.

"Gabriel, I can't... you're only sixteen..." he began.

"I'm asking you," Gabriel said softly, his arms tightening around Severus' body.

"Even if you're asking me, I couldn't possibly live with myself..."

"You've done worse things," Gabriel sneered.

"And it's enough. Don't be selfish."

"I'm sorry..."

Severus closed his eyes for a minute. The rain was still hitting the windowpanes so violently that they could hardly hear each other's whispers.

"We don't have to go all the way," he said then. "There are other... things we can do..."

Severus grimaced, realising he had no idea how... informed Gabriel was about these things. But knowing him, all he knew he had probably learned from books. Were there even books about this in the Hogwarts library? How could he verify this without attracting Pince's attention.

"Like what?" Gabriel asked, but the tone of his voice didn't betray how much he knew or didn't know – he sounded merely curious about what Severus was implying.

"I'll show you."

Severus guided the boy towards the bed until he lay on his back, letting out a soft hiss of pain as his sensitive tattooed skin rubbed against the bedcovers. He stared at Severus silently as the man climbed on top of him, careful not to put too much of his weight on Gabriel's slight body. He didn't know why, but he couldn't help feeling like he could break the boy if he wasn't careful, like a china doll or a fragile porcelain figurine. He untied the strings of the boy's drenched shorts and slid them down Gabriel's legs, his fingertips grazing the slender legs covered with blonde hair so light it was almost invisible. With trembling hands, Severus removed his own clothes under Gabriel's unwavering gaze. The boy could have been staring directly into his soul, for all he knew. And suddenly, he was afraid, afraid of what the two of them being together could entail, afraid of his own heart and what might come out of it now that he was no longer alone, and most of all, he was afraid of the destruction he was capable of bringing on all things he loved, like some anti-Midas who transformed everything he touched into ashes.

Sensing his fear and reticence, Gabriel rested a hand on Severus' chest, just over his heart, and he must have felt the mad drumming of the Potions Master's frightened organ because he slowly rolled them over until Severus was the one with his back onto the bed, and the boy was straddling him gently, as if trying not to scare him off.

Gabriel kissed him. He was obviously more experienced now than he had been all those months ago when they had shared secret kisses in Severus' study and he couldn't help being somewhat angered knowing that the reason Gabriel's lips were now fearless was because Emerson Gladwyn had made him practice. But now was not the time for jealousy, and he pushed the young Slytherin out of his mind. Gabriel's teeth grazed his jaw, his body undulating over his and Severus arched his hips for more contact.

When was the last time he had felt another body against his? It had been years, and even then he couldn't remember feeling anything this strong before. He was like a teenager again, trying to hold back so that the pleasure wouldn't end too soon. He buried his fingers into Gabriel's hair, bringing the boy's head closer to his as their bodies moved against each other. They were desperate in their actions, trying to catch up to lost time, and the bed was almost rocking under their weight. The boy's skin felt almost feverish against his and the air in the room was thick and hard to breathe. Gabriel's whispers sounded like profanity, and the magical phoenix on his skin – awakened by the passion he was feeling – had unfolded its colourful wings and was now trembling uncontrollably.

Severus watched the boy move in awe, wondering how on earth such a heavenly creature had entered his life. When he finally came, he found himself gasping like after years of living under water.



When Severus woke, the rain had reduced to a soft pitter-patter and the first rays of dawn lit up the sky. A soft breeze came in through the window. Gabriel's head was pressed over his heart, his pale hair messy from the rain and the events of the night. He was breathing peacefully and at first Severus thought he was still asleep but when his eyes travelled the length of his body, he saw that Gabriel was awake and reading a book resting on his stomach. Severus smiled, caressing the boy's neck and letting his hand rest softly on the side of his face.

"Listen to this," Gabriel said suddenly, pointing to a paragraph on the page. "A long time ago, man would listen in amazement to the sound of regular beating in his chest, never suspecting what they were. He was unable to identify himself with so alien and unfamiliar an object as the body. The body was a cage, and inside that cage was something which looked, listened, feared, thought and marvelled; that something, that remainder left over after the body had been accounted for, was the soul," he read before falling silent again.

Severus thought about this for a while, his fingers unconsciously tracing patterns on the skin of Gabriel's shoulder. It seemed to him that it was way too early in the day for such philosophical thoughts.

"Do you believe in that?" he asked finally, his voice slightly hoarse with sleep. "The soul?"

Gabriel turned his head to look at him. The surprise on his face made him look even younger.

"Of course, don't you?"

"I don't know," Severus answered. "What we are, what we think and do and how we do it... Maybe in reality it's just a matter of brain connections and fluids..." he explained.

"Are you serious?" Gabriel asked, with a hint of disbelief in his voice. "How would you explain a Dementor's Kiss then? It leaves the body perfectly intact, and yet there is something missing."

Severus sighed.

"I don't know," he said, clearly eager for them to change the subject.

Gabriel closed the book and turned in his arms so that their faces almost touched.

"You think that everything we are – our hopes, our dreams, our fears – are nothing? That they have no meaning? That everything we are will die when we do?" he asked curiously, looking deep into Severus' eyes.

"What makes you so sure that it won't?"

"I choose to believe so, because thinking otherwise scares me."

"Choosing to believe something doesn't make it true."

"And choosing not to believe it doesn't make it false either."

"Are we really going to argue about something so unsubstantial?"

"The meaning of life is unsubstantial?"

"What I meant to say is... It's way too early in the day to get into another fight. And besides, there are some things I'd just rather not think about," Severus answered simply.

Gabriel was silent for a moment. He reached out and caressed Severus' face with something like understanding in his eyes.

"I know what this is about," he said then, softly. "It scares you to think that you have something like a soul, because then every bad thing you've ever done would have tainted it. But if your life was just one life in a million ordinary lives and that when you died you became nothing, then you wouldn't have to try so hard for redemption..."

Severus stared at him.

"You want to believe that everything is already lost," Gabriel concluded, frowning.

"I have killed people, Gabriel..." he started.

"And you regret it. It's destroying you. That's what matters most, I think. And I also think that you deserve happiness... so stop feeling guilty for what we did and start feeling grateful that we've found each other."

This was exactly what Severus had longed to do – push away his anxiety and worries and spend the rest of his life doing nothing else than staring at Gabriel and remain here, with the boy's body pressed against his, forgetting about Hogwarts and Dumbledore and his job and his past and the Mark on his arm. And strangely enough, all those things seemed so far away now that it was almost easy not to think about them. They were in a foreign country where no one knew them and maybe, he thought, maybe this was okay for now. Maybe they could be together just for those two months. And afterwards? the little voice drawled. What will you do afterwards? Do you really think that you'll be able to part from him now that you've taken a bite of the forbidden fruit? He knew he wouldn't be, of course. But maybe he could just forget to think about this now.

"I noticed," Severus started after a moment, "that you're not wearing your amulet anymore. Since when?"

"It's been a few months," Gabriel said lazily. "I put it away."

His eyes were closed and he seemed content to just let Severus play with his hair.


"I don't think it's really necessary now. I don't feel scared anymore."

Severus didn't reply. He felt confused. At first, when this whole thing started, he had wanted nothing more than for Gabriel to face it unafraid and to bravely choose not to believe anything bad would happen to him. But now that the boy was finally getting over it, he felt uneasy. Maybe it was because he wasn't truly sure that Alfwin Engel had really been just a lying crook, or maybe it was because there were too many coincidences in his words and Trelawney's, or maybe it simply was the warning from the doppelganger that it would be back when Gabriel least expected it. But Severus wasn't sure that it was a good idea for Gabriel to let his guard down.

"Because of Occlumency?" he asked, trying to sound casual.

"Maybe," Gabriel whispered, looking as though he might be falling asleep soon. "Of maybe because of you," he added with a small smile. "I know you'd never let anything bad happen to me."

"You're absolutely right," Severus said faintly, wrapping both his arms around Gabriel's naked body.

The boy didn't reply, and after a minute it became clear that he'd fallen asleep.



Gabriel felt the sunlight on his face before he opened his eyes. The cool dawn air was gone and the room was now stuffy and the sheets stuck to his side. He rolled over, reaching out with his arm to grab Severus and cuddle next to him, but he found himself alone in bed.

He sat up slowly, wincing at the pain in his back and remembered the tattoo he'd gotten the night before. It hadn't been as bad because he'd had a numbing charm on his skin when he got it, but now that the spell was wearing off, it was quite excruciating. He got out of bed and headed towards the bathroom, where Severus, having left the door open, was shaving. Gabriel turned his back to the mirror to try and take a look at the phoenix. Severus shot him a brief glance, easily guessing what the problem was.

"Does it hurt?" he drawled.

Gabriel stared at him darkly.

"Like hell."

Severus shrugged as he raised his wand to his face again to remove another patch of stubble.

"Serves you right for being so stupid," he said with a satisfied smirk.

Gabriel frowned. The phoenix had once again curled up on itself – its state clearly representing the pain Gabriel felt. Severus took a quick glance at it and groaned in annoyance.

"I might have something for the pain," he said finally. "Wait here."

Gabriel couldn't help but smile, but he hid his joy as soon as Severus stepped back into the bathroom, holding a small vial of ointment. It felt pleasantly cold as it was applied on the tattoo and Gabriel sighed in contentment. On his skin, the phoenix shivered in delight. Severus stared at it for a while.

"Do you hate it?" Gabriel asked softly, staring at Severus in the mirror as the man looked at the phoenix. "I think I could get it removed if you don't..."

"It's really quite beautiful," Severus admitted in a distracted voice. "I think it suits you somehow..."

"Arturo said it would make me look sexy," Gabriel said with a grin.

Severus frowned and shook his head, but there was the shadow of a smile on his face.

"Nonsense... You don't need anything of the sort to make you look desirable."

"He said it would make you want me," Gabriel added.

Severus raised his eyes to look at him.

"You told him about me?"

Gabriel nodded, blushing.

"I said I wished the man I was travelling with would notice me. He thought you were crazy not to."

"You are the crazy one to think I wasn't noticing you," Severus said quietly. "Noticing you is all I've been doing for the last year... We've only been on this trip for one day and you've already made me lose myself."

Gabriel turned to face Severus and kissed him softly.

"Did you think you could last longer?" he said teasingly.

"I had hoped so," Severus replied darkly before wrapping his arms around Gabriel.

They were quiet for a moment, just holding each other.

"I'm a coward when it comes to love, you know," Severus finally said, very quietly, his breath tickling Gabriel's forehead as he spoke. "I don't do much. I don't ask for much either, because I'm used to feeding on hope. And I'm a little rusty too. So love me reasonably, because people who love too much either get stupid, or they get hurt."

"Does that mean that you want to do this?" Gabriel asked hopefully. "You want to be with me?"

Severus hesitated.

"There is nothing I want more, but you have to understand that we must be careful. We can be together when we're alone, but when we're in public, you will be my assistant and nothing more. Even across the ocean, the wizarding community is closely-knit. We never know who might see us. Do you understand?"

There was a moment of silence and for an instant, Severus was almost certain that this request would start another fight.

"I suppose I can live with that," Gabriel said finally.



Not being able to be with Gabriel when they were out in public meant that they didn't leave the room much in the next two days. In Severus' opinion, it was way too hot to go outside anyway. He put a cooling charm on the room and mostly, they lay in bed and talked. Even though they had grown closer in the months after Severus had suggested the compromise, they had a lot of catching up to do. Gabriel told him about everything that happened with Emerson and how the other boy had practically proposed to him. He laughed embarrassingly as he recalled the events, but Severus didn't think it was particularly funny. And then one night, because Severus felt it was time to finally talk about his past, he told Gabriel about Lily Evans. It was a painful experience because she had been shut inside his heart for so long, but it felt good to let her out after all this time. Gabriel listened in silence as Severus talked and talked and he kept listening even after Severus couldn't speak anymore.

On the morning they were to leave the inn, Severus was terribly irritable. Maybe it was the thought of having to go out in the world again and pretend that Gabriel was nothing but his apprentice, but the main reason was something much more trivial.

"Merlin, why does it have to be so hot..." he complained, sitting down on a corner of the bed.

Gabriel, who was looking around the room, making sure they weren't forgetting anything, smiled at him.

"Because we're in South America," he said. "If you wanted cold, you should have booked yourself a trip to Siberia."

"Maybe we should have gone there instead," Severus said moodily, brushing sweaty hair away from his face. "We could have found a hut somewhere in the woods and just hid there for two months, away from everything..." he mused.

"Well, keep it in mind for next time. Now hurry up and finish packing. We have to leave the room soon..." Gabriel said, poking him in the side to make him move.

Severus groaned and fell back on the bed instead. Gabriel sighed.

"You should let me cut your hair," he declared finally.

For an instant, Severus didn't react. Then he propped himself up on his elbows and stared at him with a raised eyebrow.


"You should let me cut your hair," Gabriel repeated. "It's too long. If it was shorter, the heat wouldn't affect you so much, trust me."

Severus stared at him blankly and then burst out laughing.

"There is no way I'm letting you touch my hair," he said when he was serious again.

Gabriel smirked.

"Why not? It's obvious you don't care about it much anyway."

"Don't be mean," Severus scowled.

"Come on," Gabriel said, laughing. "Just let me try and if it ends up that bad, you can just spell it back on or something, or just go to the barber and get it fixed."

Severus sighed, knowing that when Gabriel had something in his head, it didn't usually go away easily.

"Have you ever even cut someone's hair before?"

"No," Gabriel announced with a shrug, "but there's a first time for everything. I'm sure it'll look nice. Let me get some scissors..."

It didn't look half bad, truthfully. It only felt strange because Severus hadn't had his hair cut so short since he'd been six or seven years old. For most of his life, he had been used to his hair brushing his shoulders with every move, but now it could hardly cover his ears. Gabriel had been right thought – the heat didn't seem to bother him so much now.

"What's this?" the boy asked, touching a long scar behind Severus' right ear.

Severus frowned, realising he'd almost forgotten about this.

"My father gave it to me, when I was nine or ten, maybe. I think he threw something at me... or threw me at something," he said distractedly, trying to recall.

He felt Gabriel's lips press on the scar and almost shivered.

The boy had made a complete mess of the bathroom and Severus cleaned it up with a quick wave of his wand. Soon, their suitcases were packed and they were ready to go.

They had to leave the room at noon, but their train only left late that afternoon so they had plenty of time to walk around and finally explore Buenos Aires. Severus shrunk their luggage and they set off to visit the shops around the magical district. He spent almost an hour in the apothecary while Gabriel purchased all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs next door, and when the boy returned, he slipped a small bracelet of leather and moonstones around Severus' wrist, smiling as he showed him an identical one on his own arm. Severus sighed and rolled his eyes at such childish behaviour, but he didn't take the bracelet off.

It was still really warm and the afternoon sun shone strongly between the crooked old buildings and they next decided to go get some cold drinks. The woman at the counter flirted shamelessly with Severus, and Gabriel could hardly stifle his laughter when he saw how oblivious the man was to it all. That new haircut really was doing wonders.

By seven o'clock they were at the station. This train, Severus explained, was strictly for wizard use. As far as Muggles knew, there was no way to travel to all the great centres of South America aboard only one train. But for wizards, there was the Condor Express. Severus had booked them a cabin for the long trip, equipped with bed and washroom and all the comforts they could need. It was really quite cozy, like having a whole compartment to themselves.

They sat in regular seats until the train left the station, Gabriel looking out the window as the train passed through the city, unnoticed by Muggles. Tired, Severus leaned his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes. Once they left Buenos Aires, the sun was starting to set. The windows were opened and a warm breeze came in. Gabriel turned to Severus and stared at him now that his face was no longer hidden by that horrible curtain of hair. He was beautiful, Gabriel thought. As if feeling Gabriel's stare, Severus opened his eyes and smiled softly.

"I know we only just got here," Gabriel said, leaning in closer to rest his head on Severus' shoulder, "but I never want to go back to England."

"Me neither," Severus replied.


Chapter Text

"I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul."

-Pablo Neruda


HE WAS WOKEN by a splitting headache so strong it was nauseating.  The room, it seemed, was filled with too much light.  An exploding star would be more discreet, he thought as he turned on his side and shielded his eyes with his forearm.

     “Shut those bloody curtains,” Severus warned, and just pronouncing those words was hard, but he successfully managed them through tightly gritted teeth.

       He heard soft laughter from somewhere on his left and a second later, he noticed the room darken behind his closed eyelids.  The bed dipped slightly and his arm was pried away from his face.  Then he felt cool fingers caress his forehead and tangle themselves into his longish hair.

       “I think...” he mumbled as a memory shot through his mind so swiftly he could barely catch it, “I think I dreamt that I cut my hair.”

       “Don’t ever do that,” the voice said, and he could hear a smile on the lips.  “I like it that way.”

       He opened his eyes.  Even his eyelashes were painful, but the sight of Lily’s face always made things better.

       “How do you feel?” she asked with a small smile, almost knowingly.

       “Like I’ve been trampled by a hippogriff,” he said, shifting slightly and then wincing.  “Wait... make that an entire herd.  How much did I have to drink last night?”

       “I stopped counting after Hagrid challenged you over a barrel of some of his homemade wine,” Lily replied with a smirk.

       Severus groaned at the thought, but he was glad he could remember none of it.  He must have been really pissed if he’d agreed to drink anything that witless twit had brewed.

       “Your potion is on the nightstand,” Lily added before leaning towards him and kissing the tip of his nose.  “Drink all of it and come down to the kitchen.  Breakfast is almost ready.  Don’t forget we promised Harry a trip to Diagon Alley today.”

       She caressed his cheek once more and smiled before leaving the room, her bare feet making soft noises on the hardwood floors.  Severus didn’t move for a while, staring around him at the bedroom, strangely disoriented.  He must have drunk an awful lot the night before.  But even alcohol couldn’t quite explain what he was feeling now – an eerie sense that something wasn’t right, like he’d forgotten something.  Everything around him looked familiar but there was the impression that he wasn’t supposed to be there at all.  He decided his upset stomach and throbbing head were probably responsible for everything. 

       He sat up on the edge of the bed and grabbed the glass of brown potion on the nightstand, recognising the awful smell of that miraculous concoction Lily brewed whenever he’d had a night of heavy partying – which didn’t happen that often, thank Merlin.  Maybe he’d eaten something bad, he thought.  Maybe he had food poisoning or something like that.  Alcohol had never made him feel that way before. 

       Severus stood awkwardly and headed towards the door before remembering that the bathroom was on the other side of the room.  He looked at himself in the mirror for a long time, relieved by the fact that he looked normal.  His hair was intact.  A few strands tickled his chin as he turned his head left and right, examining his face for anything out of the ordinary.  Yes, he had definitely dreamt that he’d cut his hair.  It hadn’t looked that bad, Severus reminded himself as he rinsed his face with cold water, trying to get rid of the dizziness. 

       He looked at his left hand suddenly, noticing the thin golden band on his finger.  For a fraction of an instant, he wondered what it was before remembering his wedding ring.  How could he have forgotten its existence?  He had been married for almost ten years.  And yet... it felt uncomfortable on his finger, like it wasn’t supposed to be there, like he wasn’t used to it even after all this time.  He pulled on it a little and saw the indentation and slightly lighter skin underneath, indicating that he had been, of course, wearing it for a long time.  So why did it suddenly feel so foreign to him?

       He looked at himself in the mirror, a hardened expression on his face. 

       “Never again will you drink something Hagrid has brewed, understand?” he ordered his reflection in the authoritative tone he normally used with his students...

       Severus frowned.  Students?  Where did that come from?  He was a bloody Auror, for Merlin’s sake!  He didn’t have any students.  And he would make a truly awful teacher, there was no doubt about that.  That had been the most ridiculous thought...  He shook his head one last time and left the bathroom, but not before catching a glimpse of the pale, bare skin of his left forearm and feeling, for an instant, as though something ought to be there but wasn’t.

       Lily was in the kitchen, humming as she put the finishing touches on their breakfast. 

       “I’ve had the strangest dreams last night,” Severus said as he leaned over to kiss the top of Harry’s head.

       Lily chuckled.

       “It’s not very surprising since you almost drank Hogsmeade dry.  I had to ask Moody to help me get you home.  Harry, honey, do you want strawberry jam or marmalade?”

       “Strawberry, please.”

       The reply came from somewhere behind a heavy book propped against the pumpkin juice pitcher. 

       “No book at the table, Harriet.  I’ve told you a hundred times,” Severus said as he sat down in his usual spot, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

       He heard a childish sigh and the book closed shut, revealing his daughter’s irritated face.  He stared at her darkly and she smiled suddenly, her green eyes shining with contained laughter.

       “You really look awful, daddy,” she announced with a grin, but then she frowned and her expression became worried.  “We still going to Diagon Alley today, aren’t we?”

       “Yes, of course, honey,” Lily said as she put Harriet’s plate down in front of her.  “Your father’s illness is of his own doing.  I don’t see why we should cancel our trip because of that,” she said with a playful smile in Severus’ direction. 

       Severus watched them as they made plans for the day, which included visiting bookshops, shopping for new summer dresses and getting ice cream.  He barely touched the food on his own plate but stared around at his family.  There was a strange feeling inside his chest, one of longing maybe.  He felt as if he had just lost something very dear but he couldn’t remember what.  He felt as if he should be happy, but for some reason he couldn’t bring himself to.

       He shut his eyes tightly, trying to concentrate on this dream he’d had.  Apart from the haircut, he couldn’t remember much of it.  It had been warm, too, very warm.  There had been someone else with him, but he was certain it hadn’t been Lily.

       “Oh look, Sev,” Lily said suddenly as she unfolded the morning paper.  “Dumbledore is in the Prophet today.  They interviewed him over that trial for the old man who distributed cursed lampshades in Devon last month.”

       Severus nodded absently when she showed him the picture of an old wizard’s smiling face.  Dumbledore, yes, his old school Headmaster.  Lily was getting along well with him, but Severus always felt rather uncomfortable in the old wizard’s presence, as if the man could read right through him.  Although he had never said a word about it to anyone, he was convinced that Albus Dumbledore knew that Severus had been quite close to joining the Death Eaters back in the day, during that time when he thought he had lost Lily for good.  Things had worked out fine in the end, but he couldn’t help feeling that Dumbledore knew everything and was somehow judging him for almost straying from the right path.

       “Talking about Dumbledore, do you remember his adopted son, Gabriel?” Lily continued, smiling as she pointed to a paragraph on another page.  “We met him briefly at the New Year Banquet.  Look here, they’re announcing his engagement to Aldrich Gladwyn’s youngest son.”

       Uninterested and still lost in his own thoughts, Severus looked over, knowing how irritated Lily could get whenever she thought he wasn’t listening to her.  Under the usual text announcing any engagement, was a small picture of two good-looking young men.  The one on the left was obviously Gladwyn’s son, but Severus’ attention was caught by the other boy.  Fair-haired, he looked slightly uneasy on the picture, looking left and right with an almost pleading look on his face, as if he didn’t really want to be there at all. 

       Gabriel, Severus thought.  Gabriel Lenoir, Albus Dumbledore’s adopted son.  Yes, they had met at the New Year Banquet briefly, months ago.  But even if he had never seen the boy before, Severus would have recognised him.  It was the boy from his dream.  He could remember now... In fact, with every second that passed, he was less and less sure that it had been a dream at all...

       He almost blushed crimson red as vivid memories of the dream hit him full force, recalling the feel of the sixteen year old boy’s body against his own and the soft moans and the feel of his pale skin under Severus’ lips.  Everything had felt so real, so much more real than everything he was feeling now.  And then Severus knew where this strange longing, where this emptiness was coming from. 

       “Don’t you think they look perfect for each other?” Lily said with a sigh and a smile on her face.  “It says here that they are to be married next summer, after they graduate Hogwarts...”

       “No,” Severus said finally.

       It came out in a breath that almost stayed caught in his throat.  Severus was breathing hard no, panic threatening to take over.  Lily sensed it and put a hand on his arm.

       “Sev, are you alright?”

       “No...” he repeated, looking at her with anger in his eyes.  “They can’t... Not Gladwyn.  Gabriel can’t marry him!”

       Lily looked at a loss for words.  She only stared at him in confusion as he stood suddenly, his chair scraping against the floor.  From the other side of the table, Harriet was looking at him with a frown, her eight year old mouth opened with shock.

       “Are you alright, daddy?” she asked in a small voice. 

       “I am not your daddy,” Severus said suddenly as panic finally emerged and took over his mind.  “I am not supposed to be here!”

       Lily stood suddenly, her face crimson with anger and Severus would have been worried for his own safety if he hadn’t been so scared of everything else.

       “Severus Snape!  You will stop right this instant!” she said, her voice heightening as her anger grew.

       “I am not your husband!” he declared, removing the thin wedding band from his finger.  “This is a farce!  You’re not real!  You’re supposed to be dead!”

       “SEVERUS!” she yelled.

       She tied to grab his arm, but he quickly walked away, making his way through the living room and to the front door.  He had to get out of this house.  He swung the door open and emerged into a quiet street, then he took off running.  On either sides of the street, the houses were identical, the lawns were perfectly tended to and identical cars were parked in every driveway.  When he stopped to look around, he would have been unable to remember which house he had emerged from.

       “What is this place?!” he screamed, looking around desperately as panic kept a tight grip around his heart and throat and his own voice came back to him in echo.  “I don’t want this!” he pleaded.  “I thought I wanted this, but I don’t.  I want Gabriel back!  I want to wake up!”

       And Severus woke up gasping, eyes wide, and trembling.

       He was lying on the small bed in the train cabin with Gabriel pressed between his body and the wall.  The sight of the boy filled him with such a feeling of relief that he slipped his arms around him and held him tightly.  All he wanted at that moment was to know that everything was going to be okay.

       “Are you trying to strangle me?” Gabriel’s voice asked, full of sleep.

       His face was now pressed into the crook of Severus’ neck and he leaned into the embrace.

       “I’m sorry,” Severus said, and the weakness and fear in his voice could have easily passed for sleepiness.  “I had a bad dream.”

       Gabriel raised his head to look at him, frowning slightly.

       “You want to tell me about it?”



       He smiled then, and buried his face against Severus once more.

       “Well, it’ll be okay now.  I’m here,” he said simply, not knowing how right he was.

       It took Severus a long time to fall back asleep.  Outside, the sky was still pitch black, but he could see the outline of mountains in the distance under the light of the moon.  They had forgotten to close the curtains before going to sleep, but Severus was too comfortable to stand and do it now. 

       He’d had this dream before, he remembered now – many times before over the years, in fact.  However, it was different before.  He had never run out of the house before, screaming and begging to wake up.  He had never turned to his daughter to tell her she wasn’t his, and he had never told Lily that she was supposed to be dead.  Before, he had always been content just to enjoy this life he longed for in his every waking moment.  And now, suddenly, it was different. 

       Severus had changed.  He didn’t want the same things he used to dwell on before Gabriel entered his life.  And he realised, astonishingly, that if given the choice between Gabriel and Lily, he would pick Gabriel.  He had loved Lily, but she had chosen someone else.  Even if those dreams seemed real, it was difficult to imagine a world in which she could have picked him over that git James Potter.  But Gabriel was here now, and he was real and alive and warm and he wanted Severus.  Yes, he had loved Lily, but she was dead and buried.  Maybe now was the time to live in the present, he thought as he drifted back to sleep.


Gabriel woke at dawn to the steady beating of Severus’ heart.  He lay there for a while, just thinking about how good it felt to be away from everything and everyone they knew.  If only they could stay here forever, he thought, in hiding, just being together without a care in the world.  But they had to go back eventually, and even though they still had almost two months left, it didn’t seem enough.  He stood quietly, doing his best not to wake Severus, whose sleep had been troubled, and he put on some light clothes – Muggle clothing.  This was no weather for wizards’ robes. 

       The view outside the window was breathtaking as the train made its way through the Andes.  A vast landscape of mountains and lakes and forests spread out in the growing light of early morning.  Gabriel almost felt the urge to wake up Severus, but knowing how grumpy the man could get when he didn’t have his beauty sleep, he decided against it.  Silently, he left the cabin, sliding the door shut quietly behind him.

       Gabriel walked through the train for a little while.  The hallways were silent.  On his right, the drapes on the compartment windows were all closed, but his attention was drawn mostly to the left, where large windows showed him the South American landscape in all its majesty.  He paused as the train crossed a narrow bridge and light from the sunrise reflected on the water in colours he had never seen before in England or France.  He smiled and shook his head, disappointed that Severus couldn’t see all of this.  He should have brought his camera, he thought, but then again, a picture probably couldn’t capture any of the real beauty of this place.

       He asked a steward where he could get something to eat, and the man directed him towards the restaurant compartment, which had just opened for breakfast.  There weren’t many passengers there yet.  Only three tables were occupied.  Gabriel sat alone in a booth next to a window and a waiter walked over to give him a menu.  As he was trying to decipher the breakfast section, he heard someone clear their throat and looked up to see a man standing before him.

       He was tall, even taller than Severus, and broad-shouldered.  His hair fell around his face in waves of a deep russet colour and his eyes were dark hazel, glinting in the morning light.  He had stubble on his chin and the look of someone who has been travelling a lot without any real rest.  He looked in his forties, but he could easily be older as some wizards seemed to age slower than others.  He was wearing a linen shirt and some tribal necklace hung around his neck. 

       “I’m sorry to bother you,” the man said politely in English with a light accent that Gabriel couldn’t quite identify, “but I heard you greet the waiter in English, and it’s so rare to meet people from home around here.  I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind some company, but feel free to refuse...”

       “No, no,” Gabriel said, smiling as he gesture to the empty seat facing him.  “Please sit down.  I would love some company.”

       The man smiled back as he sat.  He had very straight and very white teeth.  He held out his hand for Gabriel to shake.

       “Anderson Milford,” he introduced himself, “but you can call me Andy.”

       Gabriel shook the man’s larger hand politely.

       “Gabriel Lenoir,” he answered. 

       He was surprised not to see a hint of recognition in the other man’s eyes.  Either he didn’t keep up with the news of the wizarding world much, or he had been in South America for a long time, he thought.

       “Very pleased to meet you, Gabriel.  Have you decided what you want to eat yet?  I think I’ve tried everything on the menu.  The sausage bread pudding is delicious,” Andy said, pointing to an item on the pamphlet.  “And you can have it with a fruit salad on the side.”

       “Thanks,” Gabriel said, smiling in relief, “that’s what I’ll get, then.  I was just about to give up trying to understand this.  I’m still not quite used to Spanish yet.  Where are you from exactly?  Have you been here long?”

       Andy didn’t answer immediately for the waiter had returned to take their orders.  They exchanged a few phrases in Spanish and the waiter took their menus and left.

       “I’m from London, originally,” Andy explained when they were alone, “but I haven’t set foot there for about three years now.  I’ve been all over, but mostly in Peru.  I work as a freelance curse breaker.  There is a lot to do out here.  The Inca and the Mayans took their sacred grounds very seriously.  You wouldn’t believe the gruesome curses they left behind.”

       Gabriel observed Anderson Milford as he talked.  He was slightly tanned, but not as much as would be expected of a man who had been roaming South America for three years.  He was staring directly in Gabriel’s eyes as he spoke, never gazing away, which became a little intimidating.  He didn’t move or blink a lot as he talked, and he wasn’t using his hands either as he spoke.  They just remained unmoving on the tabletop.  Gabriel noticed that they were covered with very thin scars, which could only be quite common in his field of work.

       “And what do you do, Gabriel?  What brings you out here?” he asked, genuinely curious.

       At first Gabriel was unsure exactly how to respond, but he quickly thought this whole thing over.  He knew he could pass for older than he really was, and for once he was meeting someone who didn’t seem to know everything about his family and his troubled past.  He could be anyone he wanted. 

       “I just finished my Theoretical Potions degree at Agrippa.  I was lucky enough to be offered an apprenticeship and I came here on a research trip with my new Master.  We are to meet with a colleague of his in Peru and then head for the Galapagos,” he explained easily.

       Gabriel finished all this with a smile.  It could have been the very truth, after all.  Lies were easier when you believed them.  Andy smiled broadly.

       “Well what a coincidence!  I am an Agrippa alumnus myself!” he said, leaning over the table.  “Which college were you with?”

       Gabriel almost froze for a second, certain he was going to get caught lying, but luckily enough, he had read that brochure Dumbledore had given him many times.

       “Montmorency Hall,” he said without a second thought.

       Andy nodded and smiled.

       “That’s a good one.  I was in Summerbee College, just across the bridge,” he added.

       Gabriel might have read that brochure, but he truly hoped that the man wouldn’t ask too many questions.  Luckily enough, the subject of the conversation changed rapidly.

       “You have an accent.  You’re not from London, are you?” Andy asked.

       “No, I’m from Paris.  I’ve only been in England a few years,” Gabriel replied

       “And this man you’re travelling with, your new Master, is he from England?” 

       “Yes, he is.”

       “Anyone I might know?”

       “Severus Snape,” Gabriel said after a pause, wondering if he was allowed to say, but he supposed it wasn’t meant to be a secret that Severus was travelling South America.

       Anderson Milford frowned.

       “Snape... Snape...” he said, thoughtful.  “The name rings a bell.”

       “He teaches at Hogwarts,” Gabriel added helpfully.

       Andy stared at him quietly for a moment and then shook his head.

       “No... Forget it.  It must not be the same man I’m thinking of...” he said briefly with a wave of his hand.

       “There’s only one Severus Snape in Hogwarts.  The name surely is not that common,” Gabriel said.

       Andy looked hesitant. 

       “What is it?” Gabriel asked, but the man shook his head again.

       “No, no, it’s nothing...” he repeated.

       “Tell me,” Gabriel insisted, starting to be curious.  “Do you know him?”

       “Not personally...” Andy said finally.  “But I’ve heard of him... I think...”

       “Yes, he has published some articles in various magazines.  He’s starting to be quite well-known in the field of potionmaking...” Gabriel explained, with a hint of pride in his voice.

       “No, I’ve never read anything of his.  Potions is not really my thing,” Andy said quietly, looking around as if he wanted to make sure no one was listening to them.

       “Then how...?” Gabriel started.

       “I remember seeing his name in the paper years ago,” Andy said quickly in a low voice.  “He was a... a Death Eater.”

       He looked as though he was expecting Gabriel to stand in shock and run away.  Gabriel smiled, trying not to look as condescending towards his new acquaintance as he was feeling at the moment. 

       “He was a Death Eater – past tense.  You said it yourself, you don’t know him personally, so you wouldn’t know the details.  He was a spy, actually – a very brave one at that.”

       “I see,” Andy said slowly, and he smiled pleasantly, but there was something underneath his smile that made Gabriel think that nothing he said would change his mind about Severus.  “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

       “I’m sure you didn’t.”

       “It’s just... Well, you know... even these days, we can never be too careful.”

       “If you say so,” Gabriel said with a shrug.

       They fell silent as the waiter brought their plates over.  Gabriel felt Andy stare at him frequently as they ate, but refused to gaze back.

       “I apologize,” the man said after a while.  “I truly did not mean to offend you.”

       For some reason, even though he sounded sincere, Gabriel was under the impression that he was only saying that because it was expected of him.

       “It’s okay,” Gabriel replied with a sigh.  “You couldn’t know any better.  I’m sorry if I was harsh with you.”

       “There’s no need.  It’s only natural for you to defend your friend,” Andy replied with a shrug.

       “I just don’t think anyone’s past should define them.  It’s not the mistakes we make that best determine who we are, but the way we decide to fix them.”

       “You’re very wise,” Andy said with a smile.  “I agree with you on that one.”

       They didn’t talk much after that, and later, after they had said their goodbyes and bid each other good luck on their travels, Gabriel returned to the cabin, hoping he wouldn’t have to meet Anderson Milford again.  He hadn’t been so terrible a person, but there was just something about him that made Gabriel uncomfortable.  Without a doubt, there was more to him than meets the eye, but he wasn’t certain what exactly it could be.


They reached Chile early in the morning.  Severus had thought that they were supposed to switch trains, but they were told by a steward that actually the Condor Express would stop for a few hours while more compartments were added and then the train would be on its way north towards Peru.  In the meantime, they were free to get out and roam the city, as long as they showed their tickets and passports to the controller when they returned.  With the heat, Severus would have been content to just stay put, but Gabriel wasn’t going to pass on an opportunity to go out and explore.  And so they left the Condor Express and ventured into the magical boroughs of Santiago.

       Once again, Gabriel purchased what Severus liked to call “useless trinkets” from the shops around that seemed to specialise in selling to tourists things twice the price they should be.  The boy didn’t seem to care that he was being swindled and Severus watched him hand over galleon after galleon to the ecstatic shopkeepers, shaking his head and dragging Gabriel away when things got out of hand. 

       “What will you do with all of these?” he asked as Gabriel waited for a shopkeeper to wrap up some figurines and souvenirs.

       “They’re not all for me,” Gabriel said with a frown.  “Some of them are for my friends.   And besides, I want to remember this trip, don’t you?”

       “Not by spending all my money on overpriced knickknacks.  I prefer to just enjoy the moments and try to fix them to my memory,” he said as they walked away from the shopkeeper, who resumed yelling after the pedestrians for them to approach his stand.

       Gabriel smiled.  He didn’t feel like arguing this morning.  He just wanted to enjoy this moment as well.

       “Do you want to get something to eat?” he asked simply, and Severus nodded.

       They found a little restaurant on the Muggle side of the city and sat in the shade of a large parasol.  Gabriel had gotten his camera repaired and was taking photographs again.  Severus frowned every time he pointed the object anywhere near him and stepped aside.  He hated being photographed, and it was really no surprise, Gabriel thought, considering how little he thought of himself.  He had quickly given up trying to convince him that they should take a picture together.

       As he was taking a picture of the street and the terrace they were on, he saw a silhouette around the corner, walking towards them, and for a second he was certain it was Anderson Milford.  He lowered his camera rapidly to take a real look and was relieved to see that it was just a Muggle man with a similar hairstyle.

       He hadn’t told Severus about their meeting.  He didn’t know why he had kept this detail from him, but he had.  Maybe it was because he felt bad about lying to a complete stranger for no reason, or maybe he thought that Severus would be angry to learn that people he had never met were judging him so.  Of course, he probably suspected that people were judging him, but suspecting something and knowing it by proof is quite different.

       “I met an Englishman on the train this morning,” Gabriel said a few minutes after they had started their meal.

       “When?” Severus asked suddenly, raising his head from his plate.

       His dish seemed a little too spicy for his taste and he kept sniffing now and then.

       “When I went out to get breakfast and you were still sleeping,” Gabriel replied.

       Severus was silent for a moment.

       “You went out this morning?”

       Gabriel sighed.  He’d had a feeling the conversation might steer in this direction.

       “Yes.  I thought you noticed,” he added innocently, “but then again you always sleep so...”

       “You should have told me before that you were leaving the cabin,” Severus said, going straight to the point.

       Gabriel sighed again and put his fork back on the table.  He shot Severus a dark glance.

       “I went to get breakfast.  It’s not like I jumped from the train to live in the wilderness,” he said dryly.

       Severus raised an eyebrow but kept eating very calmly.

       “Since your little escapade in Buenos Aires, I honestly don’t know what you’re capable of anymore,” he said in between two mouthfuls.

       They looked at each other defiantly for a moment.

       “We’ve talked about this,” Gabriel said finally.  “It won’t happen again.  I was just trying to piss you off.”

       “A feat you always accomplish so beautifully,” Severus added bitterly.

       “Oh, just forget I said anything,” Gabriel replied moodily and he went back to picking at his plate. 

       “Sorry,” Severus said with a shrug.  “Go on.  You said you met someone from England.  Who was it?”

       “A man called Anderson Milford,” Gabriel said begrudgingly.  “He works as a freelance curse breaker and said he’s been in South America for three years.”

       Severus thought this over.

       “I don’t think I know of him,” he said after a while.

       “But he knows you,” Gabriel admitted softly.


       “Not personally... He said he read about you in the papers years ago,” he started tentatively, searching Severus’ face for a reaction.

       “Ah,” was all the man said, but there was an undertone of disdain in his voice.

       “The whole thing was quite funny actually, now that I think of it,” Gabriel explained, trying to lighten up the mood.  “The second he remembered who you were, he kept trying to warn me about you.  And he doesn’t even know you.”

       “People are like that, Gabriel.  They think and they assume they know,” the Potions Master replied, his voice strangely quiet but seemingly unaffected.  “What did you tell him?”

       “The truth,” Gabriel said with a shrug.  “That you are a good person, that you’re brave and that you’ve always been on our side...”

       “Not always,” Severus corrected him as if he felt obligated to, but still ashamed of having to do so.

       “When it mattered,” Gabriel added.

       Severus was quiet for a moment.  He finally pushed his plate aside, finally having enough of the spicy food that made his nose runny and lips burn.

       “You didn’t need to defend me,” he told Gabriel.

       Despite himself, Gabriel suddenly felt angry.

       “Who would have if I didn’t?” he said dryly, but his bitterness wasn’t completely directed at Severus, but mostly at the wizarding world in general.  “You always have my back.  It’s only natural to return the favour.  Besides, I, of all people, should defend you.  I know the real you.  They think they know everything about you because of that Mark on your arm.  They know nothing.  People shouldn’t be allowed to drag your name in the mud...” 

       He trailed off, suddenly conscious that he had been raising his voice progressively and was starting to attract attention from some of the Muggles sitting close to them on the terrace.  Severus shook his head but didn’t answer.  He looked very tired all of a sudden.

       “Anyways,” Gabriel said more softly, “I hope I don’t see him again.  He wasn’t a really pleasant person to be around.”

       They didn’t talk much for the rest of their meal, and afterwards they slowly made their way back into the wizarding world.  They still had almost two hours until the Condor Express departed and Severus immediately headed for the apothecary shop while Gabriel wandered next door into a bookstore.  He knew Severus would spend every minute of their remaining spare time in there so there was no use waiting for him.  Unfortunately for Gabriel, almost all of their books were in Spanish.  He didn’t stay very long. 

       He didn’t want to wander too far away from the apothecary, knowing that Severus would have his skin if he left the shop and couldn’t find him near.  So he found himself staring at a newsstand on the street.  It was holding newspapers from everywhere in the world, all the front pages moving with pictures of various events.  Gabriel took out a copy of the Paris newspaper from the back and leafed through it, reading the headlines.

       On the third page, a smile formed on Gabriel’s face when he glimpsed the moving picture of someone familiar.  He was so happy to see this person after all this time that he didn’t immediately read the title over the photo, but when he did, his heart gave a sudden lurch and the smile froze on his face.


Investigation Still Ongoing Over Murdered Apothecary


Emil Rousseau, whose body was found on Wednesday inside his apothecary shop on Avenue Desfleurs, in Paris, was reported to have been working late in the night when the break-in occurred.  Investigators have confirmed that the unfortunate event resulting in the apothecary’s death might have been the making of a surprised robber. 

         “It is not uncommon for merchants in the apothecary business to encounter people suffering addiction from certain substances,” Inspector Dumarais, responsible for the investigation, told the press.  “Mr. Rousseau’s death might be the result of such an encounter.  Someone might have broken into the shop to steal illicit substances which the shopkeeper used in the preparation of certain potions, but the burgler wasn’t expecting Mr. Rousseau to be up and working late.  Obviously, a fight ensued, but unfortunately, it had disastrous consequences.” 

         Inspector Dumarais refused to say any more about the crime scene or to confirm the rumours that Mr. Rousseau had recently been harassed by certain werewolf liberation groups concerning a groundbreaking potion he was in the process of developing...


       The shopkeeper was yelling at Gabriel in Spanish while he stood near the newsstand in the alley, reading the article.  Distractedly, Gabriel slipped a hand in his pocket and gave the man a handful of coins, not bothering to count the few Knuts required to pay for the paper.  The man left him alone, but Gabriel quickly found that he couldn’t concentrate on the words anymore.  They seemed to be dancing strangely before his eyes as if blurry or deprived of sense. 

       “You should come inside and take a look,” said Severus’ voice suddenly as the man approached him, sounding surprisingly pleased by the Chilean apothecary store.  “They have such a variety of Samatrah bulbs it would put to shame the...”

       He interrupted himself when he saw that Gabriel wasn’t listening to him at all.  The sixteen year old boy’s eyes were filling with tears rapidly as he stood motionless, staring at the smiling face of Emil Rousseau.  Curious, Severus looked over his shoulder at the article.  With his poor notion of the French language and Gabriel’s facial expression, he quickly understood what it was about.  He let out a curse as he took the paper from Gabriel’s hands, rolled it up and slipped it into his pocket.

       “Come,” he said softly, guiding Gabriel away from the crowded street.  “We’re going back to the train.”

       Gabriel started crying silently as they walked away.  Tears streamed down his face slowly and his shoulders shook.  Some of the passers-by seemed to notice this and Severus couldn’t help being mad at them for some reason.  Why couldn’t they mind their own business?  He handed Gabriel his sunglasses and the boy slipped them on his nose with slightly trembling hands.  The tinted lenses managed to hide some of the damage, but still Severus cursed those strangers mentally.  Their presence kept him from properly comforting Gabriel.  He had sworn he wouldn’t attract attention to them, just like he had made Gabriel swear the same.  He had no choice but to wait until they were safely away from prying eyes to take Gabriel in his arms and let him cry freely.  He was so scared to lose everything that he didn’t dare touch the boy’s shoulder even for a minute.

       Apparently, Rousseau was dead.  He had gathered that much information from the fragments of the article he had seen and also managed to understand that the man had been murdered.  But what on earth had happened?  He needed to contact Dumbledore as soon as possible.  Dumbledore would know.  That man always knew everything.

       The walk back to the train seemed to take twice as long as the first time.  Severus didn’t think they had wandered that far, but his eagerness to get back probably only made it worse.  By the time they were nearing the station, Gabriel seemed to have stopped crying.  With the sunglasses on, it was impossible to tell and Severus felt awful for not knowing.

       He showed their papers and tickets to the man on the platform and they were let onto the train once more and back to their cabin.  Severus guided Gabriel inside, putting a careful hand on his back.  When the door was safely shut behind them and the curtains drawn, he wrapped his arms around Gabriel’s body firmly, as if expecting some resistance, but it didn’t come.

       Gabriel remained silent as Severus held him against his chest, never reacting or saying a word.  He had indeed stopped crying because his eyes were dry when Severus removed the glasses from his face.  Maybe the boy was in shock, Severus thought.  Maybe he was just taken by this strange numbness that often follows bad news.  He let Severus hold him and kiss him softly but didn’t respond.

       “Are you okay?” Severus asked finally, starting to be slightly worried.

       “Yes,” the sixteen year old boy responded faintly.

       Severus frowned.  As if... he thought.  Gabriel was usually so expressive whenever something unexpected happened to him, good or bad.  He obviously wasn’t okay, but why he would feel the need to lie about it was strange.

       “It’s perfectly understandable if you’re not,” Severus replied softly, trailing his fingers on the side of Gabriel’s face.  “It’s natural for you to be upset over this.”

       Gabriel nodded, but he didn’t say anything more.  He freed himself from Severus’ arms slowly and walked over to the small cabin bed.  He lied down facing the wooden wall, his back to Severus, curling up comfortably, still not saying a word.  Severus sighed.

       He had to contact Dumbledore.  Could he send a telegram or maybe return to the magical shops and send an owl?  Was there enough time for that?  The train should be departing soon... His first thought was using the Floo, but then he remembered moodily that it didn’t work overseas.  Dumbledore had a telephone in his house in Godric’s Hollow, but finding a phone would require getting out of the train again and walking even further.  So that wasn’t an option.  Then the obvious struck him.

       Of course, he thought, appalled at his own stupidity.  The mirror.

       Before they had left for South America, Dumbledore had given Severus a two-way mirror for emergencies.  The artifact had completely left his mind, but now it seemed the only way to contact the Headmaster.  He rummaged through his suitcase until he found it, wrapped into a soft handkerchief underneath some spare socks.

       He approached Gabriel, who hadn’t moved an inch since settling on the bed.  He was staring at the wall almost distractedly, as if he had nothing better to do.  Severus leaned over to press a kiss on his forehead and Gabriel managed a thin smile, if maybe to reassure him.  It didn’t work that well, to be honest.

       “I have to go outside for a little while.  Do you want me to get you anything from the restaurant compartment?” he asked softly.

       Gabriel shook his head and turned back to continue his detailed observation of the woodwork on the wall.  Severus sighed once again and left the cabin, carrying the small mirror out into the hallway.  The large windows gave him a panoramic view of the Santiago station, still bustling with witches and wizards dressed in colorful robes that would look extravagant even in Diagon Alley.  He headed to the small sitting area separating the two sections of cabins and sat in a large armchair, unfolding the fabric around the two-way mirror.  It felt strangely warm to the touch.  A brief glimpse of his reflection in it showed a slight sunburn on his nose.

       “Albus Dumbledore,” he spoke into the mirror.

       “Severus Snape,” came the immediate response, and the Headmaster’s face appeared to replace his own at once.  “I did not give you this mirror so that you could put it away and forget about its existence and never take a look at it again,” he said in this reprimanding tone that made Severus feel like a schoolboy again.

       “I take it you tried to contact us,” he replied with a hint of bitterness that wasn’t directed at the Headmaster but at his own idiocy.

       “Many times,” Dumbledore said gravely.  “When you failed to answer time and time again, I sent a telegram to your inn in Buenos Aires, but I missed you by a few hours.  Have you found out about Mr. Rousseau?”

       “Gabriel read it in the papers about twenty minutes ago.”

       Dumbledore cringed and his frown turned into an expression of sadness.

       “That’s what I wanted to avoid,” he said reproachfully.  “How is he?”

       “Devastated, of course... although he hasn’t really said a word about it.  I don’t know if he is just trying to look strong or if he is too affected by this to react...” Severus trailed off, not wanting to go into too many details that might reveal exactly how close he had become to Gabriel.  “What happened exactly?”

       Dumbledore sighed.

       “We don’t know for certain yet.  The investigators think that it was a robbery that went wrong, that someone broke in to steal something but that they weren’t expecting Rousseau to be up late and working.  But a lot of people think that it wasn’t an accident, that someone was after Rousseau because of the Wolfsbane potion he was attempting to modify.”

       “You mean that werewolf supremacists would have wanted him dead?”

       “Not everyone thinks that putting a stop to the transformation is a form of salvation,” Dumbledore added.  “Wolves who choose to live in pack away from society take pride in their condition.  It is for them a blessing and not a curse.  To think that someone might want to take this away from their kind is blasphemy.”

       “Are the investigators taking this possibility in consideration?”

       “Maybe, but if they are, they’re not saying a word of it to the press,” Dumbledore said before shaking his head and sighing.  “I’m sorry that you have to deal with this, Severus,” he added sincerely.  “I know how you hate this sort of emotional situation, but I’m asking you to be understanding with Gabriel.  He will need some time to mourn his friend, and if he wants to come home, will you...” 

       “Of course if he wants to come home we will return,” Severus snapped, almost offended.  “What kind of person do you think I am?”

       Albus Dumbledore smiled kindly.

       “I didn’t mean to insult you, Severus.  It’s only that I know you’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time and I would be very sorry if it was cut short because of Gabriel.”

       “He hasn’t asked to return, and I don’t think he will,” Severus said thoughtfully.  “He really seems to be enjoying himself so far.”

       “I’m glad he is,” Dumbledore admitted with a small smile.

       “But if he wants to go home, we will leave.”

       “Good,” the Headmaster said, before looking to his left, as if someone had just entered the room he was in.  “I have to go now, Severus.  Please keep the mirror around, would you?  Be safe, give Gabriel my best, and...”

       He hesitated, looking once more to his left briefly before leaning over the mirror and lowering his voice.

       “Keep an eye on him, please.  You know how he is... he probably thinks Rousseau’s death is his fault in some obscure way,” he added sadly.

       Severus nodded.  That sure sounded like something Gabriel would think.  Maybe that was why he seemed so silent and thoughtful earlier.

       “I will.  Goodbye Headmaster.”

       Albus Dumbledore nodded and then smiled a little more brightly.

       “Oh, and I like that new haircut of yours,” he said. 

       “Goodbye, Headmaster,” Severus insisted before Dumbledore could say anything more on the subject.

       He heard the old man laugh, and a second later his own face was staring back at him through the mirror.

       He had just said that he didn’t think Gabriel would want to leave, but he wasn’t really sure of it.  As good as life was here, away from everyone, it was very possible that this new death in Gabriel’s entourage cut short his desire for freedom.  And Dumbledore was right.  Gabriel would surely find a reason to blame himself for Rousseau’s death.  Severus could already hear him.  If I’d stayed behind to help him with the potions, he wouldn’t have been working late and he wouldn’t have died.

       Severus sighed heavily.  He knew he should be going back to the cabin to talk to Gabriel, to comfort him and convince him once again that the bad things happening to the people he loved had nothing to do with him.  And yet he stayed seated in his armchair in the empty sitting room.  He couldn’t come up with anything to say to Gabriel.  It wasn’t his fault, of course, but this was getting ridiculously tedious.  Why did the people close to the boy constantly die?  Merlin, was there some higher power out there holding a grudge against Gabriel Lenoir?  Severus didn’t usually believe in such nonsense, but the combination of bad occurrences was getting hard to ignore.

       He heard a loud whistle, felt the train engine tremble into life and a minute later, the Condor Express slowly started heading away from the station.

       As much as he didn’t want to think about it, Severus was starting to wonder if someone really was after Gabriel.  Engel had mentioned a man willing to go to great lengths to get to him, and months later, Trelawney had said something similar, also adding that she saw a period of darkness in his near future.  Believing Trelawney was the last thing Severus wanted, but he couldn’t easily ignore her words, not after what had happened seven years ago.

       Distractedly, Severus picked up a discarded copy of a magazine on the low table next to his armchair.  It was the kind of reading material that you find on any transportation system, introducing you to the train and its amenities.  Inserted inside were tourism pamphlets inviting him to Discover South America the Muggle Way.  Severus snorted at the titles but went through them anyway, maybe just to waste time until he had to go back to Gabriel and find something comforting to say. 

       He stopped and looked at the pictures in one of the pamphlets.  He had to admit that this place looked beautiful.  Maybe they could make a small detour?  Maybe that would make Gabriel feel better?  Would it be possible at this point to change their itinerary a little bit?

       Severus stood.  He would go back to Gabriel, but before that, he needed to talk to a steward.