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Chapter 3 : More to Hide
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It was peculiar to think he'd never been to the Cole estate after all this time. For years he'd not thought it peculiar, thought the distance between his friends in general and with him in particular had been perfectly normal, but then his life had taken a turn both downright bizarre and inherently more normal.
Certainly the oddities only continued in that he wasn't coming to the Cole estate to see Tanith.
But she'd answered the door anyway, to their mutual surprise, and waved him into one of the sitting rooms. She was in rather light clothes for late autumn, and had explained she was planning on going away when she'd noticed his quizzical looks.
'Ah,' said Gabriel eruditely. Then he shifted his feet. 'I was sorry to hear about Jacob.' But he didn't linger, knowing she wouldn't want him to sit and bestow all of his sympathies upon her, because this was Tanith Cole and she didn't like that kind of thing. 'Where are you going?'
'My family have a place in Tuscany. I thought I'd go there for a week, clear my head.'
He frowned. 'Alone?'
'Tobias is busy,' she said with a bitterness he didn't want to touch. 'Cal's got matches too - and I'm sure you're eager to see Jen rather than leave the country right away.' He gave a sheepish smile, and she continued. 'My options are depressingly limited. I think I'd rather kill myself than go to Tuscany with Ariane and Melanie. I thought about asking Nat, but…'
'You still see her?'
Tanith nodded. 'I like to think we're still friends. She thought I was trying to convince her to give Cal another chance at first, but… I don't know, she's been good company. And Merlin knows I sometimes need a break from you boys.' They exchanged a smile. 'But I don't get to see her as often as I like, and it's short notice, and it might be… weird.'
'You'll be okay on your own?' Gabriel wasn't used to bestowing open sympathy, but he wasn't sure what else to do.
'I'll be fine,' she said, waving a hand, and he knew he was supposed to accept that even if he didn't believe her. 'It's good of you to drop by, though. I know you must be busy.'
Gabriel hesitated. 'Um. Yeah. I only Portkeyed into London this morning; customs were a right pain in the arse.'
She watched him for half a heartbeat. 'Where've you been?'
'Tibet. Getting the wisdom of Tibetian monks. Turns out - not as wise as you'd think.'
'Can you even speak…' Tanith hesitated. '…the same language?'
His lips twisted wryly. 'Enough for me to realise that we do not share powers. They do tap into the temporal arcana, but they do it in a completely different way, through concentration and meditation. They're not natural seers. For me it comes much more instinctively - and unexpectedly. The most I picked up were a few methods of inducing them, but it's pretty long odds of that working. And never when it's important.'
Tanith's gaze flickered over his face, and she nodded. 'You seem pretty happy with it all.'
'I don't get them as much,' said Gabriel with relief. 'I think that's a good sign for the world at large. None of these awful, life-changing incidents being spat at us.' Then he remembered Jacob Van Roden had died the night before and felt like an idiot. 'Well. You know what I mean.'
'I do,' said Tanith, and he took comfort from the fact that her bluntness meant she'd have said if he'd really offended her. 'I'm glad it's working out for you. Your visions. With Jen.'
'Still haven't figured out a way to make a living off it,' Gabriel grumbled. 'I'm entirely at the whims of her and my family.'
'How're they about the whole thing?'
Gabe snorted. 'They still think I'm off trying to find myself, don't they. I haven't told them a thing. Dad's out of his job, his department at the Ministry took a major downsizing, basically because he toed the party line far too much in the war, and… there's his record. I'm just lucky that Jen's a pureblood if only to keep them off my backs.'
Tanith looked dubious. 'She's met them?'
'Hell, no. And I intend to keep it that way.' Gabriel kept his face level; he knew what Tanith was thinking. Even she - and Cal, and Tobias - hadn't met his family. There were some parts of his life he preferred to keep separate.
It wasn't as if it was as exciting as all that.
'So why are you really here?' said Tanith, and Gabriel realised he'd been wrong in assuming he knew what she was thinking. She'd got better at putting him off-balance, at sneaking up on him sideways with a question. Talents honed by war. 'I know it's not to see me.'
'When did I stop being able to lie to you?'
'I learnt to see through it.' Tanith cocked her head at him slightly. 'And you, I think, got worse.'
'Smart. Get worse at lying, now there's more to hide.'
'Oh, I think you can still lie as well as you could. Just not to me, or, I assume to Jen. I don't think you want to lie to the people you care about any more.'
And now, inexplicably, she'd made him want to answer her question more than talk about his attitudes to lying. Because he had to admit she was probably right. 'You father wrote to me,' he said, and took some pride at how much this surprised her. 'Left it with the DOMT, so it was waiting for me when I got in. He asked me to come see him.'
Tanith looked stunned. 'When did you two meet?'
'Aside from passing each other in the crowds in the Azkaban break-out? We haven't.' Gabriel raised an eyebrow at her. 'You haven't been telling him stories about me, now, have you?'
'Certainly not!' she said, indignant, then seemed to realise that these could have been just the innocent stories of what friends did together, and looked bashful at her denial. 'I mean, nothing serious.'
'I can't imagine what a horse breeder would want with me,' said Gabriel, and didn't even try to pretend he believed that Daedalus Cole was just a horse breeder.
Tanith looked uncomfortable, and he reasoned that she also had a harder time lying to the people she cared about. He was quietly pleased by this and reflected that this, too, was a big change from the past. Once he wouldn't have cared much one way or another.
'He's in his study. I guess you'd better go see him, I didn't mean to keep you waiting. And I've got a Portkey to Italy being made ready for me.'
'You have a good trip,' said Gabriel as he stood up, and meant it. 'Drink lots of good wine. Soak in the rays. Read a good book.'
'I think there's something wrong with me that I associate "books" with Tobias, and I don't fancy doing that right now,' admitted Tanith, and he gave a lopsided smile.
'Then forget the books. Chase Italian men and then break their hearts and come back in a week's time having learnt the true meaning of self-reliance. With a lot of good wine.'
'That definitely sounds like the kind of trip I'd need to bring Ariane and Melanie along for. And I don't think Italy's ready for this.'
He smiled, and shoved his hands in his pockets. 'You'll be okay, on your own, won't you? Because I don't work to a schedule; I can send Jen a message, hop on the Portkey with you, see her again in a week's time…'
'Merlin, no! I wouldn't dream of keeping you two apart any more.' But Tanith looked genuinely touched, and for a moment they stood in the small sitting room and stared at their feet, the pair of them the least emotionally demonstrative of all of their friends. 'I do appreciate it, though, Doyle.'
'I don't really like Italian wine anyway,' Gabriel said, and smirked, and then they were okay again. 'Where's his study?'
'Up the stairway, second door on the left. Make sure you knock.'
'Hey, I was raised properly.' His indignant smirk wasn't that sincere, and it turned surprised when she stepped forward to hug him. It wasn't the first time - but the last time had been before he'd been going to the other side of the world to chase answers to his visions, and her going to Tuscany didn't quite compare.
So he sort of mumbled slightly embarrassed farewells and left, trooping up the stairs and feeling distinctly uncomfortable at the decoration of the Cole estate. It was the kind of casual opulence that he associated with the homes of the pureblooded, and it reminded him uncomfortably of his own family.
When he knocked on the door to Daedalus Cole's study he was relieved to be summoned quickly, and ducked inside to be wrapped in the wood panelling and pictures of ancestors looming around him.
Daedalus Cole had never been a big man, and months in Azkaban had certainly not done him many favours. Six months on he was looking healthier, his face less sunken, though he had kept the now neatly-groomed beard to hide the worst of the shadows. Still, in the huge leather armchair behind his desk, he looked tiny.
And Gabriel was still apprehensive. 'You wished to see me, sir?'
The formal address came out bitter, a familiar and unwelcome taste on the tip of his tongue, and that Daedalus seemed to take it in stride was only worse. But he at least rose to his feet and gestured to the chair across the desk. 'Mister Doyle. Please, sit down. Can I get you a drink?'
'I'm all right, sir.'
'You're sure?' Daedalus crossed the room to where several rather-good looking drinks sat on a table. 'I have some most excellent Scottish Firewhiskey I've been keeping for a particular occasion.'
'Is this a particular occasion, sir?'
'I hope so.' Daedalus poured himself a glass anyway, and instead of returning to his chair, went to lean against the desk, so Gabriel had to crane his neck to meet the man's dark eyes. 'I imagine you're wondering why I invited you here.'
'The thought had crossed my mind.'
'If anyone asks, I hope you will assure them you came simply to comfort my daughter in a time of need, a most conscientious act considering you only just got in the country hours ago. Welcome home, by the way.'
Gabriel shifted his weight. 'Thank you, sir.'
'I'll cut to the chase.' Daedalus took a swig of whiskey. 'I am not just a horse-breeder.'
'I didn't think horse-breeders got thrown into Azkaban, no, sir.'
'I am… I was… a piece on the machinery you yourself were involved in during the war - though my achievements were rather more auspicious before the Dark Lord's regime came into power, and my finest hours came in the First War.' Daedalus' gaze went to the window, beyond which Gabriel could see the paddock of winged horses that had ostensibly been the family's source of wealth. 'I was an information broker and spy. I gathered intelligence from the movements of dark wizards and rerouted it to people who could use it. People like the Ministry, and groups like the Order of the Phoenix, or other such organisations. Like your own Lions of Britain.'
Gabriel blinked, perhaps taken aback most of all by the casual manner in which Daedalus related this. 'I never realised.'
'That was the point,' he said, sipping his whiskey. 'I originally acquired this intelligence by fitting in with Death Eater society. Back then they were all purebloods who still went to the same dinner parties, had the same tea appointments, in between their murderous rampages. It was only in the Second War that they were particularly thugs at home; then I had to adjust my techniques to more pro-active espionage. They knew enough to not trust me, as evidenced by my imprisonment in Azkaban.'
'And now the war's over,' said Gabriel, completely lost.
'Now it is over. Though peace is hardly upon us. No, Garrett Avery won't allow that. And there are those who supported the Dark Lord until he became a champion for genocide; there are plenty of people who fought against him who nevertheless shared in the concepts he adhered to. I doubt they will swallow the sweet pill Shacklebolt feeds them and embrace the New World Order.'
'We could debate these points, sir,' said Gabriel, 'and consider what those people will do, if it will prove a problem for wizarding society. But could you do me the kindness of actually cutting to the chase? What does this have to do with me?'
'What these people will do is exactly the point.' Daedalus set his whiskey glass down with a thunk. 'I cannot continue my work. Certainly not as I used to. I no longer have my best agent, a lot of my old contacts died, and I can hardly sit at a dinner party with high, prejudiced, pureblood society and listen to them as they speak with loose tongues about how nice it would be if someone did something about those filthy Mu- Muggleborns.' He gave a brief, apologetic smile. 'I am done. By choice as much as circumstances; after Azkaban I am happy to retire.'
Then he looked at Gabriel dead-on. 'I want you to replace me.'
'What?' Gabriel gaped.
'If there will be more difficulties, more dissident action, more groups springing up to soothe the dissatisfaction of those who did not get all that they wanted out of the end of the war, it will come from high society. The winds of change are against them, whether it's Shacklebolt or Harrigan who stands at the helm. They will lose what they believe makes them special as more equality laws creep in, and they will not accept it.'
'There's a long way to go,' said Gabriel, 'between not accepting it and committing criminal acts.'
'Quite. Criminal acts are usually obvious. But do you know, in the early days, how many minor misdeeds I managed to avert? Cheap tricks in the Wizengamot, bribery within the Ministry to get the backing for anti-Muggle legislation, plea-bargains to get someone's son off with a slap on the wrist. I fought against the iniquities in our system of government and justice and how they abused it, just as much as I fought against the law-breaking.'
Gabriel peered at Daedalus. '...you must have been pro-Muggleborn for a very long time, sir,' he said, bewildered. 'I'd assumed you were just one of those people who didn't like them being murdered.'
'What made you think that?' he asked, amused.
'Well... your daughter's behaviour when I met her, not to put too fine a point on it. She acted like every other spoilt, prejudiced pureblood.'
Daedalus sighed, looking genuinely guilty. 'I wore my mask in front of even my family. Of my daughters, only Tanith knows the truth. I did not trust children to keep a secret and there has never been the time to tell Evadne. It would be most odd for the man who sat at the dinner table with the Dark Lord's Inner Circle and shared their jokes to have suddenly liberal children, no? Not to mention that would make them targets. I made what provisions I could. Evande shrugged them off - but she is a happy woman, in a happy marriage, who will do nothing more than vote a little conservatively in an election. Tanith?' His gaze swept back to the windows, distant and troubled. 'She has fought more openly and more bravely than I ever did; she almost died for it, and now she is troubled and lost.'
Oh, no. I'm not touching this one.Gabriel just leant back in his chair and remained politely silent, and this paid off as Daedalus eventually cleared his throat and squared his shoulders.
'But we have wandered off the point. That point being you,' said Daedalus. 'You are a man of a good family, with proven principles, with experience of the lies and deceptions that are necessary for this way of life, and you have particular talents.'
'I was never really a field agent in the Lions -'
'I mean your gift of foresight.'
Daedalus had sat down behind his desk by now, and Gabriel gaped at him. 'What did Tanith -'
'Tanith knows?' Daedalus blinked, stroking his beard. 'She is getting good. I must commend her. No, Tanith told me nothing. But your nature as a Seer was not a secret amongst the Lions. Have no fear - nobody is tongue-wagging dangerously.'
'It is my job to know these things.' Daedalus leant forward. 'You are uniquely experienced and positioned to walk the path I walked and do it better. You have the familial connections and the birth, you have the experience of conflict and of lies, and your visions can push this operation to greater heights.'
Gabriel lifted a hand. 'You're saying you want me to do what you did. To immerse myself in pureblood society and spy upon it.'
'For the betterment of wizarding Britain.'
'But surely the fact that it's well known I was a member of the Lions of Britain will make people suspicious of me? Not to mention that I'm in a relationship with the Lions' leader, and the head of the Prosecution Office?'
Daedalus shrugged. 'That cannot be helped. I needed someone I knew could be trustworthy, and what I know of your record speaks for itself. But all the public know is that you fought against the Thicknesse administration. Lots of people did. As I said, even people who think Muggleborns have no place in the wizarding world fought the Dark Lord because they didn't believe in genocide. You're even one of them!'
Gabriel rocked back in his chair, eyes narrowing. 'Don't you presume to know me, sir.'
'But I do presume. Because I know.' Daedalus jabbed a finger at him, his voice then as tense and piercing as Tanith's. 'You never took a stand for principle. You stayed away from the war until you had a vision which made you come back. You repeatedly stated that you did it for your friends, not for the cause. And of your background? You're a pureblood from an old family. You spent your childhood around similar youths. Oh, you never had a taste for murder, and you didn't care enough to ostracise a half-blood like Tobias Grey, and you learnt to hate the Death Eaters. But you're no Muggle-lover.'
He has a contact who was in the Lions. He has to. This hasn't come through a chain, this has come directly. Gabriel's grip on his armrests tensed. 'Is this meant to encourage me to work for you?'
'Not for. At least, not ultimately. It would be best if we worked together for a time so I can grant you access to my contacts, so they know who to talk to, so you know how it works. But then I intend very much to let you do this exactly how you want to. My sole goal is that my life's work does not just come to an abrupt halt. Anything else... is down to you.'
Gabriel got to his feet, sudden and awkward. 'I... have to think about this.'
'By all means.' Daedalus shuffled some papers on his desk. 'All I will ask is that you do not speak about this offer to anyone. I know you will ignore that request and likely speak with Miss Riley on the topic, but I do hope you keep it at that.' His gaze became dark. 'Certainly do not speak of this with my daughter. That is not a request.'
Gabriel looked askance at him, brow furrowed. 'Speaking to me like this is even less encouraging, Mister Cole.'
'I'm not supposed to woo you.' Daedalus steepled his fingers. 'But allow me to put it to you like this: You can continue to wander the world trying to figure out what deep meaning your visions have. Or you can try to ignore them and be a normal person - a normal person, which you are not, and who would forever be second place to your paramour. Or you can do something with your life, and your talent, and make the future better. Especially as I know you are not a man who cares about doing such deeds for the public acclaim. You like the shadows, Mister Doyle. Use them.'
Shaken and bewildered, Gabriel left with only obligatorily polite farewells. Tanith was mercifully gone, and so he could make his way out of the imposing manor house, out to the little patch of nearby woodland he'd been directed to use for apparitions, and swept himself away.
His feet landed in a darkened underground car park. The complex was attached to a tall block of flats in the middle of London which was wizard-owned, and so the car park was almost entirely empty. Very few of the wizards bothered with cars, and those who did were Muggleborns who were either either curious enthusiasts or kept them for emergencies. Otherwise the car park was an ideal place for apparitions and portkeys, being entirely isolated from the public eye.
As such, the lift was mercifully swift in sweeping him up to the upper levels, where his flat sat with a fine view of the city. He could never have afforded it on his own, not even with the money grudgingly given him by parents who refused to have their youngest son, even if he seemed determined to be an unemployed layabout, languish in poverty.
But being the head of the Prosecution Office brought in a tidy paycheck.
Not quite tidy enough to cover the rent themselves. That was where the third flatmate came in.
'Gabe! You're back from globe-trotting! I hope you now know how to unlock all the mysteries the future could have in store for us, especially the next lottery numbers.'
Gabriel managed a wan smile for Katie Bell as he let himself into the flat. It wasn't that he didn't like the girl - she had always been more decent to him than the rest of the Lions, and though the bulk of Jen's friends had made an effort with him, he found her honest and open nature unusually reassuring.
But she was sometimes a bit much to put up with after a long day's travel. Especially when that long day had ended on a peculiar job offer.
Katie and Jen were lounging on the overly-large sofa in the middle of the big, open-plan flat, decorated with Jen's particularly discerning and tasteful eyes, after both Katie and Gabriel had agreed that neither one of them had any place in the task of internal decorating.
'I had a great vision on the way back, in fact,' Gabriel greeted them warmly, crossing the flat and resting his hands on Jen's shoulders. 'There was a balcony - looked a lot like ours, in fact - and we were all there, and then, I threw you off it.'
'It's good to see you too, Doyle. Get me a tea, while you're up.' Katie grinned.
'Sorry,' said Jen. 'We're out of milk.'
Katie made a noise of discontent. 'Fine. Fine. I'll run to the shops. And, you know, duck and cover from the sickeningly heteronormative displays of affection,' she said, getting to her feet.
'I told you to not snark at me with words I couldn't understand,' Gabriel said, sitting down on the sofa.
'I'll speak slower next time!' she called back, but then she was gone and he and Jen were left mercifully alone.
And the moment the front door swung shut he was suddenly pinned on his back on the sofa, his girlfriend atop him, and Gabriel reflected that sometimes it was worth being away for so long if it meant he got welcomed home like this.
'Mmph, it's good to see you too,' he managed to find the gap to say.
'Hush. I'm not done with the displays of affection yet,' she said, silencing him with another kiss, and this time he wrapped his arms around her, holding her close and revelling in how parts of him he always forgot were frozen began to thaw.
Eventually she drew back, planting a kiss on the tip of his nose. 'How was Tibet?'
'Cold. And it didn't have you.'
Jen smirked. 'You're going soft. Did you have trouble with the Portkeys; I thought you'd be back earlier?'
Gabriel hesitated, and wasn't sure if he should feel guilty or not that she didn't seem to pick up on it - but then, Tanith Cole was a professional at seeing through lies, and probably knew how to see through his lies better than anyone else.
'Customs,' he said simply, then pulled her to him again.
It wasn't that he wasn't going to tell her. That wasn't who he wanted to be any more - at least, not with the woman he loved. But he could let the ice melt a little more first.