Dedicated to Gabriel, who was always a kind of hero and who has now gone to his reward
May 22nd, 1993:
I woke this morning and looked to the foot of my bed, expecting to see a large red-gold lump of fur, only to recall that he was no longer with me. Which brought a lump to my throat and the damnable sting of tears to my eyes, even though he has been gone for nearly four weeks. You'll get over it, my well-meaning neighbors murmur when they think I can't hear. He was old, it was his time. Time and past time, yes, I know that. My head knows that, but my heart whispers a different tale. A tale of loyalty and love and friendship that lasted a lifetime. His lifetime. I started keeping a journal two years ago as a way to organize my thoughts, but now I wish to tell a story, the story of a friendship that saved me from making the biggest mistake of my life, that saved me from despair and darkness. But for a dog . . .
June 18th, 1967:
"So, do ya want 'im or not, boy? "Tis the last of the litter, a puny runt. If you don't take 'im, I'll have to get rid of 'im. Don't keep no worthless mutts 'round here," said Mr. Tyms.
He was a big-shot dog fancier, come down from Edinburgh, moved into the big house across from the mill, which had shut down due to the workers being on strike. I knew because my dad was one of them, and he was always sniping about more pay and better hours, and then going to the pub to drown his sorrows, as Mum said. That was something new, usually Dad stayed home evenings, ate dinner, and went to sleep. Mum read or sewed or showed me bits of magical lore, but since Dad had gone on strike, she worked late down at the apothecary. I was bored, and I wanted a dog, always had. I knew we couldn't afford one, but . . .I had come to see the collie puppies anyway, there had been an advert in the paper.
"What do you mean, get rid of 'im?" I asked, staring at the fluffy red-gold collie pup, who was sitting at my feet, looking up at me with wise brown eyes.
"You know," Tyms said, and he mimed wringing someone's neck.
I was horrified. But I didn't doubt Tyms' word. I had heard once in school that was what these rich breeders did with unwanted puppies. I looked down at the puppy, who seemed so alive, and so happy to be with me, and I said suddenly, "How much you want for 'im, sir?"
"Sixpence and you can have 'im, lad. Save me the trouble of drowning the tyke."
"Done," I said, and handed him the money I had gotten for my birthday. Then I picked up the gangly bundle of collie and waved goodbye.
I started for home at a fast pace, before Tyms could change his mind. I was now the owner of a purebred collie, the son of a champion show dog whose name I could not remember. But that didn't matter. I now had a friend and was no longer bored.
The puppy licked my face and I smiled. "Hey, boy. Now I have to think up a good name for you. You'll have to stay in the shed outside, 'cause Mum and Dad won't let me have a dog, but if they don't know you're here, they can't tell me no." I had no idea how I was going to feed the little furball, but I would figure something out. Right now I had to think of a suitable name. A common name, like Rex, or Spike, or Caesar wouldn't do. This was a special dog.
All the way home, near a quarter of a mile, I thought about a name. The collie lay quietly in my arms, panting from the heat, and I was dripping with sweat, but nothing bothered me that day. My arms ached from carrying him, but I didn't want to put him down, he might run off, as I had no lead to put on him. I was wearing my best pair of jeans and a soft blue shirt, all of which had dog hair on them, Mum would have a fit, but I had to look respectable when I went to see Tyms, otherwise he wouldn't have let me see his dogs. Rich people set great store about how one looks.
By the time I reached my street, Spinner's End, my hair was all over my face and I was tired and thirsty. But I had chosen a name for my new pet. "I'm going to call you Gabriel, like the archangel," I told the dog, who wagged his tail and licked me. "Because you're a special dog, and he was special angel."
I went to the shed and put the puppy down inside. Nobody went in here anymore. It was musty and full of old potting soil and dull tools and there was a ratty old blanket on the floor. Gabriel went and sniffed all around and then curled up on the blanket.
"I'll be back with some food and water soon. Welcome home."
I went inside, Mum was upstairs sleeping and I thought Dad was down at the pub. I found some leftover hamburger casserole in the fridge and put it in with a torn up slice of bread in an old chipped bowl. I found an old dented biscuit tin under the sink and put water in it after I washed it out. Then I went and fed my dog.
He ate hungrily and then he pounced on my shoelaces and started to gnaw them. "No!" I cried. "You can't eat those. They're my good shoes, Mum will turn me over her knee if they get ruined."
I quickly found an old piece of rope for him to chew. Then I took off my shoes and socks. No sense in courting trouble, she was going to be ticked about the dog hair as it was. I sighed and wished the dog hair would just vanish and save me from getting my ears chewed off. Lately, Mum and Dad had been in snippy moods and I got yelled at for everything.
Suddenly I got a weird feeling in the back of my head, and then the dog hair just zipped off my shirt and jeans and into a little ball which rolled onto the floor. I stared at it. "Wow! Look at that, Gabriel! I think . . .I think I just did magic!"
He cocked his head. I knelt and ruffled his fur. "I'd tell Mum but then I'd get in trouble. It'll be our secret, okay?" Little did I know, it would be the first of many he and I would share.
I saw him start sniffing and walking in a circle and I picked him up and put him outside on the grass. After he'd gone and done his business I petted him. "Good dog! You're a smart dog, Gaby!" I praised. "And being smart's better than being big. I don't care if you are a runt, like Mr. Tyms says. I'll bet you're smarter than all his dogs put together. I'm small for my age too, but someday I'll be a great wizard and then nobody will ever tease me or call me "Charity Boy" again."
Since Dad went on strike, eight months ago, we'd had to "make ends meet" as Mum said, and so I couldn't get new clothes, but had to make do with seconds from the secondhand shop or else she'd cut down a shirt or two from Dad. I hated how I looked now, it sucked being poor. A year ago I was just another kid, but now I was "that poor Snape boy" and grown-ups gave me looks of pity and kids sneered at me in the park or at school.
I played with my new puppy till it grew dark, then I went and put him in the shed, grabbed my shoes and went back inside. Mum was cooking at the stove, something that smelled like beef stew. She gave me a cursory glance.
"Sev, why are you wearing your good clothes?"
I shrugged. "I felt like it."
"Well, go and get changed and wash up for supper. Your dad will be home any minute and you know he doesn't like to be kept waiting on supper."
"Yes ma'am," I said. I raced upstairs to get changed. Our house was small, the size of a shoebox, but it was cozy and I had never known anything else.
When I came downstairs, Dad was in the kitchen, he smelled of smoke and beer from the pub. His dark hair was tousled and there was something funny about his eyes. "Hi, Dad." I said. I would have run to hug him once, but since the strike, he was often tired and didn't seem to want me hugging him all that much.
"'lo, boy. What you been up to?"
"Nothin'. Just playing."
"Not getting into trouble, are ya?"
"Better not be." He reached out and tousled my hair. "Sit and eat."
Mum had already put bowls of beef stew on the table. Mine was only half full, and I knew better than to ask why. It was all part of "making ends meet" whatever that meant. I ate slowly, I was hungry, but I knew better than to just gulp it down. It wasn't mannerly.
When we had almost finished eating, Mum asked Dad, "Toby, have you spoken to Mr. Wheeler yet about that job?"
"Yeah. He's already filled the position," Dad grunted.
"Oh, well, have you tried . . ." and she started suggesting other places and stuff that Dad should look into, and that made him mad.
"You can't get blood from a stone, woman, now quit nagging me!"
"I'm only trying to help!"
"You'd help more if you quit sticking your nose into my business and let it be!"
"Let it be! If not for me, there wouldn't be food on the table! We can't go on like this, Toby."
"Then maybe you ought to use your Gift and make it better, Eileen!" He was glaring at her now.
"I can't do that. Magic doesn't work like that." She began.
"Aye, that's what you always say. What good is having magic then if you can't use it for something worthwhile, huh?"
I cringed, for I hated it when they quarreled and that's all they seemed to do lately. Dad didn't understand that there were laws about the use of magic on Muggles and if Mum got caught breaking them, she'd go to Azkaban and then where would we be? I'd be stuck with him living off pretzels and crisps and stale beer.
"Tobias, I explained to you before, there are rules—" Mum began, using her "be reasonable" tone.
"Rules! Ha! You only follow rules when it suits you . . .Lady Prince!" he spat. "Fuck the rules!"
I dropped my spoon on the floor. I was forbidden to ever say that word or else I'd get to have a dose of Mum's special mouthwash tonic, which tasted horrible, and I wondered why it was okay for Dad to say it. I bent to pick up my spoon and when I straightened up, Dad was glaring at me.
"What's the matter with you, boy? Too clumsy to hold a spoon?"
"N-No, sir." I stuttered out of fear, for his glare was terrifiying.
"N-Now why are you stuttering, boy?" he mocked me. "Ain't you learned to talk yet, brat?"
I was afraid to open my mouth and remained quiet. I hated when he was like this.
"Answer me, Severus!"
"Tobias, leave him alone!" Mum yelled. "Don't take your temper out on him, he's done nothing to deserve it. Severus, go play outside. Go!"
I grabbed my bowl off the table and raced out the back door. Behind me, I could hear the sound of a bowl breaking and Dad saying more bad words. I wished Mum would wash out his mouth with her mouthwash.
Once outside, I made my way to the shed, and opened it.
Gabriel had been sleeping, but he woke up when I came in, and jumped all over me. "Hey, didja miss me?" I asked. I petted him with my free hand. "Hungry? Wanna share?"
I sat on the ground, and ate a few more spoonfuls of supper and then gave the rest to him. There wasn't much left but Gabriel licked the bowl clean. Then he sprawled in my lap and I hugged him. It felt so good to hug him, he smelled like grass and some kind of puppy shampoo and he was soft and warm. I buried my nose in his fur and whispered, "They're fighting again. I hate it. Why do they have to fight all the time? Why can't they just not talk to each other? Why can't Dad just get some work? I'm so sick of them yelling. It makes my stomach hurt."
I started to cry then, because now I was afraid of my father, who never seemed happy at all, and no matter what I did, I couldn't please him. It had never been that way before. My parents used to love each other once. Now it seemed like they hated each other . . .and I was just in the way . . .maybe they hated me too . . .I hugged my puppy, my forbidden friend, and cried harder.
He put his nose against my neck and licked me, as if to say, don't cry, I'm here. And I shall never leave you.
He never did. I kept Gabriel a secret from my parents until the day my father walked out on us, packed up and left in the middle of the night when I was eight, right in the dead of winter in January and we never saw him again. I was both happy and sad to see him go, happy because at least he wouldn't bully and whack me one for no reason, and sad because even though he had become a stranger I feared more often than not, he was still my father and I needed him. But I guess he didn't need me.
I had been feeding Gabriel scraps from my dinner every night, and as a result was growing much too thin. My mother gave me some horrible Nutrient potion to drink and took me to see a Healer. He said there was nothing wrong with me. My mother knew there was something going on, she was a very smart woman, except in her choice of husbands.
I recall her looking me straight in the eye after we came home and saying, "Severus Snape, what are you up to?"
And I didn't dare lie to her. Lying was a cardinal sin in my house growing up. It was the only thing that would ever earn me a spanking. So I gathered up my courage and I said, "I got a dog, Mum, and he needs to eat too, so I've been sharing my supper with him."
"A dog? But where have you been keeping him?"
"In the shed."
She just looked at me. "Oh, Severus!"
We walked out to the shed together and she met my collie, who had grown too big now for laps and was a gangly scrawny seven-month-old dog. His coat was just starting to grow out and I had tried to keep it combed, but sometimes he got dirt and burrs in it. "His name is Gabriel, Mum, and I bought him with my own money and—"
"How long has he been here?"
"Uh, since June." I said worriedly. I threw my arms about the dog and cried, "He's mine! Don't make me give him away! Please!" The expression on her face was . . .odd. I couldn't figure out if she were angry or not.
She opened her mouth and closed it several times. Then she just shook her head. "Oh, Severus! Next time ask first before you get a pet, won't you?"
"But he would have been killed because he was a runt, Mum. I had to save him. I had to."
"Yeah. He was one of Mr. Tym's dog's pups, and he said he was too small and worthless so he was going to strangle him or something," I said.
"That's disgusting!" she scowled and I knew she wouldn't make me give up my dog. She looked me up and down. "Well, if that's how he would have ended up . . .I can't really make you take him back and since you've been caring for him all the time . . .He can stay. But don't ever let me catch you giving your supper to him again, young man! That dog is going to eat dog food like every other dog and you are not going to starve yourself, understood?"
"I cannot believe you nearly wasted away because of a dog!" she scolded, exasperated.
"Mum, he's not just a dog. He's my best friend," I argued.
"Oh, Severus!" was all she said, and then she shepherded us both into the house, and made me a ham and cheese sandwich, and she watched while I ate every bit of it. Then she conjured a meat bone for Gabriel and he ate it under the table by my feet.
And that was how I acquired the best friend I would ever have, one who would be there throughout all the good and bad times in my life, and who would never abandon me, and in the end save me from my own folly and despair. But more about that later. For now, I am hungry, and need to stretch out my hand before it grows too cramped.
I set down my pen and rose from my desk and made my way into my kitchen. The house felt too quiet and I wondered why until I realized that I couldn't hear the familiar click of toenails padding along behind me. It was a sound I hadn't heard in weeks and had never known I'd miss until now. Sighing, I began to make myself a sandwich and eat it, and my eyes glanced every so often to a now empty spot next to my chair.
This was written in part to help myself get over the loss of losing my sister's collie, who was a family pet, and who recently passed away. Much of the behavior of the dog in this story is based upon the real Gabriel, who was a special dog, and who began life as a runt who was supposed to be an undersized collie. There will be some canon references, but much of this will be AU. This is a story for animal lovers so it will focus mainly on Sev's relationship with his dog. Harry will come into the story later, as Severus narrates certain key events in his life. Enjoy!