Chapter 23 : Old Dog, New Trick
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December 14th, 1994:
Before I knew it, another holiday season had rolled around. The twins had just turned 10 months old, and were crawling everywhere like waterbugs and had even started to stand and pull themselves along by holding onto the edge of a table, chair, or the sofa. Lily, Harry, and I also encouraged them to walk by letting them hold onto our hands. They had very distinct personalities, which had been apparent at birth. Gabriel, despite his auburn hair, which had lightened, ironically, to a reddish blond, did not possess the typical fiery temper that usually went along with the hair. That had been given to his twin, the impetuous fiery Hallie. Gabriel was cheerful and quiet, he was the breeze to Hallie's tempest, and usually had a smile for everyone. He was inquisitive, but also more obedient than his twin. You told Gabe "No!" and he listened . . .most of the time.
Hallie, on the other hand, was my storm queen, she could be sweet one moment and cranky the next. She was more prone to mischief, liked to explore, and hated the word "No." With her huge green eyes, a replica of her mother's, and her black hair, she was stunningly adorable. One crooked smile could make me almost forget I was angry at her for getting into some mischief or other. She had Lily's courage, my temper, and was obstinate as hell. Her grandmother claimed I had been just like her at that age. I think Mum was losing her memory. It was "Hallie, no!" and "Hallie, don't touch!" and "Hallie, don't make me count to three!" all day long.
The twins were almost always together, where one went, the other followed. They were very close, as only twins can be, and often one knew the other was sick or unhappy before we did. If Hallie was being punished by being put in time out for a minute or confined to the playpen for five minutes, Gabriel would stand next to her and look pitiful, and sometimes he would cry as well. The same was true when Gabe was in trouble (which was rarely), Hallie would hug him and glare at us. She was very protective of her twin, and once, when Lily brought them to get their vaccinations, the Healer gave shots to Gabriel first and when he started crying, Hallie leaned over and bit Healer Lunesta on the arm! Hard.
Lily and I can laugh about it now, but when it happened, Lily was mortified.
Harry thought Hallie was awesome for doing that. "You go, baby girl! Don't you let them stick Gabe or you with needles and get away with it."
"Harry, for Merlin's sake, don't encourage her!" Lily had told him exasperatedly.
"Why not, Mum? I hate needles and I can't blame her for biting the Healer. I would have too."
"You did, once or twice. But then your dad was the one who got to be embarrassed."
Actually, when I recall those days, I don't remember so much being embarrassed as being resigned to dealing with a screaming and kicking little maniac. Until I came up with the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) of dosing Harry with a Calming Draught before bringing him to the Healer for his yearly check-up. Then he was drowsy and not inclined to fight like a demon. I told Lily maybe she ought to try that with Hallie next time.
Harry kept wanting to know when they were going to talk, they tend to babble in "babyspeak" to each other and sometimes to the rest of us. I told him that he talked when he was a year old and every baby is different. We would have to wait and see. Well, guess what? Now the twins are talking. At ten months old, Merlin help me! Hallie was first, and unlike most babies, whose first word is Mama or Dada, Hallie's first word was her brother's name—Hawwy. Then she said Mama and Dada. Gabe's first word was Hallie, and then he picked up others on his own. Even though Hallie was the first to talk, Gabe is the clearer speaker of the two, probably because Hallie is impatient and talks too fast to understand sometimes, and Gabe is more deliberate and takes his time.
They seem to pick up a few new words a day and now we all have to mind our mouths around them. The other day, I upended an ink bottle on a test I was marking, and without stopping to think I said, "Dammit it all!" Next thing I knew, I felt a pair of hands grip my knee, and little Gabriel pulled himself up, eyed me worriedly, and then said, "Dammit!" I tried to get him to stop saying it, but he just kept repeating it. Now I have to figure out how to make a baby unlearn a swear word before Lily comes back from her "Shop Till You Drop" weekend with my mother. Or else she's going to hex my lips shut.
Speaking of my mother . . .she did allow my father to pay her a visit at her flat and they had a very long and heated discussion about Tobias' departure and unexpected return, and my mother told him exactly how she felt about what he had done, both to her and to me, said discussion also involved my mother's hand slapping him a good one. She also told him that if he was serious about making amends, he had better obey her rules. And her number one rule was that he was to have no contact with me or my family unless I allowed it. The second was that he always called before he came to her flat and not just show up unannounced. To my surprise, he agreed and since then I have had two or three letters from him. The first one I tore up unread, but Lily persuaded me to read the other two, which contained regrets that he had caused me to think of him as a monster and asked what he could do to make amends to me. I nearly told him to go away and never return. But for my mother's sake, I would try and be civil, at least in writing.
I told him that there was little he could do to make me forget the scars of the past, and that I couldn't forgive him just yet for them either. But I did answer his questions about Lily and the children, and what my occupation was now. Then I asked him some rather pointed questions, such as whether or not he planned to stay here, and warned him that if he hurt my mother a second time, I would hunt him down and hex him into tiny pieces.
Hermione was often over the house, helping Harry to babysit on the rare occasion Lily and I decided to have a night out. She was a reliable sitter, always on time and I could count on her to put the twins to bed on time, unlike Harry, who always seemed to forget that their bedtime was seven o'clock sharp and let them stay up till nine. Then they were cranky and I had to re-establish their sleep schedule again. The last time that happened, I threatened to wake Harry up in the morning and have him deal with a cranky Hallie. He quickly promised that he would never forget their bedtime again.
I found it a constant source of amazement at how fast the twins grew. I had never gotten to see Harry grow from a tiny baby, so this was all new to me. I felt as if I had blinked and three months had passed. Did every parent think they'd gone through a time warp looking back and remembering when they first held their newborn baby in their arms? It seemed like yesterday that I brought them home from the hospital and gave them their first midnight bottle. Or nursed them through their first bout of colic. And teething!
That was the one time Gabriel fussed worse than Hallie, and Hallie kept reacting to her twin's pain and screeching at the top of her lungs. I had to conjure earplugs and was sure I was going to lose my hearing. No, make that I PRAYED to lose my hearing. Gabriel did nothing but fuss and cry and run a low-grade temperature for three whole days. Mum reassured me that sometimes babies had an awful time teething and it was normal.
"Normal?" I had practically shouted at her. "How can it be normal when he's in pain all the time, and nothing I've given him works? Not frozen teething rings, or firewhiskey, or a cold towel. I've even tried Muggle baby medicine. Mother, why has no one ever invented a damn potion to help infants teething?"
"I don't know, Sev. But you need to relax and keep calm, son. Getting upset won't help you any. Or Gabriel. Or Hallie either. Have you tried a mild Sleeping Draught? Or a Numbing Charm?"
I tried both those methods. Poor Gabriel whimpered and tossed restlessly even in his sleep, and woke up Hallie, who then started to wail, and took an hour to get back to sleep. Lily cast the Numbing Charm, and for an hour Gabe slept peacefully, until he woke and we tried to feed him, only to discover that the charm had numbed his jaw and he couldn't suck his bottle. Lily was horrified. "Merlin's pants, Sev! I can't believe I almost made my baby boy starve." She quickly reversed the charm and we were back to square one.
By then I was ready to tear my hair out or bash my head into the wall. Here I was, counted one of the most brilliant potion makers of my generation and I couldn't stop my baby from hurting. Unless . . .I bloody well invented a potion myself that would help. I told Lily that I was going over to the Academy to do some research in their library, and apologized for leaving her with two cranky children.
"Go, Severus. If anyone can invent a potion to help a teething baby, it's you. You can do it. I have faith in you. But please, for the sake of my sanity and your son's, hurry!"
Away I went to the Academy, which though it was technically closed for the night, would admit me as professor any time of the day or night, to use the library and the potions lab. I spent at least an hour in the library, doing research on infants and teething and pain receptors in the gums and mouth and how it was all interconnected. It appeared that I would need a potion that didn't just numb the surface of the gum, but also reduced the swelling and inflammation and blocked the pain receptors in the area for several hours. Then I began looking up several kinds of plants and other magical ingredients which I used in Pain Relieving Drafts and Anti-Inflammatory Drafts.
My only problem was that some of the ingredients were too strong for a five month old baby, and then I had to figure out a new dosage or some other ingredient that wouldn't react negatively with a baby's delicate physiology. It was a damn good thing I knew my reagents and infusions inside and out, for that I owed my mother, who had insisted I know each and every possible reaction and side effect of every ingredient and potion I brewed before I ever set foot in Hogwarts. A lot of ingredients, especially herbs and fungi, could be deadly if prepared improperly or if used in too high of a dosage. Good examples of this were dandelions and foxglove. Dandelion was good for digestive complaints, such as diarrhea, and was also good to eat, but only the flowers, stems and leaves could be safely ingested or steeped for a tea. Eat the root and you would poison yourself. Foxglove, when used in small doses, could prevent angina and heart attacks, but too much and it would kill. I spent a whole semester teaching correct proportions and dosages and what could be mixed in with what and how each ingredient reacted.
So it took me another hour or two to find the correct proportions and combinations, but eventually I got the draft correct, or so I hoped. I really couldn't take another sleepless night of whining, crying, and drooling. If it worked, I would have to throw a party and maybe even invite my father. I would also patent the draft.
It worked. I mixed it in with Gabe's formula and he drank it down. Almost instantly, he stopped crying and rubbing his mouth. Then he just dropped off to sleep, his mouth blessedly free of pain. The whole household slept peacefully that night. The next morning I informed my mother of my newest potion experiment and sent a copy of the formula off to the International Society of Potioneers for a review and a New Invention Patent. Then I had an informal little tea set up, though I didn't bother inviting Tobias. I was not ready to have the man invade my house yet.
He was now renting a small flat near Diagon Alley, so he could be close to my mother, but I had not set eyes on him since that day he had come knocking at my door. I preferred it that way. He sent along a note however, and it read,
Should have known you'd come up with something like that, you always were too smart for your own good. No surprise you're a professor now, inventing stuff like a mad scientist. Tell me, do wizards have a potion for everything? Like cravings and addictions, such as alcoholism? If not, maybe you ought to put that genius brain to use again and make a potion for that.
I snorted. My father, he never could compliment me without criticizing me in the same breath. A potion to cure alcoholism? I snorted. There were some things even magic couldn't do, and besides, there already was a cure—abstention.
I put down my quill and stretched, it was time to take the boxes and bags down from the attic and decorate the house for Christmas. I would save decorating the tree for last, because that was one thing all of us did together, as a family.
Right now was a good time to make a start on the rest though, since the twins were napping. I opened the attic door and spelled all the Christmas boxes to float down into the den. Then I went and found Harry, who was also snoozing, and shook him awake.
He groaned and turned over. "Aww, Dad. Go away, I'm tired."
"No rest for the wicked, boy. Besides, 'tis the season." I told him, which was what I said every year when it came time to do the decorating.
"I'm playing Scrooge this year," Harry muttered rebelliously. "Bah, humbug!"
"Oh?" I crossed my arms over my chest and glowered at him. "Then perhaps I ought to return a certain son's presents since he doesn't believe in celebrating Christmas anymore."
"What?" he squeaked, sitting up. "You can't do that! That's . . .cruel and unusual punishment . . .even for you!"
"If you're not in the den by the time I count to five . . .guess whose presents won't be under the tree Christmas morning." I threatened silkily, and then I strode from the room and back into the den to wait.
About two seconds later, I heard his feet thudding downstairs.
He arrived panting and his hair was disheveled, but he was there. "You're evil, Dad!"
"Quit being cheeky, Master Impudence," I warned. Then we began to sort through the boxes.
Half-an-hour later we had decorated the den and the hallway, and were starting to separate strings of different colored lights, which had been charmed by Lily long ago to dazzle the eye and make people stop and stare when they walked past our house, when Harry let out a soft cry.
"What's the matter?"
"Look at this, Dad." He had pulled out a magazine sealed in a plastic cover. He slid the periodical out, it was still glossy and the pages tight and crisp, despite it being two years old. It was a magazine called Top Dog, and on the cover was a photo of an adorable beagle puppy. In the lower right hand corner was a smaller photo of a much beloved collie. "Remember when I entered Gabe in that treat contest?"
"I do. You nearly bankrupted me buying treats to train him."
"But it was worth it." Harry defended, a far away look in his eyes.
I couldn't deny that, and continued staring down at the picture of Gaby, while I recalled the events that had led to him getting on the cover of a popular dog magazine.
"Is there anything else that we need from the store?" Lily asked as she prepared to go to the supermarket.
I shook my head no, but Harry called from the other room, "Yeah, Mum. We need some more treats for Gaby. The Tastee Treat kind."
"Since when does Gabe have a preference?" I wondered. "He always ate everything."
"He likes these the best, Dad," Harry argued. "I know because he always eats them first and the other kinds we have, like the Beef Krunchies, second."
"Dog's getting picky in his old age, huh?" I muttered.
Lily smiled. "What does it matter, Sev? Gabriel has done so much for us, what's a certain brand of dog treat?"
She was right. "A small enough price to pay for his loyalty."
Lily nodded. "I'll see you in a bit. Harry, don't eat too much junk food, I'll be cooking dinner when I get back."
"What are we eating, Mum?" Harry asked.
"Liver and onions," Lily joked.
Harry made a gagging noise. "Gross! You've got to be kidding. If you're really making that, I'm eating over Hermione's."
"Well! If that's how you feel about my cooking . . ." she pretended to be insulted.
"You cook real good, Mum, but liver's disgusting and it makes me barf. And Dad hates it too, right, Dad?"
Nice one, Harry. Get me involved, I thought, rolling my eyes. "Liver is not one of my top ten choice of foods to eat for dinner." I said diplomatically. I was careful not to insult my beloved, or else I would have to cook, and while I was a decent cook, Lily was better.
"The only one who'll eat liver is Gabriel," Harry added. "You don't want me to starve, do you? I'm a growing boy."
"You're a wretched imp, is what you are, Harry James!" Lily tossed back. "Trying to guilt trip me into making shepherd's pie tonight."
"You're making shepherd's pie?" Harry cried, sounding relieved. "Yum! That's one of my favorites. Are you making it with steak or lamb?"
"Depends on what' s available," Lily answered. Then she hurried out the door, smirking.
Gabriel padded into the kitchen to get a drink from his bowl. He barked and shoved the bowl with his nose, telling me it was empty.
"All right. Here you go, old man," I pointed my wand and a stream of fresh cool water flowed out of it and into his bowl.
Gabriel enjoyed drinking as the jet of water fell into the bowl, though as soon as it filled up, I canceled the spell. He happily lapped up water.
"Dad, you have to teach me that spell," Harry said, coming into the kitchen as well.
"The incantation is Aguamenti," I told him. "Why don't you practice it while you water your mother's flowers and the potions garden?" I suggested slyly, that way he could both practice and complete a needed chore at the same time.
"Okay," he agreed. "Can you show me the wand movement again?"
I did, performing it slowly twice more. Harry pulled his wand and copied me.
I corrected his wrist movement, it was too jerky, and then nodded. "You have it. Now go practice."
He stuck his wand in the back pocket of his jeans and started to head outside when I grabbed him by the shoulder.
"Harry, how many times have I told you—never carry your wand in your back pocket?" I demanded sharply. "You could sit on it or accidentally cast a spell and hex your own ass. Would you like to be missing a significant chunk of your behind? Because that happened to a boy I went to school with."
Harry gulped. "No. I forgot."
I pulled his wand free and handed it to him. "Where's your wand holder?"
"Uh . . .in my room."
"Get it and put it on."
He Summoned it and strapped it on his belt, then put his wand in it. "Next year I want an arm sheath, like yours."
"When you remember to properly care for your wand, you shall have one," I told him. Lately he had been growing careless with his wand and that was not a good habit to get into. I had a quick release sheath on my upper arm, designed to release my wand with a single flex of my bicep.
"I take care of my wand!" he objected.
"What you just did is not taking care of your wand, boy, and you know it. Now get!" I hurried him on his way with a mild smack to his stubborn arse.
He whistled for Gabriel as he headed outside. Gabe walked out the door, stately and dignified, as only a collie can be, even one as old as Gaby.
Little did I know that Harry had an ulterior motive when he requested Lily buy Gaby special dog treats.
I learned about his little scheme the next afternoon, when he went outside again with Gabriel, supposedly to practice the water calling charm again. I happened to look out the window and instead of seeing Harry casting Aguamenti I saw him placing three kinds of dog treats in front of Gabriel, who was sitting alertly and watching the proceedings with all the gravity of a priest preparing Mass for communion.
I frowned, wondering just what in Merlin's name he was up to now.
Then I saw Harry cover the treats with three paper bowls and shuffle them about. Gabriel watched intently, waiting.
"All right, Gabe. Find the Tastee Treat. Find it!"
The collie stood, sniffed a few moments, then nudged the third bowl and barked.
Harry lifted the bowl with a quick "Wingardium Leviosa!" "You're a winner! Good boy."
Gabriel gobbled the treat in two seconds.
"Wanna try again?"
"I thought you said you were going to practice magic, not practice feeding my dog till he becomes a fat pig." I remarked, coming out to stand on the back porch.
Harry jumped at the sound of my voice and looked about guiltily. "Uh . . .well . . .you see . . .I was reading the latest issue of Top Dog that came in the mail yesterday and there was this contest in there . . . ."
"A contest sponsored by the company that makes Tastee Treats. They say their treats are so good, dogs will search for them. So they want to have a contest for their next mascot and it's open to any dog of any breed and age. All I have to do is teach Gabe how to find the treats and write an essay on why my dog is special enough to feed Tastee Treats."
"Is that why you insisted your mother buy them?"
"Partly. But the other reason is because Gabe really likes them. Watch. It's true."
He repeated the trick with the bowls and treats again.
Once again, Gabriel unerringly located the right treat.
"See? He loves them."
"He loves food. Right, chow hound?" I asked, rumpling his fur affectionately. He wagged his tail and thrust his nose into my palm.
Harry placed a Beef Krunchie, a Tastee Treat, and a Milk Bone down and said, "Go ahead, Gaby. Eat 'em up!"
The collie didn't need to be told twice. He went and bolted down the treats, but I did notice that he chose the Tastee Treat first.
"He picked it first. Told you he loves them best."
"All right. You've got a point. What are the rules for this contest? Is there a deadline? A fee? Some kind of hidden clause that says we have to buy their product exclusively?"
"Uh . . .the essay is due by June 1st and . . .I don't know about that other stuff. Let me get the magazine."
It turned out that the fee of 20 pounds was waived if you bought twelve bags of treats and showed the receipts as proof, submitting them along with the entry form and the essay. The essay had to be at least five hundred words and no more than fifteen hundred words, typed or written in legible handwriting, and the contest was open to all dogs and children 8-12 years of age. A snapshot of the dog competing also had to be sent in. The contest was going to be held in the same place the Manchester dog show had been in my youth. It was on June 12th.
The contest was in two parts, the first part was to test which dog could find the most treats in five minutes when they were hidden all over and the second tested the dog on how quickly he could find Tastee Treats when they were hidden along with other leading brands of dog treats. There was no doubt that my dog could locate the treats, but he would be at a disadvantage against younger and faster dogs.
"Harry, are you positive you want enter this contest?"
"Sure I am. Gabe can do it. He'll make a great mascot for their dog treats." My son said stoutly. "Right, Gaby?"
Gabriel barked an affirmative.
"I hope you're right, Harry. You know what they say about old dogs."
"Gabriel can learn any trick ever invented."
"Oh, he's smart enough. But I'm afraid he'll be humiliated when the other dogs out run him. He is twenty-four years old, Harry." I reminded him.
"So? He can take them, Dad. May I enter?"
"You're not to neglect your homework and studies for this, am I clear?" I said sternly.
"Yes, sir. I'll do all my homework first and then train Gabriel."
"Then you may send in the entry form and the receipts and photo any time you're ready."
"I'll do it today. Would you hold Gabe for me while I hide the treats?"
I gently restrained my collie, gripping his collar while Harry hid various treats about the yard.
At Harry's shout, I released my dog. "Go find the treats, Gabe."
He performed wonderfully, at least in my eyes, finding all the Tastee Treats in under five minutes.
Then he got to eat them as a reward.
Harry practiced with Gabriel for two weeks, all the way to the deadline, which was June 5th.
On the big day, all of us, including my mother, drove to Manchester. Entering the civic center again brought on a rush of déjà vu, as well as memories of that long ago dog show. Only this time we were spectators. I went with Harry to check in and sign a permission form allowing him and Gabriel to compete.
Gabe had been brushed till his coat shone like copper and snow and was smooth as silk. Old as he was, his coat was still magnificent. And he still carried himself like the champion he was. Once Harry and Gabriel had registered, an official took them into a separate room for some preliminary testing. As it turned out, there were about seventy-five contestants who had been accepted to compete out of the many who had entered. This number was further winnowed down by the individual tests they gave each dog.
By the time they were done, the field had been narrowed by two thirds, as some of the dogs had failed to find the dog treat in the mock house set up which had been provided. Now only twenty-five dogs were going to compete in the public venue. One of them was my collie.
As I watched from the stands, as nervous as if I and not my son were down there on the floor, I carefully looked over the competition. There were several toy breeds—poodles, Pomeranians, pugs, and Malteses. There were also several hunting breeds and terriers, Scottish terriers, fox terriers, spaniels, two Labradors, and a young beagle. There was a German shepherd and blue heeler and Gabriel. Out of them all, I was most worried about the beagle, the two Labs, the Brittany spaniel, the heeler and the shepherd. The hunting breeds had the best noses and the heeler and shepherd were also very quick and intelligent and had stamina. Thank goodness there were no border collies or Shelties.
One by one, each dog came up and was put through two scenarios, one for finding the most treats under five minutes and again for how fast he or she found the treats that were hidden. One by one, dogs were eliminated based upon their scores, until it came down to the final five. The Pomeranian, the blue heeler, the beagle, the yellow Lab, and Gabriel. Once again they were timed on speed. The Pomeranian and the Lab faltered and were eliminated.
The blue heeler did very well.
Only the small beagle and Gabriel were left to compete.
I crossed my fingers and was tempted to cast a simple energy boost on my dog, who I knew must be tiring after all the excitement.
"Severus, don't you dare!" my mother hissed at me in warning.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said, pretending innocence. Damn, how did she know?
She gave me a Look. "Like hell you don't. They don't need your little pick me up, they can win on their own."
Abashed, I slid my wand back up my sleeve.
Lily gave me a resigned look and chanted, "Come on, Gaby. Show them how an old dog can learn a new trick. Come on!"
Harry led Gaby into the ring where the mock yard setting was, pausing once to glance up at us, his green eyes full of hope. He knelt and removed Gabriel's lead and gave him the command to "Search!"
Gabriel found all fifteen treats in two minutes and two seconds.
Which was two seconds faster than the blue heeler. The crowd went wild.
Lily was on her feet, clapping and cheering. "Hooray, Gabriel! Go, Harry!" She was grinning from ear to ear. Then she socked me in the shoulder. "Sev, what's the matter with you? Why are you just sitting there?"
"Because, dear heart, they haven't won yet. There's still one more dog left to compete."
"Who cares? Whoever thought he would make it this far, an old dog like him? Get up, Severus, and cheer for your dog and son." She grabbed my wrist and tugged.
"Yes, Severus, don't be such a stickler for protocol," Mum said and then she too began clapping loudly.
I stood and clapped too, though I felt we were celebrating our victory prematurely. The final results were not yet in and that little beagle was a powerhouse of energy, like a ticking bomb. Then again, Gabriel had performed extremely well, all things considered. So had Harry. He didn't act nervous at all out there with all these people staring down at him. I suspect there was a little of James Potter's natural showmanship there.
Eventually, the applause died down and the announcer waved Gabriel and Harry off to the side so the last dog could compete. I yanked Lily back into her seat. She elbowed me in the ribs.
"Now, let's see how well our final contestant can do. Please welcome Comet and Polly Preston!"
There were cheers for the ten year old and the little beagle.
She gave the command, "Comet, search!"
The tricolor beagle took off. He was a blur as he raced through the course, ears flopping. I couldn't help but admire the little bloke, for they say that nothing comes between a beagle and his quarry . . .or his food dish. They were right on both counts.
Comet completed the round in under two minutes.
When the scoreboard flashed the winning time, there was plenty of cheering and some groans too.
Lily worried her lip. "Poor Harry! He's going to be so disappointed, and Gabe too. But they gave it a good try."
"I expected this. It's too much to ask of the old boy, he's worn out. I warned Harry that a younger dog might beat him."
"Nonsense, Severus!" Mum disagreed. "Gabriel might have lost because he was outrun, but he was never outclassed. Anyone watching him can tell." She pointed to my son and my dog.
Harry was clapping and Gabriel was wagging his tail. The Master of Ceremonies called them forward, as well as the boy with the blue heeler, who was named Dodger. Harry walked over to Polly and shook her hand and then knelt to pet Comet, who bayed and licked his nose.
Gabriel, ever dignified, sat and offered the young lady a paw. Then he nuzzled Comet and a photographer snapped their picture.
It would appear in the Manchester Courier morning edition, with the caption Gracious Even in Defeat.
Except it wasn't really a defeat.
The CEO of the Tastee Treat company spoke to each of the final three andComet was chosen as the mascot, but Gabriel and Dodger received three months worth of products and twenty-five pounds. He was most impressed by the fact that Gabriel was actually fourteen years old, which was the age we had put down on the form, since we couldn't reveal his true age.
"It's absolutely amazing that a dog of this age was able to compete in a trial like this and do so well. Astonishing!"
"He's a purebred, and the best collie ever," Harry told him.
"So you said in your essay, which was extremely well written for a boy of your age. Would you mind if we ran a short piece in Top Dog about your remarkable collie, Mr. Potter?"
"Capital! I'll mail you an issue when it comes out. It's a pleasure to meet you and Gabriel."
A week later we received the current issue of the magazine. On the cover was Comet, the new mascot of Tastee Treats, but Gabriel was also featured under the article titled Who Says You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?
Lily returned home that night, exhausted but happy. She had enjoyed her weekend out with my mother immensely and was delighted to see we had begun decorating without her prompting. She said it looked very good and we could start on the tree tomorrow.
She helped me bathe and rock the twins to sleep and then bid Harry good night before retiring to our room.
I joined her there a few minutes later, two cups of cocoa steaming in the air behind me.
"Oh, is that for me?"
"Who else?" I floated the mug over to her.
"You spoil me, Sev." She sipped the cocoa. "Mmm! Heaven."
I seated myself crosslegged on the bed next to her and sipped mine. "Not bad."
"Perfectionist," she teased, tweaking my nose.
I gave her a wry smile. "My fatal flaw."
"I love you anyhow, Severus Snape."
"Thank heaven for that," I chuckled. I touched my mug to hers. "Here's to a good holiday season. I hope."
"Are you worried about your father?" she guessed.
"A little. I just hope he doesn't have the brass to show up on Christmas Day without warning."
"Severus, I know how you feel about him, but . . .it is Christmas. Do you think you could handle an hour in his company? Like during dessert? If I were there and so was your mum? It would seem rude to . . . exclude him from everything."
I scowled. I feared seeing him might sour my own holiday season. But my initial animosity had thawed in the past months. I would never forget and I didn't quite forgive, I would never trust him alone with my children, but I didn't want to look like a total bastard. "Was this my mother's idea?"
"Partly. And partly mine. She's promised to make sure your father behaves himself."
"Like I give a damn what he says," I snorted.
Lily flashed me a knowing look. No matter how much I denied it, there was a part of me that still longed for his approval, and probably always would.
I drank the rest of my cocoa. I could refuse, wanted to refuse, but then I would look like a coward. This was my house, and if Tobias got out of line, I could kick his sorry arse out. That would give me great pleasure, I thought wickedly. Besides, I couldn't run from the past forever. And who knew, maybe Tobias really was making an effort to change. "One hour, for dessert."
Lily hugged me. "Don't worry, love. I'll punch him out if he says one nasty comment about you."
"I'd pay twenty Galleons to see that," I smirked.
She caught sight of the magazine over my shoulder, which was on my nightstand. "Dear Gaby!" she whispered, tears coming to her eyes. "How I wish he were here now. He would have loved the twins."
"Yes. But at least in heaven he doesn't have to worry about getting his tail yanked out by Hallie or his fur eaten by Gabriel." I replied gruffly.
Lily laughed quietly. "True. I hope you like what I got you for Christmas."
"Why wouldn't I?" I lifted an eyebrow in amusement. "Have I ever complained about a gift you gave me?"
"You never wear that terry bathrobe I got you when we first got married."
"That's because it's yellow and black plaid. It makes me look like an oversized bumblebee."
"Why didn't you tell me that when you first opened it? I would have returned it."
"I didn't want you to get insulted."
"I can change the pattern on it."
"Don't worry about it, Lily. You know what I usually wear after a bath." I purred.
She gave me an arch look. "And it suits me just fine, my dark prince." Her hand caressed the back of my neck.
I responded to her silent invitation by locking the door and banishing all our clothing. We could celebrate the holiday early.
What do you think Lily bought Sev for Christmas?
How did you like the treat contest?
Though I love Gabe dearly, a beagle would definitely win that contest over him, I know because I have a beagle.
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