Chapter 24 : A Peaceful Goodbye
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December 24th, 1994:
Christmas Eve dawned and I woke feeling restless and out of sorts. Perhaps it was because I had been kept awake all night by a cranky Hallie, who refused to go to sleep unless I held her and rocked her. There were times when my daughter really tested my patience and last night was one of them. When I finally got to sleep it was around two in the morning and thus I was tired and out of sorts.
I knew that Lily wanted to get a lot of the cooking for Christmas Day dinner out of the way, and I had a steak pie I wished to make for dinner tonight, as well as a chocolate custard tart, which was one of the few desserts I could make well. But I did not go downstairs and begin getting ingredients. Instead, I went to my desk and took out my journal and quill, turned to the next blank page, and then prepared to write the final chapter of Gabriel's story.
My hand shook and I almost splattered ink all over.
I did not want to remember the last moments I had shared with my magnificent dog, who had been more than a mere pet, but my most steadfast and loyal friend, who had loved me without reservation, even through the darkest time in my life, who had endured my temper and my sarcasm without complaint. No, I did not want to remember, but in spite of myself, I did.
April 21st, 1993:
That morning began with a glorious burst of sunshine, I recall it well because I was nearly blinded when I drew open the drapes at my bedroom window and peered out across the lawn. Everything was in bloom, especially in my herb garden. It would be a good day to gather and harvest all my plants. I could get some much needed fresh air, I had been closeted in the house brewing and finishing my midterm essay marking. I would make Harry help too, it would be a good refresher course for both Herbology and potions, and Gabriel would enjoy the spring sunshine.
Lately, the old collie's arthritis had been acting up, and sometimes he could barely lift himself up in the morning. I had taken to rubbing a special liniment into his sore muscles at night, trying to relieve the stiffness. But I knew such measures were temporary. He was also having a hard time climbing the stairs and it took him ten minutes now where it used to take two, and once or twice I carried him because he was too tired to make it up on his own. The last time I had done so, he had looked at me guiltily, as if begging my pardon for having to do such things for him.
"It's all right." I told him. "We all get old, Gabe. One day I'll probably need a cane to help me walk."
Though I dreaded the day when he might not be able to rise at all and I might have to make a terrible choice—to prolong his life or to let him go peacefully into the night.
I looked at the foot of my bed. My collie snoozed, snoring loudly. Once he would have woken at the first sounds of my stirring and been at my side in a flash, ready for the next adventure. Now he was content to dream in front of the hearth, or upon my comfortable bed, and I had to shake him awake.
"Gabriel. Wake up! Let's go for a walk."
He yawned and shook himself. His brown eyes were still alert and wise, and despite the pain, he wagged his tail and barked softly. I waited until he had slipped from the bed and landed on the floor before walking quietly from my room and down the stairs.
Foot by foot, Gabriel followed. He placed each paw carefully now, since the day he had missed a step and tumbled down the whole flight to lie panting and whimpering at the bottom. Harry had found him there moments later and had yelled for me to come at once. Thank goodness he wasn't badly injured, just bruised and sore. I gave him some pain medication the vet had given me for his joints and he had slept the rest of the day.
I paused in the middle of the staircase, waiting for him to catch up. "Come on, old boy. You can do it. Nice and easy," I coaxed.
Finally we were down and I opened the door to the back yard and let him outside. I watched him move stiffly to a certain spot in the yard and then turned away to make some coffee. It was around six AM and I needed that first quick jolt of caffeine badly. By the time the coffee was done, Gabe was scratching at the door to come in.
As I sat and sipped my coffee, he drank some water and then stretched out by my feet. I made myself some ham, toast, and eggs. I gave the leftovers to my collie, as usual, but for some reason he merely picked at them. "Hey. You love ham and eggs." I said, thrusting the plate under his nose.
He sniffed, gave it a token lick, then turned away.
"What's wrong? Are you feeling sick?"
I looked at his eyes, examined his nose, and gently felt his stomach. Nothing seemed amiss.
I withdrew the plate. Lately he had been losing his appetite, but perhaps he would eat more later.
He lay down again, putting his head on his paws.
"I'm going to wake Harry. You just take a nap." I ordered him.
Harry made all the usual complaints about getting up, until I told him he could have the afternoon free to fly if he helped me this morning in the garden. Otherwise he'd spend the afternoon pickling rat spleens. He wisely chose to help me.
I made him a quick egg and bacon sandwich, noting with some alarm that my collie seemed uninterested in food. Normally he would be at my side, drooling and begging. Today he just watched me. Perhaps he had an upset stomach. I would give him a dose of ginger ale and bitters and see if that didn't perk him up.
After breakfast, all three of us trooped outside to the garden. Gabriel went and lay down beneath the oak tree, his favorite spot to observe the comings and goings of his human companions. As a puppy, I used to scold him for digging in the garden, but those days were long past. Harry went to the shed to collect the gathering baskets, gloves, and shears. Some wizards harvested their plants with magic, but I had never liked that method. For one thing, it made you use up magical energy that could have been spent elsewhere, and two, it left a residue upon the plant that might interfere with your potion. So I harvested the old fashioned way, by hand. It was simple and effective.
The morning sped by and before I knew it, it was lunchtime. I told Harry to go inside and make some sandwiches and he obeyed, for he was starving. I quickly returned the gardening tools to the shed and sent my cuttings, roots, bulbs, and so forth down to my lab. Then I went to sit next to my faithful collie, who had spent much of the time sleeping.
He moved and put his head in my lap. I scratched behind his ears, in the good place. He gave a sort of sigh and snuggled close to me. "Tired, aren't you, old fellow? Or maybe you're hungry now?Huh? Want a treat?" I quickly conjured a Tastee Treat, his favorite, and he politely chewed it. But it seemed to me that he only did it to please me. I felt a cold rush of fear. I knew that most animals stopped eating when they were close to death. But surely not. Gabriel didn't look sick at all.
I quickly cast a diagnostic on him. He wasn't running a fever and his pulse and heart rate were good. I breathed again. Harry called us in for lunch and I gave Gabriel a dose of ginger ale mixed with bitters. We ate, then Harry said he was going flying and I wanted to go and prepare some of my ingredients. Gabriel went to lie on the rug near the fire, which was burning gently over the applewood logs, making the room smell sweet.
I knelt and stroked his head. "I'll be back in a bit. Pleasant dreams."
Then I went down into the basement.
When I emerged from my cave, as Harry liked to call it, several hours later, I found my son asleep on the sofa, one hand dangling off, his glasses still on his head. I removed them and put them on a table, put his hand on top of his chest and covered him with a light blanket.
I glanced over at Gabriel, who was still in the same spot as before. Once again, a strange sense of foreboding struck me. I walked over to him.
He lifted his head and looked at me. Our eyes met and I saw something I had missed before. A luminosity, as though he gazed on something beyond this world. I felt the back of my neck prickle. No. Say it isn't so. His tail thumped lightly on the floor as I sat down and gathered him into my arms. I could feel his heartbeat still but it was slowing and his breathing was erratic, coming in soft shallow gasps.
He tilted his head up and once again I met his eyes.
They were filled with an odd sort of wisdom and knowing, peace and love.
"Must you go?" I whispered thickly.
He made a soft noise in his throat, "talking" in that odd way he had. I had never really comprehended it before, but I did then. Forgive me, Sev. But I am tired. So very tired.
My throat seized up. "Please," I hissed, feeling the shadows loom ever closer. Please don't go. Stay with me just a little longer. My fingers tightened upon his ruff, as if by gripping tight I could stave off the inevitable. I was being selfish, asking what I did, but I couldn't help myself. I was not ready to let him go, and for me he would stay.
He licked my cheek.
I buried my face in his fur and breathed in the familiar scent of him. My whole body was taut with fear and denial. This couldn't be happening. Not now. It was too soon. A moment later I realized how cruel and selfish I was being. I had prolonged his life far beyond the age of a normal dog, and like a child, had assumed he would live forever because of it. But the potion must be breaking down now, after all these years. I could use more magic, maybe give him another six months, but in the end the result would be the same. My collie's body was worn out, and no amount of potions or magic could restore it.
But how could I bear to lose him?
A choked sob escaped me.
Gabriel turned his head and licked me again, whining. Don't be sad. I shall always be with you, Sev. Love never dies. Only the body surrounding it. His breathing was shallower now. Can't you feel it?
Our eyes locked and for a single instant I could feel a sense of utter peace and light enfold me. It filled me with warmth and love and banished the grief and sorrow. For they could not exist inside such serenity and joy. Is this what awaits you?
He barked softly. Yes. And you as well, someday. It is what was promised.
A paradise without end. And all dogs go to heaven.
Of course. Whyever would you think otherwise? We will meet again, Sev.
Will you wait for me?
I bowed my head. I always loved you. Even when I yelled at you.
Silly wizard. I have always known. He gave a great shuddering breath.
I kissed the top of his forehead. I knew then what I had to do. Go, Gaby.
Are you sure, Sev?
Mutely, I nodded. He would understand. He always did.
I felt more than saw his spirit leave his fading body in a burst of golden light. Squinting, I saw it run, paws flying, down a bridge of rainbows. On the other side he turned and faced me. Remember, I'll be waiting.
I felt the dog in my arms go still, the great head fall against my chest as the last breath left his body.
It took me several minutes to realize what had happened. My mind refused to comprehend it. He had been with me over half my life, how then would I go on without him? The joy I had felt moments before evaporated, like a popped soap bubble. He was gone. I would never have him by my side again. And neither love or magic would bring him back. Grief rose up and attacked me savagely.
Still holding the now limp red-gold body, I wept, tears flowing endlessly down my face into his fur. Because only then did I realize just how much I would miss him.
I don't remember how long I sat there, lost in a mire of sorrow , unable to see through the tears, my breath catching harshly in my throat.
Until I heard Harry call, "Dad? What's wrong? Why are you sitting there holding Gaby?"
When I didn't answer Harry came over and touched my shoulder. "Dad?"
I kept my eyes fixed on Gabriel.
Harry knelt then and bent to touch the collie. He whimpered in fear. "Dad, Gaby's not moving. He's not breathing. Dad! Do something!"
"I can't. He's gone, son." I made myself say it.
"No! Bring him back! He can't be dead. He was fine this morning. He was fine." His voice cracked upon that last word and then he was crying too.
I reached out and pulled him against my side and together we mourned the passing of our best friend, who had changed all of our lives for the better.
Our lives would never be the same.
An hour later I managed to pull myself together enough to bring the body to the vet for him to cremate, since we couldn't bury the body for health and sanitation laws didn't permit it. The vet was sympathetic and said it would be done in about a week. I just nodded dully. I was numb with grief, hollow with pain, despite the knowledge that Gabriel was with the angels now, across the rainbow bridge.
It was an ache that would take months to subside and over a year to assimilate.
But now, as I write this final tribute to an extraordinary dog, I feel at last a measure of peace, not unlike the last moments I shared with him. And I know in my heart that he is there, on the other side of heaven, waiting patiently for me to join him.
December 24th, 1994:
I brushed a tear away as I wrote the final sentence of Gabriel's story. Then I placed my quill inside my silver inkwell and blew on the page gently to make the ink dry. One day I might let Lily, Harry, and maybe the twins read it. But for now it was private. I carefully shut it and placed it in my desk drawer.
I could hear Hallie and Gabe whimpering and fussing from the nursery and I rose to greet them.
"Daddy! Daddy!" they cried when they saw me. They were standing up holding onto the bars of their crib.
"Good morning, Hallie and Gabe. How are you doing?" I smiled back at them.
"Wet." Hallie informed me.
"Hungwy," her twin added.
"All right. Let's get you cleaned up and then we can have breakfast." I picked up Hallie first and changed her, since Gabriel was more patient.
She wriggled a bit and I scolded softly, "Stay still, Hallie Eileen."
"All done?" she asked as I fastened the nappy.
"All done." I set her down and picked up Gabriel.
"Where's Mummy?" he asked.
"Shhh!" Hallie put a finger to her lips.
"Yes. You have to be quiet."
"Shhh!" Gabriel imitated.
Hallie tugged on my pant leg. "Hawwy?"
"He's sleeping too, the lazy bum."
"Shhh!" she said, then chanted, "Lazy bum! Lazy bum!"
Gabriel joined her, giggling.
I carried them downstairs to a chorus of "Lazy bum!"
What had I started?
They finally stopped talking when I gave them some pieces of buttered toast and dry cereal they could eat with their fingers, plus a cup of milk.
It took them ten minutes to eat and then I had to wash off their sticky faces and hands.
Then I was at a loss. I couldn't cook while they were wandering about, they would be sure to get into mischief. I didn't want them running all over playing loudly either. What could I do to keep them occupied? Finally I said, "Hallie, Gaby, why don't we sit down on the couch and read a story?"
The twins loved being read to.
"Yay!" Hallie clapped her hands. "A 'tory!"
"A 'tory for me!" crowed Gabriel.
"No, me!" Hallie asserted.
"No, me!" Hallie yelled and went to smack Gabriel.
I grabbed her hand. "No! No hitting!"
Hallie's face crumpled. "Daddy mad?"
"Only if you hit your brother."
She sniffled. Then she kissed her twin on the cheek.
"Very good. Now, let's go into the den and listen to the story. It's for both of you."
I Summoned the family photo album from the bookshelf and sat down with a twin on either side and showed them a picture of Gabriel.
"Doggie!" Gabriel pointed.
"Yes. This is Gaby, a very special dog," I began, telling them a little bit of his story as I showed them the pictures in the album.
They might have been too young to understand everything I said, but they were fascinated by the pictures of me, Lily, Harry, Eileen, and Gabriel. Each new photo was met with squeals of excitement as they named everyone in the picture.
"Mummy! Daddy! Hawwy! Gamma! Doggie!"
"Sev? What are you doing?" Lily asked sleepily as she entered the den. She was still in her nightshirt and slippers, a soft blue robe thrown about her slender frame, her hair tousled from sleep.
I looked up from the album and beckoned her over. "I'm introducing our children to an old friend."
Lily came and stood behind the couch, resting her arms on the back and leaning over my shoulder. She laughed when she saw a picture of Gabriel jumping in a pile of leaves after Harry, who had been ten at the time. "Oh, Sev. He was such a beautiful dog."
"Mummy, doggie!" Hallie told her, pointing.
"Gaby!" his namesake added.
"Yes, love. That was your daddy's special collie."
"Where he?" asked Hallie.
"Honey, Gaby is in heaven." Lily told her.
But I pointed to the box on the mantle. "Yes, but a part of him is right there, in that box." I held Hallie up so she could see it.
"That not doggie!" she shook her head.
"No, but . . .ah, never mind. You're too little to understand yet. I'll explain it when you're older." I turned to Lily. "I thought looking at the album would keep them quiet and out of mischief."
"It was a good idea, Sev. And now, I'm going to have a cup of coffee and get ready to start cooking."
"Let me know if you need help, Lil. I'll wake up our teenager and have him babysit for awhile."
She kissed me. "Happy Christmas, my love. You stay here and tell the imps about Gaby and I'll finish my beef Wellington."
"Tell me you're not putting liver in that."
"No. I'm putting mushrooms and prosciutto in it."
"Ah. My mother's recipe."
"Yes. With the Madeira mushroom sauce." Lily clarified.
"When are we eating it?"
I sighed. Well, it gave me something to look forward to.
December 25th, 1994:
I leaned back in my recliner and watched Harry and the twins open their gifts. They each had seven, three practical, three they had chosen, and one surprise gift. The twins received mainly clothes, and some books and soft toys which lit up and their surprise gift was a Magic Unicorn Rocker, which was a soft child-sized stuffed unicorn attached to rockers, when the child sat on the unicorn's back, the unicorn "came alive" and behaved much like a real unicorn, making galloping sounds and whinnying and there were Illusion Charms cast on it that showed the rider several scenes as they "rode" such as a green meadow, tall forest, rolling hills, a moonlit plain, and so forth. The unicorn rocker was large enough for two of them to ride together or alone, and the twins loved it.
"That's really cool! Whose idea was it to get them that?" Harry asked.
"Your father's," his mother replied.
Harry received a new Quidditch jersey, a black cloak with a silver serpent clasp, and new sneakers for his practical gifts. There was also a large box of Honeydukes chocolate bars and some Zonkos joke products, and some Quidditch tickets for various games. His surprise gift was a new broom. "Whoa! The Phoenix Sunfire 2001! This is the best broom on the market, except for the Firebolt." He was admiring the broom, turning it this way and that.
Gabriel crawled over and pulled himself up. "What that?"
"It's a broom, baby brother. Someday when you're bigger, I'll fly on it with you." Harry said. "Thanks, Mum and Dad! Oh, and Father Christmas too," he added, even though he was too old to believe in the saint anymore.
"Fly! Me fly!"
"Okay." Harry picked up Gabe and "flew" him about in the air.
"Me fwy! Me fwy!" Hallie clamored.
She slid down off the unicorn and crawled rapidly over to Harry.
"Hold it! Let me put your brother down, I can't do both of you at once. Mum, here. Take your baby boy."
Lily picked up Gabriel and continued to fly him about while Harry lifted his little sister and "flew" her around too.
The twins soon tired of that and went to play with other toys, allowing Harry to give us the gifts he had bought. For Lily there was a very pretty necklace with a mother holding three children. Each had a small birthstone embedded in the little silver child. "Harry, it's beautiful. Thank you!"
He hugged her and helped her put it on. "You look good, Mum." Then he looked at me. "Dad, I can't give you your present yet, because Mum has to give you hers first."
I was puzzled. "What in Merlin's name have you gotten me?"
"You'll see," my wife smiled mysteriously.
"All right. Lily, Merry Christmas." I handed her a gold box.
She opened it to reveal a gold and emerald bracelet. It wrapped about her wrist snuggly, like a hug, and she gasped. "It's magical!"
"It's a Bracelet of Warmth and Protection. Since you're always off somewhere risking your neck, I figured you needed this."
"Sev, it's perfect." She came and kissed me. Then she gestured to Harry.
He hurried out of the room.
Lily looked at me, her eyes shining.
Harry returned with a large crate. He set it down in front of me. The crate was labeled Handle With Care—Potions Inside. "You bought me a crate of potions?" I frowned.
"No, you nutty professor," Lily chuckled. "Open it and see."
I carefully pried open the cover. The crate was filled with fake straw. I gently pushed it aside and suddenly a bundle of fluffy reddish gold and silver fur attacked me. "What the—"
I fell over on my backside and the puppy jumped out of the crate and into my arms with a happy yip.
"A collie puppy?" I gasped. "Lily, you got me a dog?"
My face was being washed industriously by the puppy.
"Do you like her, Sev?"
I picked up the puppy and held her in front of me. Like my former collie, she too had reddish-gold fur, but she also had silvery merle accents about her face and legs, a silvery lining like a cloud. She had bright amber eyes and a white stripe up her nose. I could tell she was from a high quality breeder, she had that air about her. "I do, Lily. I never thought about getting another dog."
"Mum and I figured it was time," my son said. "Not that she'll ever replace Gaby, but you needed another collie to love. And every family needs a dog."
"Where did you find her?"
"We asked around and someone told us that Mr. Tym's daughter was still breeding collies. This puppy came from a new Highland import. She is small, but you know that good things come in small packages, don't you, Severus?" Lily told me.
"Mum and I picked her out." Harry added. "I think we got the pick of the litter." He floated a second wrapped box into the room. "Merry Christmas, Dad."
Inside the wrapped box was a small pink collar, a lead, and dishes, food, and a brush as well as some Tastee Treats. "Thank you, Harry."
I set the little collie down. She ran over and sniffed Harry's shoes and Lily, who called her a sweet girl. She was full of energy and pranced over to Hallie and licked her face.
"Doggie!" she shrilled and immediately reached out to grab the puppy's ear.
The pup yelped and I went over and said, "Hallie, no! Pet the puppy gently." I removed her little hand and showed her how to pet the puppy, along her fuzzy back.
"See doggie!" Gabe yelled, and Harry brought him over to pet the small collie as well.
She enthusiastically licked Gabriel, who threw his arms about her and hugged her.
A moment later she wriggled free and came to me. I knelt and stroked her fur. She jumped up and licked me under the chin. "Good girl! You know who's alpha, don't you?" I picked her up and held her, recalling the last time I had held such a puppy in my arms. She smelled the same as Gabriel had.
"What are you going to call her, Sev?" Lily asked.
Just then a shaft of sunlight shone in through the window, falling on the puppy and making her coat glow silver and gold. Inspiration struck. "I think . . .I'll call her . . .Aurora. In Latin, it means the dawn rising. And this is the dawn of a new day, in more ways than one." I reached out and tickled the puppy's soft belly, she rolled over and allowed me to gently scratch her. "How do you like that, girl?"
The little collie looked me straight in the eye and barked happily.
"I'd say she likes it, Dad." Harry said, also petting her. "Right, Aurora?"
The twins scuttled over to us, and I quickly placed them in my lap before they crushed poor Aurora by mistake.
"Severus!" Lily called.
I looked up.
She snapped our picture.
I groaned. Damn the woman! She loved photographing me, despite the fact that I hated how I looked on camera. But I supposed it was inevitable, since it was both the twins' and Aurora's first Christmas at Spinner's End.
"Another winner for the family album," Lily declared.
She showed me the picture. I was sitting in the center, the twins on either knee and Harry next to me, petting Aurora, who was lying on her back taking full advantage of her new family's indulgence.
"Very nice, Lily." I kissed her. "Just wait till my mother sees it."
Eileen and Tobias arrived promptly for dessert, which was apple pie and a custard tart and Christmas gingerbread, plus coffee. To my surprise, Tobias brought a rose bouquet for Lily, and gave each of the children a ten pound note. For me there was a jar of rare phoenix tears.
"Your mother told me you sometimes use those in your potions," Tobias said gruffly.
"You didn't need to get me anything." I protested.
"If you don't want it, give it to your mum."
"No, I . . .could really use this . . ." I said awkwardly. I hadn't gotten him anything and now I felt guilty. "Thank you."
Tobias coughed. "Merry Christmas, Severus." Then he added, "Thank you for having me over. I haven't celebrated a holiday since I left here, so this is a great gift." He looked about at the children, who were playing fetch with Aurora beside the tree. "You have a fine family, son. I would like to get to know them."
I recognized an olive branch when I saw one. But I hesitated. Could I trust him? I looked into his dark sapphire eyes. He met my gaze squarely. "So long as you promise to never lay a hand on them and come here with Mum, I can allow that."
"Agreed. Severus, I'm not who I was."
"So you say," I said shortly. "Prove it."
"Merry Christmas, Severus," he said then, and smiled at me.
Before I could tell him to sit down at the table, Aurora frisked up to him.
She jumped on him, tail wagging, her eyes sparkling.
I froze. The Tobias Snape I knew would have kicked the puppy away and snarled at her to get the hell off.
My father looked down. "Hey, pup."
Aurora licked him, wagged her tail, and then piddled all over his boot.
"Aurora, no!" I cried in dismay, grabbing the puppy."I'm sorry." I waited for the explosion.
"Toby, the puppy didn't mean to—" Mum began, taking out her wand.
Tobias' eyes narrowed and he scowled down at the floor. His shoulders quivered with suppressed anger.
Or so I thought. Until he lifted his head.
And I saw he was struggling to control his laughter.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you planned that, Severus Snape." He scolded. I opened my mouth to protest. Then he added slyly, "Because it would have been a fine revenge, now wouldn't it?"
I gaped. Who would have thought the old bastard had a sense of humor? Then I gave him a smirk. "It sure as hell would have."
"Severus!" my mother cried.
"It's the truth, Mum." I said, unrepentant.
"Men!" she snorted. "Figures you would settle things with a pissing contest," she muttered.
Lily and Harry burst out laughing. After a minute, we joined them.
"Eileen, can you—" my father began, just as my mother cast a Scourgify.
I handed Harry Aurora. "Take her outside, Harry, before she has another accident."
Harry snapped the lead on her collar and took her into the yard.
"Nice dog you got there, Sev," Tobias remarked, then he laughed softly. "Let's have some dessert, shall we?"
We all sat down and ate a bit of everything. It was delicious. And no one fought or complained about anything. It was a holiday of firsts. One that I would never forget. And I owed it all to a dog.
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