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June 18th, 1993:

The next few days were wonderful. Lily was home with us, and now our small family was complete. But for Gabriel. I had thought, though not very hard, about getting another dog. But writing my memoirs of Gabriel made me remember him even more, and that in turn made me adamant about never getting another one, because another dog, even a collie, couldn't replace Gabriel. When Lily was home, I made waffles and pancakes, instead of just eggs and bacon, or sausage and potato scrambles. She always said she couldn't wait to come home and eat a decent meal again, because when she was on assignment, she sometimes didn't eat more than a sandwich the whole day, depending on where she was. She also claimed my cooking was as good as professional chef's, but I laughed at her. I was no gourmet cook, I liked simple fare, though give me a recipe and I could make whatever it was. In that, cooking was the same as potions.

After breakfast, Lily said she had something to show me in the yard, and Harry said he was going to study in his room. I followed my wife outside across the backyard, she led me to the large oak tree where Gabriel used to lay on sunny evenings. Beneath the shaded branches was a memorial stone of white marble. Etched into it was a photo of my beloved dog, in color. It was not a wizard photo, so it did not move, but it was a beautiful picture. Underneath was the following inscription:

Tribute To A Best Friend

Sunlight streams through window pane
unto a spot on the floor...
then I remember,
it's where you used to lie,
but now you are no more.
Our feet walk down a hall of carpet,
and muted echoes sound...
then I remember,
It's where your paws would joyously abound.
A voice is heard along the road,
and up beyond the hill,
then I remember it can't be yours...
your golden voice is still.
But I'll take that vacant spot of floor
and empty muted hall
and lay them with the absent voice
and unused dish along the wall.
I'll wrap these treasured memorials
in a blanket of my love
and keep them for my best friend
until we meet above.


Beneath that was Gabriel's name and the dates of his birth and death. Around the stone were planted flowers, lilies, marigolds, tulips, all the flowers Gabe used to like to dig up in Lily's garden.

"I thought . . .I thought you might like to have a memorial here, so that when you come out by the herb garden to gather ingredients you could look at it and remember how he used to follow you . . ." Lily said, putting her arm about my waist, her eyes misty.

"Did you . . .write that?" I asked, my voice a bit hoarse.

She shook her head. "I'm no poet, Sev. I went to the library and found that in a book. I thought it described you and him perfectly. But I did charm the photograph on there and the poem as well. Do you like it?"

I nodded, swallowing hard. "Yes. It's very fitting." I pointed to the flowers. "He would have loved digging up those."

"I know. The wretch!" But she said it with a smile. "Oh, Sev. I'd plant an entire field and let him dig it up if only he could be here now. He was the one who brought us back together, if not for him I might have walked away that day and never had the courage to stay . . ."

"I know. He saved us both from our own stupidity," I said feelingly, then I wrapped my arm about her and held her close. "There are times when . . .I almost think he's watching over us . . .like the angel he was named for . . ." Then I snorted self-deprecatingly. "But whoever heard of a guardian angel dog?"

"Angels come in many forms, Sev."

"True. And I'm holding one right here," I whispered in her ear.

Now she snorted. "Right. I'm no angel, Sev, merely a mortal witch. Unless you mean the fallen kind, because I've made too many mistakes to be counted holy and blessed."

"You and I both. But for a dog, there by the grace of God go I, a dark wizard," I admitted.

Lily looked stricken. "I'm so sorry, Sev. If I hadn't agreed to Dumbledore's plan, if I had just spoken to you before assuming you really had turned dark instead of allowing James to sway me, things might have been different."

I put a finger to her lips. "What's done is done, Lily. No sense in crying over a spilled potion now. If you hadn't been with Potter, you would have never had Harry."

"He's what made it all worth it. I'll never regret that." She looked up at me then, her green eyes luminous with tears. "Sev, how did he save you from the dark? I've always wondered, but was afraid to ask."

I was silent for a few moments, gathering my thoughts, and then I told her.

March, 1978

Hogwarts:

It was one of the coldest Marches anyone could remember, and all of us students were bundled up in our warmest clothes beneath our robes and had Warming Charms cast on our hands and feet. There was still a slick of snow along the sides of the castle, and the path down to the greenhouse was icy. Everyone grumbled and complained about the cold snap, and the only ones who didn't seem to mind the frost lingering were my collie and Hagrid, who seemed immune to the cold.

As for me, I felt the cold keenly, both without and within. I had turned seventeen that January, and was officially an adult according to the wizarding world, free to cast spells without worrying about being monitored by the Ministry outside of class. Since the werewolf incident, I had not seen or spoken with Lily, not even over the summer, as her father had gotten a transfer and they had moved to Surrey, far away from Manchester. The first I knew of it was when the moving lorry had pulled up beside their house and I watched, stunned, like a bystander watches a fatal car crash, as the Evans loaded their belongings into it and then followed it slowly down the road. I was crushed. Lily had not even come to say goodbye.

I turned to stroke Gabriel, my heart torn up within me, and then I saw Cosmic winging his way towards me. In his beak was a letter. It was from Lily. She wrote that she was sorry she didn't get to tell me goodbye in person, but her father insisted they had to make it to the train, and there was no time. She also wrote that she regretted having to keep her distance from me at school, but there was a reason for it that someday she would explain. I was so angry that I crumpled the letter and threw it on the floor. What possible reason could she have for avoiding me except that she no longer wished to be seen with me? That she had gone over to Potter's side like so many others?

Lately I found myself always on edge, always angry and irritable. At first I put it down to losing Lily, for even when term started again, Lily did not come and explain anything to me, and I refused to go to her, allowing my foolish pride to keep me solitary. Nothing I did gave me any pleasure, not even brewing potions could put a smile on my face, I worked extra hours in the dungeons helping Slughorn, and once or twice he asked if there was something bothering me, but all I said was, "No, sir. I'm fine."

Truth was, there was something bothering me, but it was nothing I could discuss with a teacher. Since the incident by the lake after our OWLS, I had been studying the Book of Night. I had found that though the first part of the book dealt with Gray Magic spells, those that skirted the border between light and dark, the second part were spells of dark magic. Not as dark as the Unofrgivables, which I knew several of my Housemates had learned, but unpleasant nasty charms and hexes, things that might make Potter and his gang keep their distance. I studied them diligently, but oddly had never used them yet, since the Marauders had been keeping away from me, and we had only exchanged insults thus far.

A few members of my House expressed approval now that I was no longer hanging about that Mudblood chick, as they referred to any Muggleborn, and I said nothing and walked away. I didn't dare admit to them that I still had feelings for Lily, they would never understand. Even I didn't understand why I still loved her, when she had abandoned me for my old rival. There is no fathoming a heart in love. Now there was talk in the common room of You-Know-Who mounting an offensive against the Ministry, and how some of the Slytherins whose family was loyal to him were going to assist him. Tensions were running high now, and more and more dark supporters were coming out, and those who hadn't declared were keeping themselves low and quiet.

I might have done the same, except for the fact that I was openly studying the Book of Night and the Death Eater cadre knew it. Avery even asked me what new spells I had learned from it, and I told him a few. I hadn't cast any of them, but I didn't let him know that. Still, the mere reading of the book was slowly corrupting me, but I didn't know that at the time.

Now, of course, I know better. Dark magic is seductive, it whispers to the dark part of your mind, and encourages negative emotions like anger, bitterness, distrust, jealousy, and hate. It calls such emotions to the fore, but not all at once. The dark magic is sly and creeps up on you unaware. It poisons your spirit bit by bit, until it consumes you. And all it takes is a single decision to learn a spell, and then it's almost an addiction. Before you know it, you've memorized another and another, and with each one you fall deeper and deeper into darkness.

I grew cold and hard and didn't even realize what was happening to me. But I was changing, and not for the better. I was quicker to take offense, quicker to unleash my temper or tongue, and quicker to raise my wand. Things that I would have shrugged off before now irked the hell out of me. Fang, who used to bound up to me and lick me, now walked stiff-legged away from me, the way a dog will when he smells something that might be a threat.

Mrs. Norris, Filch the caretaker's tabby, hissed and lashed her tail when she saw me, then she ran away.

Gabriel whimpered and looked at me strangely now, and whenever I took out the Book of Night and started to read it, he snarled and tried to yank the book out of my hand. "Stop it!" I scolded, but he didn't look the least bit sorry. "You know better, damn it!"

He did, but he hated that book with a passion. Which should have told me something. But I had stopped listening to my conscience. And trusting my dog.

It was then that Mulciber came to me and asked if I would be willing to join him and some others and swear allegiance to the Dark Lord, as they called Voldemort. They promised that I would be an asset, that Voldemort would appreciate my skills with potions and I would never need fear any band of Marauders again. "You will have power beyond your wildest imaginings, Snape. And all you have to do is swear yourself to Voldemort and take the Mark," Mulciber told me.

Gabriel was lying in a corner and he woke up and snarled softly at the bigger Slytherin. My collie had taken to none of my new "friends", in fact he downright despised them.

Mulciber kicked at him. "Oh, and lose the bloody dog. Stupid mutt!"

"He's not," I said automatically.

"Get rid of him, Snape. A real follower of the Dark One doesn't need a dumb dog trailing him all over. Give me your answer in three days." After that, he left.

Gabriel had half-risen, all his fur abristle, growling angrily.

"Lay down!" I snapped. "Why'd you have to go and growl at him like that, huh? Sometimes you're more trouble than you're worth."

I didn't know what to do now. I didn't want to give up my dog. He was all I had left that I still cared about. I wasn't sure if I wanted to join the Death Eaters. I had only started studying the darker magics to defend myself, not for any real desire for power, like the rest of them. I didn't really hate Muggleborns or blood traitors. All I wanted was for the bloody Marauders to leave me the hell alone, and be able to kick anyone's arse that started with me.

I wished I knew of a spell to make Lily come back to me, but all the spells in the Book of Night were those which compelled a person to do your bidding, and I didn't want to mess with Lily's head that way. I just wanted her back, the way it was before, just the three of us.

I pulled the dark spellbook out from beneath my pillow and flipped to the page I'd been studying last night, which was a charm to make food turn sour in people's stomach and make them puke until they passed out. I would have loved to use that on Pettigrew.

Gabriel grabbed my sleeve and tugged hard, growling.

"Quit that and go lay down!" I frowned at him.

Gabriel ignored my command, and he never did that. Instead he remained, looking at me, his head resting on the mattress, brown eyes peering at me worriedly.

I ignored him, turning back to my book.

Until he heaved himself up on the bed and picked up the Book of Night in his mouth and jumped off the bed.

"Hey! Gabriel, no! Bad dog!" I shouted, rolling over and getting to my feet.

Gabriel backed away, my book still in his mouth, drooling and slobbering all over the pages.

I was furious. "Drop it! Right bloody now!" I started forward, intending to wrench the book from his mouth.

But as my hand drew nearer, my dog did something he had never done in all his life.

He growled at me.

Ears flat against his head, head lowered, he was threatening me.

"You mangy mutt! How dare you?" I yelled, in a towering rage. "You bloody ungrateful beast! Maybe I should get rid of you!"

My temper overwhelmed me and I did something to this day I regret.

I raised my hand and smacked my loyal collie hard on the rump, making him yelp.

But he didn't cringe or back away. He also didn't release the book.

We both froze.

I stared at my hand, which stung, and was half raised for another blow. What had I done? How could I have lashed out at my dog, my faithful friend, who had always been there for me? I slowly lowered it to my side. I felt shame and sickness in the pit of my stomach. I had struck my dog out of senseless anger, much as Tobias had struck me on occasion. I stared down at my feet, recalling how violent my father used to get, and how scared I used to be, and how one minute he would be teasing me and the next smacking me around because I got cheeky. I could still hear the echo of his hand slapping me . . .and then I heard the same sound repeating itself in my head, followed by Gabriel's yelp of pain.

I spun around, hugging myself, and came face to face with the mirror in the corner of my room.

The face looking back at me was sallow and bony, stringy hair falling over eyes black as coal, eyes that seemed to reflect all the anger and bitterness within me. I stared into the mirror and for the first time in a long time, I took a good look at what I had become.

"When the hell did I become my father?" I whispered in horror. "That's not me. It can't be me."

Yet it was.

When had I become this cold, hard, angry young man? One who read books of dark magic and invented dark curses and allowed people like Mulciber and Avery to call me friend? When had I started detesting everyone and not caring about anything except learning more dark spells? And when had I become the sort of person who could abuse a loyal animal, my familiar, my best friend?

I covered my face with my hands, unable to bear seeing myself.

I had become what I had feared the most.

A man like my father . . . .a wizard like the stereotypical Slytherin, dark and cold.

"No . . ." I groaned, feeling as if I had been stabbed in the stomach and was slowly bleeding to death. "No . . ."

My mother would be ashamed of what I had become, she would disown me, and I would deserve it. I didn't even want to know what Lily would think.

When had this happened? Why had this happened?

I heard a thump, but did not lift my head. I sank to the floor, curled up, my head still in my hands.

Then I felt a soft tongue licking me.

Licking my cheek.

I dropped my hands and stared directly into the eyes of my dog.

And I saw no resentment, no anger in the deep brown eyes, even though I had treated him terribly. There was only forgiveness.

"I'm sorry . . .!" I said thickly. "I didn't mean to, Gabe. I'm sorry . . .I don't know what the hell is wrong with me . . .I'm all screwed up . . .I don't even know what I'm doing anymore . . ."

He licked me again and suddenly I threw my arms about him and hugged him, burying my face in his ruff. Then I did something I hadn't done since I was about eleven. I cried.

I don't know how long I remained there, mumbling apologies and promising to never hit him again, but finally I felt my back getting stiff and I sat up, releasing my patient dog, who forgave me for being a total arsehole to him, because a dog's heart is bigger than a human's, and dogs don't hold grudges.

As I shifted position, my eyes fell upon the object that had started it all.

The Book of Night.

My hands itched to touch it, to run my fingers across the crackling pages, to read the spells within.

It called to me, whispering sweet promises in my ear.

I gritted my teeth and spat on the floor.

I turned and grabbed up a cloth from my desk and picked up the book. I almost hurled it into the fire, but I stopped myself. The book was not mine, I had borrowed it from Mulciber. Losing it would look suspicious, and if there was one thing I had learned while accompanying the Death Eater faction was drawing down suspicion was a dangerous thing. They didn't tolerate anyone who didn't believe what they believed, or who acted differently. They had barely tolerated me before, when I was friends with Lily. In fact, they had admitted to me that they had allowed the Marauders to beat me up in hopes that it would teach me a lesson about hanging around Mudbloods.

It had made me both hate and fear them.

Clutching the Book of Night in my hand, I went and dumped it in the very bottom of my trunk, and then covered it with some old robes I had outgrown this past month, as I had suddenly gotten a growth spurt and shot up like a weed. The temptation was still there, but I found myself resisting it. I shut the lid and locked the trunk, determined to free myself of this black compulsion. I would not become like my father, hated and feared and the sort of man who could kick a dog in a temper. I would not fulfill the Marauders expectations of me and become a dark wizard like so many others in my House. I would not betray my mother's teachings.

But most importantly of all, I would not betray the one creature who loved me unconditionally.

Nor would I ever give him up.

Not for anything.

I sat down on my bed, shaking and shivering, feeling as if I had a fever.

I had come so close . . .so very close . . .to traveling the road to ruin and destruction. And the worst thing was that I had barely noticed how I had begun to change. But for a dog, I might not have noticed until it was too late.

I patted the bed and Gabe jumped up and sat next to me. I leaned against him, my hands stroking his beautiful wise head. "Thank you, Gabriel. Thank you so very much. I don't deserve you. I really don't."

He nudged me with his nose and swiped me across the face again with his tongue. Don't be daft, Sev! Friendship isn't about deserving, it's about loyalty and love, and I will always love you.

If he could talk, I swear that's what he would have said.

I heaved a huge sigh. Now that I had pulled myself back from the edge of the abyss . . .or been dragged back by the skin of my teeth, I had to decide how to handle myself with the Death Eater faction. I couldn't just suddenly walk away and declare my allegiance to the other side. Then I would have enemies on both fronts, a fatal combination. No, I had to be sly and cunning, and that meant acting like I was still considering their offer.

Then there was Gabriel. For one instant I thought about sending him back home to Mum.

But my courage failed me. I needed him here.

"There has to be another way. But what?" I asked myself aloud. "I wish bloody Mulciber would forget he ever asked me anything."

Then I started to laugh softly. "Merlin, but I'm such an idiot! I can make him forget by casting a Memory Charm on him. Problem solved."

I had only a few more months left of school, and then I could go home and sign up for classes at the Academy of Potioneers, which was near Oxford University. Once I had completed those I would be a Master in my field and able to teach or brew in the apothecary that my mother now owned. Her boss had passed away recently, and had left the shop to her, because he had no children and he knew she loved it. She had renamed it E S's Solutions—an apothecary for all seasons. It was thriving, as my mother offered discounts her boss never had, especially to students and teachers.

And for the first time since the Book of Night came into my possession, I felt as if I had a future to look forward to.

One that did not contain blood, death, and tears.

All because of a dog.

June 18, 1993:

"So, now you know," I finished.

Lily hugged me. "Oh, Sev. If he were here now, I would give him the biggest bone ever and let him shed all over my best robes. He really was a remarkable dog."

"And a remarkable friend," I said.

"A much better one than I was to you back then," Lily said.

I sighed. "Lily, please. Let sleeping dogs lie and just enjoy the afternoon." For it was now early afternoon, it had taken the rest of the morning to tell Lily my story, but I knew she would never forget it. Anymore than I would.

But for a dog, my life would have taken a very dark road . . .and who knows what would have become of me? I would have most likely ended up dead, or in Azkaban, or a bitter lonely man. Strange, how one act of forgiveness, one animal's love, can mean the difference between darkness and light.


Next: After leaving Hogwarts, Severus goes to work in the family business, and he and Lily meet again, and he learns a startling fact. Plus more Sev, Harry, and Lily bonding.


 

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