It was a new bottle. Expensive, too. Rosmerta had given him her are you sure about this? look when he ordered it from her, but also hadn't hesitated to take his money. Severus figured he had earned one nice thing in his life, since nice was not something that was going to happen ever again. Besides, he didn't have much need for money at this point, so he might as well spend what little he had.
Severus cracked the seal and poured a generous serving into a heavy crystal tumbler. It shimmered slightly as the liquid settled in the glass. He sat back in the chair and swirled the amber liquid. The heady scent surrounded him.
"It's a bit early in the day for that," Albus said gently.
Severus ignored him. He took a small sip, savored the smooth taste for a moment, and set the glass back down on the desk.
"Leave him alone," Armando Dippet said.
"What's the date?" Albus demanded, looking around at the others.
"I don't know. Maybe it's it January?" Dexter Fortescue asked. "It was just Yule, wasn't it?"
Dilys Derwent looked around, obviously puzzled. "What's going on?"
Severus ignored all of them. He could silence the portraits, but they'd only nag more at him later. The quiet sometimes wasn't worth the price he'd have to pay.
Although, compared to the rest of his life, it was a negligible price.
"Ah!" Albert said suddenly, brightening.
"What?" Dippet asked.
"I suspect it's his birthday," Albus explained.
"Sod off," Severus mumbled, taking another drink.
Before Hogwarts, his birthdays had merited at least a small celebration. Just he and his Mum. Da never had any truck celebrating anything that didn't revolve around himself.
"Happy birthday, Severus! You made it to double digits!" Eileen greeted him as he came down to breakfast in his pajamas and bathrobe. She had placed a warming charm on the bathrobe for him, to deal with the coolness of the house. Heat cost money -- money they didn't have.
Her use of charms was their secret, one they didn't tell his Da about.
"Morning, Mum," Severus replied eagerly.
"Get dressed, we're going out!" she said cheerily.
"Where?" Severus asked.
"Silly! It's a surprise!" she smiled. "For your birthday! It's not every day you turn ten!"
She had taken him to the Zoo that day. It was a cold and bitter January day, so they had the Zoo mostly to themselves. He noticed that the entry fee was reduced because of the cold weather. He wondered later where she had gotten the money to go at all.
Somehow, she had arranged for a "Junior Keeper for a Day" experience. The elderly keeper -- throwing a grim look at his Mum -- took Severus into the back of the llama exhibit, showing him the grooming area, inside cages, and allowing him to spread the feed for the animals. The keeper apologized for not giving him a t-shirt, since this wasn't an official visit.
After that, he and his Mum went through the various exhibits, hurrying through the cold to the warmer buildings. The tropical animal exhibit had been heavenly.
Spending a full day with just his Mum was the best treat. She had bought hot chocolate at one point, keeping the contents hot with discrete warming charms, and handed him a sandwich she had brought with her.
They hurried home so that his Mum could have dinner ready before Da came from wherever he went during the day. Da never asked what they did during the day, but over dinner that night, his Mum grinned at him when Da wasn't looking.
Severus saw that keeper standing at a distance in the cemetary where they buried his Mum. The man disapparated as Severus approached him. He sometimes wondered if that was a relative of his Mum's. He never was able to find out.
"How old are you, my boy?" Dippet asked.
Severus took another drink.
"If I'm not mistaken, he should be thirty-seven," Albus replied for him.
"Just a boy!" Dippet responded with a snort.
"But, really not so young," Albus put in.
Severus poured a bit more from the bottle into his glass.
It was the summer before they were going to Hogwarts. He and Lily had already received their letters and were looking forward to September 1.
"Come to my birthday party!" Lily had invited with her sunny smile. He would later use that memory to generate his Patronus. Years after he and Lily had fought, the memory remained precious to him.
"I can't," Severus demurred. He didn't have any money to buy her a present.
"Don't be silly!" Lily said with a frown. "Mum said I should invite my friends and you're my best friend!"
"Lily..." Severus groaned.
"And if you don't come, I'll tell Mum I don't want a party and then I'll just hang out with you," Lily went on. "But I'd really like a party!" She looked at him, hopefully.
Severus had never had a real birthday party. He wanted to see what one looked like.
"Oh, all right," Severus gave in.
"Wonderful!" Lily hugged him briefly and smiled again at him.
Severus wanted to see that smile more often.
The party was partly wonderful and partly horrendous. The wonderful part was the light, happy sounds, cakes, and a pile of presents from family and Lily's other friends. Petunia carefully ignored him, but Lily had enough happiness that day for everyone.
The horrid part was the realization that this never would happen for him. He vowed to never care about his birthday again.
Severus didn't let his mother see him cry himself to sleep that night.
A brisk knock on the office door warned him that Minerva was there. Her knock was distinctive. Although, lately, he had come to dread that knock.
"Come!" he called. She knew he was there, he might as well deal with whatever she needed.
She frowned briefly at the glass on his desk, then ignored it.
"What can I do for you, Minerva?" he asked tiredly.
"Alecto Carro is teaching the most outlandish things in what she calls Muggle Studies!" Minerva ground out. "She was telling second years that Muggle movies are copies of pure blood memories. What does a pure blood witch know about Muggles?"
Severus sighed. "You know I have no control over what she does," he ground out.
Minerva sat heavily in the chair across from the desk. "I know, I know..." She rubbed her forehead.
"I will try to do what I can," Severus said softly.
Minerva nodded. "Thank you."
She stood to leave, and then hesitated for a moment in the doorway. "Happy Birthday, Severus," Minerva said softly. She left him alone with his drink.
It was dark outside. A House Elf had silently lit the candles in the office and brought him dinner, which he did not eat.
Severus sipped at the drink. He really hadn't had that much, considering he had been here all day. Alone, except for Minerva's brief visit.
Liquid splashed on his hand. He looked up, to find nothing that would cause it, then realized his face was wet. He sat back in the chair and closed his eyes.
He was so tired.