A HAPPY BIRTHDAY
(Severus’ Birthday Challenge 2009, Rickman Pics & Fics)
By W.M. Achrya
He woke up, as usual, at an absurdly early hour.
He lay staring at the ceiling, as usual, resigning himself.
An empty day. No essays to mark, not even a class to teach and help him pass the time in familiar, semi-automatic occupation.
He would read, meditate, wait for the day to end.
He would hope to remain undisturbed.
Not to be summoned by the Dark Lord to some sinister, morbid task.
Not to be visited by the ludicrous congratulations of the falsely cheerful old man.
Nothing. ‘Our Nothing who art in Nothing, Nothing be thy name.’
He had something there, that bogus macho old Muggle.
He went through the motions of morning hygiene before the house elf appeared with his breakfast. As the elf disappeared, a bird materialised just above the door of his dungeon chamber. It was a pale, sleek barn owl. It circled the room and thumped down a stack of parchment on the table next to his breakfast tray.
“Potions Quarterly”. He had not expected the year’s first issue to arrive so soon, and was pleased to have something meaningful but not ominuous to occupy his mind. He picked up a piece of bacon from his plate and held it out to the bird.
“Come here,” he said. “Thank you.”
His subscription was fully paid in advance. The owl’s look of surprise was simply due to the feathered circles around its eyes, but it appeared more genuine than that. The bird gripped his black-sleeved wrist gently and consumed the food in three pulls of its sharp beak. Then it took wing, circled the room once more and vanished.
He leafed through the journal as he finished his breakfast. A long article captured his interest. He pushed the breakfast dishes aside, spread out a sheet of parchment and began taking notes.
Then he picked up a large notebook bound in well-worn black leather, found a specific page and compared its content, first, to his notes, then to the article in the journal.
He stood up to consult a tome from the crowded bookshelf next to his writing desk, then another one, and another. He made some more notes and brought the sheet over to the marble-topped work bench that held a small cauldron and a row of glass bottles and test tubes.
He chose two of the bottles, then visited the store room for some additional ingredients.
He fired up the cauldron and began slicing a piece of a long brownish root with a small, sharp, silver-handled knife.
He continued working. Every detail of every step of the complex process was meticulously recorded by the charm-powered black quill that took his dictation.
He added the final ingredient, took a few focusing breaths and, in a deep, sonorous voice, pronounced the complex incantation that accompanied the movements of his wand.
--- --- ---
The two rats looked quite pathetic. Covered only in pale pink skin, they appeared more poorly nourished than they in fact were. They stared ahead listlessly, sometimes giving a desultory lick to a bare paw or belly.
The cauldron was empty and clean. The icy blue, translucent liquid that it had contained filled a half-pint sized crystal bottle on the work bench. He poured a dose from the bottle into a small porcelain bowl and set it down in the cage that held the two rats. They sniffed at the potion, tasted it, began lapping at it thirstily, jostling each other for the drink.
He watched them, noting his observations aloud for the recording quill.
Beginning with a string along the back, fine fuzz appeared on the two animals. It grew and spread rapidly. In a few moments the two rats were sporting thick, sleek, healthy fur all over their bodies, legs and faces. One of them had a piebald pattern in white and tan; the other one was an unrelieved mahagony colour. The piebald rat sat up on its haunches and began grooming itself, unhurriedly, contentedly. The solid-coloured one approached his hand that held a sunflower seed, sniffed his fingers, took the treat daintily and nibbled at it.
He scratched the small animal’s neck; the rat gave his finger a quick lick and returned its full attention to the sunflower seed.
He perused the title of the article once more.
“The Tibetan Worm Plant – a false hope for baldness curse victims”.
He gave a disdainful grunt, sat by his desk and collected his notes.
A false hope. Quite.
If your cauldron is a fraction too hot and if you mispronounce the ending of the Tibetan spell.
He picked up an ordinary quill and dipped it in ink. He wrote:
“To the Editor of ‘Potions Quarterly’. Dear Sir…”
--- --- ---
The house elf vanished with an audible ‘pop’. It would make sure that one of the school owls delivered the letter and the documentation to the editor of the journal.
He was clearing away the last of the implements from the work bench when there was a knock at the door. At opening it, he looked into a pair of gleaming sapphire eyes in a wrinkled, bearded face.
A blue-gowned arm held out a dusty bottle.
“Happy birthday, Severus.”
Seated in high-backed arm chairs in front of the fireplace, the two men sampled the excellent, complex, garnet-coloured, velvety smooth port from plain crystal goblets.
“Actually, Albus,” he said, “yes, rather a happy one.”
 E. Hemingway: ”A clean, well-lighted place”