Characters are property of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Universe. Thankfully, she allows me to borrow them for a bit of fun.
Because It's Thursday
Severus stared at the clock as it counted down the remaining hours of the day, his fingers drumming in time with the rhythmic tick…tick…tick. If he could have willed it to go faster, he would have happily done so. Four sodding hours to go, he thought with an exquisite bitterness. Four hours and no one will be the wiser. He had almost managed, according to his grandfather clock, to escape the frivolousness of an unwanted birthday celebration, though not without the help of others.
Lack of concern and absentmindedness worked just as well as his refusal to broach the subject.
It was doubtless his hatred of the occasion began early. Birthdays, his father used to say, were the leading cause of old age. Tobias Snape would always slur those same words every time the ninth day in January appeared on the calendar, after he had obviously drunk what little funds had been allocated for any such celebration.
Severus could remember with vivid clarity how the miserable sot would stumble through the door late in the evening, reeking of cheap liquor and say, “Wouldn’t want to send my only son early to his grave by celebrating a birthday, would I?”
Severus continued to watch the clock hands, thinking back on how his mother had tried and failed to undo the damage her husband had done. Despite her efforts, his dislike for the occasion had carried over into his adult life. He found the attention awkward but tolerable. It was the false flattery he hated most of all, the well wishes given by those who felt obligated on that one day out of the year.
“If they can’t manage it every day, then they need not do it at all,” he mumbled, and the grandfather clock blissfully chimed away the hour.
With three hours remaining, Severus opted to make the best of the situation. A snifter of Ogden’s Old in hand, he rummaged through the stack of books on the side table for his most recent purchase—an innocent gift to himself—only to find Transfiguration through the Ages was not there.
“Of course Hermione has it…” Severus drained the last of the amber liquid from the glass, frustrated. “Silly witch pilfers anything with pages…” he went on, knowing full-well that he had lent it to her himself.
There goes my peace, he thought, and eased regrettably out of his chair.
It could have waited until the morning, but Severus had yet to read a word of the book, save for the title when he picked it out. He stole a glance at the clock face, the hands dutifully ticking down the minutes. Hermione would be awake, he had no doubt. Since she had come to work at the castle, he had discovered she was quite the night owl, not unlike himself. Still he couldn’t make himself loosen the latch on the door.
“It’s my birthday, damn it,” he told the hand touching the handle. “And I’m doing what I want.”
And so he did.
Curfew had passed some time before, and his colleagues, finished with their daily duties, had shut themselves in their own rooms for the night, making his passage through the corridors much faster than he had anticipated. Of course Severus knew that certainly didn’t mean he wouldn’t see someone. Hermione’s personal rooms were located not far from his own, on the first floor of the castle, and in the most inopportune location for a fair amount of foot traffic.
“No small talk,” he told himself as he approached her door and knocked. “Get the book and leave.”
Hermione answered the door, wearing a ridiculously frilled apron over her front. When she saw his sour expression, the smile withered on her face. “What’s wrong?”
Severus started to speak, but something other than his missing copy of Transfiguration through the Ages captured his attention. The thing was sitting, half-frosted and leaning haphazardly to the left, atop a small dining table, surrounded by a variety of mixing bowls and batter-covered spoons.
“Is that cake?” It surprised him that he sounded almost wistful, and that most certainly would not do. “Why do you have a cake?” he blurted, a trifle uneasy.
“Because it’s Thursday?” Hermione offered, grinning in spite of his tone. “Do you really need a reason to have cake?”
He had nothing to say to that, though not for lack of effort. Instead Severus cleared his throat and said in a rather stiff voice, “I've come to fetch my book.”
“Of course,” Hermione said, swinging the door open, her silent invitation for him to enter. She turned without another word and went to the towering mass of confection she called a cake. “Give me a moment to finish this, will you? I’ll have to remember where I put it.”
For fear of chocolate icing besmirching the new pages, Severus obliged. He stood a prudent distance away from the decorating space and watched with unforeseen interest. “Why are you baking a cake at this hour?” he asked before he could stop himself.
Hermione looked up, her head cocked to the side as if thinking of what to say. “Old habits die hard, I’m afraid.” She smiled. “That, and I happen to like chocolate cake.”
“You could have asked the house-elves.”
“I prefer my Grandmother’s recipe.” She licked a smear of icing off her finger and said, “The frosting is much better.”
Surely she is joking. “You baked it by Muggle means?”
“How else would you expect me to make a Muggle recipe?” Hermione stood up, examining her handy work, and Severus was surprised to see the cake no longer tilted a tad to the left. “I might have had to transfigure my sofa into an oven, but I think it will be well worth the extra effort.”
“You’re odd, Hermione Granger,” Severus heard himself say, though there was no malice behind it. He truly found her fascinating.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she replied. “But now it’s time for cake.”
Before he could protest, Hermione thrust a plate that held a mammoth slice in his direction. It would have fallen to the floor had he not grabbed it at the last possible second. “I’ll clean up and get you a fork. You sit.”
Severus looked down at the heavy slice, then to the empty chair, wondering how he had managed to lose control of the situation in seconds. All he wanted was his book and his privacy, but found himself staring at a piece of cake he knew would turn out to be the right size once he tasted it.
“You’re not intruding if that’s what you think. Sit, Severus,” Hermione insisted as she vanished the baking supplies from the table. “I couldn’t possibly eat all of this by myself.”
He eyed the fork she placed on the table and felt his resolve slip. “It’s late…”
“It’s only one piece of cake.” Hermione cut herself a modest sliver, and sat down across from where he still stood. “I’m not fetching the book until I've eaten, so you might as well join me.”
He conceded after that, though he did not seem to mind as he sank down onto the seat.
They ate and they talked over a great number of things, none of which were too terribly pressing or important, and when Hermione took their empty plates away and served fresh tea, Severus found that he did not mind the lateness of the hour or the absence of his privacy.
“You’ll be needing your book now,” said Hermione when the teapot finally ran dry. “I’ve kept you from it long enough."
Not that I have cared, he wanted to say, but could not bring himself to do so as she slipped out of her chair and disappeared down the hall.
Severus sat alone at her table, waiting for her to return with his book, hearing the clock in her rooms chime to signal that midnight had finally arrived, and as he listened to the mournful tolls laying the previous day to rest, he felt immensely cheated instead of relieved.
The clock struck again, and he felt the ridiculous urge to make the best of what time he had left. That’s when the glowing candle stick in the center of the table caught his attention.
It still counts, though it’s not sitting atop a cake, dripping wax.
It had to count.
He started to blow out the single white candle like an overzealous child, but Hermione turned the corner just before he plucked up the nerve and he froze.
“I think you’ll find this interesting,” she said, handing the thick book to him. “It’s a fast read.”
“Thank you,” he answered. His voice sounded foreign to him, like he was listening with his head submerged under water.
Hermione offered a smile and saw him to the door, bidding him a good night. However, as soon as Severus walked through the door he felt an ugly sense of melancholy descended over him.
“You managed to escape after all, you old bastard…” Severus trailed off, as he made his way through the castle, though he was not entirely sure how he felt about it at the moment. “No one took a single notice, not that you wanted them to, mind you.”
That would be asking for too much, he had decided.
He quickly pushed that thought from his mind before it could grow into something he had no desire to tangle with, focusing his attention on a glass of Firewhisky and finally cracking open the only birthday present he had received that year.
Upon entering his sitting room, Severus kicked off his shoes and poured a fresh glass of Ogden’s Old before he settled in to begin his prereading ritual of skimming through the pages. He flipped and sipped, examining the diagrams with forced interest until he came across what he believed to be an imperfection on a page.
He was relieved to learn Hermione had simply marked her place with a hastily torn slip of parchment. Severus grabbed it, fully intent on casting it aside but then he saw her writing covering the underside. He turned it over and began to read:
I’m sure you’ll find this eventually, and when you do, you probably won’t give it a second thought, but on the off chance you actually read this I want you to know that I not only know but I care as well. I wish I could have done more, and I’m sorry that I didn’t.
Happy Birthday, Severus—or belated birthday should you find this six months from now.
There will be more cake next year, or whenever you find the notion strikes you. After all, one doesn’t really need a reason for cake, you know.
For once, and much to his surprise, Severus realised that his birthday had not been so bad after all.
Author's notes: This was written for Madelone, who requested the prompt, cake, candles and a wish fulfilled, during the SSHG Newbie Fest on LiveJournal.
Special thank you to Meladara for giving this a quick once over during the wee hours of the morning. This shines because of her.
And to you, dear readers, thanks for reading! Your reviews are welcomed and greatly appreciated, as always. Happy reading to you!