A/N: "Le vieux con" means, "the old fool" in french. A Tremblement de Terre is a drink, credited to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and it is made of cognac and absinthe.

Absinthe. That was what he really needed at the moment. A Tremblement de Terre. Something truly poisonous to numb his senses, to preoccupy him with torrid but irrational thought whose blade would not scathe him lightly enough to lend him the origin of the pain. It would be deep and hard, but gratifying in that he would not feel each groove digging into him; it was pain, after all, that was meant to be relished, not the weapon itself. The latter was merely a tangible representation of the former, and how cruel they had felt in his hands . . . but pain— that was exquisite, and the green fairy would give him whole stores of it, all wrapped in nice little paper-mache boxes of hallucination.

Perhaps it was the hallucinations he was courting more than the pain and bliss. It was what he wanted, no? And absinthe was too perfect a maiden for the job; she was the drink of lost men and forlorn, abysmal souls whose only design was wander ceaselessly among their own dreams. Indulgence destroys orthodox religion, and where hope is a cruel god the mistress Absinthe would make him forget.

He groaned softly and shifted, long, pale fingers fondling the depressingly vacuous shot glass in their hold. Absinthe, he thought without delight, because I have not the authority nor the conviction to down an actual poison.

He sneered at himself, back eyes deep and acrid. It was a condescending thing, that one had been robbed of their last and ultimate power over onself; condescending because he did not own himself enough to do this, because his life belonged to another— a silly old fool who endeavored to believe that he was still of some use alive.

With a fragile thud, the glass fell from his fingers nad rolled across the bare floor. Stirring in his leather chair, he rose with the grace of a man walking to the gallows. He ignored the squat glass on the floor as well as the parched bottle sitting on his desk, slinking contemptuously over to the glass cabinet on the north wall. His obsidian eyes read the labels with cold longing.

Datura. Mandrake. Morning Glory. Hemlock. Yew. Any of them would be enough in the right dosage. And he was only naming a few— his selection was far more magnificent, and did not consist merely of raw materials. There were potions in his store so deadly that mere waft of their ghastly perfume was enough to stop function in the lungs, a single drop capable of sending a racing heart to an immediate and eternal stop. He had plagues in jars and vats full of iron maiden— all finely crafted, the pride of any darkside apothecary. All certainly worthy of a dignified suicide.

But not for him.

And, really, there is no such thing as a dignified suicide; not in his case. He could imagine, the moment he was buried in the ground (or torched, or simply dumped in a field somewhere to rot alongside cow droppings), their jeers and smirks and guffaws at his mediocrity, at his supreme idiocy and pathetic nature. No. If he wanted to avoid ridicule, suicide was not the option.

Not that he particularly cared; once dead, a person is apparently granted the gift of deafness. Blindness as well. He wouldn't have to hear them or see them when they mocked him.

A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts:—

"Severus?" the voice calling from the other side was weathered with age, but strong. Ah. C'est le vieux con.

Another rap, louder this time. Impatient. Worried. "Severus?" the voice repeated, concern muffled by the massive, 4-inch barrier of solid wood. "I know you're there, Severus . . ."

The old man had been making up excuses lately to see him— as if recounting the details of the Dark Lord's actions and plans wasn't enough to suffice as "quality time". It was always little things, things that he would have bitten anyone else's head off for bothering him with; le vieux con made sure to personally deliver him the daily prophet at least twice a week. Since Severus no longer made any appearances in the Great Hall, sometimes the white-haired wizard found an reason to talk to him whilst bringing him plates of food that he more or less refused to eat. Little things. Stupid things. Things to make sure that the Light Side's greatest secret asset was still alive. . . .

"Severus! . . ."

He hadn't eaten anything for a week. He'd refused the old man last time he came with food and, unless he sleep-walked down to the kitchens, no morsel of food had passed his thin lips otherwise. The only thing keeping him alive at this point was the dubious amount of alcohol in his system, and even that, he knew, was slowly killing at least his liver.

"Please. Open the door. . . ."

He hates it when he pleads. Hates it because it's so pathetic a sound, hates it because he could break the door down easily but seems to think that it would be far too much to take away that one last freedom of Severus': the ability to decline company. He wants to say, scream, LEAVE ME ALONE! But there's little to no point in raising his tone; Albus' voice is weaker this time, and he knows it will not be long until the old man gives up.

"Severus . . ."

He waited.

A sigh from the other side, long and winded and weary, the sigh of a great redwood tree who has stood on the earth for a thousand years and seen history repeat itself with every turn around the sun. There is this morose, tired sigh; then:—

"It is unwise to dwell upon the past, Severus."

From where they were drilling holes into the glass cabinet, his black eyes flashed up, pierced the door, hatred burning in them like coals. His jaw ached from strain, and he wanted more than anything at this moment to shriek, to yell and bellow himself hoarse, to tear down the door and clobber the stupid old man, to stop the stampede of memories that before now he'd managed to suppress in vividness if not consistence. Eyes, voice, hair, smile, all tumbling back into wells of blackness and despair and the screams of people who were never meant to know such pain as they were experiencing in their final moments, and the smell of burning sulfur hung like fog in the air—

The faint sound of footsteps treading back down the hall.

He stared at the door; then let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding, lets it out short and fast and in the form of a near snarl.

Tearing himself away from the cabinets with their glittering prospects, he strode back across the room, back to his desk and the mound of growing paperwork sitting upon it. He sat down in his leather chair but refused to pick up the pen that called to him, as well as ignoring the essays set to his left. Instead, he reached down and opened a drawer on the side of his desk.

The bottle of liquor was dark, a special brand. It was wonderful stuff when drunken slowly, but it sure as hell made a person unable to so much as walk if downed hastily. If he couldn't walk, chances were he couldn't remember, which would make his evening all the more pleasant.

He didn't bother with a shotglass this time. He simply opened the bottle and drank, a single swig with little pleasure, and then set it down with a thunk. His obsidian eyes stared transfixedly at it, long lithe fingers grazing over the cool mouth.

It is unwise to dwell upon the past, Seveurs.

He nearly let loose a bark of laughter, but turned it instead into a sardonic snort. "Stop me," he snarled, grasping the neck like he wanted to choke it and throwing back another gulp.

This time when he set it back down, his vision had begun to go hazy. It was working rather well, this expensive liquor; he could see why so many delighted in it. It was divine, wonderful and disgusting, numbing and painful all at once . . . .

Still, he would have preferred absinthe.