Author: Mrs. Hyde
Word Count: 3,715
Rating: PG-13/R for language
Summary: "Oh yes, they're arguing." The infamous memory scene from Chapter 26 of OotP, and a prequel-fic to Strange Bedfellows.
Author's Note: This is a stand-alone, but also a prequel of sorts to our fic "Strange Bedfellows." You don't have to read that fic to understand this one, but we would appreciate it if you would.
Toby knew what started it this time.
It was refreshing, really. Oftentimes he had no idea what set them off; one minute he and his wife would be sitting quietly, and the next thing he knew they were screaming at each other.
But this time it was clearly about the gin.
She'd stopped that, she said. And he'd nearly believed her. He certainly hadn't caught her with any booze for months. The house wasn't quite neat (Eileen had never been much of a hand for housework, sure enough), but it was passable, and for all that time he'd usually been able to come home to a hot meal after a long day of work.
But today, when he'd slouched exhausted into the house, it was dark and cold. Severus was sitting in a corner, oblivious to the blood Toby could see smeared on his face, amusing himself with a cracked mixing bowl and God knew what filth he'd dragged in from outside. The minute he had laid eyes on his father, his expression had gone cagey, wary. Toby had tensed immediately and had been about to demand to know what trouble he'd gone and started now, when the boy's eyes had cut to the side. It had been enough; Toby had followed the betraying gaze to the settee.
Eileen was slouched across it. The telly was on, but her stare was blank and glassy, and he knew what he would find before he even got to her.
"What the hell is that?" he demanded.
She started, and her arm curled defensively around the quarter-full bottle nestled beside her. "I had a headache."
Toby exploded. "A headache?! Don't give me that, you mis'rable lying whore!" Eileen shrank back a little, but her dark eyes never left his, glittering balefully. "I don't break my back at the mill six days a week just so you can take bread money out of our mouths and piss it away on booze!" he shouted.
"What money?" she hissed spitefully. "As if you can provide enough to live on."
A horrible red mist seemed to suffuse his vision, an impotent rage burning in his middle. How dare she sit there, all smug superiority, in his house, bought with his money, when she didn't so much as lift a finger to help? And her with her magic powers that she lorded over him, yet never once did she use them to try and improve things. "Shut yer fat gob, you useless bitch!" he roared. "As if you do anything! All yer magic spells can't do nothing—they're nothing! You're nothing! All you know how to do is drink and lay about, and don't try and tell me you 'ave a headache, I know you don't ever do nothing what could give you a headache—"
"You don't know anything, you stupid muggle!" she screamed. Bellowing with fury, he seized the bottle, wrenched it from her grip, and smashed it against the wall. With a startled yelp, Severus started to cry. Eileen gave a shriek of outrage and shot to her feet with surprising agility, given the amount she'd clearly drunk today, and he found himself looking down the point of her wand in a heartbeat.
But she'd evidently spent herself on rising so quickly, because he ducked aside and smacked the stick out of her hand before she managed to fire off a spell; the wand clattered to the floor and rolled under the dilapidated old settee.
"You bastard!" she shrilled, and dropped back down to the floor, fumbling frantically for her weapon.
"That's right, grub on the floor like the filthy pig y'are!" he snarled at her over their son's wails. "You worthless slag—guzzling away my hard-earned wages, leaving the house a wreck and yer kid looking like 'e crawled out t' gutter—shut up, you little brat!" he roared at his son. Severus, terrified, only howled louder. His teeth bared, Toby rounded back on what little he could see of his wife, huddled as she was down between the settee and the decrepit old coffee table.
Eileen's face suddenly appeared again; she was sitting upright on her knees instead of scrabbling on the ground, and her eyes were bright with malice. He barely had time to register that she was holding that wand of hers when the wind was knocked out of him with the force of a punch to the stomach, and he was thrown back against the wall, crushing the end table beneath him as he slumped to the floor.
He lay there, stunned and blinking, watching Eileen stagger furiously up the stairs and slam the door, listening to his son's howls subsiding into muffled sobs, and cataloguing his injuries. Nothing permanent, and nothing that wouldn't be gone in the morning, he decided, and he heaved himself to his feet.
He looked at the end table; it had been rickety before he landed on it, and that was a kind description. Well, if Eileen wanted to smash up the furniture with her oh-so-wonderful magic, she could bloody well fix it, too.
He left the wrecked table and stomped into the kitchen for the broom. The broomcorn was fraying on the ends from where Severus dragged it on the floor, constantly running 'round with it between his knees like he was riding it. He ground his teeth as he began to sweep up the broken glass, the smell of cheap gin filling the room.
It was probably that whinging little smartarse whelp what got her worked up to drink in the first place. He'd start pestering her for stories of witches and broomsticks and potions and that sort of rot, and she'd tell him all about it, and then get maudlin and start brooding and thinking she'd married beneath herself. Never mind that her father had never forgiven her for not being a boy to carry on his name, or that she and her mother hadn't been on speaking terms for over ten years. Never mind that getting out of the miserable little hovel she lived in outside of town by catching herself a husband with a house and a steady job had been a big step up for her. No, no, she would gloss over all that and make the stories grand and wonderful for Severus, to the point where she would start believing them herself.
He was getting angrier and angrier as he cleaned up, a job that was rightfully Eileen's anyway, even without the fact that she could do it without lifting a finger—and this mess was her fault, too. He was an inch away from storming up there and rehashing their older, familiar fight of why didn't she just leave if she hated it here so, when a small sound diverted him from his dark mutterings, and he looked around to find his son still curled up in a ball in the corner, whimpering.
Exhaling sharply through his nose, he left the mess where it was and picked his way through the broken glass that he'd missed. When he neared the huddled, quivering boy, he could see a long shallow cut marring Severus's cheek; Toby could recognize a hex mark when he saw one, having been the recipient of Eileen's temper often enough himself, and at the sight his anger subsided into a dull sort of helplessness. Poor little mite, he thought, and he sighed.
"Come on, lad," he said tiredly, leaning over to pick him up. "Let's get you patched up."
Severus refused to uncurl when Toby reached for him, and it was with a huff of annoyance that he hoisted his snivelling son 'round the waist and tucked him under one arm, awkwardly balancing his skinny frame on one hip as he made his way into the kitchen.
He set the boy down on the counter, where he mopped futilely with his sleeve at the tear tracks and runners of snot on his face while Toby fumbled about under the sink for the iodine. Severus wouldn't look at him when he stood and uncapped the bottle, so Toby grabbed his chin and forced him to turn his face upward.
Severus got one look at the bottle and wrenched himself free. "That stings!" he whined.
"Tell it to yer mum," Toby answered grimly. "Now, stop yer whinging and lemme put something on it, or t'll get infected, 'specially with you playing about in all that muck."
"S'not muck! It's a potion!"
But Severus wouldn't, and when Toby went for his face with the little glass wand, Severus wormed away and iodine splattered on the countertop, leaving bright red drops like blood on the cracked tiles.
"Sit still, you little beggar, or I'll get this shite everywhere!" he growled, closing a large hand tight over his son's bony shoulder.
"Just fix it!" he demanded, still squirming.
"I can't if you don't sit still!" he snarled, giving him a rough shake.
Severus's wiggling subsided; his brief flash of impertinence had melted into a sulk, and he just sat there limply as Toby daubed iodine on his face. "Mum could fix it," Severus said petulantly.
Toby felt a flash of fury; the barb was not lost on him and his fingers tightened, digging into his son's flesh. "She might if she weren't passed out drunk, so fat lot of good it does you, you ungrateful little runt!" he hissed. "And 't was your precious hocus-pocus that cut you in the first place, so I'd think you'd've had enough of it for one evening!"
Severus didn't answer and was still, just looked sullenly up at him, the iodine leaving a wide orange streak across his pale skin, his sharp dark eyes glittering from behind his too-long hair. The boy needed a haircut—for God's sake, was it too much to ask to come home to a hot meal, a sober wife, and a son who didn't look like a ragbag?
They glared at each other for a moment, but the battle of wills was broken by a loud rumble from his son's stomach. Toby frowned. "Didn't yer mum feed you at all?"
Severus shook his head, and Toby ground his teeth. "Sit down," he instructed. "I'll make us something."
Severus obeyed (for once), hopping down from the counter and scurrying over to the table; evidently his hunger had made him tractable for a change.
Toby rummaged in the cupboard until he found the bread and dealt it out on the worktop like a hand of whist. The wedge of cheese had gone green on the side, but the other end was perfectly usable, and there were plenty of pickles. He eyed the sandwiches after he built them, and in a fit of charity (and because the bread was stale), he pulled out an old frying pan and lit the stove, dropping in a dab of margarine as it heated.
He turned to find Severus watching him with a sort of sceptical wariness. "You can cook?" he asked dubiously.
Toby snorted. "How'd you think I fed myself 'fore I married yer mum? You don't need magic t'cook, boy. In fact, I'd wager you'll find there's quite a lot out there what can be done wiv out that bit of a stick."
He plopped two of the sandwiches in the pan and rummaged around in the pantry. He found a bag of crisps, but when he picked it up it was light as a feather; all that was left were the sandy bits in the bottom of the bag. He shook his head in disgust and passed the bag to Severus; the boy snatched it up and began eating the remnants in tiny, greasy handfuls.
Toby flipped the sandwiches with a fork and then went over to the sink. He found two cups and a plate that were in passable condition, and after a quick once-over with a dish cloth, they were good as new. The milk wasn't terribly sour, so he poured them both a cup and put their now hot and crisp supper on the plate.
Severus was pawing 'round in the crisp bag like a weasel in the dustbin, but he dropped it when Toby brought him his milk and his supper and attacked it with relish.
Toby tossed two more sandwiches in the pan and browned them as well while he munched on a hot one himself. He put the old frying pan in the sink when they were done; it wasn't his job to wash up in this house—especially not when he had a wife who could do it with just a few nonsense words—and he sat down at the table with the rest of the food.
He looked up from his meal, and his brow furrowed and he grasped his son by the head and turned it up to face the light. A large, livid bruise was blooming purply on his other cheek. "What's this?" he demanded. "Yer mum been at you 'ere, too?"
A dull flush spread under the bruise, and Severus jerked away. "No," he said bitterly. "Some stupid boys from down the road. They hit me." He took a too-big bite of sandwich and chewed it fiercely.
Toby growled in his throat. "Who were they?"
"Don't know," Severus said, swallowing, and Toby knew he was lying but was in a way proud of his son's refusal to squeal.
"What'd they do?"
"Knocked me down. Hit me."
Toby raised his eyebrows. "And just why would they be doin' that?"
Severus scowled down at his supper. "They were bothering me. I told them to go away and leave me alone. I didn't want to talk to them."
That said it all. Eileen could get pretty stroppy when she was in a mood, and this nasty, uppity whine would creep into her voice, like she thought she was somehow better than he was, and she'd snub anyone who tried to speak to her. He'd boxed Severus's ears the first time he'd heard him try that with him; he didn't do it any more in his house, but the defiant look he'd had afterwards told him he hadn't broken him of the habit.
"What, d'you just tell them off for talking to you?" Severus didn't deny it. Toby eyed his sullen son. "It don't do t'treat people like that, lad. I'm not saying you have to play all nice wiv 'em, but 'round here people don't like it when yer mum starts talking down to 'em, and they sure as hell won't take it from a sawed-off little scab like you."
"I don't care!" Severus said hotly. "Why should I? They're all just a bunch of stupid mug—idiots," he finished, looking hurriedly back down to his supper. But it was too late. Toby heard the catch in his son's speech and swelled with anger.
Eileen had said that "muggle" word didn't mean anything bad, that it was just a word, and he'd believed her when they first married. But over the years, as she'd grown more dissatisfied with her lot and crawled further into the bottle, he'd heard the spite creep into her voice when she said it—when she said it to him—and now she was filling his son's head with the same rubbish.
"Don't you use that word 'round me, boy, or I'll slap you daft!" Toby snarled. "And yer part 'muggle,' or whatever it is, and don't you forget it, so you can drop the poncy wizard act!"
Severus glared defiantly at him for a moment, but then dropped his eyes. Toby went on. "You're as bad as yer mum, putting on airs—what'd you expect them boys t'do, if you treat 'em like dirt and act like you're better than them?" He levelled his half-eaten sandwich at his son. "It's not the blood in yer veins what makes a man, boy—it's what a man does that counts." His lip curled at the glowering little boy in front of him. "And given what you did was roll over and let 'em rough you up, I think it's pretty clear who's got the right to strut."
Severus's head shot up, his eyes full of hate. "There were three of them! They're all bigger than me!" he shouted, flecks of cheese hitting the table. "I didn't roll over—I fought them, but they were bigger!"
Toby sneered at him. "That's what you get, for letting them pick the battlefield, then." He looked his son up and down contemptuously. "You're no prize-fighter, boy, and you never will be—if you knew you couldn't beat 'em in a fistfight, then why were you stupid enough to make 'em mad when you were outnumbered and there'us no one around?" Severus flushed darkly, and Toby tapped his temple. "Think, son. I know you has a good head on yer shoulders—you just needs to learn to use it. All the spells in the world won't help you if you walk right in over yer head. You have to choose when to fight, and how to fight, and pick so that you win.
"Take that bastard Townsend down at the mill," Toby said. "I can't just tell 'im to go fuck 'imself when he lays into me—he's me foreman. I'd get sacked." Severus was listening now, his mouth slightly open, the half-eaten remains of his second sandwich forgotten in front of him. Toby felt his lips begin to twist in a nasty smirk. "But I sure as hell can feed 'is day's reports to the carder an' nearly get him sacked when 'e deserves it."
Toby grinned smugly down at his son, and little Severus, impressed in spite of himself by his father's daring, grinned back. "So," Toby said, taking up the remainder of his son's sandwich and polishing it off. "With that in mind, I'm sure you'll be thinking of something proper to be paying them thugs back for pushing you around."
Severus looked surprised. "You're a Snape, boy, and nobody pushes us around and gets away wiv it—not even if we do deserve it," Toby said with a wink.
A slow smile was spreading across his son's face, and Toby grinned down at him, leaning back in his chair and giving a low belch. Severus's eyes were sparkling and distant, his head clearly full of dreams of vengeance as he gnawed on a hangnail. Toby sighed, stretched his arms over his head to work out the lingering pains from his earlier crash landing, and then rose to his feet. "Come on, now—it's late, and it's time for you to be in your bed."
The plotting smile vanished; Severus now just looked mutinous. "I just ate," he groused. "I want to stay up and watch the telly."
"Suppertime changes—bedtime don't. And yer mum was plopped down in front of the telly all afternoon and evening, by the looks of things—you've watched enough for one day." Toby didn't wait around for him to try and retort, and instead pulled him out of his seat by his arm. Severus knew better than to protest at that point, but he started dragging his feet almost immediately. Toby put paid to that with a sharp jerk on his arm; Severus stumbled on the stairs but picked up his pace, although Toby was hard pressed not to give him a clip 'round the ear for the dirty look that he threw him.
When they reached the top of the stairs, his bedroom door was still shut tight. He grabbed the knob and turned. It gave easily and the door swung open; whatever hex Eileen usually locked it with after a row must have worn off. The sound of her sodden snores made it obvious enough why.
"Good-for-nothing drunken scratter," Toby muttered and, with a shove to his son's back, propelled the boy into his room. "Get in bed," he instructed, leaning back against the doorframe with his arms crossed to ensure that his orders were followed. As Severus peeled off his shirt, Toby added, "And I want you to go to sleep—no staying up under the covers with a torch and reading them witchy books you nicked from yer mum."
Severus's face emerged, shocked, from the folds of his nightshirt, and Toby smirked at him. "I—I wasn't!" Severus said automatically.
Toby snorted. "You think yer old man rolled off the back of a lorry yesterday, don't you?" he asked, amused. "If you're going to lie, boy, at least do it so you won't get caught out—you're looking at an old hand at staying up and reading in bed. My dad had to hide all my comic books when I was a lad, and I'll do the same with yer magic spells if I catch you."
Severus scowled at him as he crawled into bed. Toby moved to pull the covers up around him, as he couldn't very well do it himself with his skinny arms crossed in a pout.
He looked down at Severus—his boy, his only son—wearing an old stained T-shirt and wrapped up in greying sheets and a tattered blanket, his face cut and bruised, and felt that old impotent fury threatening to rise again and he looked at the floor.
"I'm glad you 'ave some of yer mum in you, lad," he said abruptly. "You're half mine, but you're half hers, too, and you 'ave something diff'rent about you, and you can use it to make something of yerself." He looked up from the dusty floorboards and met his son's eyes. "You're going to go to that posh school of yer mum's, get a fine education, and be somebody important. You'll make something of our name, won't you, son? Promise me that you'll do somthing with yer life, that you'll not get yourself stuck in this milltown hellhole like me and yer grandfather b'fore you."
Severus looked up at him, his thin face solemn above his sheets. "I will, Dad," he said seriously, and Toby smiled.
"That's my boy," he said. He passed a callused hand over his son's head, smoothing his hair and giving his bruised and sallow cheek a rough caress. "G'night, Sev'rus," he said.
" 'Night, Dad."