Tobias stood. "I need a drink," he said.
Once he had fixed a glass of mostly whiskey with very little ice, Hermione asked, "Did she stay when she brought him back?"
"In a manner of speaking. Her body was there, but just like before, she was in her own little miserable world. I came home from work one day and there he was, sitting on the floor. It's stupid what you remember. He had picked at a scab or a bug bite or something, and he was holding it, the little bit of dead skin or whatever it is, on the tip of his finger, examining it in the light. He looked up at me, then right back to the dead skin, as if I were just some furniture or a car gone by. Oh, he was different when he came back. Before he left, he was talking up a storm. The ladies at church couldn't get over how much he could say. But when he came back, he hardly talked at all. If you didn't ask him a question or give him an order, he acted like you hadn't said anything at all. If he could, he would answer you by pointing or nodding, or maybe one word if he had to. He didn't smile much, didn't cry much either. Mostly, he just looked intense. I asked him once, why he wouldn't talk."
The boy in the window filled in Severus's whispered answer. "So my thoughts don't get out."
Ron screwed up his face. "What's that mean?"
"I didn't know then and I don't know now. Might not mean anything. Kids are weird. Or it might be something she taught him. I was sort of hoping it would sound familiar to you three, something normal for magic kind."
They all shook their heads.
"And before he left, we had kept his hair short , neat and clean. But when he came back, he was getting scruffy and he wouldn't let me cut it at all. Wouldn't even let me wash it, comb it back out of his eyes." A sniff. "It's funny, the things that seemed so important at the time." He shook his head to clear the thought. "Anyways, it wasn't just him that was different. It was me too. I was...well, the social workers in the prison would say that I was an alcoholic and I suppose that was true. It was just hard to look at him, though. He was...cold somehow. The other kids were, they were scared of him."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked.
"Well, for one thing, he couldn't take a joke at all. I mean, when he was little, before Eileen took off with him, if a kid knocked over his blocks, he just built them back up as if nothing had happened. He didn't even really look at the other kid, he acted like the blocks falling was just a force of nature. But after, it was like everything was an attack, everything was on purpose. If somebody bumped into him, it was never just an accident, they must've been trying to hit him or something."
"So he would attack back?" she prompted.
"Well, sort of. Sometimes."
"He would ignore some things, seem totally unfazed by them. He would be fine, fine, fine, then bam!" Tobias brought a fist down onto his palm. "It was kind of like Duck Duck Goose."
Ron look confused; Hermione whispered "A children's game," with a look that promised to explain later.
"You knew it was coming, you just didn't know when. Like, duck, duck, duck, duck...except not goose. No, with Sev it was bloody Duck Duck Annihilation."
It was evidence, perhaps, of the intensity in Tobias's voice that none of them laughed at the odd phrase. "Well what did he do," said Harry, "What was the 'annihilation' part?"
Tobias shook his head slightly. "You couldn't always tell...I mean, you couldn't always be sure that it was him. We had a neighbor who – we lived in this run-down scrapheap – who had managed to get some flowers to grow in the tiny strip of mud in front of her house. She was always out there, carrying on, preening over the damn things. Well, one day she scolded Sev because she said hullo to him and he ignored her. Next day, all of her flowers are torn up, destroyed."
Ron shrugged. "That's not so bad. My brothers messed up my mom's garden more than once."
"Did they do it on purpose? Destroy it for no other reason than because it was something she loved? Because that's what Sev did. And that wasn't the only time he did it. When he was in 3rd form, he was complaining that his teacher didn't treat him fair, that she punished him for something another kid did, something maddening sure, but not a big deal. Just a detention. Well, his teacher was married to Frank Pierce, who was a supervisor down at the mill. On the Monday after Sev was all mad at his teacher, Frank doesn't show up. We figure he's sick or something, but it isn't like him not to call in. So after my shift, me and a few other guys went out looking for Frank. He wasn't hard to find, had spent the day crying into his liquor at the pub. So we ask him what's the matter and he tells us that he got an anonymous note telling him to go to some diner at some time and he does and what does he find but his brother being all too friendly with his wife of twenty years!" Tobias turned his head to the side. "He shows us the note and it's Sev's bloody handwriting." He leaned forward, toward his three interviewers and planted his hand on the table. "It was Sev's bloody handwriting! He was mad at her for some stupid little squabble and he went and broke up her marriage!"
The window showed Tobias's eyes grow wide, then narrow in anger, all for the briefest of moments before he passed the note on.
"That was when I started to think, this kid's...it wasn't just mischief, you see? I tried to keep control of him, but I couldn't stand to be around him. He just ignored me anyway. He would have listened to her, but she didn't bother. I mean, I think he would have listened to her...guess I don't know. But he just ran wild. Came and went whenever he pleased without so much as a goodbye."
Ron looked slightly unnerved. "What was he doing?"
"I haven't a clue. Sometimes I would see him, sneaking through alleys, but I don't know what he was trying to do. Eileen would ask him sometimes and demand that he look her in the eye. She'd even grab his head or freeze him with her wand, just to make him look, because he would squirm like her eyes were fire. But she was always trying to look him in the eye, as if that was going to fix matters." Tobias slowed, looked pensive suddenly. "Thinking on it now, I think that was why he kept his hair long – it covered up his face. At the time, I could never figure out why, but he fought tooth and nail when she tried to look at him."
"Legilimency." Harry blurted the word out before he could think better of it. Then, stumbling to explain it, "It's...it's sort of like mind reading, but with magic, and you have to look at the person and..." Harry trailed off, aware that this all sounded faintly ridiculous.
"Well, whatever it was, his hair was nasty, he was evil, I was drunk, and all Eileen seemed to care about was making him look her in the eye." Tobias looked to the side, sighed as if lost in thought, but the window behind him remained hazy. After a moment, he straightened and spoke. "So there was a boy, Willie Harper, who must have made Sev angry. They were in the same class at school, so I suppose they must have bickered there. I-" he stopped short, seemingly surprised with himself, "I guess I really don't know how it started, but I do know how it ended. Severus stole my hammer."
Ron interrupted in a shocked tone. "He attacked the other boy with a hammer?"
Tobias shook his head. "No, no, that would have been simple, wouldn't it? You remember, we lived in a very bad part of town. There were a lot of abandoned buildings. Sev must've gone into one, used the hammer to pry out a bunch of old rusted nails." Tobias slowed, as if considering his words carefully, while the window behind his head displayed a fogged image of a feral-looking boy. "He put the nails into an old sock, you see? And he got Willie Harper to chase him down a blind alley where he had climbed up a fire escape. And then he just leapt on top of him and went at him with the weapon he had made, the sock full of nails. He savaged the boy. Willie Harper," Tobias took an oddly defensive tone, "looked like he'd barely escaped being eaten by a pack of wolves."
Tobias looked his interviewers in the eye, each in turn. "You hear on TV – or maybe your kind don't, what do I know? – about kids who kill other kids and everybody is so sad for the parents of the kid who died, but I say spare a thought for the parents of the killer. Do you know what it's like to know that you brought that into the world? That if it weren't for your spawn, a life wouldn't have been destroyed?" His voice got higher, louder. "Willie Harper lost his eyes! They were scratched by the nails and they couldn't be repaired. All I could think was the last thing that little boy would ever see in his entire life, was my son tearing into his flesh!"
Tobias looked down, massaged his temples, and at last the window became clear. It showed a dingy corridor, painted a terrible aqua color on walls, floor, and ceiling. The florescent light flickered randomly. The only feature of note was a thin metal bench on the left wall, where a skinny, pale, greasy-haired boy sat hunched over. He was wearing ill-fitting corduroys and a stained white undershirt. A man – clearly Tobias – leaned over him, livid, finger waving. "That's not even your blood, is it? You're covered in somebody else's blood! Well, that's just lovely!" In the image, Tobias spun around, held his head in his hands and then turned back to face his still-impassive son. "You've made your choice, boy. You've made your choice. You're a monster. I should have smothered you in your cradle!" Severus showed no reaction. The fog returned, the image faded.
"You have to understand," said Tobias, pleaded Tobias, "you have to understand." Hermione's face bore a mixture of disgust and pity. Ron looked as though he rather agreed with Tobias's rant. "All I could think was that little boy would never see again, that the last think he would ever see was my son beating him with a sock full of nails. You have to understand, she took him from me, she changed him. If it weren't for her, none of this ever would have happened." As he had moments before, Tobias looked in turn at the faces of his three interviewers, defensive, looking for some sign that they felt for his situation. He dropped his head and kneaded his right hand with his left. "I gave up on him. I just...we lived in the same house, but we went our separate ways. I didn't...I didn't think it was worth the struggle anymore. I was obviously losing...I was-"
"Wait," said Harry, "an attack like that, people are going to get involved, call the police. What ended up happening?"
"At first, it was very big. The police were talking about whether they could send him to jail and if not, maybe some kind of secure school or something. But then...I think Eileen had something to do with it, though I can't be sure, of course. Everyone just stopped being angry about the matter. Far as I could tell, they all thought Willie had been injured by some stray dogs. Eileen said Sev wasn't going to school anymore, I guess to lay low or maybe just because she didn't want him spending any more time with non-magic folk."
"After a few months, I tried to- I tried to love him again, at least a little. I used to love to watch him sleep when he was a baby, curled up in a little ball, fingers perched just outside his mouth like he was thinking over whether or not to suck his thumb. So I tried watching him sleep again, but it wasn't the same at all." The window obliged. A monochrome boy – white skin, black hair, lay face-up in bed, body perfectly straight. His hands rested on his sternum, one on top of the other. Having attended far more funerals than most young men, Harry recognized the pose at once; Severus looked like a corpse laid out for viewing at a wake, differentiated only by the slight rise and fall of his chest.