It was poetic justice, or so he told himself. For twenty-five years—ever since his graduation from Hogwarts—he'd tortured children. Every year, he saw pools of blood congealing on flagstones. Now, it was his turn. He was through with the nightmares, the guilt, the flashbacks. He could no longer bear the shock of fear that ran through his body whenever he heard that distinctive cracking noise.
Now, it was time to go. To disappear. To rid the world of one more sadistic bastard—for what else could a man like him be? Now, it was time for him to vanish. But not all of him. Oh, no. Not all of him. After all, he was an expert. He was a pro. He'd taught a generation of wizards how to do this perfectly. If he could make children disappear with precision, he surely knew how to make himself disappear without it.
Poetic justice, he repeated to himself, as he Apparated with a Crack!
But he wasn't entirely gone. Something remained behind: two hands, severed at the wrist, lay on the dusty floor of a grimy room in the Leaky Cauldron.
"—darling, thank God!"
"A terrible accident, yes, a terrible accident."
Twycross could feel himself fighting, clinging to the blackness that had engulfed him, but the voices were becoming louder and louder. They were drawing him back.
He didn't want to go back. Please, Merlin, don't make me go back! But his prayer went unanswered. The cries of his wife and his daughter—plus that third, rumbling voice—drew him ever nearer. He could feel a cool hand against his forehead.
"No fever. A good sign, though we should keep something on hand just in case—"
"Extensive blood-loss. Fetch me a vial of Blood-Replenishing Potion at once, MacFusty."
Twycross recognized the authoritative voice of Hippocrates Smethwyk, one of St. Mungo's most acclaimed mediwizards. He heard the tapping shoes as the nurse retreated. Her voice had been familiar: Miriam MacFusty, one of his many victims. He could still remember the sight of her left shoulder laying on the floor of the Great Hall—
Why didn't they let me die?
The voices grew ever nearer:
"Mrs. Twycross, it will be some time before your husband will be ready to go home—assuming he regains consciousness—"
"Father, Father, please wake up!" Twycross felt his daughter's hand shaking his shoulder, and he winced in pain. Pain that he was alive. Pain that shot up his arm like the breath of a dragon. Pain that—in trying to save other children from the horror of his tutelage—he'd caused his little Galatea to suffer.
In the end, that was the pain—guilt that he'd even harmed his own daughter—that brought him back. His eyelids fluttered.
"You mustn't do that, Miss Twycross!" Smethwyk's voice cut in sharply. "His wrists haven't healed—risk of re-injury is too great."
Twycross slowly opened his eyes.
"Galatea . . ." he whispered. "I'm so sorry."
Then, he turned to his wife, whose eyes—bloodshot from weeping—were shining with sudden hope.
"Why, Cassie . . .?" He could hardly get the words out, he was so weak. Swallowing hard, he tried again. "Why . . . did you bring me . . . back? Why didn't you let me—"
A searing pain made him cry out when he reached for her. "I wanted—to die."
The last thing Twycross saw, as his vision blurred and the darkness closed around him, were the faces of his family, the young nurse, and the careworn doctor. Each one was frozen with a different expression: grief, horror, disbelief, and—in the latter's case—grim, yet compassionate determination.
Even in the Janus Thickey Ward, money could buy you comfort. When Twycross regained consciousness, he had immediately known where he was. Every item with which he could inflict harm on himself had been removed. Even his belt and shoelaces were gone. Yet his wife had not been sparing: every detail of his quarters showed that she'd paid dearly. There was a plush couch, a comfortable bed, even an enchanted window that revealed a spectacular view: the Swiss Alps, Twycross realized. Long a destination for invalids like him.
Yes, it was amazing what those twenty pieces of silver could buy. In Twycross's case, the blood money had bought himself a gilded cage. Dementors would have been more appropriate, though he shuddered to imagine what horrors he'd hear if he ever got near one.
His wrists healed, Twycross paced from one end of the room to the other. Soon it would begin: the endless sessions of psychoanalysis. The questions. The attempts to alleviate the guilt that had become such a deep, secret part of him that he didn't dare reveal it to anyone, let alone Smethwyk's daughter. Yes, soon it would begin. He was counting the minutes, then the seconds, until the door would open, the orderlies would appear, and he would be escorted to the head-shrinker's couch.
Ten seconds. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six . . .
The door opened. Metrodora was ahead of schedule. How like a Smethwyk. Eyes downcast, Twycross shuffled towards her office.
It stretched between Metrodora and her patient until the air seemed to throb with tension. But what did she expect? He had nothing to say to her. Nothing he was willing to say. He'd wanted to die. He hadn't. Now, he was trapped in a kind of shadow-life, just as he had been in the years leading up to his self-splinching.
He hunched over, burying his face in his hands.
Metrodora's soothing voice did no good at all. She assured him that—if silence was what he needed—they had all the time in the world. He wasn't going anywhere, not any time soon.
Not until he got better.
Twycross wrung his hands. He would never get better. He'd be staring at that enchanted scene of the Alps until his blood-money ran out. Then, he'd be stuck in one of St. Mungo's sterile hospital beds for the rest of his natural life—just because he'd tried to exact justice upon himself.
Himself—Wilkie Twycross, the child-killer. The one who was sometimes a little too generous on his final exams, later to find himself cleaning up the bloody mess that was all that remained of a young witch or wizard.
He began to pace.
One suicide attempt and one inquisitive House Elf were all it had taken to condemn Twycross to all this: captivity; shame; and worst of all, deprivation from the few things that had allowed him to carry on. His surreptitious sips from his flask of firewhiskey, that wonderful (though sadly out of fashion) Muggle narcotic called opium, the occasional all-night stroll through Knockturn Alley, hoping he would be cursed into oblivion.
Now, it was just Twycross. Twycross alone, unmedicated, with his view of the mountains and his shrink. Before he knew what he was doing, he slammed his fist into the wall, punching a hole right through it. As soon as he did so, he reeled backwards, screaming in pain. Across the room, Metrodora Smethwyk didn't even blink.
"I sense that you are angry, Mr. Twycross," she said smoothly. "Why don't you take a seat. And please, mind your wrists. I'd hate to have to call my father back in."
For the entirety of their second session, Twycross raged at the House Elf who had come to dust his room. But for her, his suicide attempt would never have been discovered—not in time.
In the third session, Twycross wept over his wife and daughter, whom he'd shocked and hurt so badly. He hadn't even thought to leave them a note.
In his fourth session, he begged for some kind of relief—any kind. A drug. A drink. A spell that would stop the flashbacks. Anything, anything at all, that would end the nightmares.
But he wouldn't tell Metrodora what the nightmares were about. No, he couldn't share that. It was too shameful. He remembered her year at Hogwarts—the Apparition lessons had gone off without a hitch. She had no idea what he'd seen—and he didn't want her to, no more than he wanted Galatea or Cassandra to know how he spent his "days at the office."
Of course, the bloody doctors never gave in. They never offered him a potion to ease his pain. They wanted him to face it, to process it, to move forward and go back to his normal life. In his sixth or seventh session, Twycross finally exploded:
"You don't understand, Dr. Smethwyk!" he shouted. "My life hasn't been normal in twenty-five years!"
Metrodora tilted her head and watched her patient. He was agitated, picking at his skin. Lingering withdrawal from years of self-medicating, perhaps? She made a note on his file. When she sensed Twycross beginning to withdraw, she risked igniting another explosion.
"Hasn't it been, Wilkie? Haven't you had a perfectly normal life? A steady job, a happy marriage, a caring, intelligent daughter? It seems pretty normal to me. Probably better than normal."
"You don't understand." Now, Twycross was rubbing his wrist, feeling the slight ridges that marked where his hands had been reattached.
"Then make me understand."
Twycross met Metrodora's eyes. They were deep brown, compassionate, and no longer the innocent child's that he remembered from her days at Hogwarts. They had shadows in them—a hint that she, too, had heard and seen more than her fair share of suffering. Maybe she could understand.
"I do—" Twycross began, "I do have a perfectly normal life. But it was all built upon the blood of the innocent."
"Twenty-five years. That's how long I have been doing it—accepting money in exchange for inflicting pain. Pain on children. On children." He stressed the last words when his psychiatrist's face registered neither shock nor horror.
A silence stretched between them.
Finally, Metrodora spoke: "I do understand, Wilkie. I do."
Twycross burst into tears and didn't stop until the end of the session. He wasn't certain if they were tears of relief or of rage, or if, for that matter, the rage was directed at himself or at the infuriatingly composed young woman who sat in front of him.
Twycross was back in the emergency room, Hippocrates Smethwyk leaning over him. The patient—too weak to move—choked as Miriam MacFusty forced him to swallow another vial of Blood-Replenishing Potion. The cuts on his legs closed, one by one, as Smethwyk methodically drew his wand over them. The skin knitted together. The pain stopped.
Then, Twycross felt nothing.
When he returned to his room in the Thickey wing, he saw that the decorative lead that had adorned his enchanted window had been removed. Of course. They wouldn't give him another chance to pry a piece loose. To cut open his skin. To remind himself that he was, in fact, alive—that his plush room, the hospital's white hallways, and Metrodora's smooth voice were not, in fact, his own special circle in Hell.
But now he knew he wasn't dead. He'd felt nothing for so long that he'd begun to wonder if he could feel anything at all. The pain of sharp metal cutting into his skin was proof enough that he lived.
Twycross still wasn't sure he wanted to. After all, which was worse: the numbness that confirmed to him that he was a monster, or the anguish when all his memories rushed back to him? As he lay in his bed staring at the ceiling, he imagined he could feel the weight of a hundred thousand corpses piled on top of him.
He gasped for breath and desperately pulled the cord to summon the orderlies who lurked outside his silk-lined prison.
"I wish they hadn't come."
Once again, Twycross was in Metrodora's book-lined room. She sat beside her desk, leaning back in her armchair and listening intently.
"Because . . . because I did it all for them."
The psychiatrist made a questioning noise. Twycross bristled. He imagined that the woman was skeptical.
"I did it all for them," he repeated with more force. "I was so young back then, you see . . . too young to marry. Too young to have a baby on the way. But I should have known. The salary—the salary was so good."
"It's important to support your family. But how is this connected to your suicide attempt?"
"I should have known," Twycross insisted.
"What should you have known?"
"Why the Ministry would pay so much . . . Why would a government agency offer such an important job to a boy just out of Hogwarts? I thought it was because I was so gifted. What a fool I was."
"From what I've read, you were incredibly talented at Apparition—both doing it and teaching it to your peers."
He laughed bitterly.
"So I was a fool even as a student."
Again, Metrodora waited, listened.
"No one else would accept the job," her patient elaborated, "They knew what it would be like."
"And what was it like?"
"A war zone. Just imagine! And I was so proud back then. Every time one of my students successfully Apparated for the first time—every time I passed one—I did it with pride. I congratulated myself on my skill as a teacher."
"What happened to change all that?" Metrodora leaned forward in her seat. A part of her—that part that was still unable to detach from her patients despite her attempts to erect proper boundaries—hungered to know what had changed her handsome, confident teacher into the shell who sat before her.
Twycross blinked. Perhaps he was holding back tears.
"It was for Galatea. For her schooling. She'd turned five, you see."
Metrodora cocked her head. It was obvious that she didn't see the connection.
"My wife," Twycross elaborated. "She's a Muggle. She went to all the best public schools. She wanted the same for our children. Even with all that money—it wasn't enough, not for tuition. Not for two children."
"And so I agreed to join the clean-up crew. That's when it began. I saw—I saw—"
Twycross's eyes darkened. Metrodora felt the wall go up between them. She knew her patient would not speak for the rest of the session.
Three months. Three months had passed, and Twycross's son hadn't visited him. Charles is ashamed of me, he realized. He's always seen me for what I truly am.
Remembering Charles, Twycross felt even more wretched than he had before. His son had known. He'd been the first to see his father's panic. It all started that day in the amusement park. Cassandra insisted that the children be exposed to the Muggle world. That's why they'd gone. At first, everything had been fine. Then, Charles asked to play that game—that strange Muggle game where you shoot at moving ducks for some cheap prize.
Yes, his son had been determined to win a giant stuffed tiger. Twycross had pressed money into his hand and stood nearby, keeping an eye on his little boy. The crowd was so great that he feared Charles would be swept away.
Then it started: Crack! Crack! Crack!
Each round from that stupid toy gun echoed in Twycross's head, filling him with horror. Adrenaline flooded his system. Visions of that seventh-year student—or that half of a seventh-year student—that he'd helped "clean up" flashed through his mind. He, Twycross, had passed the girl only a few months before.
Her blood was on his hands.
Crack! Ping! Charles shot off a final round, but his father wasn't there to see him win. He'd fled, pushing his way through the crowd. It was an hour before Twycross came to his senses and found a security guard. When he saw Charles again, the boy's face was covered in dirt, tear-tracks slicing through the dust on his cheeks.
The giant tiger was stained with mud and ice cream because Charles had dragged it behind him, screaming for his father. The father who abandoned him at the moment of his victory.
"He hates me."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because he does. I can see it in his eyes. He's the only one who knew."
"About what?" Today, Metrodora's face was in the shadows. She'd drawn the curtains when her patient complained about the light. She suspected that he was ashamed to show his face.
"About the drugs. About the firewhiskey. Charles is the one who found them. He wanted to—to—to borrow my bag. I'd hidden them there. I don't even know how he recognized what the opium was. He was only fifteen years old."
"And what did he do?"
Twycross bit his lip hard. He could taste the blood.
"He came to my office. He handed them to me. He thanked me for the bag. And he never told any one, not as far as I know. But he never looked at me the same again."
"And that's why you think he hates you?"
"That's why I know he does."
"You're perfect," Miriam MacFusty proclaimed. Then, she blushed. "Physically, I mean. I mean—your vital signs—um—they're exactly what they should be."
"Thank you." Back at Hogwarts, Twycross had suspected that the girl had a crush on him. "Guess I'm not too bad for an old man. Except in the brain-box." He laughed mirthlessly.
"You're not an old man!"
"Yes, I am."
"But—it says right here on your chart,"—she fumbled with said item—"That you're only forty-three."
Twycross felt like he'd been old for twenty years, but the girl was right. He was a wizard. He could easily live to be a hundred and fifty! He could be in this hospital for a century . . . As Twycross watched MacFusty bustle around the room picking up salves and instruments, his heart constricted.
His wife would die while he was sitting here. She was, after all, a Muggle. And would Galatea keep visiting as the decades stretched on? He doubted it. She'd just gotten engaged. Someday, she'd have children. Who'd want to expose their babies to a crazy, locked-up grandfather?
He'd be alone.
MacFusty had gathered all her things, which were in danger of spilling out of her arms.
He shook his head and tried to focus on the girl in front of him.
"It's all because of you, you know," she said, her words tumbling out. "I mean—it's all because of you that I'm here. I mean, that I'm training to be a mediwizard."
She dropped her wand, and Twycross picked it up for her.
"Thank you," she said. "Yes, I want you to know—even though I'm not supposed to talk about this—I want you to know. You saved me. At Hogwarts. When I splinched myself. I was terrified. I thought I was dying. And then you came, and you waved your wand, and you made everything alright."
Twycross shuddered at the memory. Pretty little Miriam, her blonde curls covered in blood, her eyes glazed. Tonight, he knew, he'd have those dreams again—this time about her. He wished she'd shut up, but she was such a sweet girl. He couldn't bring himself to shout at her.
MacFusty shifted her instruments and bottles into crook of her left arm. Timidly, she touched her patient's shoulder.
"W-W-Wilkie, that's the moment I knew that I had to become a mediwizard. That's when I knew my calling was to heal people.
"You have a gift for it, you know," she whispered, "For fixing people who are broken. I just really . . . wanted you to know." Then, she dropped everything she'd been holding.
"Oh!" MacFusty said, as several glass vials shattered on the tile floor. "Oh, no!"
She rushed out of the room, and Twycross sank onto the couch. Forty-three years old. He wasn't out of time. Although he'd spent twenty-five years breaking people, he'd also put them back together.
Slowly, Twycross began to understand. He wasn't trapped. He didn't have to live on blood money. He didn't have to stay the same. He, too, could become something else, like a mediwizard. After all, he had half the training already: treating lacerations, trauma, shock, blood-loss. The Smethwyks might even recommend him for the program. Maybe he'd ask Metrodora next time . . .
Twycross knew that the nightmares would never go away. Yet, he didn't have to keep going in the same direction he'd picked as an eighteen-year-old. Now, he could heal people. He could make them whole again.
All he had to do was heal himself first.
Six months into his father's institutionalization, Charles Twycross visited. After a long silence, he threw himself into Wilkie's arms. As the two embraced, the younger man begged for his dad—the one he remembered from before that day at the park—to come back.
The next morning, Twycross asked to be moved from his luxurious apartment to one of the plain, institutional rooms. He wouldn't live on his twenty pieces of silver anymore. The only item he brought to the sterile, whitewashed cell was a beaten-up old tiger. It was beautiful, despite its loose button-eye and missing tail. Embarrassing as it was for a man his age, he slept with the stuffed cat every night.
It gave Twycross hope.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As always, reviews and constructive criticism are warmly welcomed.
CHALLENGES: This story was inspired by two challenges: The Page Number Challenge (Half-BloodPrince, 387)—though I broke the rules into teeny, tiny slivers; and the Not for the Faint of Heart Challenge (Operation Mentality: PTSD).
52 WEEK CHALLENGE PROMPTS: Swoon, blurred, government.
DISCLAIMER: The Harry Potter universe and all canon characters belong to JKR, not me.