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Chapter 5: Curiouser and Curiouser
Written by HarrietHopkirk and beta'd by PrincessPadfoot.
Chapter image by HarrietHopkirk
The day was cold and the sky was an impenetrable layer of cloud. Fog hung eerily about the grounds of Hogwarts, and Hagrid loomed dangerously out of the mist, his hulking frame barely visible. Students walking to and from the greenhouses wrapped their scarves tighter around their necks as the cold devoured them, quickening their steps so as to reach the warmth of the classrooms. The corridors inside the castle were equally gloomy and dark, the candles offering little light. It seemed that the whole school was locked on a comatose state. Students and teachers walked from classroom to classroom as if asleep.
Aurora Sinistra seemed to be the only one in the entirety of Hogwarts with any sort of life left in her. She smiled and laughed and talked (although mostly to herself) during lessons and break times. Her loud voice echoed through the cold corridors. Barty Crouch was always trudging wearily at her side, listening to her as she talked about nothing in particular and sometimes, during the times when she paused for air, he uttered uninvolved answers to her questions. His voice remained monotone throughout.
He hadn’t been the same, not since his talk with Professor Flitwick after curfew. Aurora noted the obvious change in him, his desire to prove himself whenever the opportunity arose. He was quiet now, only speaking to answer a question in class or the general small talk the two now shared. She had tried desperately to change the topic of the conversation whenever it fell on Flitwick or the Slytherins.
“But then he told me that my essay was not good enough! Can anyone even get lower than an E on an astronomy essay, Barty? Well I know you don’t but it’s virtually impossible! It’s really easy but he was going on and on about how it’s so difficult to get the telescope positioned right! He’s mental! I mean it’s not like I’m going to take up teaching it when I leave this place...”
“So when that finished I had to run down to the dungeons because I was late for Potions and Slughorn had already assigned seats so that’s why I had to sit at the back with Mulciber. He’s horrible and completely awful at Potions and I saw you sitting next to Lestrange...”
Barty had been waiting for her to finish for a while; waiting for her obscene hand gestures and long, hysterical stories to stop. They had stopped walking, and were standing in the doorway to the Great Hall. From this vantage point, Barty could see the four house tables, and on the right, the Slytherin table was almost empty apart from a group of threatening boys sitting at the far end.
“I left my book in the dungeons, do you mind going back to get it? I have a meeting with Flitwick.”
His voice was quiet but strained. Aurora watched as his jaw clenched slightly.
“Of course,” she replied, before hurrying off towards the dungeons. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, she turned her head to see Barty entering the Great Hall and walking over to the Slytherin table, his head held high. With a curious look, she disappeared down the staircase to the dungeons, wondering whether Barty’s potion book was actually left behind.
Barty Crouch walked over to the Slytherin table and, without hesitation, walked towards the menacing gang of boys. Rabastan Lestrange was sitting in the centre of the group, silent and intimidating, shuffling a pack of magic playing cards. His hands moved quickly over the cards, and his dark eyes remained fixed on them. Mulciber and Knot were eating plate loads of food, shoving it into their mouths ferociously.
“Lestrange,” Barty said. On his arrival, Mulciber stood up ominously and Knot clenched his fists. Rabastan looked up, staring at him. His lips twisted into a smile, and he put his cards down.
“Why are you here, Crouch?”
Barty paused, uncertain how to proceed. They had talked a little in Potions, mostly about the potion they were meant to make in a pair, but Lestrange had mentioned something else, something that intrigued and interested Barty. He bit his lip nervously.
“Mulciber,” Lestrange said, ignoring Barty’s silence, his voice was quiet but authoritative, “go find Esling. I have to talk to Mr. Crouch, here.”
Mulciber stared at Barty, and then rushed off towards the entrance to the Great Hall. Knot merely returned to his meal, the knife and fork clattering against the golden plate.
“Please, sit,” Lestrange said but Barty remained standing and silent.
“Listen, Bartemius,” he continued, and Barty flinched at the use of his full name— only his father called him that. “I’m not one for going round and spilling the family secrets to anyone...”
“Then why did you tell me?” Barty blurted out the words and Lestrange returned to looking at his playing cards. It was his turn to be silent. After a long, pregnant pause, he looked up at Barty.
“I thought it might interest you. That’s why you are here, isn’t it? I can’t imagine any other reason why you would be here.”
“Is what you said true?” Barty asked.
“I’m hardly going to tell you again,” Lestrange replied, flipping over each playing card one by one. “Your father is big in the Ministry, isn’t he? Why would I tell people like you who could easily rat my family out?”
“I hate my father,” Barty responded quickly. His curiosity was growing now. Rabastan Lestrange had told him that his family was holding something powerfully magical and dark in their house, something that would be of great power in the Dark Lord’s hands. Barty wanted to know what it was.
“That’s a shame.” Rabastan was smiling up at him now.
“I won’t tell anyone.”
“How can I trust you?”
“You just can.”
Rabastan Lestrange laughed. It was a horrible sound, dark and sinister. It reminded Barty that he shouldn’t be talking to people like the Lestranges. He told people over and over that he wasn’t going to be one of them, but here he was, persuading Lestrange that he could trust him.
“I heard from Esling that you didn’t want to be a Death Eater.” Lestrange had lowered his voice, and Barty, who was still standing awkwardly by the table, leant in to hear him.
“I don’t. I’m not like that.”
“Yet here you are.”
Lestrange was just confirming what Barty was thinking. He could hear Aurora calling to him from the other side of the Great Hall, and he wanted to leave this strange conversation that was happening at the Slytherin table. Barty turned his head to glance at Aurora, who was looking at him curiously. He signalled her to wait a moment. His curiosity was making him stay.
“Tell you what,” Lestrange began, obviously enjoying himself, “you need to prove to me that I can trust you.”
Barty wanted to accept the challenge. His desire to show that he wasn’t going to be a Death Eater was eating away at him, but he reminded himself that his curiosity didn’t need to be satisfied. He didn’t need to know what dark and dismal secrets lurked within the confines of the Lestrange household. He couldn’t risk being lured into that world of darkness, he wouldn’t let himself stray that far.
“No, Lestrange. I don’t care whether you can trust me.” Barty moved to walk away, but Mulciber and Patrick Esling had arrived out of nowhere and stopped him. Patrick was smiling smugly and crossed his arms.
“I thought you weren’t ready to join our little gang, Crouch,” he said. Barty glared at him. Rabastan Lestrange stood up and rested a hand on Patrick’s shoulder.
“Listen, Bartemius. I know you are curious, and I like that about you. I don’t want to force you into anything.”
Lestrange was smooth talking, charming, dangerous when he wanted to be. Barty knew that he should keep away from him and his gang of future Death Eaters, but somehow they took him in. It was almost like he was being seduced by the power he knew that dark magic could provide.
“I don’t want to be a Death Eater,” Barty repeated, and he saw Esling open his mouth to speak, but Lestrange stopped him.
“That’s fine.” He smiled. “Tell you what, how about we just be friends for now. Maybe you can introduce me to your little friend over there...”
The group turned to look at Aurora. Rabastan waved. She replied the gesture half-heartedly, still looking confused. Barty clenched his fists slightly, and his tongue darted out to touch his lip. He wasn’t sure where he picked the mannerism up, but he always seemed to do it when he was angry. Rabastan noticed it.
“Oh, sorry, didn’t realised that you liked her like that,” he said, slapping Barty on the back and smiling. “Maybe another time, eh?”
Barty nodded. His fists relaxed, and he looked back over at Aurora, who was now talking to another student.
“So Bartemius, friends?” Rabastan held out his hand. Barty hesitated for a second before shaking it, a smile stretching over his face.
“Brilliant. We’ll see you at dinner then.”
The group moved off and Barty returned to the Ravenclaw house table, where Aurora was waiting for him. They sat down and began to pile food on their plates.
“What were you doing with Lestrange? I thought you had a meeting with Flitwick.”
“Just talking about Potions, that’s all.” He hated having to lie to her, and knew she probably saw right through it, but he knew she wouldn’t approve of his budding new friendship with a possible Death Eater.
“Barty didn’t need much persuading, Filius,” the Grey Lady continued. “His curiosity obviously got the better of him. Even though he didn’t think that he would become a Death Eater then, he was definitely seduced by the power of it.”
The ghost and the professor turned a corner, and began to descend a flight of stairs.
“It’s sad. Did Rabastan even have anything in his house?” Flitwick asked.
“No, not in the end. He knew that Barty’s father was Head of the Law Enforcement and so he believed that his son would be a powerful ally. Barty was young, curious and emotional. He could be easily swayed. Lestrange made the whole thing up to get his attention.”
“Poor Barty,” the Charms teacher shook his head sadly.
“It’s his own fault. You go on about how he was a bright boy, and he was. Barty knew the risks. He just failed to acknowledge them.”