Chapter 7 : The Point of No Return
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"There must have been some turning point," Helena said thoughtfully, turning her piercing gaze to Flitwick. "There always is, isn't there? Something which sets the path for the events to come... though what, considering all the boy had, is beyond me. Was there, Filius?"
Flitwick smiled, a sad tugging of lips framed by laughter as much as cares.
"My dear, it is so rare that we recognise these moments at the time. Some, of course, are impossible to miss, but for the most part, it is only years later that we realise what has come to pass."
"So we'll never know, then?"
"I have ideas, no more than that. I did get one hint, that in hindsight seems so painfully obvious."
Professor Filius Flitwick lifted the heavy silver knocker― goblin made, he recognised at once―†and let it rap against the polished mahogany door. It was as impressive as the rest of the tall Victorian house it belonged to. Rather grand for his taste, but he was a simple man, and entertained rarely. The Crouches, on the other hand...
Before he had time to finish the thought, the door swung open and a house elf peered cautiously out at him. She was small, as they all were, but not much shorter than him, and her huge brown eyes widened even further to see someone so close to her height.
"'I'm Filius Flitwick. I'm expected for dinner," he reassured her.
"Is it her? Is she here? Lys? Oh, hello Professor," came a crestfallen voice. Flitwick stepped into the hallway and smiled at his most promising student.
"I don't expect you to be too pleased to see me.†It is the holidays, after all," Flitwick said lightly.
Barty immediately flushed with embarrassment. "No sir, that's not what I meant― it's only― you see, my cousin is due back in England, and I haven't seen her†in a such a long time, and I thought you were her..." he trailed off. Flitwick wondered if he had ever seen the normally serious boy so animated.†There was a glow in his eyes that Flitwick had only glimpsed when he passed by Barty holding hands with Aurora. It was a glow that disappeared when a third man stepped into the hall.
"Bartemius, don't keep your Professor standing in the hall.†What are you thinking, son? So sorry, Professor, wonderful of you to join us.†I know you're a busy man."
"Not at all," squeaked Flitwick, allowing himself to be gently but determinedly guided into another room by the taller man. The sitting room was large and well lit, decorated tastefully in subdued colours and with minimal decorations.
"It's a pleasure to spend time with the family of one of my most brilliant students," Flitwick insisted.
"Ah yes, we were quite happy with his grades, most pleased, although we do think he can apply himself more― you've met my wife?"
"Delighted," Flitwick said, bowing over Mrs Crouch's hand as best he could from his short stature. She was a small woman, with pale hair and large, kind eyes in a slightly harassed face.
"Barty speaks very highly of you," she said warmly, looking fondly at her only child, who fidgeted uncomfortably.
"He's an excellent student and does our house proud," Flitwick assured her. She looked pleased, and would have questioned him further if the house elf had not come in and bowed.
"Dinner is served, sirs and miss," she squeaked, and Flitwick found himself propelled into a yet another room of the Crouch residence.
An analyst at heart, as all good Ravenclaws were, Flitwick could not help but analyse the difference in Barty as he watched him interact with his parents over dinner. Amongst his peers, he never seemed to quite fit in, but then that seemed almost intentional; he held himself unconsciously aloft, aware as they were that he was no ordinary wizard. With Aurora, he gave a rare smiles, and with his studies, an intense pursuit. However, in the family that reportedly doted on him as the only son and heir, he was a muted version of his normal life, slouched silently in his seat with a slight curl to his lips as his father talked politics.
"Yes, it's a very exciting development, but I've known him a long time― charming family, really, quite exemplary models of― Bartemius, sit properly, I do hope you don't hunch like that at school! As I was saying..."
Flitwick responded politely to Mr Crouch's conversation and the occasional contributions of Mrs Crouch, but his mind was elsewhere as he toyed with his perfectly glazed pecan pie. It was a pity, really. Were the Crouches even aware of how gifted and brilliant their son― no longer a boy, but on the cusp of manhood now― really was? His grades were good, certainly, but it was the depths of opinion, his moments of dazzling insight, that had earned him his reputation at Hogwarts, although both seemed glaringly absent here in his home place. He was about to make an attempt to draw out his student in conversation when the house elf re-entered and tugged urgently on Mr Crouch's sleeve.
"Winky," Crouch said warningly, shooting an embarrassed glance at Flitwick. "What― oh no. Send her away."
Barty's ears pricked up at this, and he looked about to speak when the door of the dining room swung open violently.
"I'm back," sang a throaty voice. Its owner shocked Flitwick; in this house of muted pastels and floral drapes, the stocky young woman in tight black leather looked glaringly out of place even without the angry crimson streaks running through her black hair.
"Lysandra," Mr, Mrs, and Master Crouch all said in tones varying from anger, horror and delight.
She grinned, a bold flash of white teeth.
"Did you miss me, Uncle and Aunt? Yes, Barty, I know you did!"
"While I am very glad you have returned in one piece," Crouch began, sounding as if the words pained him, "we are currently entertaining and it might be best if you returned later?"
"Father," protested Barty, but he was ignored.
"Have you visited your parents yet?" Mr Crouch asked coldly.
Lysandra shrugged in reply, ruffling Winky's hair as she passed her.
Flitwick stood to leave. "No, but I insist," he protested, smiling warmly at the long awaited cousin. "You are family. I am sure you have much to catch up on, and my own family complain enough that they barely see me for most of the year. Thank you for a wonderful dinner, Bartemius, Sephrenia. Barty, enjoy your summer, m'boy.†I expect great things of you in N.E.W.T. year!"
As he departed, assuring a flustered Mrs Crouch and a mortified Mr Crouch that he could not be persuaded otherwise, Filius wondered why he had never heard of Lysandra Crouch before. Who was she, to provoke such a reaction?
"Lysandra, you are brave," Barty said fervently later that night, looking up from his telescope at his older cousin. "Just waltzing in here as if Uncle hadn't threatened to disown you... knowing full well Father agrees with him. You could have been a Gryffindor if you went to Wizarding school."
Lysandra, who had been prodding the Ravenclaw banner in his bedroom in disgust, only smirked.
"Not at all, dearest cousin, and they're perfectly right, I am a shocking disgrace to the family, and I'm sure I will come to a bad end. But I could hardly leave you to die of boredom here all summer!"
Lysandra took out her wand, a long piece of ebony, and smiled wickedly. Barty groaned. He knew that look, and it always led to trouble.
"Come on, then," she said brightly, tossing her spiky hair. "You know I only swung by to jail break you for the night.†Let's go have some fun!"
"We can't just leave," Barty said in mock horror, opening his large eyes wide. His laughter rang in counterpoint to Lysandra's as they both recalled the countless times she had swooped through his window to drag him out to some seedy adventure in the middle of the night. How much his parents knew of this was something Lysandra had never given a thought to and Barty far too many.
"My God, your voice is so much deeper," Lysandra chuckled. "My baby boy is all grown up, almost of age and everything!"
"Next month," nodded Barty.
"Well, that settles it," Lysandra said seriously.
"Well, I was going to take you to a Muggle concert, but since you're so close to coming of age, you leave me no option. I have to see you royally smashed while it's still illegal and any fun!"
"I don't like drinking!" Barty protested, before being swept up, not for the first time, by Cyclone Lysandra.
"I love, love drinking," Barty said three hours and several shots later. His head was spinning a tad, so he sat down abruptly on the cold stone floor of the pub Lysandra had dragged him to. She was flirting outrageously with the bartender, but that did not stop her noticing and coming to haul him up.
"Come on, you," she said good naturedly, dragging him out the back. The pub, like most openly wizarding sanctuaries, was in the middle of nowhere, and they found themselves in a clearing looking out to a mass of woodland. A river ran by the side of the pub and disappeared into the darkness of the forest, and while some would have found the rush of water beautiful, Barty found it made him want to―
"There you go. Everyone gets sick the first time," Lysandra said comfortingly, holding his head up as he vomited into the river. "Be thankful you weren't at a Ministry event when it happened."
"Thanks," he said sourly, lying down by the river bed wishing the world would stay still for just a moment.
"Anytime, cuz," she said lightly. They were silent for some time, Barty fighting the urge to retch despite having emptied his stomach and Lysandra struggling against laughter. When Barty spoke again, his tone was quite different.
"Thank you for everything," he said seriously. "I don't know where I'd be without you."
Lysandra snorted. " I saved you from drowning when you were a child.††You don't have to be grateful for that forever, you know. I could hardly let you die in front of me, could I?"
"Not just that," Barty continued doggedly, though the words were thick on his dry tongue. "You're the only person in our whole damned family who is real. Who doesn't put up a front. You're unashamedly you, no matter what."
"Barty," began Lysandra, but before she could finish her sentence, she was interrupted by a piercing scream coming from the forest. She stiffened, and Barty jumped dizzily to his feet.
"Get out of here," Lysandra said urgently. "Go back into the pub, and Floo, Knightbus it, whatever, but get yourself back home now," she ordered.
Barty shook his head. "I'm not leaving you," he insisted.
She sent him such a look that he quailed, but before they could argue further, they both turned as a mighty crash came from the forest, and a stream of red light sizzled past them, leaving a burn mark on a tree.
Lysandra pushed Barty behind her and took out her wand, her eyes scanning the forest furiously.
"Take a step back," she demanded, stepping backwards and forcing him†back also. "That's it, slow but safe, now another, and another."
They were not the far from the pub when the occupants of the forest burst into the clearing. Barty could never remember clearly what had happened. He remembered Lysandra shoving him backwards but stepping forward herself. He remembered the rushing sound of the river, so close to him. He remembered the flashes of blinding light, the humming sound of spells ripping the air and the shouts and snarls of the what seemed like hundreds of witches and wizards. Even in his drunken state, Barty knew it was most likely much less than that. And that if the hooded figures were not Death Eaters― perhaps relatives of boys he knew― then he deserved to be a Hufflepuff.
And he remembered, would remember forever, the sight of a purple streak of light streaming from the wand of an unmasked dark haired man, missing a masked and robed figure by inches to squarely hit Lysandra in the chest. She gasped for one long moment, her head turning slowly to Barty, her lips moving painfully, before falling into the river and disappearing under its deceptively gentle embrace.
Someone screamed― Barty worked out later that it was him― and rushed to the riverside, heedless of the spell fire still blazing. He plunged into the river and was almost waist deep, buffeted dangerously by strong currents, but searching desperately for his cousin. She had saved him from drowning once. She could not be dead. Barty was about to go deeper into the water when he was caught by the same dark haired man whose spell had hit Lysandra.
"It's too late, son," the man said hoarsely, his eyes huge in the pale face. Barty recognised him. He was Frank Longbottom, a popular young Auror. An Auror had done this.
"I'm so sorry," Frank said hollowly, dragging Barty back to the riverbank. "So very sorry. It was an accident― I didn't see her there― there's nothing we can do, she's gone now."
"Let me go," screamed Barty, kicking and screaming like a child. Frank complied, but stood close by, even when Barty collapsed on his knees, uselessly pawing through the water at the riverbank as if he could scoop up Lysandra with his hands.
"You'll pay for this," Barty promised him, turning furious eyes on the dripping wet young Auror. "You will pay for this."
"I heard about Lysandra's death only though Dumbledore, many years later," Flitwick told Helena. "It was hushed up, you see― Crouch didn't like the Order at all, but Frank was one of his own, and they managed to get most of the Death Eaters in custody. Most of the early deaths were kept quiet to prevent public panic, but it probably only made Barty more livid, that his own family did not seek the revenge he craved for the death of the cousin he loved so much."
"It doesn't excuse what he did to the Longbottoms," Helena said sharply. "Frank made a mistake. It could have happened to anyone."
"True, but this is what happened, my dear. And if ever there was a point of no return, this was it."
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