Chapter 9 : A Marked Man
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The Grey Lady observed inquisitively as Flitwick reached inside his robes for something, digging deep into his pockets until he finally found what he was looking for. He held it up to the light, almost beaming at his discovery. The Grey Lady could almost accuse him of being too invested in this on-going mystery, except that she was most curious herself.
“What is that?” she inquired, peering at the tiny glass phial. Inside it, a strange silvery substance floated between the walls of its glass prison, glowing in the dim moonlight. Flitwick’s beard shimmered in its light.
“This is something Albus gave me many years ago,” Flitwick quipped, approaching the spiral staircase that led to the headmaster’s old office. How many times had he used these stairs? He could hardly believe so much had changed in such a short while. “He said that I would find it most instructive, and I do believe that is the case.”
Flitwick hopped onto the staircase, his ghostly companion gliding to his side. “Well?” she probed.
“It contains one of Barty’s memories,” he continued, reaching the top of the staircase and opening the door. The Grey Lady ignored his polite holding of the door and instead glided through the wall. “It is from when he received his Dark Mark.”
They approached the elegant penseive in the corner of the room. Flitwick uncorked the phial and let the silvery substance drift into the bowl, the light dancing like water on their features.
“I am not going to like what I see, am I Filius?” the Ravenclaw ghost questioned warily. Her delicate features were tainted with worry, her eyebrows knitted.
“I don’t think anyone could call this pleasant viewing, my dear,” he said apologetically. “But I feel this is an important piece of the puzzle of Barty Crouch.”
This answer seemed to placate her, for she nodded, gesturing towards the penseive. “After you, then.”
The hiss of rain fell on deserted streets as dark clouds ghosted across the watery sky, pale colours merging together like ink in the early morning light. Birds began to sing as the sun poked its head above the horizon over a sleepy northern town. It was in the early hours of that Sunday morning that Barty found himself drenched from his sandy hair to his navy socks, a trespasser.
He ignored the spasm of his heartbeat, all thoughts focussed on his destination. With a quick glance over his shoulder, he crossed a quiet road and approached an old greengrocer’s, the paint on its emerald door flaking from neglect. The jagged glass of broken windows was poorly hidden by rotting wooden boards. After checking he was alone, Barty reached out a cold hand towards the knocker, a broken dragon’s head, and gripped it firmly. It warmed beneath his touch and the door swung forward; he stepped inside, followed by long shadows. The door closed with an ominous click behind him, throwing the hall into darkness.
“So, you came after all,” a voice called softly close by. Barty jumped, a frown forming on his brow.
“I’m surprised you doubted me, Rabastan,” he responded coolly, inching towards his friend. “Have I not yet earned your trust?”
Rabastan chuckled darkly, his face coming into focus as lamps on the wall illuminated. His cheeks appeared hollow in the strange shadows disfiguring his face. “It is more a matter of nerve than trust, my friend.”
Barty shrugged as he met Rabastan’s cold stare. “I am not afraid of what I want. I am ready to serve the Dark Lord.”
The silence, a delicate cobweb between them, trembled as Rabastan eventually nodded. “Very well, Crouch. Follow me.”
In the dim light ahead, Barty could make out narrow steps, barely covered by a frayed carpet, a spiral staircase fading into the darkness above. His hand traced the splintered wood of the bannister as Rabastan led him upwards, each step creaking as they climbed. The noise was shrill, an uncomfortable disturbance of the otherwise quiet house. After reaching the third floor, Rabastan hovered outside a closed door, his palm pressed to the rotten wood. Barty wasn’t quite sure what they were waiting for, but he knew better than to question his friend.
The silence crept upon him, consuming him as he stood in the dank hallway. It ate away at his conscience, nibbling on assurance and feasting on confidence. Revenge could not be a simpler motive, yet the fear spread through him. Failure haunted him, the chance that things would not work out in his favour. Humiliation was to be despised above all other things. He was at the point of no return.
Suddenly, Rabastan snatched his hand back; the door inched forwards and Barty watched it with nervous fascination. They stepped into the room beyond, almost darker than the previous, only a sliver of light creeping under the dense curtains. He was unaware that he had been wringing his hands and he wrenched his eyes from their insect-like movements. A mirror opposite him flashed as he moved closer and he almost started, eyes fixed on his own reflection as he searched for the figure he thought he had seen. For just a moment, he was so sure that he had seen Aurora. Guiltily, he looked away, nausea gripping him. It was too late for regret.
An armchair, placed in the centre of the room, was facing away from them. Together, he and Rabastan stood, waiting for instruction. Barty was almost twitching with anticipation, his goal in sight. His soul was a small price to pay for the vengeance he craved.
Slowly, the chair turned until Barty was staring straight into the cold eyes that could offer him everything. He shivered involuntarily, but his stance remained firm. Not even when the Dark Lord brought his wand upon his inner arm did he flinch, the pain from the mark a mere inconvenience compared to his grief.
He was ready to serve, he was ready to obey; he would forget it all to pursue the one man who had gratuitously taken the life of the only family he cared about. Rubbing his wrist, Barty let slip a twisted smile; they were both marked men.
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