Chapter 1 : Alone
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“How could you?”
The world seemed to lean and rock with the gentle swaying of his head, the stone walls blurring and fading in and out of focus. A sinister smile played upon his lips as he awoke from his enchanted cat-nap and lifted his head up to view the dimly lit chamber before him. Directly in front of him stood a stern looking woman in a tartan overcoat, her mouth pressed into an extremely thin and delicate line. Her hands failed to tremble, though terrified she might’ve been, as she pointed a trained wand at his face that was dangerously close to poking out one of his eyes. It was her voice, her very harsh Scottish accent, which he remembered very well from many lessons.
“How could I not?”
Bartimeus Crouch Jr. twisted a kink out of his neck as he spoke. He saw Minerva McGonagall as she was fourteen years ago in his mind, teaching Transfiguration with such precision and accuracy that he never failed to grasp, and in return she felt a shiver go down her spine. “But… what possessed you to do such a thing? Frank and Alice –”
“Were my pleasure to destroy!” His voice echoed and bounced off the office walls, each sound reverberating back into his own ears. How great it felt to shout in his own voice. How rewarding to know he had done his deed! Trembles of anxiety swooped up and down every nerve, overtaking every coherent thought and instead filling his mind with flashbacks of silvery light extending from his wand and striking the chest of a certain member of the Order of whatever it was called. Didn’t matter to him in the end… all that mattered was that was the act that got him where he was now, redeeming himself in his Lord’s eyes.
Even if he was currently under the gaze of a certain Professor whom once oversaw his prior successes. His forearm burned with such an intensity he had never felt before. McGonagall, as if she could possibly notice and sense the delicious pain overtaking her former student, took two steps back. The firelight swept across her wrinkled face, softening it only slightly. “You were such a fantastic student. Twelve O.W.L.s! Only one student of your caliber has been here since then and she’s far better than you could ever be now, Bartimeus…”
Barty caught the bitter tone in her voice and chuckled vehemently, tossing his head back and allowing the sweat soaked straw-colored hair to flop backwards. Upon ceasing, he met Minerva’s piercing hawk-eyes with a crazed expression. “You know nothing, Minerva. Nothing.” His voice was cold, as cold as the stone twinkling behind the solitary firelight in the room. Upon his final statement, her voice ceased, and Crouch examined the room around him. The room had become so familiar to him. In his paranoia (whether this paranoia was truly his or the copying of Alastor Moody’s was borderline impossible to tell the difference) he had the opportunity to examine every crack and crevice for the tiniest hint of something that could possibly give him away.
The foe glass to his right was foggy, with each visage disappearing and appearing again in the mist. Barty snickered, setting Minerva on edge as she stood poised by the door, ready for any sudden movement. How foolish everyone here was. How so small they all were in the grand scheme of things! In the end, Barty’s mind rapidly thought, the only thing that mattered was that he had done the right thing. He had followed his orders and in return gained that irreplaceable sense of freedom and righteousness. He shook his head, the cackle he desired to let loose stifled at the back of his throat from years of being silent.
No more silence.
Winky would always tell him that he was never alone, because he was under the constant watch of the scrawny, now constantly inebriated House Elf. Barty would always agree that he was never alone, but it was never because of Winky’s companionship. He had far more to think about, and a bigger and better companion acting as a guide to where he was supposed to go. Barty struggled in his enchanted bonds, wrists bound tight through the oversized leather jacket sleeves. His eye twitched and scanned the door behind his former professor, the malicious intent made clear that he wanted to be free, and with his master.
With his master, Barty was never alone.
With his master, Barty never suffered in solitude.
He hadn’t been alone when he killed his father. No, no. There were orders given, and he had followed them. His fool of a father should have known better. After all those years, and all that reluctance to let him go, to let him survive! His poor old, dead, father had helped him become the man who he was today, oh no doubt about that. These thoughts surfaced at the sight of blood underneath his fingernails as he examined his fingers, dirty and clammy. The transfiguration professor stood, shuddering but stern, near the door, watching him with possibly one of the most pitiful yet hateful expressions Barty had ever seen in his life.
His father had worn the same expression once. When he had been caught, at trials, for the man he truly was - the man he was unaccepted by society for being. “Oh, father…” How piteous your expression was when you were killed, mercilessly at my hand. How wonderful the orders from Dumbledore, the great wizard, had been to go examine the forest and come back with naught.
“You taught me well, Minerva.”
“I-I beg your pardon?!”
“Oh, don’t be stupid!” Barty scoffed, thrusting his hand as far out as it could reach from the binds, shaking a finger in the air – the finger with blood beneath the nail. “You know very well what I said!” McGonagall’s gaze pierced him through, as if he were nothing but a speck of dust that refused to be cleaned on her glasses. The young man continued, shaking his head and coughing into the collar of his shirt. “You. Taught. Me. Well. Did you hear what I did? Out there? When Dumbledore sent me to look for my precious father?” Minerva said nothing. Her throat constricted into a tight passageway just thin enough for the tiniest sliver of air to creep through and reach her lungs.
“I transfigured him, Minerva. I did it.”
“You were always shoddy at transfiguration –”
“Lies,” Barty’s cool voice retaliated, his brilliant mind allowing him to appear near insanity. “Never got below Exceeds Expectations and you know it.”
“Using transfiguration to hide your dastardly deeds is not what I taught you, Mr. Crouch, I assure you –”
“Ah!” He waggled a restrained hand, shaking the blood-stained finger as if talking to a three year old that had the naughty thought in his head to draw on the walls. Minerva fell to an angered silence. “But you did tell us, I remember clear as yesterday, and the day before… You… you told us!” His sentence structure, once so elegant, prompt and borderline charming, brimming with knowledge, had dissipated into the structure of a mad-man’s. A man who had spent too much time on his own, talking to the walls…Little did the rest of society know that Barty was never alone all that time he made one-sided conversation.
“You told us word for word...”
“Now remember! Pay close attention in this class, as dull as it may seem compared to all of your other classes, because these lessons could very well save your life.”
“By turning a toad into a tea-cozy?”
“Mr. Mulciber? Have you doubts about what Transfiguration entails?” The small Slytherin who had been smirking to his cohorts dropped his snarky expression to one of cold stone intimidation. He shook his head, and the middle-aged Professor smartly tapped him on the head with her wand. Sparks floated temptingly from the tip and Mulciber had fear bubbling in his stomach that his hair was about to turn into strings of cheese. Nothing happened and the sparks disintegrated into the classroom’s cool air. “Exactly as I thought! Now, there will be no pairing up as I’m sure you’ve gotten used to in previous lessons in Charms, or Potions…” She glanced around her room of first years… double Transfiguration with the Ravenclaws and Slytherins.
“This is entirely individual.”
Groans met her ears.
“Your assignment is to attempt to follow the directions written on the board as I have instructed you at the beginning of the lesson, in order to turn your drinking straws into sticks.” More groans. McGonagall resisted putting her head on her desk. Such a shame no one appreciated Transfiguration as much as she did. She did, however, catch a very interested expression of a fair-haired, freckled first year towards the front of the room, and smiled. “The first student to accomplish such a task will receive five house points. Off you go!”
The hand of the boy she had been watching shot up into the air.
Barty Crouch Jr. thought transfiguration was by-far the most interesting course he had had. His father and mother told him all about the courses at Hogwarts, but it didn’t make the same impression upon him as setting the drinking straw in front of him and having his wand itch to be taken out of his pocket did. The professor crossed her arms and stood in front of him with an intrigued expression.
Barty desired to speak with her about the theory of Transfiguration, and of this project in particular. Which part of the object turned into the object it was supposed to be after the process was done? What wand movement caused what part of the transformation? Minerva’s heart leapt a little in appreciation, and she gave the boy the vaguest answers she could find, and wandered to the back of the room to help a poor Ravenclaw whose drinking straw had melted on her desk.
As the boy grew older, she took just as much an interest into the young Bartimeus as his Head of House had. Together, they watched the young boy excel in his first three years, and was granted additional private lessons. His hunger for knowledge thrilled the coworkers as they sat in the firelight to prepare extra lessons together. They decided that the final third year examination for these individual courses was to take a very large four poster bed, transfigure it into a chicken bone (specific bone would be identified at the time of the exam) and then charm it to change different colors in five minute intervals. The entire course of the exam would take about three minutes maximum.
The amount of work? Astronomical.
“You had me transfigure that bulky Gryffindor four-poster into a bone…”
Minerva’s blood froze in her veins. Barty caught the change in her posture, the stiffness in her neck and the fear in her eyes. He chuckled softly. “Yes, Minerva. I changed him. I changed him into a bone and buried him. Thanks to your help.”
“I – ”
“You saved my life. Transfiguration, Minerva… saved me and the Dark Lord…”
The look in his eyes was pure insanity. McGonagall was at a loss for words. Her heart stung. She had to remind herself that it wasn’t what she taught him that caused him to go down this path of no return, but it was the way he chose to utilize his skills. He had been a brilliant young man, one of the best Hogwarts had ever seen, surely one of the cleverest Ravenclaws the house had had in a long time… It was not her fault. Crouch slumped in his binds; the enchanted leather straps around his wrists and torso were no threat to him. He knew that his Lord would free him… He Who Must Not Be Named is always with him.
“The world’s a funny place, Minerva.”
His usage of her first name set her teeth on edge. She had to kindly remind herself that formalities were not something she had the option to nitpick over. Someone’s life was in her hands and he was using reverse psychology on her to get her to crack like he had. She had a resilient mind. He would not succeed.
“Do you know what will happen to you, Mr. Crouch?”
The silence in the room was painful for her to hear. Barty quite enjoyed it and his eyes scanned the room; he decided he was bored, sitting here in this room. He wanted to flaunt what he had done to the Dark Lord, and let him know just how much his young, tough and intelligent mind had done for him. He had imitated a man he didn’t even know for months. No one suspected him. They all assumed that the flask in his cloak pocket was to keep his drinks safe from poisons, a consequence of Alastor Moody’s paranoia.
He fooled everyone.
“I will be saved.”
Minerva froze. Saved? No, more than likely he would testify before the Wizengamot and tell them why he had done what he did. Then, it was back to Azkaban. No mum, no dad, no Dark Lord, to save his hide. Crouch had a wise smirk upon his face. He was looking at her with such intensity… Thoughts bounced around his brain to an extreme, but they never became incoherent. I will always have the Dark Lord now that he is risen…
I have done the right thing. I will always have him by my side even in the darkest pits of solitude.
“Mr. Crouch, I honestly think –”
“Move aside, Minerva!”
The heavy chamber door thudded open and Barty failed to stir. He was lost, deep within his mind… until the horrid feeling of familiarity swept over him. Minerva shuddered and opened her mouth, waving her wand about and protesting. A Dementor had accompanied the Minister into the room, and she felt goose bumps prickle her skin, up and down her arms. The cold penetrated through the tartan overcoat and seemed to rattle her insides. “Minister!”
“What is the meaning of this?!”
But Cornelius Fudge’s precautions were far from restrained and under control. The coldness that had swept through Barty’s bones made him tremble to the very core. The black wisp of a figure bent over him, the bony fingers grabbing his cheeks and pressing a hollow, black hole of a mouth to his own. He had no extravagant thoughts, no life flashing before his eyes, nothing… save for one, powerful, cry in his head:
I am never alone.
Feeling left him. No cries of joy, sadness, or tears running down his cheeks. He felt nothing. Bartimeus Crouch, Jr. simply was nothing. There wasn’t a single thought in his head, feeling in his nerves, or life in his body. The cold gray eyes that once exhibited the tomes of knowledge he had gathered and the mischievous nature behind his impeccable mind had been extinguished like a candle in an open window, and was left blank; his irises had been turned to black, gaping holes of nothingness.
But not alone. Never alone.
The nothingness couldn’t even be felt, or seen by him. He was a shell.
It was a shell. It had no name, it had no life. And it sat, slumped there in the leather bonds that were no longer needed, as the black Dementor rose and made the solitary source of light in the room freeze over and extinguish. The professor, infuriated but frozen in fear, could not take her eyes off it. It, who had once been one of the cleverest wizards Hogwarts had known, was gone. To some in the Wizarding World, this would be regarded as a fantastic thing to celebrate.
To her, she viewed the student she had known, and denied after he had turned into the man who had brought back the Dark Lord. Her heart felt as though it had been dipped in icy water. Fudge held out his wand, and a small, pathetic puff of smoke issued forth in the rough form of some sort of fowl, a turkey, maybe. But the brief glimmer of happiness did not last. Shaken, Minerva ran out of the room and Fudge, having retreated to the dark and dismal hallway himself, disappeared.
It was finally alone.
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