Chapter 1 : A Quiet Man
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Hello! I hope you enjoy this; I’ve been wanting to try my hand at Barty for a while now. The lyric “In the end, the secret’s not worth keeping” is credited to The Birthday Massacre, and it and the accompanying challenge were the inspiration for this piece.
Thank you for reading, and I would appreciate it if you took a moment to review! :)
Carlotta Crouch had never been a proponent of hard discipline. If this was not due to her emotional attachment to her child, it was surely a product of her tiny, gentle voice, which would never have been heard even if she did someday choose to speak up at her husband’s Ministry soirees. The difference between her tones of correction and conversation was unusually subtle. However, the note of quiet firmness that had characterized the single word did its work.
She smoothed her dark hair, which was thinning with age and graying a little more each day, and allowed her pale blue eyes to fall gently upon the little boy across the room from where she stood before the sink. He was frozen on his tiptoes, leaning his small measure of weight against the wooden counter, his hand still extended toward the cabinet that held his father’s wand.
“What are you doing?” she asked, as if she didn’t already know.
He timidly stepped down, putting his hands in his pockets. He thought she usually took longer on her afternoon walk, the highlight of her days during the long summer months, but his seven-year-old estimate of time was hopelessly inaccurate. She was here, having just finished pouring fresh water from her wand into the stone basic, and he had entered the kitchen five minutes too late.
Now they would move the wand, and he would never get to try out using magic for himself.
“Nothing,” he lied, after taking too much time to think. He was not good at it.
“Bart,” Carlotta smiled, putting her wand down next to the pile of dishes that awaited cleansing. “I don’t think your father would appreciate you playing with that wand while he’s taking a nap.”
“I know,” he said very softly, looking down at his shoes. Her smile was disarming, and like her voice, she didn’t need to bare her teeth or accent them with lipstick in order to make it powerful.
“Magic isn’t a toy. You must remember that.”
“Okay,” he admitted. Still, he couldn’t help himself. “Are you going to tell him?”
“No,” Carlotta said, and she smiled again after a moment’s hesitation. “You’re a good boy, Bart. I know you won’t do it again.” She glanced back at the dishes. “Why don’t you go play outside?”
He nodded, stepping out the door and into their small backyard. A basket piled high with laundry waited for his mother—or rather, her wand—to fold its contents. He glanced at it guiltily as he walked past, knowing he had left his toy broomstick leaning up against their small apple tree but suddenly not in the mood to play. Somehow his mother’s kind smile had made it so much worse.
In the end, the goal wasn’t worth the pursuit.
In his mind, he imagined that Margaret looked like his mother would have thirty years ago.
Her lovely black hair tumbled over her shoulders in waves, dancing along with her beaming blue irises as she let him chase her through the thick, tall grass of the meadow behind her family’s farmhouse. At last, she tumbled onto the earth in a heap, the warm, white flesh of her small breasts nearly falling out of her black and white dress with the effort. She was still laughing.
He came to a halt beside her, his eyes lighting on the curves of her form. As she began to catch her breath, he wondered what it would be like to make love to her right now in this empty field.
Margaret looked up at him, the last of her laughter ebbing away slowly. She propped herself up on her elbows and spread her red lips wide to reveal a pearly grin.
“What are you thinking about right now?”
He found this question annoying. She asked him many times, and he had gotten good at lying.
“Nothing,” he said, sitting down in the dirt next to her and laying back in the grass.
“Isn’t this wonderful, Barty?” she said, smiling up at the sky. “I love spending days like this with you.”
“Mmm-hmm,” he replied tonelessly, still thinking that he’d like to take her dress off.
“Have you taken your Auror exam yet?” she asked, glancing back at him.
“No,” he said. “Just been a bit busy.”
Underneath his sleeve, the tattoo on his forearm twinged slightly. He smiled, closing his eyes and focusing in on the delicious pain it created. The burning he felt now was only a shadow of the sensation that had infiltrated his bones and intoxicated his veins just the previous evening. Then, when it had been at its full height, he had felt downright euphoric. He lived to feel that pain.
“Well, you’ll do it one day.” Margaret sighed pleasantly, and the breeze tickled her hair.
He wouldn’t. He was having too much fun. The grades he had achieved on his exams had been a mere byproduct of his curiosity. He had gone on to learn things he would never be tested on at Hogwarts. He had been tested last night, though, and watching the shock in Frank Longbottom’s eyes as he stormed in and set the full force of a Cruciatus curse upon him had been his reward.
He could see Bellatrix holding Alice Longbottom down and pushing her wand so hard into her forehead that it left an ugly mark. He imagined that the blemish would still have been there when the authorities came and found what was left of the heroic Longbottom pair. He smiled wider.
Margaret’s determined voice interrupted his thoughts. “I know what you’re thinking.”
He glanced over at her lazily, and for a moment, he fell in love with her curious blue eyes.
“You’re thinking of when we get married. We’ll have such lovely children.”
Just like that, it was gone. She grinned and he looked back up at the sky. He didn’t want to kiss her anymore, not knowing that it would make her start to pester him for a ring and a family.
In the end, the prize wasn’t worth the promise.
Azkaban stank badly. It was not implausible to imagine the scent reaching the nostrils of God.
He closed his eyes as the guards led him along the cold, dark path that would end with his permanent imprisonment. He didn’t want to look at the others around him, half of him afraid that he would see an old acquaintance who didn’t look so familiar anymore and the other half concerned that some of the other inmates might accuse him of using his name to delay his arrest. Throughout the booking process, he had planned to sit in his cell without ever opening his eyes, allowing the waking and sleeping hours to pass without interruption. It seemed like a good plan.
The moment he entered the prison, however, he knew that his strategy would ultimately fail him. The few glimpses he had gotten of the inmates at the very beginning of the block, most of them old men whom he had never met, were horrific enough. But now his nostrils were assaulted with the odor of Azkaban, the smell of rotting flesh and despair that permeated even the stone walls.
Though he dragged his feet with every laborious step, he eventually arrived at his doom, and he could not ignore the clanging metal of the door closing in on him, even with closed eyelids and a firm resolve not to breathe in through his nose. He didn’t open his eyes again until three hours later, when the slightly softer clang of a metal dinner tray slapped the floor of his tiny jail cell.
When he pried his body from the corner and reached for it, he saw her in a cell down the row.
Bellatrix and Rodolphus had been imprisoned only a week before him, and though Mr. Lestrange had fallen silent already, his wife had taken to muttering complaints to herself under her breath. As he ate, he watched her pick at her dinner, smoothing her hair every couple of minutes just like his mother used to do in an idle moment. Though she now wore a baggy prison uniform, he could remember her in a tight black dress, the cruel corset accentuating her tiny pureblood form.
He licked his lips unconsciously. Yes, they were both too good to waste away on this squalid island. He had always held a secret lust for Bellatrix, finding her unique combination of audaciousness and steadfast blood mania undeniably attractive. She was several years too old for him and married, but he knew that they had one very important thing in common.
As the days passed, even Bellatrix tumbled from grace, trading in her arrogant complaining for the incoherent ramblings that dissipated throughout the prison along with the stench. With time, he forgot the image of her in her expensive gown, and he stopped wanting to taste her lips. In fact, he began to find her useless mumbling to be a bit of an annoyance. He never said anything.
Instead, he focused on keeping his mind silent as fallen snow, sat in his dark corner, and waited.
In the end, the consequence wasn’t worth the complaining.
And then, he was out. But he was still a prisoner.
He never left his room. He didn’t have the strength, and he didn’t have to leave. His father had set a house elf to attend to his every need, treating him like a spoiled little boy with influenza. He didn’t dare express his gratitude, lest the old man driven half crazy with grief renounce his benevolence and return to treating him like a dog with a propensity for soiling expensive carpet. Instead, he simply placed his orders with the elf, who had taken at least a month to stop widening her eyes every time they fell upon the broken man wasting his youth in the bed of his childhood. Soup. Water. A thicker blanket. He made his requests, and she obliged quickly. That was all.
In a way, he was glad he didn’t have permission to go downstairs or out into the rest of the world. This way, he would never be faced with bleak reminders of his mother, his only true parent. The same woman was rotting down to the bone in his old cell, wearing his clothes.
Only his mother’s timid requests could melt his father’s icy heart. She had used the last of her strength to buy a second chance for her son, whom she couldn’t stand to let languish in prison.
Every time he thought of her, he felt sick. He had a black heart, far removed from her goodness.
The elf came in now, carrying a tray with a cup of tea and a tiny vial of deep blue pain potion. It took all of his strength to turn over in response to the slight creak that signaled the opening door. He stared idly at Winky as she set the tray down and offered him the tea, the china cup clattering against the small saucer upon which it rested. The sound echoed in his ears. He bared his teeth.
The elf shuddered slightly, spilling a bit of the brown liquid onto the floor.
“Now look what you’ve done,” he hissed, and Winky stepped back slightly.
“I—I’m s-sorry, s-s-sir, it… it was an ac-c-cident,” she stammered.
He almost laughed. He felt most at home here, frightening those lesser than he.
“I’ll g-go g-g-get an-nother c-cup, s-s-sir…” The elf was still stammering.
“No,” he said quietly. “Just set it down.” He glanced over at the bedside table.
He heard the elf mutter a contrite phrase of obedience as she completed his request.
“That’s good.” His voice came out unnaturally soft, and Winky looked up at him. “That’s good,” he repeated. “Run along down the stairs, now, and see if my father needs anything.”
“Immediately, sir,” Winky replied, her trembling voice barely audible, and she complied.
He turned back over onto his back, and as he fell back into the release of unconsciousness, it didn’t even cross his mind that the tea would go cold and the medicine go forgotten by him.
Instead, his mother’s old adage on the use of house elves floated into his memory.
In the end, the convenience wasn’t worth the cruelty.
Flashes of green light cut through the night sky above, severing bright green streamers that had been launched moments ago in celebration of Ireland’s victory over Bulgaria in the World Cup. The tattered remains of the parties that had ground to a sudden halt rained down upon screaming mothers and crying children as they ran for cover, abandoning their tents and the possessions within. All around them, Ministry men charged in courageously, engaging in combat with the soldiers in black robes and drooping hoods that dotted every few feet of the flattened grass field.
He walked on, blocking it all out, conquering his senses just as he had back in Azkaban.
None of them even looked up at him as he passed. The Death Eaters did not pause to greet him, even if they glimpsed his face. The Aurors shoved past him. All were enemies. He had no allies.
He trudged through the mud, stepping over corpses mindlessly as he went along. Surely one of the more prominent followers of the Dark Lord would host a secret rendezvous tonight, a party locked deep inside a mansion where they could all show their faces and drink to second chances. He wouldn’t be going. He was too good for those high society parties now. He had business.
He stuck his hand in his pocket and grinned as he felt the familiar smoothness of his wand waiting for him there. He moved much quicker than he had as a boy, and he had easily snuck downstairs past his mother’s memories and stolen his property back from the cabinet in his father’s study. Crouch, Sr. had chosen a Muggle lock. The combination was Barty’s birthday.
He paused for a moment, feeling the air around him grow heavy with the weight of impending rainfall and summer humidity. He watched a group of officials chase after a couple of Death Eaters who ran a little too slowly to keep up with their fleeing counterparts. It was his turn now.
He thought briefly of a man imprisoned in his own home, locked inside of an ancient chest. He had been heartless to the core, using Moody’s own cauldron and ingredients to brew enough Polyjuice for several months. He would have to figure out a way to hide it while at Hogwarts.
It had not been effortless to take down the aging man, but his battle scars had weakened him.
He split his lips open and turned his yellowing teeth toward the sky, closing his eyes for just a moment. He waited just long enough to imagine himself shooting green light into Moody’s chest.
The emerald light bathed his thin face, washing over him and swallowing him into the night.
In the end, the triumph would be worth the trouble.
He had never been one to follow the rules, not really. He only pretended.
It was impulsive and risky, mixing the disgusting Polyjuice that tasted of sweat with whiskey in the flask he carried like an additional limb upon his hip. It was the one indulgence he allowed himself, his reward for carrying around Moody’s extra weight and the sickening false eye without complaint. He had studied the man for years, collecting years of articles from the Prophet and buying government records periodically from shady men in Knockturn Alley.
He had nearly perfected the haphazard gait, the suspicious glances, the arrogant lecture style.
The whiskey hadn’t altered the effects of the potion to date. If anything, it enhanced them.
He sipped it now, keeping the opening of the flask close to his lips to keep the smell from leaking out into the open air and betraying him. From his place at the Head Table, he watched students milling about, catching the belligerent voice of the youngest Malfoy to his right.
He glanced over at the boy, smirking as he watched a cross frown taint Malfoy’s expression. Using transfiguration on him had been risky, but the laughter that resulted had been worth it.
He caught the scent of the potions dungeon behind him and swirled the liquid in his flask a little, not having to look up to know that Severus Snape had just entered the room. He didn’t dislike Snape personally, but he didn’t trust the man, especially after some of the more coherent things Bellatrix had said about him while they were imprisoned together. She claimed that Snape was working for Dumbledore, that he was dangerously close to betraying his old friends to the Order. Barty frowned, looking over briefly and catching Snape’s black eyes as he took his place at the table. The man played his cards close to his chest. He would have to keep a close eye on him.
Igor Karkaroff entered from the other side, sitting next to Snape.
Barty’s frown deepened. He never understood why Karkaroff had been recruited in the first place. The man was old, sloppy, a drunk. Clearly the Dark Lord had been short on manpower. He smirked a little now, watching Snape as he attempted to hide his revulsion at being so close to the other man. Karkaroff didn’t notice, too busy pointing to his star pupil and talking about him.
Krum. He made a note to pay more attention to the boy that Karkaroff held so dear.
He took another swig of his drink, getting a little too much Polyjuice for his liking this time. He found it was easier to drink it slowly rather than all at once, as it lengthened the effect slightly.
His intelligence, his propensity for risk – these were the qualities that made him a prize fighter. This was why the Dark Lord wanted to use him instead of men like these, whom he disdained.
In the end, the enemies weren’t worth the friendships.
Strangely enough, he preferred this to a lifetime of decay behind bars.
The thing advanced on him, filling his nostrils with the smells he had nearly forgotten in his sparse years of freedom. He desperately forced himself to think of Margaret’s smooth breasts or Bellatrix’s trim waist, and when it did not drive the creature away, he turned to his last reservoir of hope, a handful of good memories of his mother made years before he met the Dark Lord.
The Dementor moved forward unabated. It could sense that he had nothing left.
He pinned himself back against the wall, catching a glimpse of the man standing behind the monster. Fudge’s expression was curious, like the thickening of the air just before the rain. The Minister for Magic wasn’t smiling, not really, but victory shone from his every pore.
He could appreciate the feeling.
“You really think I’m the only one?” he called, not willing to let Fudge hold onto even this one moment of complacence. “You think that my destruction will do anything to slow his cause?”
Fudge said nothing, but the look on his face made a decisive turn toward disgust.
He felt the cold wash over him like the ocean in the middle of the winter. He tried one last time to imagine himself in the empty meadow or warm and hidden in his boyhood bed at his home. He even thought briefly of his father, lying still and cold even as a fresh body out in the forest.
Suddenly, the door opened.
McGonagall charged in, followed by Snape. The deputy Headmistress’s eyes were wide with fear, the same fear he had seen on Potter’s face the night that the Dark Lord had killed Diggory. It was anxiety over the unknown, the incomprehensible. Snape hid it, but he felt it too. He had to.
“Wait, wait!” McGonagall cried. “Tell us what he’s doing! Tell us!” she pleaded with him, and then she shot a hard look at Fudge. “You fool, do something! We need him for information!”
Fudge folded his arms conclusively.
Barty knew what was coming. The Dark Lord had the ingredient he needed in Potter’s shed blood. He had returned in fullness, and he would gather those loyal to him, however few and far between they now were, and set his plan into motion. The Order didn’t stand a chance.
McGonagall continued to shout, though the loud sucking of the impending Dementor made it difficult for him to understand her words. He perceived one thing: “Tell us where to find him!”
The Dementor leaned in, pinning him down with its grotesque form, and he smiled.
For the first time in his life, Barty Crouch, Jr. chose to break his silence and open his thoughts.
There was nothing they could do, nothing to be done, nothing at all. Nothing.
“There’s nothing…” he whispered, and the Dementor put its mouth on him at last.
In the end, as it turns out, the secret's not worth keeping.