Thorfinn slapped Barty on the back familiarly. “Oi, Barty, how’d your Potions practical go?” They could have been brothers, both straw-blond and slightly freckly, but Thorfinn towered over Barty by a good eight inches and had six stone on him, if an ounce.
Barty’s scowl at being slapped on the back faded into an unctuous grin as he turned and saw the larger boy. “I’m sure I got at least an ‘E’ and maybe an ‘O’. I had to make a Draught of Peace and show how to correct a batch of Polyjuice Potion. The Draught of Peace was fiddly, but pretty straightforward. The Polyjuice Potion was a bit trickier, but it only took me a couple of minutes to figure out that the lacewing flies hadn’t been stewed long enough. After that it was just a simple matter of adding extra boomslang skin to make up for it.”
Thorfinn scowled. “I had the same practical.” He sighed. “I’m pretty sure I only got an ‘A’. It was tricky to make that damn Draught of Peace, but I think I did it right. I didn’t have any idea what was wrong with the Polyjuice Potion.” He laughed. “I did put in some extra boomslang skin, but I couldn’t tell the bloody old fool doing the testing why I added it. It just felt right to do.”
Barty nodded. “That’s how it should be with potions, Thor.” He stopped and knelt to tie a shoe. “If it feels right when you’re making the potion, it probably is.” He stood again and they continued to the courtyard where other students were enjoying the brief sun break from the rain. “Potion making is more art than science anyway.”
They sat down together on the grass. A croaking came from Barty’s pocket and he pulled a dazed looking toad from it. The toad sat warming on Barty’s hand for a moment, its bulbous, batrachian eyes opening and closing. It croaked again and hopped into Barty’s lap, making sure to stay in the sun. A fly flew by lazily and Barty stunned it with a well-aimed spell. The toad’s tongue shot out as the fly fell to the ground and it devoured the insect. A gleam shone on Barty’s eyes as he watched the toad swallow its prey.
“I’ve got the afternoon free: no more exams today,” Thorfinn said. He pulled an apple from his pack and started eating. “Want to go flying later?”
“Can’t,” Barty replied. “I’ve got my Divination practical later today and my Defence Against the Dark Arts exam tomorrow that I’ve got to study for.”
Thorfinn mimed looking over his apple core carefully. “I see a small, blond boy passing both his exams. Wait, what’s that?” He touched his nose to the apple and ripped a chunk out of the core. “Nope, it’s just a seed.” He spit the seed at the toad, which hopped out of the way and croaked at him. “I don’t understand why you’re still taking Divination; it’s useless.”
Barty laughed. “Yeah, I don’t think there’s a lot of ways that I’ll use Divination in my career.”
“You know what you want to do?”
A cool breeze passed over Barty as he closed his eyes and leaned back. “I think so.” He met Thorfinn’s eyes. “I want to go into politics, like my dad, but I want to do it right. You and I know the right people, and I think I could help them if I were in office.” His eyes narrowed. “My father’s deluded if he thinks that allowing Mudbloods to defile us and our bloodlines should be permitted.”
Thorfinn looked around nervously. “Don’t say that too loud, Dumbledore or McGonagall might be listening.”
“If they are, and they told my mother, she’d never believe them.” Barty barked out a laugh. “I’m her fair-haired boy and a Prefect. Dad’s a bit harder to fool, but he’s so blinded by his own ambition that he can’t see what’s under his nose.” He closed his eyes again. “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to rest a bit before my Divination practical.”
Thorfinn rose. “See you later. We can practice for Defence Against the Dark Arts after dinner.”
“After dinner, Thor; then we can duel.”
The crystal ball stubbornly refused to focus for Barty. He tried clearing his mind and relaxing, but images of his father kept creeping in, scowling at his grades and the reports from the Headmaster. He could hear his father’s voice.
“You’ll never be good enough to follow in my foot-steps. Don’t shame me at school, boy. Stay focused and keep a stiff upper lip, that’s the Crouch way.”
His mother swam into view in the mist of the crystal ball.
“Don’t shout at him; he’s a good boy.” She pulled a sandy-haired boy to her bosom and kissed him on the forehead. “You’re a good boy; you’d never embarrass us.”
His own face turned to him and he could see the hatred burning for his father.
“Hem hem, Mr Crouch, what do you see?” The voice of the horrible toad-like woman snapped him back to the present. She reminded him of his own toad, safely tucked into his pocket. He grinned at the thought of her eating flies. He grinned wider when he thought of himself forcing her to eat flies with the Imperius curse.
Sweat dripped down his forehead as he turned his attention back to the crystal ball. “I see a doe in the woods being chased by wolves.” The lie came easily to him. “She’s scared for her fawn. He’s crying in the nest she made for him. A stag is nearby, his throat ripped out and his blood flowing. The wolves corner her against the fawn and a large snake slithers in amongst them. It bites the doe on the leg as she tries to stomp on it. The wolves are sitting around laughing; I don’t know how I can tell it’s laughter, but I can.” His eyes glazed as he imagined he could actually see what he was describing in the crystal ball.
He wiped the sweat away from his nose and his voice dropped. “The doe’s twitching and dying and the snake is moving toward her fawn. It pulls back its head and strikes. Its teeth sink into the fawn’s muzzle, but the fawn just looks at the snake with big liquid eyes. The snake’s entire body contracts and it falls dead at the fawn’s feet. The wolves flee and the fawn rises on jerky legs and goes to its mother.”
His eyes un-glazed and he slumped in his chair.
“Mr Crouch, are you quite all right?” the tester asked.
“I’ll, I’ll be okay; just give me a moment.” He struggled to sit up. The cat on her pin watched him intently.
She grinned as he sat up. “I don’t usually sit in on Divination, but I had to in this case, you see.”
Barty eyed her suspiciously. “Why is that?”
She clapped her pink-gloved hands together. “Why? Because we’re in a very good position to help each other.” She shook her head at him. She held up the parchment she had been scribbling on and showed it to him. “As you can see, you didn’t do at all well here. Such obvious lies don’t do you justice; little boys should always tell the truth.”
He read her evaluation, stopping on the final grade of ‘P.’
“Poor? How can you rate me poor?” He tried to sound angry like his father, but only succeeded in sounding petulant.
“My dear boy, I can rate you poor because I’m the tester.” She took the parchment back from him and erased the grade with her wand. “But, this can easily become an ‘A’ or even an ‘E’.”
He’d seen his father play similar games with other officials in the Ministry. “What do you want?”
“All I want is for you to put a good word in for me with your father.”
“My opinions don’t hold much weight with my father,” he said stiffly.
“Oh, I’m sure of that, but all I need is my name mentioned in passing. It’s Dolores Umbridge.” She smiled at him again, her fat face jiggling as she shook her head. “But if you can’t do that, then I guess a ‘P’ will have to do.”
Barty slid his wand out from his pocket, keeping his movements hidden under the table.
“I have a better idea.” He grinned back at her. “You give me an ‘E’ and I won’t tell my father what happened here, how you tried to threaten me.”
She gave a single, small, barking laugh. “Who do you think he’ll believe; a boy or a Ministry official with a spotless record?”
Barty sighed. “There is one other option.”
“What’s that,” she asked.
“This,” Barty replied, flicking his wand at her under the table. “Imperio.”
Barty ran into Thorfinn outside the doors of the Great Hall right before dinner.
“How’d your Divination practical go, Barty?” the larger boy asked.
“I got an ‘E’ just like I deserved.” His smile grew as he remembered forcing Umbridge to give him a passing grade. It grew even larger as he remembered forcing her to eat flies and then modifying her memories.
“Catch up with me after dinner and we’ll practice for Defence Against the Dark Arts.” Thorfinn went to his seat at the Slytherin table.
Barty nodded and then he sat amongst his house-mates at the Ravenclaw table and they started sharing about their O.W.L.s.
Barty breezed through the written Defence Against the Dark Arts exam and handed the rolled-up parchment to the proctor well before anyone else was done. The old wizard sitting at the desk glanced at his watch.
“Are you sure you’re done, son?” he whispered. “There’s still an hour to go on the exam.”
“I’m quite sure,” Barty whispered back.
The proctor scribbled a note on a piece of parchment and handed it to Barty. “Go to the Great Hall and report for your practical.”
“What, now?” Barty’s eyes narrowed.
“We’re shaking it up a bit this year and the practical is directly after the written exam. We want to see how you do with a surprise.” The wizard unrolled the parchment and glanced over it quickly. “If this is any indication, it looks like you’ll do fine.”
Barty took his time leaving the classroom, making sure that everyone saw him leaving first. When he reached the hallway, he paused to polish his wand and to test it.
“Protego.” The shield charm jumped into place.
“Riddikulus.” He felt the wand respond correctly to the boggart banishing and put it away.
Sauntering slowly through the castle to the Great Hall, he paused to watch a few third-years through an open door. One boy was having trouble transforming his hedgehog into a pincushion. Barty slipped his wand from his pocket and used a non-verbal Transfiguration to turn the hedgehog into a porcupine. The panicked creature flailed its tail at the boy and spined him severely in the arm.
“Mr Smythe! What are you doing?” Professor McGonagall’s voice shouted from the front of the classroom. Her voice barely carried over the boy’s screams of pain.
Barty disillusioned himself and crept by the door as Professor McGonagall Vanished the spines and turned the porcupine into a hedgehog again.
When he arrived at the Great Hall, the doors were open and he saw the entire room had been divided into sections separated by tall screens that ran almost all the way to the tall, vaulted ceiling. A middle-aged wizard clad in a silver robe sat at a desk just inside the door.
“Here for your Defence Against the Dark Arts practical?” the wizard asked.
Barty nodded. “Bartemius Crouch, Jr.”
The wizard consulted a parchment and indicated the far end of the room. “You’ll be testing with Alastor Moody. He’s in section one at the far end.” He pointed at a number painted on the screens. “The section numbers are painted on the dividing walls.”
He stood and shook Barty’s hand. “Good luck, Mr Crouch.”
Barty nodded vacantly at the wizard and walked slowly toward the indicated section. He knew Moody; the Auror had quite often visited his father at their house. Barty had listened in surreptitiously when his father had authorised the use of Unforgivable Curses in the pursuit of Death Eaters. He could clearly picture Moody in his mind, and he smiled as he pictured forcing Moody to spend eternity in a cell in Azkaban. Moody was a fool who protected Mudbloods and blood traitors.
He came around the corner into section one. He paused as he saw that the section had been made into a duelling piste. Alastor Moody stood at the far end, dressed in his shining Auror’s robes. His bright blue eyes pierced right through Barty. When he was younger, Barty thought that Moody saw everything, like he had magical eyes, but he grew to realise that it was just the brightness of the eyes and Moody’s paranoid nature to stare.
“Mr Crouch,” Moody said, his voice rough. “Are you ready to begin?”
“Wand out,” Moody said simply.
Barty pulled his wand out and held it at the ready.
“Defend yourself.” Moody pulled his wand from up his sleeve with surprising speed. A Stunning Spell shot out, and its red beam blazed by Barty’s head as it deflected off his hasty Shield Charm. Moody kept up a barrage of hexes and jinxes and smiled as Barty either avoided them or countered them. Sweat dripped from both of their faces and their knuckles whitened as they gripped their wands tightly.
Moody feinted one way and when Barty moved his wand too much, he landed a bruising attack on his leg. Barty went down heavily onto his knees, but managed to keep his wand at the ready. He deflected the next two attacks before Moody scored again with a Full-Body Bind. Barty slowly toppled over sideways and lay deathly still for a few moments until Moody muttered the counter-curse and released him.
“Very good, boy.” Moody helped him up. “You lasted almost two full minutes with a fully trained Auror.”
“I wasn’t expecting an attack here.” Barty coughed. “I thought you’d have me show you a couple of defensive spells and a few jinxes and hexes.” He smiled slyly. “This was much more fun.”
“You should always expect an attack,” Moody barked back. “Voldemort won’t hesitate to attack, and neither will his followers. Constant vigilance is the only way to live now.”
“I don’t think we’ll have to worry about Death Eater attacks with you on the job, Alastor,” Barty said flatteringly.
“Then you’re a fool.” Moody pulled a parchment from his pocket and dug in the other for a quill. He kept his wand in the same hand as the parchment.
“Would you like a chance at some extra credit, Mr Crouch?”
“Always.” Barty nodded.
“Can you produce a Patronus?”
“Expecto Patronum.” A silvery owl shot out of Barty’s wand and flew around Moody’s head before Barty dismissed it with a casual wave of his wand.
Moody eyed Barty shrewdly. “Most people think of owls as intelligent birds, full of wisdom.” He spat on the ground. “We both know better, don’t we? Owls are vicious, efficient predators.”
Barty didn’t answer.
“Legilimens.” Moody’s wand flicked quickly, but Barty had been expecting this and he had already cleared his mind of emotion or thoughts that could betray him. He felt Moody’s mind press harder on his and he pushed back with fake memories of anxiety during his Transfiguration O.W.L. The pressure grew as Moody tried to delve deeper, but Barty stood firm with his mental wards and finally Moody released him.
“Where’d you learn Occlumency?” Moody’s eyes narrowed.
“I taught myself.” Barty laughed. “Seemed a useful skill to know.”
“The only people that need to know Occlumency are those with something to hide.” Moody stared right at him. “You’re good enough to hide your thoughts from me, but you’re not good enough to hide the fact that you’re hiding something.”
“You know everything about my family, Alastor.” Barty looked Moody right in the eyes. “What could I possibly be hiding from an Auror with your skills?”
Moody sighed. “I’ve heard reports about who some of your friends are, Barty: about what some of them are.” He scribbled something on the parchment. “You should be more careful about who you’re friends with.”
“I assume that I passed, sir?” Barty asked.
Moody nodded. “Officially, I can’t say, but unofficially, you got an ‘O’. Just remember what I said.” He leaned right into Barty’s face, almost until their noses touched. “Also remember our little duel and what it’s like to face an Auror instead of a schoolboy.”
Barty didn’t flinch. “I’ll always remember what it was like to duel you, Alastor.” He turned his back and walked out, heading toward the Ravenclaw common room.
The locks on the trunk clicked back under the touch of Barty’s wand. Moody huddled in the filth at the bottom of the trunk. Barty Stunned Alastor and then summoned a rolled-up ladder from the corner of his office. He Stunned Moody again for good measure, making sure the old, one-legged, one-eyed Auror was really down before he climbed down the ladder. He made his way down the ladder slowly, still not used to wearing a magical prosthetic leg.
He leaned in close to Moody’s good ear.
“I told you that I’d always remember what it was like to duel you.” He laughed, his voice sounding strange to him through Moody’s mouth. “You should remember what it’s like to duel a fully-fledged Death Eater, Alastor.” He kicked Moody for good measure.
Barty plucked a hair from Moody’s head. He drew the flask of Polyjuice potion and added the hair to it. He drank deeply and then started coughing wetly.
“God, you taste terrible, old man.” He wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his robe. “Soon, very soon Potter will be dead and my Dark Lord will have returned.” Moody’s eyes flickered open and Barty quickly hit him with a Full-Body Bind.
“When Potter is dead, I’ll be back to give you your exam, Alastor.” Barty laughed. “If you pass, I’ll have mercy on you and kill you quickly.”
He climbed the ladder and locked Moody away in the darkness. The magic eye in his socket saw Moody struggling against the hex, but Barty slammed the lid home before Moody could say anything.