originally posted aug.22.2007
all progress is precariousharry potter (seventynine-verse) | barty crouch jr., regulus black | 1,150 words
When Barty is five years old, his father sits at his bedside in business robes and a bowler hat and tells Barty a bedtime story about Inferi. He tells him about their waxy dead flesh and how they walk like marionettes and how they can't be killed because they are already dead.
His father doesn't do the voices like Mummy. He is brusk and bracing where wisps of breath usually curl tendrils round Barty's imagination to carry him into sleep. This story seizes hold in an entirely new way; long after his father has perfunctorily put out Barty's light and gone down to his office — forgetting to conjure a nightlight and Barty too hesitant to ask — Barty's heart thumps in his chest with a ferocity unrivalled since he found that dead cat on the path half a year ago, its guts spilling out onto the dirt and mouth rigoured open and curled at the corners in a silent feline cry that revealed all of its sharp little teeth. For the denouement his father told him to beware of wizards with the power to make even the dead do their bidding, because they were Dark.
Long after, Barty can't seem to imagine the Inferi without sharp teeth behind lips curled at the corners in perpetual amusement at what's been done to them.
When Barty goes to Hogwarts for the first time, he leans over the edge of his bed in the Slytherin dormitory, trying to see the boy across from him, who has already pulled the curtains halfway shut round his own bed. "D'you reckon that was a Dark wizard?" he asks in a loud whisper.
"Who!" This is from the boy to the left of Barty, whose blond hair is very shiny.
"He wasn't asking you!" the dark-haired boy whom Barty had originally addressed says sharply. He looks a little less sharp, though, and a little more petulant. "Who!" he says to Barty pointedly.
"The wizard with the grey beard who talked before the feast," Barty replies.
"Dumbledore?" the dark-haired boy (he later learns his name is Regulus) says. He starts laughing, though to Barty it seems like he is purposely trying to sound grown up about it. "Dumbledore is too afraid of the Dark Arts, isn't he? Mother says we can't learn anything useful about them here. She and Father are going to have to teach me the real stuff, like how to cast spells, while we're on holiday."
"Only he seems really powerful," Barty insists. He also vaguely recalls hearing the name from his father, but can't remember why, so he doesn't say anything else.
Things start happening in his fourth year, things spoken of as if the words themselves hold power. Barty strains to hear all of it, from exaggerations in the Slytherin common room by students bolder in gossip than expanding their magic beyond the Hogwarts curriculum, to the covert whispers of government officials down at the Hog's Head. When he is on holiday, now, he sees his father even less often than usual. Barty hears even less from him, though the rumours tell him that his father holds the information Barty craves.
Ludas and Masterson are poring over a special evening edition of the Prophet and speculating wildly in tones of great authority. In the throes of a victorious Quidditch match, nearly the entire body of their House are congregated in the common room, either feeding the fire or shooting jeers in the ringleaders' direction. Barty is watching from an armchair, arm slung across the back behind Crystal Greengrass, choosing not to rob them of their conjectures. Since fourth year his sources have got more reliable than the Hog's Head, or the Prophet.
He looks past Ludas to Reg, curled up cross-legged on the rug. He is also choosing not to contribute, though he is glaring in general reproach from beneath fringe that he's allowed to grow too long. As Barty watches, Regulus unfurls into a stand and shoulders his way between some students until he reaches the foot of the stairs, then disappears up to the fifth-year boys dormitory.
Barty extricates himself from the combined voluptuousness of the chair and the girl, making to follow Regulus when there is a tight grip around his wrist. He has to force himself to look back at Crystal, his jaw tensed before he relaxes it deliberately. "I'll make it up to you," he murmurs. It's not until after she looks him in the eye, though, that she swallows down whatever token protest she was about to make.
Regulus has resumed his previous position on his bed now, and he is staring down at a schoolbook without any apparent recognition. His hand twitches towards it when Barty moves into the room, a guilt reflex that Barty is used to seeing, as if he can catch people red-handed with their own thoughts. After it has passed, Reg just looks like he doesn't know what do to with himself, lips pursed uncomfortably. Barty leans against one of the posts at the foot of Regulus' bed, hands in his pockets.
"Little do they know," he says with a curve of his lips.
Reg looks hard at him for a fleeting moment before laughing, gaze dropping. "Yeah."
"And you?" His voice practically floats, gentle inquiry, but his heart is pounding anticipation even down to his toes.
Regulus' stare lasts longer this time. "What about me."
"What do you know that they don't?"
"I don't—" Regulus is twining his fingers so tightly together that the joints are white where the blood is cutting off. He whispers, "Everything," and looks like he wants to regret it.
"That doesn't answer my question, though," Barty says, his words a little sharper at the edges now. Reg has never been very good at keeping secrets, but Barty's not minded examining the angles of the newfound crypticism Reg has been carrying around with him lately, picking at the loose threads wherever he can. He doesn't find his mood to be bent towards any more coddling, however. Reg must sense it. His nervous movements diverge haltingly to streamline with Barty's heightened calm, Reg's gaze steadying on him.
As Barty pushes off from the bedpost and skirts the edge of the bed until Regulus has to tilt his chin up to look at him, Reg says, "I don't know how much I can trust you. Your father..."
"And what needs to be done to prove that one is his own person?" Barty murmurs.
The hair falls back over Regulus' eyes as he looks down, fingers hovering over his cuff for a minute before pushing the sleeve up his forearm. His skin is white and smooth and exposes blue veins beneath, but his skin is alive where power (he) has been. Barty's hunger is suddenly desperate and clawing. He reaches out to touch it.