They're coming for me. I know they are; I know they're sending them for me right now. I've gotten used to the things after all those years in Azkaban, but at least in Azkaban the walls of my cell protected me from them. Now there is nothing protecting me, now there is no barrier between us, now nothing is stopping those dementors from swooping down upon me and sucking away my soul in less than a blink of an eye.
I shouldn't care, really. I shouldn't care if they suck out my soul. There isn't much left for me to live for, after all. Yes, there is my lord, but he does not want me. I can feel it, somewhere deep inside me. He is angry that I have been caught, angry that I have betrayed him, however unintentional my betrayal was. . .I had Potter in the palm of my hand, for Merlin's sake, so I really can't blame him for his rage.
Still, still. . .there is a part of me that wants to go on, that wants to live, desperately and terribly. Unconventional, I know, and also without logic. . .but I am not fully ready to give up my life, even if there is nothing to it anymore.
But now, shackled to this cold floor, barely clinging to my consciousness, there really aren't many other options. My lord won't save me, my entire soul is dedicated to him no matter what, but it does not matter; he is angry and will not come to me. And if he is angry with me, there is really not much left to live for. The Dark Lord is what I live for, the Dark Lord is my life. . .was my life, that is, seeing as the removal of my soul is so close upon me.
Cold is settling over my body. I know this cold, it's not just any cold; it's a cold that seeps right through to your insides, chilling you to the bone. The dementors are here for me. But with a sudden rush of fierce – I don't even know what – anger? – pride? – perseverance? – I decide that I don't want to die. I want to live. And I'm going to fight for that, if I have to.
Struggling with the bonds around my body, I manage to wiggle one of my hands into my robe pocket. I dig around for my wand, finally grasping it, raising it as best I can through my binds. What is that damn spell that repels dementors? That creates a patronus? I shuffle through my mind for recollections of learning it in school, what was the incantation. . .
Expecto Patronum! Yes, that was it. And you had to summon the happiest memory you could, because that was what would fend off the creatures. The happiest memory. . .what would be my happiest memory? Immediately my initiation to the Death Eaters springs to mind. That was the first time I ever felt as though my life was finally taking a coarse, as though I really had a place in the world. But now that recollection is tinged with bitterness, with regret; my lord will never look at me again with such praise and approval in his eyes, and I've no one to blame for that fact but myself.
So I shift around for another memory, and for some odd reason, one from when I was just a boy comes up. I don't think it's particularly happy, but I allow it play out before my eyes anyhow, reliving it to its fullest. . .
I am twelve years of age, home for the summer after my first year at Hogwarts. I'm sitting in my room on my bed. A book is in my lap, but I'm not reading it, just skimming the pages, because it's something to do. Mostly though, I am thinking. Thinking hard about magic, and the Ministry, and war, and the fallen Dark Lord. . . . But my musings are interrupted by a popping sound, the sound of someone Apparating.
Daddy's home, I think.
I don't really care if he's home or not, it never makes a difference to me. My father is never around, he's always off at his job, and even when he's not physically there his mind always is.
"Busy, busy, busy," he would always tell my mother, whenever she asked why he was in the office so much.
"Too busy for your family?" she would return. "For your only son?"
It was at this point he would usually mumble objections to this, and the entire conversation would usually plummet from there.
I am jarred from these thoughts by a knocking at my closed bedroom door.
"Come in," I drawl.
My father enters. His eyes unsure, he gives me an apprehensive smile. He always looks at me like this, as though I am some strange fungus he does not totally understand how to get rid of or clean up. I don't return the smile, and when he notices this his own quickly fades.
"I – I was wondering if you wanted to – go out for a bit," he stammers with some difficulty.
I stare up at him indifferently. Sometimes it is hard to believe this man is my father, we have so little in common, and neither of us can really accept the other for what they are. Then again, sometimes I don't even know who is he, I see him so little.
"Go out – with me, I meant," he stumbles.
Mother forced him into this, I know she did. And I waste no time in saying so. "Did Mum make you ask that?" I question coolly.
"No," he says defiantly, "of course not. I want to spend time with my son. Is that such a crime?" And I can't see the lie in his eye, so reluctantly I agree that I'll go with him, and pull on my shoes.
"Where are we going?" I ask without interest as we stroll out the door.
"Oh, just around the area," he responds vaguely. "Do you have your wand on you?"
"In my pocket," I say, and despite myself I feel my excitement growing. "Why? What'll I need it for?"
"Nothing in particular. You should just always have your wand on you. It's a well-known and well respected rule among witches and wizards. . ." And then he's off, rattling on about proper wand care and maintenance.
As Father babbles, he leads me down a little trail I've never been on before. At first I look around curiously, but my curiosity gradually fades as we do nothing but keep walking on. It's getting rather boring. I stuff my hands into my pockets, keeping my head down and watching my feet shuffle and kick the dirt.
"Here we are," says Father, and I glance up.
After all that build-up and the long wait, I was expecting there to be great things when we arrived – really impressive scenery, or some ancient structure, or something like that – but all we've arrived at is the shore of a dirty-watered lake. My father smiles at me, waiting for my pleasure, but all I do is slouch, staring bleakly at the water. He frowns at me slightly – the fungus has done something he does not approve of – and turns away from me, leaning against a tree and facing the water. After a moment, he beckons me closer. I step towards him, but then hunch over again, guarding myself.
He doesn't speak right away, just gazes out at the lake. When he finally does open his mouth, what tumbles out, unexpectedly, is, "Did you have a good time this year at Hogwarts?"
"Yeah," I say gruffly. You've had since I came back in June to ask that, and you don't ask until August? But I don't say this aloud; all it would do is start another tirade.
"Good," he replies, "good."
And then, even more unexpected is what he does next: he bends over towards the ground, running his hand through the dust. He selects a small, smooth stone and stands up again, running his fingers over the rock.
"Ever learned to skip rocks, Barty?" he asks me.
Bemused, I shake my head. My rule-abiding, tight-laced fathers, likes to lollygag around and throw rocks. Who'd have thought?
"Watch," he tells me. He curves his arm, squinting his eyes against the sunlight, and winds his wrist several times. Then he tosses the rock. It skips in a perfect arch across the water six times before falling beneath the surface with a tiny splash. He catches my eye, attempts a smile but only manages a weak imitation. "Eh?" he says.
I shrug. Skipping rocks has never seemed all that impressive to me. But my father seems determined to reach through and stir me in some way. He roots around on the ground for another round rock, and angles his arm again.
"The trick," he says, "is to think of the arch beforehand. Vision where the arch will be first, before the toss."
To humor him, I stare out at the lake in a bored way as though doing just that, then turn my attention back to him.
"Now, when you throw it, make sure it stays low and parallel to the water's surface. Throw it with a sidearm, and release – " he threw it " – with a snap of the wrist." The rock once again hopped the water several times, and then fell down below.
Father stoops to the ground again, grabs another stone, and then presses it into my palm. "Your turn," he says with a little gleam in his eye.
"No thanks," I reply, trying to give it back to him, but he resists.
"Just once," he says.
I sigh, like this is the most ridiculous thing in the world – and right now, it certainly seems that it is. But I face the water anyway. I feel the stone between my fingers, and curve my arm back. I try to see the arch of the stone in my head. Then I swing my arm forward and let the rock go flying. It sails into the air and falls with a heavy plunk straight into the murky water, without so much as a single skip.
"No, that's not how you do it," Father tells me immediately, as if I couldn't figure that out myself from watching the rock plummet. "Did you listen to a word I just said? You have to snap the wrist, not just flick it in lightly. And your arm angle was all wrong, you're supposed to. . ."
The fungus can never do anything right.
He continues on, rambling about every damn thing I did wrong with the stupid rock. Finally he notices how I am looking at him, and stops talking.
Sighing deeply, he finds another stone and hands it to me. "Try again," he says despondently, like I am the biggest fluke, the biggest failure in his perfect, law-abiding, always-right-and-always-know-it life. Which I probably am. I am the one thing that he can't keep straight, that he can't understand or like no matter how hard he tries (which isn't that hard, mind). I am the imperfect son; the son who doesn't always follow the rules, the son who doesn't always get things right, the son who doesn't always do things perfectly. I am the one thing in Bartemius Crouch Senior's life that he has failed with.
It's not really the rock-throwing that he's upset over. I can tell. We can both tell. It's about everything between us, everything that's ever been. . .and somehow, it's all come to rest on this little stone in my hand.
"Focus solely on the rock," he says suddenly, taking me away from these thoughts. I look up at him.
"Excuse me?" I say in cool tones of politeness.
"Focus solely on the rock," he says solemnly, staring out at the lake. He takes the rock from my hand and brings it up to his eye, holding it carefully like it's a precious jewel. "See how it's so sleek, and flat on one side? How it's so smooth, so perfect?"
I jerk my head slightly in reply.
"Well, it's not perfect," he continues. "Not really. It's only perfect if it's put to good use. If it just languishes in the dirt, it's not perfect anymore. Through the years it will waste away and erode if that happens, just more particles of dust by the shore. That's meaningless." He shakes his head. "But if you do something with it, if you skip it just right. . .it won't be meaningless."
"The rock will still decompose eventually," I say flatly, ruining his little monologue.
"Yes," he agrees, "but the rock will not have decomposed in vain, without purpose. It will have done something with its life, aside from just sitting there looking perfect."
I know he is trying to teach me a deep, meaningful lesson about not just sitting on your ass your whole life. But, honestly, surely he could have done it a bit better. A rock, for Merlin's sake? What kind of symbol is that? Why would I compare my life to a rock, of all things?
But I suppose it makes sense coming from him. A rock is ordinary, predictable, it follows all the rules. Just like him.
Father puts the stone back into my hand. I curl my fingers over the rock, and once more face the pond. I pull my arm back, measuring with my eye the estimated path that the rock will travel. I hesitate a moment, then propel my arm forward, leveling the stone with the water and snapping my wrist. It soars gently for a moment; I stand perfectly still. Then it plunges – but it doesn't sink, it's skipping – one, two, three, four – it keeps skipping until after ten times, at which point it drops beneath the water.
"You did it," says my father, sounding shocked.
"Yes," I agree mildly, "I did."
He turns to be, sizes me up with his eyes. And then he beams: at last, the fungus has done something right. The fungus has made him proud. And the look on his face makes me think that maybe, maybe, that fungus isn't so fungus-like anymore. Maybe it's starting to morph into a plant. A nice plant.
"Well done, Barty," Father says, clapping a hand on my shoulder. He's proud of me. In this moment, he's prouder of me than he's ever been. And in this moment, nothing could be more important to me than this fact.
"Expecto Patronum!" I yell, brandishing my wand at the dementor, trying to see nothing else but the memory, hoping it is strong enough in its own strange way, strong enough to produce my usual raven patronus. But it doesn't seem to be; I'm feeling colder, and a dense fog is starting to enclose me. . .
"Expecto Patronum! Expecto Patronum!"
Remember the stone, I think to myself silently, remember the lake, remember the shoes you were wearing. . .
Remember the throw, remember the stone skipping, remember it falling below the surface. . .
"Expecto – Patronum!"
Remember the summer warmth, remember the clothes on your back, remember how your father looked at you. . .
"Expecto. . .Patronum. . ."
It's not working. Maybe the memory's no good, maybe I'm not saying the spell right, maybe the dementor is just too close. But whatever it is, it's not enough. I'm slipping, slipping from the world, and the dementor is coming for me, I know he is. . .
"Expect – Expecto. . .Expecto. . ."
But that's when I realize: I don't have a wand. It was confiscated from me mere hours ago. My hand is gripped firmly around air.
And so it is with a rasping laugh, at both my predicament and insanity, that my soul is sucked out of my body and I leave the world.