Why hello there!
It's been a while, but here we are again! Gosh, I'm getting excited!
Your reviews have been amazing and incredible! Some of you have had questions (which BTW always question; I have the answer). One of the questions I've been asked repeatedly is answered IN THIS CHAPTER. For those of you concerned with me randomly stopping, know this: unless I expressly say otherwise, this is a "work in progress".
Frankly, no matter how many months may pass between updates, I have come much too far to abandon this fic. And that'd be silly anyways.
But what always makes me so thrilled is the fact that you guys are AMAZING! I read every single review and get a big stupid grin on my face. You're wonderful readers and I cannot thank you enough for your continued support! You're all amazing!
Harry looked over at Luna.
"Barty Crouch Jr?"
Harry chuckled slightly.
"Now, that would be a sight. Hermione dragging a soulless body across the grounds of Azkaban prison. Very subtle, indeed. Doubt that would raise any alarm at all."
I bit my bottom lip and took a deep breath in, blowing it out a bit comically.
"I thought you didn't want him to know about it."
"Perhaps not," Luna replied airily, "but the world has somewhat realigned and I think it's better that he knows now."
"Course it has," I mumbled and Harry looked between the two of us.
"An explanation at any time would be greatly appreciated, I think."
I sighed and twined my fingers together. I never liked keeping secrets from Harry. Harry had always kept so much from me and Ron when we were kids, most of them dark secrets he thought we didn't need to know. Perhaps he was right to do that, but I had decided I would never do that to him and since I'd begun visiting Barty, I'd been breaking that self-mandated law. It ended now.
"Barty Crouch Jr is alive. Has been all these years. The Minster stopped the dementor from taking soul so they could torture him for information. He's been rotting in a cell from ages now."
Harry held up a hand, a gesture that, from anyone else, would have earned a glare from me. But this was Harry. He wiped his mouth with his hand.
"Is this the part where you tell me this is where you've been all this time?"
I nodded slowly.
"So this wasn't about Lucius Malfoy?"
"I've been in to see him too," I tried.
"Oh, I know. Draco's been bothering me about it."
"He told me you were making regular visits to his father and he wanted to know why. I told him I'd try to find out after the Education debate, but he's been insistent."
Another point against Draco.
"You know, I talked to him. Recently," I said. Yesterday, my brain reminded me, "and for a man keeping tabs on me, he knows very little about anyone else."
"How do you mean?"
"He thinks Neville married Ginny."
Harry snorted and Luna giggled politely.
"Well, then he doesn't follow Quidditch."
"That's not good, considering he'll be working with Neville soon as well," Luna pointed out.
"Right. I think Cho would be very put out."
"She's going to keep her last name," Harry said and then froze, "Hermione, you clever thing."
"You nearly made me forget that you just casually informed me you've been visiting Barty Crouch Jr, who is very much alive."
I went a little pale.
"You distracted yourself."
"You let me."
"Come now, let's talk this out," Luna insisted.
"Fine," Harry said and sat back, arms crossed, "tell me all about him."
I opened my mouth to speak, but Luna cut me off.
"Harry, I think if Hermione began to tell you all she's learned, you wouldn't be open to empathizing with her."
"Luna, give me a chance here," I insisted. She nodded. I turned to Harry and sighed.
"Harry, I went to Azkaban to kill him."
The pain that flashed in Harry's eyes was tremendous.
"Hermione, why? You're better than that."
"You can say that, if you like, but it was for all the same reasons you're thinking of now. All the bad things he's done. He started all of it. He single-handedly brought Voldemort to power, yes, yes I can assure you that those facts have played like a mantra in my head more than you can possibly imagine. I keep it in my head. But Harry? That man who did all of those things? I was prepared to kill him."
"I wouldn't want you to do that."
"I wouldn't want you to either," I replied, "and especially not now. Harry, I don't know how to explain to you just what I've learned, but the man in that cell is not the monster who did all of those things."
"And you think he's served his time? And you want to free him?"
I surprised myself with my answer.
I apparently surprised both of them with my answer.
"No?" They repeated back to me. It took me a second to gather my thoughts.
"I…no, no I don't think I want to free him. Not yet. I mean, he is different. I think he'd be perfectly wonderful if he was free. I think he would find somewhere out in the country. He seems to like the outdoors. And he's missed the sun. I think he'd stay quiet. Live a peaceful life. Maybe snap his wand in two and go into teaching something with Muggles. But…I don't think he should be set free yet."
Luna cocked her head to the side.
"Does he know you feel this way?"
"Not…directly, no. I've never been asked that and we've never discussed it, but that cookie yesterday—"
"Luna!" Harry groaned and she smirked.
"Sorry, sweetie," she said and he rolled his eyes.
"Family secret, my left arse cheek."
My heart panged; that had been one of Ron's favorite sayings. Harry and I shared a look.
"The cookie said I was going to free him from Azkaban. When I thought it meant…freeing him, I didn't like the idea. I have his background now, crucial and critical memories that have haunted him. He didn't have the best life. At all. But his choices were his own and, while I am sympathetic and think he deserves a second chance, I don't think it should be any time soon."
Luna smiled at me and I blushed a little and continued on.
"But when Luna brought that up, I think the cookie was predicting I might free him to prove the point: that the prison isn't safe. And it isn't. I can sneak in any time I want. Barty sent his patronus to me once and—"
"What is his patronus?"
I blinked for a second at the random question and shook my head to remember.
Luna looked incredibly sad.
"A badger…the sign of a Hufflepuff to most."
"He was put in Slytherin," Harry said.
"But he was offered a choice of all of them."
"He chose Slytherin, you think?"
"I think, if Barty had been in Hufflepuff, he would have been all right," Luna mused and I clung to her every word, "the kind hearted, the ones who love and protect fiercely; it would have shown Barty the lighter side of the world. The better side. But he was already so lost that Slytherin was where he would succeed most, in his mind. The badger is a sign, a sign that he knows he missed the opportunity to better himself and has missed every opportunity since. That, or his mother's patronus was a badger."
I let out a short gasp.
"How did you know about his mother?"
"You're not the only one who heard the story of how he escaped. I would expect her sacrifice left an impression."
I sat back and chewed on my lip.
"I think it might be a little of both."
Harry ran a hand through his hair.
"I want to see him."
My head jerked toward him, eyes wide.
"I don't know if that's wise."
"Hermione, if he really is a changed man, there should be absolutely no reason for you to worry."
"He is changed," I defended, "he wants a new start, he does! He's apologetic and he's empathetic and he knows what he's done, but he just…you…"
"If you want me to even think about letting you see him again, you'll take me with you."
"Let me?" I shrieked, "Harry Potter, you have no say in what I do!"
"I damn well should! You've got no one, Hermione! You haven't looked at a single person since Ron died! You have no one you talk to on a regular basis. You go to school, you teach, and then retire to your quarters. You aren't living! You aren't talking to people! You need someone to look out for you because I left you alone too long and now you're talking to a damn serial killer! Jesus, the first man you get close to brought back the Dark Lord! I'm gonna say something! If I don't, you're going to end up falling in love with him or some shit and I can't risk that."
I knew I wasn't in love with Barty. And perhaps he felt strongly for me, but I thought he might just have projected too much on me. Either way, it didn't stop me from trying to train my expression to one of indifference, one Harry did not miss.
"No! I'm not in love with him! Not even close!"
"Hermione…for goodness sake…"
"No, Harry, I swear! I'm not in love with him!"
"Is that why you won't go out for coffee with Malfoy?"
"Excuse me?" I balked.
"He said you won't go out on a date with him. He thinks it's because you have feelings for someone else."
I let out a bark of a laugh and then a longer one.
"Oh my God! What is his deal? I won't go out with him because, for starters, he's associated with some of the worst memories of my schooling and…his house, if you recall."
Harry did recall.
"And second, maybe it's because he showed up at my flat unannounced, simply entered it because I didn't have wards, which I am seriously doubting, and put a tracker on my broom! He has been back to my flat enough times that he knows I haven't. Why would I go have coffee with him?"
Harry blinked a few times and rubbed his chin.
"All right, so that's justifiable."
"What is it?"
"You've got a face on."
"No I haven't."
"It's just…he's been making it out like he's just…being polite. And I know you, Hermione, but I could picture you being the way he was describing: cold, cut off, uninterested, not giving him a second glance. It's been you of late. I didn't question it too much."
I supposed he had a point.
"Well, he's playing the nice guy act, but don't let him fool you. I kissed him once, sort of in the heat of the moment. But he started getting strange and my gut wouldn't let me trust him and now I don't. So…ignore him."
"But is he right?"
"Do you have feelings for someone else?"
I opened my mouth to answer and nothing came out.
Harry put his face in his hands.
"Buggering fuck, Hermione."
It was ever so rare to hear Harry curse that way.
"Look, Harry, it's complicated. He's complicated. This whole situation is a mess."
"But," Luna piped up, "if you go see him, Harry, and you deem him safe, we can think about maybe using him to get Azkaban fixed up."
Harry ran his fingers over his eyes.
"And if this is all a ploy? If it's all a trick to be set free to kill again? If he knew this could come up?"
"He wouldn't. He's different."
"Do we find out the hard way that he's not?"
I stared at Harry and tried to think of what to do. I stood up.
"Come on. We're going to Azkaban."
When I opened the cell, Barty was sitting on his cot, eyes boring into the pages of The Hobbit. Harry followed close behind. He didn't look up, raising a finger.
"One second! Best bit in the book, this is. Dragons. I wish they were really like this. I'd keep one as a pet if they were."
I said nothing, just waited. But Barty's nostrils flared and he sniffed once and then looked up.
Something I did not expect was to see Barty's face go into one of absolute fear.
It was a risk, bringing Harry here. It was the biggest gamble I had ever made. I was putting a lot of bloody faith in Barty Crouch Jr. I had thought that seeing Harry could potentially trigger the mania inside of him, the monster that occasionally peeked his head. Harry had been his target for nearly a full school year. I was bracing myself for a snarl, a manic glare, bared teeth, and a rush to get at Harry's throat.
But Barty backed into the wall like a scared child.
"Hermione, what is he doing here?"
I was confused. He looked genuinely afraid.
"Relax, Barty. He just came to see for himself."
"Harry Potter," Barty said and I looked back at my friend and saw why Barty looked so terrified. There was so much anger and rage in those green eyes that I shrunk back myself.
"Harry, please," Barty was in the corner now, "please. Have mercy. I know you have every reason in the world to kill me, but I beg of you, don't. Don't please—"
Barty was making pleas for his life and I looked to Harry before I stepped between them and looked at Harry.
"Barty, shush," I said over my shoulder and looked at Harry, "Harry, think. You got sad when you knew I'd come here to kill him. You wanted better for me. I want the best for you. I'm trying to show you he isn't the same. Don't ruin that by holding your wand over his head like an axe, okay?"
Harry looked at me and gave me a short nod. I gave him one back and turned to Barty. I made a show of casually walking over to him and sitting next to him.
"Barty, show me where you're at."
He blinked a few times.
"In the book!"
"Oh!" he said. He cast Harry a nervous glance.
"Barty, it's just me and you, all right? When Harry feels like speaking, he will. Why don't you show him what you can do?"
Barty's eyes went wide.
"Is that wise?"
I could understand why Barty wouldn't want to show Harry how much power he had. Then again, it could show Harry that Barty chose not to use it for terrible purposes.
"He takes his tea with a dash of sugar."
Barty took a deep breath and waved his hand. A chair, facing us, formed, as well as a table.
Harry was motionless as he stared at the furniture, stunned.
"Sit, Harry," I prompted. He moved forward slowly, cautiously sitting down. He looked at the tea.
"It's not poisoned," Barty offered and Harry glared. I doubted he'd drink it, but at least it was there.
"Well," Barty said and looked back down at it, "Bilbo's met Smaug . He's gone in the second time now. Smaug's peeved he took his cup. It's my favorite bit because of how they portray him, like he's some intelligent thing."
I recalled, fondly, Hagrid's attempt at raising a dragon. Harry and Ron had told me about it.
"Dragons aren't like this at all. But I loved it still. He just seems like a big puppy, rolling around and showing off."
"Amazing how much Smaug and Thorin are alike, isn't it?" I offered. Barty grinned at me.
"I'd never thought of it that way, but damned if you aren't completely right," Barty chuckled and tilted his head to the side, "what's your favorite book, then?"
Harry snorted and we both looked at him. He cleared his throat.
"Sorry, but you just asked Hermione Granger what her favorite book is."
I grinned and Barty and Harry actually shared a smile before Harry wiped it off his face. Barty still took the blessing.
"Yeah, I guess that is a stupid question."
"So," Harry said, "did you ever tell Hermione about licking my blood?"
I went still and so did Barty. This was not going to be fun at all.