Hyde Park, Central London
By AAR
Disclaimer: It's a little obvious I don't own anything, but what the hell? This is my first entry into the Harry Potter fandom, so if you wouldn't flame this…I love this pairing.


1987


There is something wrong in the world when a father (of numerous reputations, most of them a little shady) imprisons his son (of considerable infamy) in his mind and body.

There's also something wrong with this world when said son requires a pleading house elf to help him have one day free. Free, meaning 'tethered to a certain area', of course.

Can't have a Dark wizard of twenty-five rage around London alone, can we?

The father, Bartemius Crouch Sr., is hard-pressed to ignore his son's pleading brown eyes and his house elf's teary ones.

It has been six (or was it seven? He really must take notice of these years passing by, because poor, weak mother died six years ago) years since he was taken out of a cold, dark, insane prison and placed in a cheery and sickeningly claustrophobic one.

Winky swears young Master Barty won't get in trouble, Winky swears, the small house elf begs, clasping her small, brown hands together.

Barty Crouch Jr. stays silent, still under his father's Imperius Curse, but watching.

Always, always watching and waiting for that moment of freedom (he's forgotten the feel of it already) when his master will let him loose and allow him to be able to walk freely again. To let atrophying muscles stretch from their numb position beneath yet another Invisibility Cloak.

As if the twenty-five year old is a waspish snake, the senior Crouch eyes his silent son warily, but he finally relents.

Fine, he says tiredly, the boy can have his fun for an hour. Then his own eyes, gray and weak and so utterly full of nothing, stare at Winky and he tells her, He can't go farther than a mile from you, do you hear me? Attach him to a leash if you must, but you will not let him out of your sight, Winky!

She agrees passionately, of course, because how else will she get Master to acquiesce young Master Barty a small vacation from his confinement?

He is freshened up for the small outing, which really isn't an outing at all. Blonde hair is combed, a thin body is dressed in Muggle jeans and a t-shirt, and the mind is given a very firm command of the Imperius Curse: don't run off, don't say anything about the magical world, and don't, don't kill anything.

No wand is handed back to him, and Barty feels insulted and powerless without it.

He is Apparated to Hyde Park by Winky, central London, and his house elf is hiding under his Invisibility Cloak. Barty swears that he's going to be very uncomfortable for the next hour or so, because he can feel her eyes boring into his back.

The wizard without a wand feels hard-pressed to say a curse, or something similar to, 'What the bloody hell can I do with no money, no transport, and no wand in the middle of bloody London?'

Winky squeaks a small 'Master Barty', and he turns to her half-heartedly. A wad of money he can't use is passed into his large hand, and he can feel the corners of his mouth curl upwards in a bitter smile.

Thanks, is the unsaid word. Barty finally takes a good look at his surroundings. Families are picnicking around, and suddenly he can feel something.

An instinctual feeling isn't new for Barty (his tongue flicks out once, and he imagines himself as a snake, hunting prey), but this is odder than usual. He can sense powerful magic, and it intoxicates his mind for a few, short seconds until it dissolves from his head.

His body smoothly shifts into a languid slump, and his feet start taking off towards the aura he felt seconds earlier.

Barty finds himself next to a droopy tree and a bench with a young girl sitting on it with a book in her lap. Her hair is atrociously bushy, and she is obviously descended from Muggles.

But because he can feel her indomitable strength, he doesn't care, even if she is what he and his master fought against so vehemently long, long ago.

"Hello," he says amiably, taking a casual seat next to her. The girl's face contorts, as if she's struggling whether or not to answer him. She purses her lips.

"My mum told me never to talk to strangers," she finally replies. Her hand idly flips a page in her book, an adapted version of Alice in Wonderland.

Well, he can certainly fix up the stranger part.

(To tell the truth, he's not quite certain why he's not just demanding her to release the floodgates of her magic and free him from the Imperius. Maybe all the years under confinement have made him thirst for a bit of conversation, even if it's from a little girl.)

He introduces himself cheerfully, "I'm Barty. Now I'm not a stranger!" He flicks his tongue at her, and she giggles in childish amusement.

"No," she agrees, "we aren't. I'm Hermione."

Barty can practically feel Winky's approving gaze. Finally, finally he's talking to someone, even if it's a little girl!

"How old are you?" asks Hermione. "You can't be alone."

He smirks at her.

"Twenty-five, and I am alone. How old are you?"

"Eight—"

"Only eight?" he asks. The strongest magical aura he's felt in a few years, and it comes from an eight year old child?

"Eight and a half!" she indignantly replies. He calms her down hurriedly, and he thanks the gods that this girl isn't older, or his unintentional patronizing tone could've done tons of damage.

Then Barty gives Hermione a studying glance. Eight and a half years old; where could her parents be? Uneasy at the possibility that she will run away, he asks her this hesitantly.

"They're dentists," she flippantly says.

He replies with an absentminded, "Ah." At least he knows that her parents are at work, even though he doesn't know enough Muggle slang to understand the vocation. He does know enough that the girl is mature enough to be left alone, because what responsible parent leaves their child to the mechanics of reality alone?

(His father did.)

They sit in companionable silence for just a few more minutes, and then Hermione shifts uncomfortably in her seat, as if she wanted to say something, but was afraid of his answer. "What?" he asks finally, flicking his tongue at her in mild annoyance. She blushes, then clears her throat.

"Do you think magic exists?"

It makes the twenty-five year old man freeze, hearing those five words tumble out of an eight year old girl's mouth. He thinks back to the Imperius Curse, stopping a 'course it does' as an answer to her question.

He doesn't blame her. She's only eight, after all. Hermione still thinks in black and white, but at least she questions her reality at times.

Barty wants to say a dozen different answers, all pertaining to the category of 'yes', but every few seconds, the Imperius Curse stops him from saying something.

"Barty?" asks Hermione worriedly. The child snaps her book shut, curiosity rising in her doe brown eyes at the choking noises her new friend is emitting.

She's forgotten her devastating question already; she's already concerned over a complete stranger.

"'M fine," he manages to cough out. In a moment of inspiration, he says brightly, "Just choked on my tongue."

She looks at him with disbelief and childish ridicule.

"You can't literally swallow your tongue," Hermione says maturely, and he sticks his tongue out at her. She manages to stifle a giggle.

"Watch me," he sniffs indignantly, and true to his word, his face contorts as he attempts to act out the Muggle term. Hermione laughs, a sound Barty hasn't heard from anyone in a while. He runs a hand through his blonde hair in amazement, and after a moment, he laughs too. She opens her book again and starts to read aloud Alice's adventures to her new friend.

They spend an hour like that, just sitting on a bench next to an old, old tree, and they read about a little girl discovering fantastic, impossible things in an impossible world.

Hermione's voice grows hoarse as she reads out loud, and Barty, in a chivalrous move, volunteers to read next. She falls asleep just as the dormouse is scolding Alice for growing bigger. Her small body leans against his. He nervously flicks his tongue, wary of protective parents that should be taking a lunch break right now—Winky prods his shoulder.

"Is it really time to go?" the rehabilitating Death Eater asks quietly, and he has to think that Winky is nodding her head reluctantly. She's already stretching her commands from Barty Crouch Sr., and it's taking its toll on the house elf.

Barty flicks his tongue in reluctance, and he takes a deep breath of fresh air, most likely the last bit of fresh air he will have, assuming the family's house elf will tell his father about the little girl he met.

He hopes she doesn't, because he kind of likes this child. The twenty-five year old edges away from the clingy eight year old girl, and after a moment of contemplation, he wakes her up. "Hermione," he says hesitantly, "I've got to go."

She protests immediately, seeing no reason why her new friend should take off. He grips her shoulders gently, and he says, "It's going to be okay. I'll be back sooner than you think."

The girl scowls at him, and she mutters rebelliously, "All adults say that."

He quirks an eyebrow at her and flicks his tongue out of the corner of his mouth. "I'm not 'all adults'. You'll see me again," Barty reassures her. The blonde paused for a split second and asked teasingly, "Do you doubt me?" He grins at her when she shakes her head, and he ruffles her hair.

(He's a Death Eater for crying out loud; what the hell is he doing comforting a Mudblood?)

"Go on and find your parents," he urges her, feeling Winky's incessant prodding. Hermione—he never catches her last name, but then again, neither does she—hops down from the bench, and when he attempts to give her Alice in Wonderland, she smiles at him and pushes it into his large, pale hands.

"You keep it, and then maybe you can give it back to me when we meet again, yeah?" she asks, giving him a bright grin.

His throat is unusually dry, but he manages to croak out a 'yeah'. He nudges her to go along, and she complies, turning her back on him.

Winky Apparates him back to the Crouch household as soon as she knows no one is looking, and he is still clutching a book about a fantastic, little, logical girl in his hands. His face breaks out into a big grin, ignoring his father's questions about the book and him. He doesn't pay attention to how his father is resetting the Imperius Curse again.

(Somewhere in central London, a little girl named Hermione Granger wonders about a fair haired man, with haunting brown eyes and a tongue that flicked out every few seconds who disappeared the instant she turned her back on him.)