Written for: jokerofish
Character(s): Barty Crouch, Antonin Dolohov, others in mention
They called it Serpent’s Peak.
In reality the ruined old tower, patched up with spells and wards, perched on a low-rise hill in a large clearing in the middle of leagues of forestland was Beta Security Base 6-316. It earned the sinister name for its dark, almost black, stone walls and shadowy hallways, the gothic engravings in the grand chamber which made up the base of the tower. The black, sharp edges of the tower itself cut across the sky, high above the tree-tops, splitting the moon in half if observed at the right angle on a favorable night.
It was also the place where the Marking ceremony took place.
Sinister and isolated, yet completely unattractive to anyone, there was little fear that the Aurors would come looking here. The place screamed of Dark Magic but it was too exposed to serve for a proper base. At some point it was decided that the Markings would take place there and, no one having any objections, the area was secured, warded and prepared, a pentagon perimeter established, about a mile in diameter. As of late, nothing but the Markings and a few of Igor’s experiments took place at this base, so it was largely unmanned. The lack of consistent activity also helped to persuade the Aurors that the old ruin of a building was not worth the manpower.
On the day when a new recruit was to be Marked, Antonin brought in several squads to man the perimeter. The Honor Guard – mainly High Officers and the Marked members of the Young Guard – would gather outside on the parade platform between the entrance to the tower and an old, rusted entrance gate, and stand vigil while the Ceremony proceeded. The Ceremony was conducted in private between their Lord and the recruit. It had all been much less formal in the beginning, yet no less intimate. Antonin had been Marked on a day’s notice with only Bella waiting for him on the other side, wrapped up in a black cloak, with her eyes shining in awe-struck fascination.
Among the chaos of the war, Antonin supposed, such stability was needed. The rituals that they could establish and preserve were a steadying reminder of what they fought for, and the solemn nigh-time Swearing was useful to impress upon the newly minted Death Eaters what commitment they were making.
That night, it was Barty Crouch’s turn. The boy, barely seventeen, stood with Antonin at the entrance gate, his eyes fixed on the crumbling stones of Serpent’s Peak. He seemed to be attempting to trace the jagged lines with his eyes, but the thick darkness of the night was not helping and the large, white-blue moon which hung heavily in the sky did not give off sufficient light despite its size.
“Are you ready?” Antonin asked the boy.
“Yes. I’ve been ready.” He did not sound ready, however. There was a defiant, high-pitched note in his tone which made Antonin uneasy. Sometimes he wondered why Barty was there. Certainly the boy got along well with his fighting squad – his former Housemates – and he was a Pureblood, but his father was one of the most zealous proponents of dead penalties and vicious interrogation tactics for anyone who was suspected of being on Riddle’s side of the war. He wasn’t a spy – Antonin had dismissed that idea a long time ago – but he wondered if it may be simple teenage rebellion. Barty did not talk much, but Antonin gathered that not all was alright in the Crouch household, why otherwise would son turn against father? But teenage rebellion was hardly a reason to swear vows.
“How shall I present you, Mr. Crouch? As Barty or Bartemius? Would you, perhaps, take your mother’s name?”
Barty licked his lips and thought about it. Antonin had apparently taken him by surprise by offering a choice. “No. Bartemius Crouch, if you please, sir. I am a Crouch, only son and heir, the heir of a bloodline. But not…not Jr. That is too much.” The boy straightened, pulling his shoulders back. He chanced a glace to the side at Antonin before looking away once again.
“As you wish.” Antonin looked down at his pocket watch – almost time. In the plaza before them, High Officers and Young Guard boys – most of whom were Barty’s friends – were forming up into straight columns. The wind picked up and howled through the gaping cracks and holes at the top of the tower. “You could chose whoever you like to sponsor you, Mr. Crouch. It does not have to be me. Lucius Malfoy presented Severus and Andre Rosier his brother Evan. Perhaps Bella—“
“No. I’m glad it’s you, sir.” Barty looked over at him again, and this time he met Antonin’s eyes. “I don’t have a brother or a father, really. You’re the closest thing I have to either. I hope you do not see that as insolence, sir. But my family…my family would never understand why I am here…”
“Why are you here, Mr. Crouch?”
Barty flinched, though Antonin could not be sure if it was the question or merely the cold wind making him shiver. “Sir, I—“
“Listen to me, Mr. Crouch.” Antonin turned to face the boy and put both hands on his shoulders. “This is not a game. I suppose you already know that. But these vows are forever. Even when we win, you will still be bound by your vows. You will be in-sworn as a loyal subject of our Lord, you will be expected to put your service to him before everything else in your life. Do not do this as a means to get away from your father, to prove him wrong.”
Barty took a step back. “Do you doubt my loyalty, sir? I must confess, I find the idea offensive. I have done nothing to earn such insults—“
“Barty, be quiet.” Antonin rolled his eyes. “I did not mean to suggest that you are disloyal.”
If anything, the boy looked hurt more than anything, like a spurned child. He’s been looking for affection and acceptance all his life and this is the only place where he knows to find it, Antonin realized and something about that made him uneasy. He had no reason to doubt the boy’s loyalty but when someone like Regulus or Evan took the Mark, they came into the fold as part of a legacy, defending ideals firmly ingrained into them since their birth. Their family, their friends, everything they ever knew in life were a part of this legacy. They were meant to fight this war, they were protecting and defending. They were always accepted and needed, never doubting their place here. A Rosier or a Mulciber would actually take someone questioning their loyalty as an insult. Barty took it to mean that he was being rejected…again. He was trying to replace family bonds with ones of servitude and Antonin could tell him there and now that it would never be the same.
But it wasn’t his choice, it was Barty’s.
“I am here because I believe in the Cause. I am here because I wish to serve our Lord, the most powerful wizard since Merlin himself.” Barty paused and licked his lips again. “I am here because it is the only place that feels like home, sir,” he added quietly. “And if that be false reason, then you may do as you please with me.”
“Fear not, Mr. Crouch. It is reason well enough,” Antonin said finally, reaching for his pocket watch again. After all, was loyalty to the people you care about most a bad reason to follow them into hell? The watch showed five minutes to midnight. “It is time.” He gave Barty one last look.
“Will it hurt?” the boy asked.
“Yes,” Antonin admitted.
They walked from the gate to the tower entrance doors, down an aisle created by the honor guard who raised their lit wands and blended against the night sky in their black cloaks. In the expansive round chamber, the Dark Lord awaited. A black, magical fire burned in the fireplace behind him, throwing purple shadows across the stone floor and walls.
“My Lord,” Antonin intoned flatly. “I present Bartemius Crouch, only son and heir to the House of Crouch of Pure and ancient blood. I present a man of age, tested and proven in prowess and loyalty on the battlefield, prepared and willing to take the vows of service.” He bowed and left to join the honor guard outside and await Barty’s emergence from the tower as a Marked man.
Barty Crouch knelt before the Dark Lord to take the Mark at the stroke of midnight.