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Written by long_live_luna_bellatrix and beta'd by ohcrapidroppedmybrain.

Lovely chapter image by Joanne K

Filius Flitwick sat down in his chair, one that which was high-backed even for Dumbledore but simply monstrous for himself. Minerva had the new first years lined up neatly in front of the Sorting Hat, and they were trembling with nerves as she unrolled a list of names.

"Crouch, Bartemius," she called out first, and Flitwick watched with interest as the first child, a boy with an unruly mop of straw-colored hair, stumbled up to the stool.

Flitwick always paid special attention to the first child being Sorted, as they were, in essence, the test case. About a third of the new children didn't even know what it meant to be Sorted, and the first child to have to witness the mystery was awed and pitied by the other students before their turn came. Flitwick had seen children strut, skip, and shuffle up to the stool; he had seen people smile reassuringly, faint, vomit, and burst into tears. And Flitwick could count on every child's unique reaction to reflect their inner personalities, but the first child could set the tone for the whole night, or longer.

The first boy this year, Bartemius Crouch, was small, his shoulders a little hunched as he walked slowly up to the stool. He glanced around at the all of the students focused on him and turned a shade paler, but his small grin didn't falter. The boy looked typically nervous, but ready to take the hat on nevertheless. Hopefully this one would be a role model for the others, and Filch wouldn't have to run for a mop this year. The hat was so big that it fell past Bartemius' ears, and he chewed his lip as the whole of Hogwarts watched him.

"RAVENCLAW!" The hat shouted after a brief pause, and Flitwick clapped loudly. Bartemius lifted off the hat, beamed, and ran to the Ravenclaw table, where students several heads taller than him cheered and slapped him on the back.

From his very first class, Flitwick saw that Bartemius Crouch, or Barty, as he preferred to be called, was an exceptional student. His enthusiasm was incredible, his hand always in the air, his essays superb.

"Mr Fox and Miss Forten, you two will be partners," Flitwick said, glancing down at the class list as he paired students up to try the Levitating Charm. "And Mr Crouch and Mr Grosset."

Everyone tittered and murmured to their friends. Barty was clearly top of the class; already teachers were partnering Barty only with the best of the Ravenclaws. Gary Grosset, however, was a sweet Hufflepuff who hadn't been able to coax a single spell from his wand yet, nor a grade above a Dreadful.

Flitwick sat back in his desk and pretended not to notice the sympathetic glances everyone was shooting Barty. The boy had already proven he could perform the best of spells, with or without a partner; surely he could only do good for Gary.

"You can try first," Barty said, once Gary had moved over to sit next to him.

Gary jabbed his wand into the air and mumbled something inaudible, while Flitwick spied at the pair from over a stack of fifth year essays.

"You need to wave your wand like so," Barty said calmly, demonstrating. "And speak clearer. The wand isn't as smart as you think it is, and it has awful hearing."

Gary cracked a smile, waved his wand shakily, and spoke the incantation once more.

"Wingardium Leviosa," he said quietly, but his feather remained firmly on the desk.

"You still need to wave it differently. Here," Barty said, not a hint of annoyance creeping into his voice. He placed his hand on top of Gary's and guided him through the movements. The next time Gary tried it on his own, his feather gave a feeble hop.

"Good!" Barty said encouragingly. "Now speak with more confidence."

"Wingardium Leviosa!" Gary cried, and his feather rose into the air, hovered for a second, then floated downward.

Barty smiled, and then tried the spell himself. Unsurprisingly, Barty's feather hovered high above his head for a full twenty seconds before he lowered his wand.

"Very good, Mr Crouch, Mr Grosset," Flitwick called out, but inside he was glowing. Barty beamed.

Flitwick didn't see Barty outside the classroom or the Great Hall for nearly a month. At dinner Barty was surrounded by chattering students, although from his vantage point Flitwick noticed that Barty ate his food mostly in silence and preferred to listen to the conversation around him rather than actively participate in it. Once, as Flitwick walked by, he heard Barty explaining the finer details of spell pronunciation to a fellow Ravenclaw.

Then as September drew to a close, Flitwick spotted Barty walking up to lunch after break. The corridors were clogged with students heading for the Great Hall.

Flitwick would have expected Barty to stick close to a pack of students, as all first years did to avoid getting separated or lost, but the boy was completely isolated from everyone around him. His face was stony, and he walked with purpose. A startled Flitwick compared this to the young man's smile usually lighting up the classroom.

"Good afternoon Mr Crouch," Flitwick said, once he caught up to the boy.

Barty turned and grinned toothily at Flitwick; all sign of his previous coldness disappeared in an instant. Warmth flooded his dark eyes and spread down to his feet, where he gained a spring to his step. "Afternoon, Professor."

"What were you reading?" Flitwick asked, glancing down at the thick book tucked under Barty's arm. It was old and the binding was coming apart at the spine, like most books in the library. However, first year classes didn't assign books with another language inscribed on the spine.

"It's some extra reading for Defense Against the Dark Arts," Barty replied brightly. "I wanted to look up some more challenging spells, and I'm studying Patronuses."

"Can you do one?" Flitwick spluttered. He himself had only learned to cast the spell properly after he graduated Hogwarts, and he had mastered many spells long before his classmates.

"Of course not," Barty blushed. "But it's a fascinating subject.

"Indeed," Flitwick agreed, as they entered the Great Hall. A wave of noise hit them and he had to raise his voice. "I'll see you in class." Flitwick watched as Barty went over to the Ravenclaw table and sat on the far end, which the first years usually claimed as their own. Barty's face had gone blank again, and he reached silently for a bowl of baked potatoes. When he had filled his plate with proper lunch food, he opened up his huge book on his lap and began to read, leaving his food untouched but for a few bites.

The first time Flitwick spied Barty wandering near the kitchens, he figured that Barty was just going to meet up with a friend from Hufflepuff. The second and third times, Flitwick passed it off as innocent exploring. But the fourth time he caught Barty downstairs, now munching on a pastry, he went to investigate.

"I see you discovered the kitchens?" Flitwick said, falling into step next to Barty, who started and turned. The boy turned crimson, but regained his cool quickly.

"It's not hard. Everyone knows house elves work at Hogwarts, and anyone who's ever been within ten feet of one knows they love to help, especially if you're hungry."

"Quite the contrary, actually. I didn't even know about the house elves until I began teaching here. And how did you gain access to the kitchens?"

"Passwords don't stop Ravenclaws for long," Barty said simply, and Flitwick knew he had a point, even if it really was just an excuse. Students weren't supposed to take food from the kitchens, but Flitwick decided to let Barty off the hook this one time. The boy hadn't meant any harm, after all.

"You shouldn't be sneaking in there, Mr. Crouch," Flitwick said. "Students aren't allowed in the kitchens."

"Sorry, Professor," Barty said quickly, and that was the end of that. He fell silent and hurried ahead. Flitwick sighed. He admired Barty Crouch, and he enjoyed the boy's quick thinking, both in class and out of it. But he had a feeling Barty had anticipated that entire conversation, and knew exactly how to act to get out of trouble. Besides, no child ever apologized that quickly without having another trick up their sleeve.

It came as no surprise to Flitwick, nor any other teacher for that matter, when Barty passed his exams with flying colors. Everyone reported that he was the first to finish his test in class, and would quietly study until the next final. And then summer flew by in a flash, and Barty was back, never failing to impress his teachers with his simple, intelligent thinking.

It was in Barty's second year that Flitwick first saw him spending more time with the older half of the school than students his own age. Flitwick already knew that Barty was completely mature in his conversation and ideas, but it still shocked him to see Barty walking down the corridor, with a fourth or fifth year bent down to listen to him. Barty was also occasionally seen chatting with ghosts. When Flitwick asked the Grey Lady what he talked about, she replied that he appeared to be soaking up the history of the castle and the mechanics of magic itself.

Flitwick took it upon himself to continue pairing Barty with students like Gary Grosset, as he had seen the less smart students thrive under Barty's guiding hand. Barty was patient to no end, and seemed to get almost as much enjoyment seeing someone else master a spell under his tutoring as he did casting the spell himself.

Flitwick appeared to have forgotten over the summer the joy of having a student who raised his hand several times a class, who asked deep questions, who always a had point to add that enhanced the class ten times over. He only wished that Barty had friends; despite the fact that Barty hung around the older students, they always flicked him away quickly, and he never seemed quite able to make friends his own age. He talked to the other second years, and sat with them at meals, but he never fit in as seamlessly as everyone else did. Perhaps it was because Barty aced things that other students, even some Ravenclaws, struggled with, or that he talked mostly about school-related subjects. Was it really Barty's fault that he was the only second year boy in his house who wasn't trying out for the Quidditch team? Was it so big a problem that he didn't like chocolate, or that he despised sleeping late and missing a chunk of the day? Flitwick didn't think so, but Barty was definitely alone more than he was in the company of others. And the oddest thing of all: Barty enjoyed the solitude.

"So you see, Helena," Flitwick said, as the two companions made their way through the destruction all around them, "Barty was such a good student in the beginning. All the teachers adored him."

"But the way you explained it, he didn't fit in from the beginning."

"He was quieter and more of a loner than other students, for sure," Flitwick replied. "But he had such a heart in his chest, and such a mind in his head! He was passionate about his studies, and I had no doubt that he would find friendship at one point. He just needed to give his fellow classmates time to get to know him a little better. And he never seemed anything less than content with his situation."

"Every other student I've known has made friends at Hogwarts from day one," retorted Helena sadly. "Filius, I fear we must have just noticed the signs too late."

"My lady, I never detected a trace of evil in Barty's eyes during his first few years at Hogwarts, I assure you," Flitwick said. "In fact, the happiest I ever saw him was in his third year, when he met Aurora Sinistra…"

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