What got him every time was the simple things like feeling the breeze on his face, watching the clouds fly by or, in this case, listening to children play. It had all been so far away all these years.
It had been about seven months since Bartemius Crouch Sr. had tragically died of a particularly nasty case of wizard flu. At least that's what it said on the death certificate, not that anyone cared enough to look too deep into it. Few people had come to his small ministry-funded funeral– his vault having been locked up with no named heirs.
Nobody had noticed the broken young man under an invisibility cloak, his constant companion for the last 5 years, hidden in the last row. After the few people who had come had left, there had been no one to witness him spit on his father's grave and Apparate away on the spot.
Half a year he had looked everywhere for his master, his true father; followed half-heard rumours, heeded ill-gotten advice and always, always came up blank. The fruitless search was maddening and worse still, none of his master's old followers who had walked free were still true, none of them. Traitors all.
Thus disillusioned, Barty had made the only decision he thought adequate: he was going to find the thrice-blasted Boy-Who-Lived and he was going to finish what his master had started. Maybe that would lure him out of hiding.
It had taken him two weeks to find out that the boy was not in wizarding society and another two to Imperio the right people in the muggle world to find out where the old man had placed the boy.
Muggle relatives! Of all the idiotic ideas!
That bumbling old fool must have been very sure in the triumph of the Light, indeed, to have put the boy out of sight of all those who might protect him.
He'd noticed the blood wards when he'd arrived outside the frightfully cookie cutter style house that night, of course, but little children didn't stay indoors all the time.
Having watched the house until the door opened and spit out a fat, huge, mountain of a boy with blond hair and blue eyes, Barty had felt positively affronted that someone could make the attributes he shared look so, so… distorted. For a moment, he wanted to kill the boy right there and then for being a blight on wizardkind but then, another boy stepped timidly out of the door, shielding his face from the bright summer sun with a bony hand.
He was small, scruffy and the kind of painfully thin that even his washed-out baggy school uniform couldn't hide. While the fat boy had a shining new backpack, the small one had an old, dirty shopping bag from Tesco's for his school things and Barty snorted at the absurdity of it all.
The saviour of the Light, reduced to a small huddled creature being shoved all the way to school by his fat whale of a cousin? And all that right under Dumbledore's long pointy nose? Talk about cosmic irony.
He was watching the school during break now, enjoying being outside even after half a year on the run and listening to the delighted giggling of merry children. Choosing to be disillusioned now rather than under an invisibility cloak for maximum freedom, he wondered why he hadn't just killed the boy yet. Just a bit of pointing, a quick incantation, and poof, boy saviour no more.
Then he looked at the small figure standing alone in a corner of the school yard, desperately trying not to stick out and damn it all, but Barty felt a pang of… something in his chest. Feelings had been hard after Azkaban, especially since he had spent the next years living under the Imperious curse so he wasn't entirely sure he even had any feelings anymore.
Seemed he did though, because something tugged at his heart when four bigger boys, led by the great big whale, cornered the boy saviour and beat the stuffing out of him. Then, the boy started running, faster than Barty had anticipated given his sorry condition, but still, two of the bigger boys were catching up.
Just when they were about to reach him, there was a resounding crack and the boy appeared on the school roof.
"Interesting," Barty's voice, rough with disuse, commented detachedly.
Apparition as a form of Accidental Magic was quite a feat. Not a one in a million thing, but definitely way up there. There might be another way to go about this yet.
The boy, in the meantime, looked scared out of his wits, perched atop the roof and shouting something panicked down to a hurriedly summoned teacher who looked absolutely livid.
Yes, maybe… just maybe, he could make this work.
He waited for the boy in the park the cousins had travelled through this morning. The great big lump of a kid had run straight home as fast as his little hooves would carry him– presumably to tattle and watch in glee as the boy saviour was punished.
Soon enough, the little boy rounded a corner and walked with small but steady steps homewards. He was looking rather green in the face, clutching a suspiciously blue letter to his chest. A report, probably?
Barty was sitting on a bench, still disillusioned, and thus made a double take when the boy stopped just as he reached him. He wasn't ready to be pierced by an intense stare from those haunted forest-green eyes. How could a child this young look so weary of the world?
"Who are you hiding from?" The boy's voice was small but his curiosity evident. Anything to prolong the inevitable, he guessed.
"You," Barty answered simply.
"Me? But I'm just Harry."
"Is that your name? Harry? Listening to that great tub of lard, one might have guessed you were called Freak."
Giggling a little when Barty insulted the other boy the boy saviour's expression soured soon enough.
"No, I'm Harry," he insisted. "And one day, I will make them call me that."
"Why are they so awful to you?"
"I'm not supposed to talk about it to the neighbours, but I guess you're from out of town?" Barty nodded. "I can… do things. Make things happen. Weird things. I ended up on the school roof today."
"I saw that," Barty admitted. "I was very impressed. Not many young wizards or witches can Apparate at your age, accidental magic or not."
The boy's forehead scrunched up.
"Aunt Petunia says I'm not allowed to use the m-word, otherwise she'll wash my mouth with soap again."
"What a horrid woman," Barty commented, affronted on his behalf. "Reminds me of my father. Dreadful man. Preferred the stick over the carrot."
"I'd like to try a carrot," Harry said. "They make a nice cracking sound when people bite them. I just wonder whether my teeth would be strong enough. They keep breaking."
He opened his mouth and Barty saw his little milk teeth all brittle and his gums all red and swollen. Could a young boy in this day and age actually have scurvy? Especially a wizard?
"That looks terribly painful… how come no one noticed that?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders. "I told Aunt Petunia that it hurts but I can get used to it. It's better than when Uncle Vernon uses the belt because I complain too much. I just let the bread get soggy in my mouth instead of chewing when I get some."
"Huh," Barty merely answered.
He liked children. Always had. It had been a terrible bummer to find out he didn't fancy girls at all at school because he had, rather desperately, wanted to be a father. Be better than his own sperm donor of a father, probably? Something like that.
And now here this little lost boy was standing, desperately trying to delay his confrontation with his muggle tormentors.
"Say… would you like me to take you away?"
The boy's eyes immediately narrowed.
"Are you one of them creeps Aunt Petunia keeps warning Dudley about? Those who fancy little boys and do unspeakable things to them?"
Barty snorted. "I don't think anyone could take your cousin away if they tried."
The boy giggled a little, then sobered again. "Where would you take me? And… why would you take me?"
"As for the why– I'm a wizard, just like you." To demonstrate, Barty cast a Wingardium Leviosa on the boy and had him float up a couple feet. "You can learn this too once you're eleven. There's a school for people like us."
"People like us," the boy repeated, still awed by his casual display of magic. "And would they like me there?"
"Well, I suppose," Barty told him. "I suppose no one told you that you're their Saviour?"
The boys eyes grew wide and he shook his head. "Does that mean I'm famous?"
"Yep. Very. Most famous of them all, I suppose."
That made the boy angry, surprisingly. "Well if I'm so famous then how come I live here with those people ? Even if my mother and father died in a car crash because they were good-for-nothing drunks, surely I have SOMEONE in that world?"
"They… told you that your parents were drunks?"
"Of course not! They were formidable fighters and while they were on the other side of the war, one has to appreciate strength in one's enemies, as well. As for why no one took you in… there is one wizard who wanted you to grow up here and not in the magical world. Why? Maybe to keep you humble, maybe because he was afraid of you since you were so powerful as a toddler? I don't know. Lots of families would have loved to have taken you in, I reckon."
"What's that man's name?"
"Albus Dumbledore, so-called Leader of the Light."
"Not very Light of him to make me get starved and beaten and worked like a slave," the boy mumbled. "Does he know? Does anyone check on me?"
"There's a Squib woman breeding kneazles, magical cats, across the road from you. Saw her this morning. Maybe she does the job for him."
"Ms. Figg? But… she must know how they treat me…"
The boy was silent, his eyes shining with as yet unshed tears. Probably had to learn the hard way that tears would hinder rather than help with those relatives of his.
"I have lots and lots and lots to teach you before you start at Hogwarts, Harry. Will you come with me?"
"My aunt tells Dudley not to go with strangers all the time, but she never said it to me. I guess they'd be happy to be rid of me."
"We'd live in the muggle world, the mundane world, though and only occasionally stray into the wizarding world because it's safer that way," Barty explained. "I'd never beat you, cross my withered old heart, and you'll have proper clothes and meals and we'll get your teeth checked out and your eyes, too. You squint a lot. Do you get headaches often?"
The boy nodded slowly. "It's hard to read the blackboard. I sit in the last row. I think I might need glasses but Aunt Petunia, well… I guess you know by now."
"Is there anything you need from your room before we leave?"
"I don't have a room, I live in the cupboard under the stairs."
"You know, Harry… I think one day I'm going to kill Albus Dumbledore for all he's taken from us."
"Just one more thing: you said you and my parents were on different sides in the war, so why would you help me?"
"The war's long over," Barty explained. "You ended it, but I'll tell you about the details later. It took something from both of us, so I guess we're on the same side now? Kind of? Look, I don't exactly know yet. All I know is that we're the only one each of us has at the moment."
The boy didn't seem to want to argue with that logic.
"I suppose it would be wicked to have someone who actually cares about me," he said. "To be honest, I'd always dreamed of having someone on my side."
The boy, no, Harry , smiled now for the first time and it looked strange on his face. Barty supposed he hadn't had much use of those muscles in the last years of his life. Just like him.
"What do you think about some fish'n'chips?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders. "Never had it before."
"Oh we'll rectify that this instant! The fish gets very soggy, so you'll have no problem eating it. Afterwards… we'll take care of your teeth."
"I really can't believe this," Harry said. "You'll really take me away from this place? And I won't wake up in the cupboard ever again?"
"Never again," Barty promised.
Throwing the letter and the ruddy plastic bag aside, Harry waited for his next move. Barty got up from the bench and held out his hand for the boy.
"This will feel just like what you felt when you found yourself on the school roof," Barty explained. "Afterwards, we'll be somewhere else and get that food I promised you."
"One more thing before we go…"
"Oh, is there something you want to take with you after all?"
"Uh, no, I just– what shall I call you?"
Huh, how about that. He hadn't even introduced himself and the boy had agreed to go with him. Dumbledore had really brought that one on himself.
"There are many things I need to tell you before I can tell you my real name lest you slip up and call me by it when we're in the wrong company. Is that alright with you?" Harry thought about it for a second, then nodded. "Right. So how about, until such time, you call me… Alfy. Alfred. Always fancied that name."
"Uncle Alfy… no, no, I don't like uncles. Cousin Alfy? Not too big on cousins either, but the adults were worse. Can I call you Cousin Alfy?"
"That'll be fine."
With that, they Apparated to a cozy little seaside town Barty knew to get some chow. After that, they'd get money and then hit up one of the healers who were primarily in the business of healing and not in the business of asking questions.
And afterwards, he'd start teaching the Boy-Who-Lived the Who is Who and What is What of wizarding society.