The Significance of 1979:
This particular limb is even thinner and more unstable than most of the ones in the Out on a Limb group of essays to be found in the UNhallowed collection, and of which it used to be a part. Nevertheless, I moved it over here to the main collection. The instability is not due to it having less in the way of textual support than those. This one actually has a pretty fair amount of actual canon support. But in order to get at it you have to dismiss, or at least be prepared to overlook, at least one canon statement of at least equal weight. And it is not reassuring to reflect that to do this is far easier than it ought to be.
The problem, of course is that it is a case of Rowling and numbers again. Finding ourselves in a place where we knowingly have to accept some of Rowling’s numbers, dates, and calculations while deliberately overlooking others is not where we really want to be. But we are already far too often forced to serve time there.
For example, her adoption of the 1960 birth date for the Marauder cohort, completely contradicts any way in which Sirius Black’s statement that “the Lestranges” were a part of the gang of Slytherins that Snape ran with at school. Not unless we also dismiss the dates on the Black family tapestry sketch. Which really does appear to be necessary. It also completely contradicts Remus’s statement that James was still “only 15” at the time of Snape’s worst memory There is no way that he could still be 15 when sitting the OWLs in June if his birthday had been back in March.
But to dismiss a few numbers in this particular instance might give us a handle upon a heretofore irresolvable puzzle relating to the progress of VoldWar I.
Post-HBP, far too little of what we had been told about the course of VoldWar I really added up, and post DHs the situation had not improved. Over the first 4–5 books we were left to draft in a basic picture ourselves, filling in a sketch of a standard Evil Overlord, copied from a dozen other fantasy epics, attempting a routine campaign to overthrow the government by guerilla action and quasi-military means. And while the various fan iterations didn’t quite match up to everything said in the books there was more of a consensus than not.
It was a monumental edifice of a sandcastle, and one that collapsed as soon as the tide of HBP washed over it. There is very little manner in which the official Riddle backstory as presented in HBP can be adjusted to develop into the standard fanon extrapolation of Voldemort’s first rise. The two pictures refuse to match up. The “enemy leader” model of fan expectations with his accompanying formerly broad public support and armies of allies simply fails to materialize.
This intractable lack of coherence is compounded in DHs when she has Regulus Black putting together fanboy scrapbooks of Voldemort’s speeches. There is no way that the criminal leader as extrapolated and depicted in HBP would be out in public giving speeches. The best that one can do to try to resolve this particular conflict is to postulate that the speeches were reported in the Prophet in an attempt to bring the public awareness to just what kind of a threat they were under. But it isn’t a very satisfactory explanation. In fact the whole insertion is completely implausible, just like most of the rest of the politics that were introduced in DHs.
Yes, Riddle had allies. A few of them. Sorry specimens like the werewolves, who had really nothing to loose, and some Giants, who had joined up just for the hell of it. The Giants had been expelled from Britain decades earlier, and were a dwindling people with fewer than 100 or so of them remaining. A potential nuisance, certainly, but hardly a political force in the world. Apart from these he had only 4–6 dozen actual Death Eaters and a lake full of animate corpses. He didn’t even have the Dementors during the first time around.
And yet, with this mere scrap of a following (and the fact that we are apparently supposed to accept that one wizard can control an undetermined number of Imperiused puppets all at the same time — which I flatly don’t) he managed to bring most of the British wizarding world practically to its knees.
In scarcely more than 20 years. If that long.
He has to have done it in stages.
And we have no openly stated dates for any of it. I very much doubt that Professor Binns’s class ever gets as current as VoldWar I (Hermione points out that Bagshott’s ‘History of Magic’ does not address the 20th century). It certainly doesn’t do so at OWL-level. And I doubt many of Binns’s students continue beyond the OWLs.
So what have we got?
From the official Riddle backstory, acto Albus Dumbledore, there were several nasty incidents at Hogwarts which were never successfully tied to Riddle and his cronies.
There appear to have been no such reported incidents out in the broader ww during the period that Riddle was working at Borgin & Burkes, at least not until the death of Hepzibah Smith and the disappearance of two of the most valuable artifacts in her collection. Clearly Riddle had not continued to rally his followers around for the purpose of getting up to various bits of amusing mayhem once they were all out of school. Riddle seems to have been working alone during this period, and when he works alone he is extremely circumspect.
He was also not seen for a decade after the death of Madam Smith. But he had already begun to gather followers by the time he made an appointment to meet with Albus Dumbledore in order to ask for the vacant DADA position. In that interview Albus spoke of rumors of Riddle’s activities that he should have been sorry to believe were true. At this point we do not know whether Dumbledore spoke of the acts that he had uncovered in an investigation after the death of Madam Smith, or an attempt to trace her missing property, or whether these were more recent rumors pertaining to incidents which had taken place since Riddle’s (assumed to be) recent return to Britain. By this time Riddle had already publicly adopted the Lord Voldemort name and persona.
We have no way to fix the date of this interview. Our earlier calculation which conflated Minerva McGonagall’s date of hire with Albus Dumbledore’s appointment as Headmaster now appears to have been in error. The only clues we have is that when it took place Riddle was but recently returned to the ww after a 10-year absence, that he had still looked quite young shortly before that absence, and that the interview with Albus took place in winter. It might be safe to suppose the interview’s possible date to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1960, but we cannot place it any more certainly than that.
From the other end of the equation, we have Cornelius Fudge assuring the Muggle Prime Minister, in the summer of 1996, that they had been attempting to catch this "terrorist leader" for nearly 30 years. Which would project the start of his rise back to somewhere in the middle or late 1960s.
We do have a few landmarks in the gap between Voldemort’s return around 1960 and his first defeat in 1981, however. If you squint, between the lines, at least.
First; Albus tells us that in the first years of Voldemort’s rise there were a great many disappearances. And it does appear that it was some time before the Ministry woke up and realized that they had more on their hands than a string of unrelated nasty incidents. Certainly if Fudge is correct and the Ministry only started attempting to catch him in the mid-to-late 1960s.
This “early” period therefore appears to have covered some years. It is likely that it was during this first, generally unexamined period that Riddle was doing his most aggressive recruiting, gradually reeling back the followers he had led while he was still at Hogwarts. Along with a few others from other Houses who he regarded as desirable, or others of similar mindset that his new recruits suggested to him among their younger siblings or cousins.
Many of the attacks which were taken part in during this period may have been along the lines of demonstrations to prospective followers, rewards and reassurances to current ones, elimination of prospective followers who didn’t pan out, and a certain amount of personal payback for the benefit of various members of the whole company. This was probably the period at which the DEs actions were the most intensely personal overall. The purpose of the violence was not yet merely for the sake of terrorizing the public.
Tom would not have been able to reel all of his original Hogwarts followers back, however, and for that matter he might very well not have wanted all of them back. Albus told us of a number of reasons why other schoolboys chose to follow Riddle. Not all of those reasons would have translated into producing desirable Death Eaters.
But it was at the end of this stage that he and his followers finally “went public” and the wizarding world first learned about “Lord Voldemort” and the Death Eaters.
It may well have been at this point that they adopted the Dark mark and started “signing their work”. It would have been impossible for the Ministry to ignore and explain them away after that point. “Lord Voldemort” was poised to make his name and establish his reputation.
Our next landmark is Albus’s perishing “11 years” since anyone had dared to speak his adopted name. Which was stated from the vantage point of November 1981. We know of no specific incident which took place around 1970. Rowling never gave us one. But something appears to have taken place in or about that year which threw the entire wizarding world into a superstitious horror of mentioning Lord Voldemort’s name, even in private.
What most readers appear to overlook is that by that time everyone knew his name. Or at least his nom-du-crime.
In November of 1981 Albus tells us that he has spent the past 11 years trying to get people to speak the name, since to refuse to do so gives that name unwarranted power. We can conclude from this statement that the Ministry had certainly never imposed any ban which would register the speaking of that name during the first war. And I doubt that Tom had the resources to do so himself. He only seems to have done so after he had the resources of the Ministry at his disposal.
Clearly by 1970 everyone knew “of” Lord Voldemort. They all did indeed “know who” when his acts were referred to ever afterwards. He had made his name a household word, now he was determined to make it feared. And he succeeded.
Our third landmark is the year 1979.
We don’t know just what happened in 1979, either. But, unlike for 1970, we can make a few guesses.
The year 1979 turns out to have been brought up both in canon and outside of it far too often not to be significant in some manner.
The first mention of this year took place all the way back in PoA when, in the confrontation in the Shrieking Shack, Sirius Black tells us in passing that the Dark Lord has “been in hiding for 15 years”.
Given Tom Riddle’s, er, striking appearance, and the fact that his known activities were illegal, I should think he had been in hiding for a good deal longer than any 15 years. Nevertheless, 15 years is what we are told. Fifteen years back from June 1994, when that particular confrontation took place, comes out to 1979.
I have since been informed by a correspondent that this particular reference has been corrected in later editions of PoA to Voldemort being in hiding for 12 years. Which would match up to the period that he had existed in a disembodied state. I have not gotten to a bookstore to confirm this information, but I have no reason to doubt it. Nor do I know just when the alleged correction was made.
In any case, although the statement pointed me toward there being a possible anomaly regarding the year 1979, it is not information which is critically needed to support the resulting theory. Which remains as much in play as it ever was. Which, officially, is not at all.
Our next mention of the year 1979 inside canon comes in HBP, in the somewhat different confrontation in Spinner’s End, wherein Snape tells us that, in contrast with Bella’s useless gesture of sending herself off to Azkaban, he kept to his assigned post and had 16 years of information on Albus Dumbledore to welcome the Dark Lord home with.
Say what, again?
That particular confrontation took place in July 1996. But Snape is talking about Voldemort’s return the previous year, in June 1995. Yup, 16 years back from 1995 comes to 1979.
This does not resolve the fact that 1979 was two years before Voldemort was defeated, and that if Snape was still working for him back then, as everyone tells us, why didn’t he tell his master this information at the time? Is this retroactive information that he claims to have discovered after Voldemort’s defeat? What else could it be?
And, given that this is Rowling, can we even be sure she really means 1979? Although we’re stuck with it now. (Or until she makes another correction in a later edition of HBP.)
Speaking of which: our next references to 1979 come from outside the official canon; from the Black family tapestry sketch released for a charity auction in February 2006. Which is not really canon, even if it is from Rowling. And there is a tremendous lot of waffling about whether to accept it at all since it already directly contradicts what she tells us in the books. In OotP Regulus Black’s death was clearly indicated to have taken place in 1980. No one told Harry this, he saw it for himself, in writing.
On the tapestry sketch, this death is stated, in writing, as being in 1979.
Along with his father’s. That was a surprise to everyone.
Now, in the wake of DHs and Kreachur’s story, Regulus’s death, if we accept his birth date as 1961, as it is shown on the tapestry, he would have to have died in 1978, rather than 1979 in order to have taken the actions that Kreachur claims he did at the ages Kreachur claims he did them. In this instance it would be more to Rowling’s usual pattern (i.e., spacing children n a family 2 years apart) to dismiss the 1961 birth date and conclude that he was born in 1962 instead. Which puts us onto a slippery slope indeed, and still contradicts OotP.
Those fans who check the HP Lexicon site would have also noticed that the Lexicon had adjusted the death date of the 3 Black sisters’ father, Cygnus, from 1992 to 1979 as well. This is a development reflecting the information as rendered by the designers of the tapestry for the film version of OotP. We do not know where the film designers got their numbers. But that several other glitches and errors on the original sketch seem to have been retained leaves one to question whether Rowling had anything to do with it. One would expect her to have corrected either all the most glaring errors or none of them.
And Regulus is still recorded as having died in ’79.
I have finally taken the somewhat exasperated stance of deciding that what is in the books is IN the books, and what is not in the books is not in the books and if it contradicts the books, then to hell with it.
In the books Reggie died in 1980. If, as we are told in the books, that he was 17 at the time of his death, then he was born in 1963.
So, given all the repeated clankers that keep landing on this particular year; even setting the death dates for three of the Black family’s men aside, what on earth happened in the war against Voldemort in 1979? Do we know? Have we got any kind of a hint?
Well, actually, yes, we have.
Sirius Black originally told us that Voldemort has been “in hiding” since that date. We might do well to dismiss this statement now, but it might not be a bad time to also reflect upon what kind of thing might send a hunted criminal into hiding, or, rather, deeper into hiding?
It might be a good idea right about now to remember that Sirius Black also tells us that toward the end of the war Barty Crouch Sr, as Head of the DMLE, had authorized additional new powers to Aurors. Specifically the right to kill rather than capture. And that he authorized the use of Unforgivable curses against suspects.
To a great deal of public acclaim.
Ladies and gentlemen, I propose that this escalation in Ministry policy may very well have taken place in 1979.
Why? Why then, specifically?
Well, maybe it has something to do with another piece of information that we have been handed, more than once, and which appears to make no sense on the face of it.
By the time he fell, everyone believed that Voldemort was winning.
To this point there is nothing even remotely “extreme” about this statement. It has full canon support. But even though by the final days of his first rise Voldemort had built his Death Eaters up to about 50 or so, along with an unspecified number of Imperiused puppets, and persons who had been bullied or tricked into doing as they were told, there is really no way in which one can account for him having the leverage to have been winning this war in which the wizarding world was engaged.
I think we are overlooking something. And this missing piece would have to be information that we already have in our own hands. What is more, since the progress of VoldWar I is unlikely to be central to the problem of winding up VoldWar II. Rowling is never going to backtrack and connect this particular dot for us.
And it finally occurred to me to wonder whether the missing piece of this puzzle might not be Barty Crouch Jr.
Once the possibility finally occurred to me, the more I think about it, the more I think Barty Jr could have been THE key to the shift of the war, had Rowling thought to handle his story only slightly differently. The Tale of Two Crouches might not have been just a little domestic tragedy on the sidelines. It could have been central to the whole progress of the war itself.
The only problem with this theory even as it stands is that Barty Crouch Jr has been set up as being too young to have had anything to do with the progress of the war itself.
Or was he? Was he really?
I’ll admit that a proper date for the Longbottom affair would come in awfully handy about this time. We’ve been told that it took place long enough after the defeat of Voldemort that the ww was beginning to feel safe again. I think it is unlikely that it was more than a year after the defeat. Indeed, I have postulated elsewhere that the attack on the Longbottoms might have even taken place on the anniversary of that defeat. But we cannot be sure, and it doesn’t have to have been.
But you really don’t get any impression from the way the matter is presented in the books that there was any great mystery about who the culprits were (particularly not if the Lestranges were set up). Even insane the Longbottoms were able to identify their attackers. And while they Pensieve 4 did get a trial, I don’t get the impression that anyone ran around looking for extenuating circumstances or conflicting evidence. Kangaroos with gavels isn’t the half of it.
I also am given to understand that even with due course, a trial in Britain is likely to be held reasonably soon after an arrest. (Unlike some areas on this side of the pond.) So the 4 were probably imprisoned not long after the attack.
So, say the Longbottoms were attacked at Halloween of 1982 (which we don’t know, but is at least a possibility), the Pensieve four could have been in Azkaban by New Year. Or the attack, arrest and trial could have been at any point earlier than that (well, within reason. If Voldemort had been gone long enough for the populace to start feeling safe again, say April).
For that matter, on her official website Rowling stated that the Lestranges were sent to attack the Longbottoms. And we have no clear idea what she meant by that statement. We do not know whether Bellatrix sent them all herself in service of some off-the-wall theory of her own, or whether she herself had been set up by someone else. And we are unlikely to be told.
Or rather it might be better to hope that we will not be told, for Rowling never improves a muddle when she starts explaining things. She invariably makes it worse.
If the four were set up by someone else, my vote goes to Lucius Malfoy. He, after all, is the one who most benefited. By the end of 1981, Regulus and Orion Black were dead and Sirius was in Azkaban. Whether or not Cygnus Black, Malfoy’s father-in-law, was also dead by then was irrelevant, it would have been obvious that after some 700 years the Black family name was soon to be extinct in the male line. And the family’s holdings would ultimately devolve upon his wife’s branch of the family. With one of Narcissa’s older sisters already disowned, only Bellatrix, and any future offspring of hers, stood between the Black inheritance ultimately passing to his own wife and infant son.
There is also the factor that after having managed to narrowly escape imprisonment on an Imperius defense himself, having his maniac of a sister-in-law running about at liberty simply was not safe.
And what about that Imperius defense? For that matter what about the Lestranges having managed to “talk their way out of Azkaban” in the first place? Does Crouch Sr sound like the sort of fellow who would have hesitated to pack the Malfoy heir or the Lestranges off to Azkaban in the face of halfway convincing evidence? And the devil with who their families were.
But what if they, one and all, threatened to expose his own son’s involvement with the “Dark Order”? Did he cut a deal with the Lestranges, or Malfoy’s father in return for their silence?
For that matter, would Crouch have even believed their threats? If the kid was only 19 at the time of his imprisonment in ’82, as Sirius Black says that he appeared to be, he would have been only just out of Hogwarts for a handful of months before Voldemort fell. At most. And since the Dark marks had disappeared by then, there was nothing to prove that the kid had ever had one.
Would Crouch — who appears to have been positioning himself for even higher office — have cut a deal merely to avoid a scandal over an accusation that he didn’t believe, but which couldn’t be proved a lie, and which it would be political suicide to allow to break loose?
Because if Barty Jr was really only just out of Hogwarts in June of ’81, as appears to be the case, it is awfully easy to believe that he was every bit as much of an innocent pawn as he claimed to be at his trial.
And we know he wasn’t.
You could certainly make an argument that he was. That he was as much a fantasist as poor Stan Shunpike (although perhaps it is time to consider that the conductor of the Knight Bus might make a very useful informant to the DEs. Imperius not even required). That after being dragged into the Longbottom affair for spite by Bellatrix in an attempt to avoid prosecution if caught, or to make sure that she wasn’t going down without doing her enemies some collateral damage, his mind could have broken in Azkaban and he really believed that his father was his enemy and that Voldemort would protect him. Ten years a prisoner in his father’s house, held under Imperius wouldn’t have helped matters.
But it really doesn’t fly. No, we have to conclude that young Barty was indeed a Death Eater.
I’m no longer convinced that he was only 19. He may have been 20.
Sirius’s statement concerning the matter is odd on the face of it. He claims to have seen him brought into the prison along with his cousin and brother-in-law. Claiming “he couldn’t be a day older than 19”.
Excuse me, but why “19”? How does the appearance of a 19-year-old differ from that of an 18-year-old. Or a 20-year-old for that matter? Is this another case of Rowling giving us a solid sounding number that just doesn’t add up? All we can really say is that he was obviously a very young adult.
Sirius Black isn’t our only source of information on this issue, of course. Harry caught a glimpse of young Barty in the Pensieve at the time of his sentencing, and Harry also placed him in his late teens by appearance. Thin, a mop of fair hair, and freckles. A very boyish-looking boy he sounds like. But he might have been older than he appeared. By a as much as year or two, perhaps. Once a youngster has his growth it becomes harder to estimate exact age.
Sirius Black’s statement also ought to tip us off that despite a tracable, rather tenuous family connection Sirius didn’t know the Crouches well enough to have any clear idea that Barty Crouch, Head of the DMLE, had a son, or how old the boy was supposed to be. Nor, it appears, that he had ever taken any notice of the boy while still at Hogwarts. For all that their time there would have overlapped.
This is no more than might be expected if we went by the 1958 Marauder’s birth year reckoning that I had previously drafted out, and Barty had been no more than a 3rd year in Sirius’s final year. But with the 1960 birth date for the Marauders that Rowling put into DHs it becomes harder for their mutual time at school not to have overlapped enough for them to have at least known what year the other was in.
If Barty was the age Sirius says he appeared, he would have been in the same year as Sirius’s own brother. More than two years older and he would have been in the same year as Sirius’s himself and sharing NEWT-level classes. And once this suggestion is made, things start getting interesting. The more so in that acto the timeline given in Kreachur’s story Regulus had to have been a year younger than he is stated to be on the tapestry sketch for his death to have happened as he claims. (And then for his death to have taken place either during the summer or a term break, for Reggie was still in school when he died.)
For one thing, I think even Sirius would have noticed Barty if he was one of Regulus’s close friends. And if Sirius never noticed him at Hogwarts, then what year or what House was he in? Sirius ought to have noticed anyone in his own year, at least in passing. He ought to have noticed anyone his brother hung out with regularly, even if only to the point of knowing who they were. So on the face of it, the chances of Barty being in another year or another House seem fairly good.
But if Barty wasn’t a Slytherin, how did Tom get his hooks into him? It’s the Slyths who are still in school who are Tom’s recruiters.
Well, regardless of what House he was in, there was one place where Reggie and Barty and any number of other “collectable” kids might have interacted, even if they were not in the same House or the exact same year.
The Slug Club.
Which Sirius blew off completely.
12 OWLs and the son of the head of the DMLE (and his father quite possibly the grandson of the first Arcturus Black, i.e., the great-grandson of the headmaster who probably hired Slughorn?), of course Barty would have been in the Slug Club. And so would Regulus Black.
All completely off Sirius’s radar.
Yes, that’s probably where Barty was hooked. They caught him mid-way through a snit of adolescent rebellion and whoever hooked him was persuasive. Of course he may not have actually been reeled in while school was in session. Students have families too. In fact, I think that was the whole point.
Whoever caught him sounds like they could be formidable, and we’ve seen few DEs who could fit the bill. Such a coup would have also put them pretty high in Riddle’s favor.
I refuse to think it was Snape. Snape wouldn’t have had the leverage. Or the family connections, either. But Snape at least demonstrated that he knew who Barty Crouch Jr was. Even though he hadn’t seen him in a dozen years and had believed him to be dead for that time. Of course Snape was alive and at liberty throughout all of the ramifications of the Longbottom affair as well.
(And, besides, if Snape had had anything to do with recruiting Barty, you’d think he’d have made a clean admission of it to Albus after he turned his coat, and Albus would not be claiming to Harry that he had no idea whether or not Barty was a DE, or indeed would have sat on the information during the most critical period of the war.)
Assuming that Slughorn reserved his Friday evening club for 5th years and up (we heard of no one younger being invited to those get-togethers. Younger students may have been treated to a Sunday afternoon tea back when Sluggy was Head of Slytherin), that would have Regulus finally invited to one of Sluggy’s little “get-togethers” after Snape and the Marauders had left the school. He and Snape would have known one another prior to that but it isn’t necessary to assume that they were anything like close friends. If Barty were a year or two ahead of Reggie the same goes for him.
With the 1960 Marauders’ birth year that Rowling has now formalized, Reggie would be three years behind them.
Actually, if Barty were in the same year as Reggie (whatever year that happened to be), that would make it even easier to connect this pair of phantom dots. But that scenario no longer quite works. Reggie didn’t live to finish Hogwarts, and, if I am right, Barty was already earning his kudos from the Dark Lord by then.
It could have been Bella who influenced both of them in Riddle’s favor through her connection to Regulus. Off the school grounds, since by then Bella was long out of school. And Sirius was no longer a member of the Black family.
Her having been the recruiter could also be how she knew about Barty’s involvement when it was time to talk her way out of Azkaban in ’81 or ’82, or to call him in to help attack the Longbottoms.
And I’m not convinced that Barty’s enlistment was random, either. Tom would have wanted Barty. He would have wanted him as a source of information on what his father was up to. I am not sure Tom would have chosen to casually risk such a key player by exposing him to discovery out in raids, either. Particularly once he was out of school and living in his father’s house. I’m not sure what use the boy would have actually been while at Hogwarts. But just getting his commitment early would have been useful.
Y’know. If I were Tom, I’d take care that not many people, even inside my own organization, knew about Barty being a member of the club. I might even deliberately leave him unmarked and have him contact me by owl, or through intermediaries. On my side through a trusted acolyte who knows about the boy. On his side, through someone whose discretion and whose loyalties were already assured. Someone who could apparate anywhere on call. Someone like a devoted family House Elf. A pity Winky is still keeping her masters’ secrets.
It’s possible only Bella, in her privileged position as a favorite (and enlisting Barty may be why she was such a favorite), knew that Tom had Crouch’s own son in his pocket. And it was only after Voldemort’s disappearance that she played that particular card, and lost it. Rather as Lucius lost the Diary. Although her motivations were much easier for Tom to have forgiven.
I really do think Barty may have been just a little older than he looked.
And if that is the case, it now appears that he had an even higher degree of his father’s trust than we have been led to suspect. Because the way so much of the action seems to be devolving on 1979 (and I may be wrong about that, but it sure did look like it, and it looked like it for quite a while) it sounds as if Voldemort suddenly got a major boost then, which resulted in Crouch’s shoot-to-kill policy, in reaction.
Which means that we may need to take another look at Sirius’s summary of the Tale of Two Crouches and be prepared to accept the possibility that Sirius was talking through his hat. Again.
Because a sullen kid who slouches about openly resenting his father wouldn’t have been able to get away with that. And if there is one thing we learned about young Barty Crouch in GoF, it is that he was a superb actor.
And in our final glimpse of Crouch Sr at Hogwarts, after his escape, fighting off Imperius, and disoriented as to when he was, he sounded inordinately proud of his clever son, with his 12 OWLs.
If Barty was spying on his father (and we don’t know how closely. Was he actually working with his father in the Ministry by then?), then he was in a position to be passing highly sensitive information about the Ministry’s operations. By 1979, between Barty in the Ministry and (possibly) Peter in the Order, Tom had his opponents well and truly buffaloed. He had them covered, coming and going.
And Barty Jr really was Voldemort’s most valuable servant. And he had been from the day he sighed up.
But as to the “received version” according to Sirius Black: Sirius quite clearly TELLS us in GoF that he only pieced this story together after he escaped — a dozen years after it all happened. And what he gives us is the “conventional wisdom” of a cold, neglectful father and a resentful son. A quite startlingly generic account of this particular tragedy — which really is beginning to look not at all generic.
I suspect that may be a false trail. Sirius had other fish to fry during his two years on the run. He certainly wasn’t devoting much of his time investigating the history of the Crouches. Even if he did only piece it together once he was away from the Dementors, I think his reading of the Crouches could be something he got hold of before he escaped.
He was picking up what the DEs had to say of the story back in Azkaban, and they didn’t know the truth. Most of them didn’t even know whether Crouch Jr really was on board or not. Moreover, Crouch was only there for a year and then presumably died. It was a conveniently sad thought, so the Dementors left it to them and it gave them all something to talk about. A useful distraction that they probably colored to their own specifications. And it is all likely to have drifted considerably from the facts according to each individual’s spin on it. Sirius admits he only started trying to sort it out after he was well away from the place. It’s small wonder that it comes across as a generic cautionary tale of which the whole point seems to be the inhumanity of Barty Crouch Sr. I’m beginning to suspect he was all too human.
Which brings us back to the problem of Regulus Black. Acto Kreachur, a year after signing on with Lord Voldemort, Reggie had his trust abused by his Master, secretly turned his coat, and effectively suicided before he could spread any kind of information at all. Had he any input on the Crouch conundrum?
Barty’s loyalties were personal rather than ideological, and even if Reggie had learned of and told him about Riddle’s halfblood status I don’t think it would have mattered to him.
But if Reggie had been roped into the DEs with Barty, which now becomes a strong possibility, since, if Regulus did join up at 16, (in 1979) after Orion died and would have had nothing to say in the matter, it might have been about the same time they caught Barty. In that case, it suddenly becomes all the more important that at the first hint of wavering, Reggie be neutralized before he could tell anyone else who Voldemort’s source of sensitive Ministry information was. We might have even been handed a reason for Tom to really have ordered Reggie’s death — which we know now he never did, and we haven’t a clue as to why Sirius and Remus should have ever thought he did. All of which renders any of their statements on the matter in OotP and HBP completely bogus.
However, taking a reality check; Rowling didn’t think of any of this and she is much too far down the road to go back and retrofit it in.
And the more I look at it, the more I suspect that this is all just another one of Rowling’s missed opportunities.
With a very few minor adjustments we would have a potential bombshell here. I really do think that this matter was a throughly wasted opportunity on Rowling’s part, because if you overlook Sirius’s comment on Barty’s apparent age when sentenced all kinds of dangling ends in the backstory get neatly tied off.
But she botched it by once again giving us solid-sounding numbers that simply don’t add up. If Sirius had said he looked like he couldn’t have been much past 20 we would have had all the leeway we need. Because for it to really play correctly, he needs to be between Sirius and Regulus in age. And I am fairly convinced that Rowling just sketched the whole Crouch backstory in without any real consideration or development. She didn’t realize what a gift she had to work with in them.