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December 8, 2002 - December 14, 2002

RE: TBAY: Crouch - Sympathy For the Devil (8 of 9)

(continued from part seven)


Eight
Sympathy For the Devil

"You didn't really think that I was going to argue against Crouch's last scene being a redemption scene, did you?" asks Elkins, helping Eileen to haul the overturned CRAB CUSTARD table back up onto its legs. Now that there is clean up to be done, Cindy has absented herself. Ever since this past summer, she has been decidedly hesitant whenever it comes to helping to clean up wreckage. Something about a Portkey, and the Safe House.

Eileen lets go of her end of the table, steps back a few paces, and surveys the damage, scowling.

"You did so argue," she says.

"Well...yes, okay, I did, but only because I could. I mean, you know that I can never resist an opportunity to show off like that. But I didn't actually go through with it, did I? I let the angels have him, in the end."

Elkins stoops down and begins picking up the scattered cups of CRAB CUSTARD, one by one.

"Although, you know," she adds, smiling slightly. "It does seem to me that those angels might just have to wait a little while..."

Eileen's brow furrows, then clears. Her eyes light up.

"Point Nine of the CRAB CUSTARD manifesto!" she exclaims.

9. J.K. Rowling said that it's the unhappy people who come back as ghosts. I can't think of a person in all the books who dies more unhappily than Crouch Sr.

"I've been plugging for months for Barty Crouch Sr. to return as a ghost," she says. "No-one in canon dies a death quite as unhappy as he does, and it could tie in quite nicely to our dodgy auror subplot."

She frowns suddenly. "Unless of course the dodgy auror subplot exists only in our feverish brains..."

"O, ye of little faith!" exclaims Elkins. "Why, of course there's going to be a dodgy auror subplot coming our way! It's practically a canonical inevitability at this point in the game! But even leaving aside those Bad Bad Aurors, I do think that Crouch as future canonical ghost makes quite a bit of sense. He seems like a prime candidate to me. And not just because he dies unhappily."

"You mean also because he died at the hands of his son?" asks Eileen. "Parricide is a pretty big taboo. That's got to count for something."

"Well, maybe it does. Maybe it does. Mainly, though, I was thinking...well, isn't there a tradition about people coming back as ghosts when they die with unfinished business on their hands? When you look at the ghosts that we've already seen so far in canon, a lot of them do seem to have some pretty evident, er, unresolved issues. In fact, just as I've been typing this, Shane Dunphy has posted a truly spectacular thing on that aspect of Myrtle's character. It's message #47531."

"Is that the one about Myrtle being trapped in an, uh, anal stage of development?" asks Eileen, frowning. "That's Freudian or something, isn't it? I never really understand all that Freudian stuff."

"Well, you don't really have to accept the Freud to see that she's trapped in an arrested state of development," says Elkins. "She's an adolescent voyeur. We're told that she was confined to Hogwarts because she had been haunting her old school tormentor, Olive Hornby. Refusal to forgive old adolescent grudges really does seem to be a recurring motif in these novels. And then there's Nick, who was never fully beheaded. And the Baron's all covered with that silver blood, which so many people have suggested could be unicorn blood..."

"What about the Fat Friar? Or the Gray Lady?"

"We've barely even seen the Gray Lady. And the Fat Friar might well have some unresolved issue that we just haven't learned about yet. At any rate," adds Elkins quickly, noticing Eileen's hand reaching for a Yellow Flag. "I still think that there's a pattern here."

"What about Binns?"

"He was eagerly awaiting his pension when he died?"

Eileen looks at her.

"Oh, all right," sighs Elkins. "I don't know. But the way that Crouch died really does seem to me to make him classic revenant fodder. He died desperately trying to convey a vitally important message. A message that never got through. If anyone died with some pretty serious unfinished business on their hands, I'd say that it was Crouch. For that matter," she adds. "His son is sort of unfinished business too, when you think about it."

"Also," Eileen reminds her. "He received a most improper burial."

"Transfigured into a bone and then buried in unconsecrated ground by his murderer?" Elkins thinks about it for a moment. "Yeah," she agrees. "That's pretty improper, all right."

"And in Hagrid's garden," points out Eileen. "Right on the borders of the Forbidden Forest. Just think what the Forbidden Forest did to the Anglia!"

"Oh, good point! Not to mention whatever Hagrid slips in his compost to make those pumpkins grow so big. And then, also, he died while under the Imperius Curse, which is a form of magical compulsion. His will was still partially bound to anothers when he died. Really, he just seems an absolutely perfect candidate to me. Or he would, except for this one little thing..."

Eileen frowns. "What?" she asks.

"Well, the basis for Crouch-as-Ghost is really that interview, isn't it? The one in which JKR seems to be promising a ghost subplot in a future volume?

"You're not about to tell me that the Intentional Fallacy Is Not Fair Play and renders my theory non-canonical, are you?"

"No, no. Of course not. We don't say things like that around here. No, it's just...well, it seems to me that Crouch would indeed be the front-runner for our future canonical ghost if only that subplot had been promised for the next volume. But if you actually go and look at the original interview itself...well..."

Q: What makes some witches/wizards become ghosts after they die and some not?

JKR: You don't really find that out until Book VII, but I can say that the happiest people do not become ghosts.

(link)

"Oh." says Eileen. "Book Seven."

"Yeah. Which does somehow make it seem less likely to me that it's going to be Crouch. Because...well, Book Seven is rather a long way away, isn't it? The fact that JKR's talking Book Seven makes me think that it's actually far more likely to be, well, Snape than it is a Book Four character like Barty Crouch."

There is an unhappy silence.

"Oh, never mind," sighs Elkins. "I'm not giving up on Ghost!Crouch that easily. I'm just not. He's too perfect. Besides, JKR only said that the readers weren't going find out what makes people become ghosts until Book Seven. She didn't say that there wouldn't be any new ghost characters before then, did she? And besides, Ghost!Crouch is just too good to pass up. Because you know, he could serve a really interesting plot function if he were to come back as a ghost."

"You mean there's Bang?" asks Eileen. "Should we tell Cindy?"

"No, we'd best not. It's really only a Humpty-Dumptied Bang, and we probably shouldn't encourage her in those. Well...unless you think that he wasn't redeemed in death, I suppose. Then I guess it could be Bangy. You see, I just keep wondering...well, Crouch died while still under the Imperius Curse. So does that mean that Voldemort might still be able to command him? Even from beyond the grave? Yet another faithful servant at Hogwarts?"

"Elkins!" cries Eileen. "That's just horrible! What is wrong with you?"

"Well, what do you think. Could he?"

"You still haven't made your peace with poor old Crouch, have you? You just don't want to let the poor man find any peace at all. Not even in death."

"Hey, you're the one who brought Ghost!Crouch into this. I'm just taking your ball and running with it, that's all. See, the thing is that Crouch didn't really die free of the Imperius, did he? Unless he had some breakthrough in his very last moments, he was still under it. When Harry shakes off the Imperius, it's just gone. When Crouch Jr. finally breaks free of it completely, he describes it as being himself as he hasn't been in years. But even before that happened, he was still capable of small acts of rebellion. He was able to steal Harry's wand before the sound of those DEs acted like cold water on him. So I think that's about where Crouch Sr. was. He wasn't clear of it. He was just fighting it. Wasn't that what accounted for his apparent madness?"

"Oh, is that what you thought it was?" asks Eileen. "I thought..." Her voice trails away.

"What?"

"Well, er, have you ever wondered what Voldemort did to Crouch in the little time he had him at his disposal? Imperius isn't the Unforgivable Curse that is known to leave people insane, you know."

Elkins stares at her. She puts the plastic spoons that she has been gathering up from the pavement down in a neat little pile at her side, and sits back hard on her heels.

"Do you know," she says slowly. "I have never even thought about that? Not even once. What sort of a morbid imagination have I, anyway? I should turn in my FEATHERBOAS this very minute. You've a very nasty little mind, Eileen."

"I know," Eileen says shyly.

"That's a spectacularly sick line of speculation. But I wouldn't be so sure about the Imperius not driving people insane, if I were you. So far in canon to date, we've only seen two people other than Harry, who is some sort of weird freakish savant, struggle free of the Imperius by their own force of will. They're both named Bartemius Crouch. And neither of them seems to have gained much in the way of sanity by it. And besides," adds Elkins, smiling. "You really do want to be careful with that logic, you know."

"I do?"

"Oh, yes. You really do. Because, you see, Crouch Jr. was mad as a hatter, and he'd been his father's prisoner for the past ten years. You know, Cindy once told me that if Crouch Jr. were her son, she'd have, uh, 'taken him to the woodshed.' I'm not altogether certain what that phrase means, but I believe that it has something to do with corporal punishment. Sort of like 'taking someone out behind the chemical sheds,' I guess. But far less permanent. Have you ever wondered if Crouch punished his son for that little outburst at the QWC? He must have been absolutely furious with him, I should think. And Winky wasn't around to calm him down anymore."

"I don't think that Crouch would ever have practiced Cruciatus on his son," says Eileen firmly.

"No," agrees Elkins, rather surprisingly. "I don't either. I think that he probably would have balked at that. Voldemort, on the other hand..." She sighs. "Oh, Eileen. I really wish that you hadn't brought that up. Crouch was ill-treated, all right."

"It is a not-so-pleasant topic of speculation, isn't it?" says Eileen, just a trifle smugly. "I told you that the punishment exceeded the crime."

"No, no." Elkins shakes her head. "No, you don't...it's even worse than you think. Crouch was definitely ill-treated. But not just because Voldemort is a sadist. Also because...well, his plan really did rely on Crouch Jr. for quite a lot, didn't it? It relied on him to act with a good deal of autonomy, under no supervision whatsoever. It relied on him to be not only competent, but extremely loyal. Voldemort's not usually too trusting of his DEs, is he? And really, why on earth should he be? Unless you go in for a Magic Dishwasher approach, they're treacherous scum. At the beginning of GoF, Voldemort suggests that Pettigrew is planning on scarpering on him. He is resolutely unimpressed with his DEs' protestations of loyalty in the graveyard. Yet he really does seem awfully convinced of Crouch's loyalty. Why? After all, given Crouch Jr's situation when Voldemort liberated him from his father's Imperius Curse, he was naturally going to pay lip service to Voldemort no matter what his actual degree of loyalty. He would have been crazy not to. Yet Voldemort truly does seem to trust him. So what convinced him that Crouch Jr. really was so utterly and unquestioningly devoted to his service?"

"I did try to warn you that this was a not-so-pleasant topic of speculation, Elkins," says Eileen, smiling. "You can't really imagine that I haven't already been here myself, can you? Why didn't you just listen to me when I told you that it didn't bear thinking about?"

"I can't help it," moans Elkins. "Whenever somebody advises me not to think about something, I always find that I can think of nothing else. That's the real reason I liked Denethor so much, you see. It was that Palantir. I'd never be able to resist staring into one of those things. Especially if I knew that it could take me to a Bad Place." She sighs. "Yeah, Crouch Jr. had his father screaming and writhing down there on the floor, all right," she concludes. "Ugh. And I'll bet that he really enjoyed it, too. 'You are not my father. I have no father.' Tit for tat, you know. Barty Jr. really did enjoy tit for tat."

"And this is a character you identify with."

"Yeah, I know. It's just awful, isn't it? But I can't help it." Elkins shakes her head firmly. "All right," she says. "That's quite enough of that, I think. I think that it's time to put that entire line of speculation safely away in the little box where I keep all of the things about these books that I prefer not to dwell on. You know, like where precisely that Ugly Baby body of Voldemort's came from in the first place. Or that potion in Moste Potente Potions, the one that turns people inside out. Or—"

"Or Crouch Jr. getting the Dementor's Kiss?" Eileen asks, with an exceptionally twisted smile.

"Oh, don't." Elkins shudders. "You know that I can't even stand to imagine that."

"Well, I have a similar reaction to Crouch Sr's death," says Eileen. "Have you ever tried to imagine the final scene between him and his son? I always back away from it. I have tried to convince myself that it was done quickly, and that Crouch didn't realize what was happening, that he was fluently conversing with Weatherby at the time. But I can't really believe that. And I don't want to think about what really happened."

"I know what you mean." Elkins lowers her voice. "In fact," she says. "I'll let you in on a little secret here, Eileen. I've never liked imagining the man's death either."

"What? But I thought that you loved the idea of Crouch Jr. kicking around his poor old father. I thought that sort of thing made you cackle with malicious glee!"

"Well, usually it does. But not there. I mean, the poor man's already broken, isn't he? That takes all the fun out of it, somehow. Nah, I always find myself hoping that Barty Jr. just, er, well, you know. Took him from behind. Quickly. And didn't feel the need to go making some big production number out of it or anything."

"You do remember who we're talking about here."

"Yeah." Elkins sighs. "Sadly, I do. And it really is rather hard to imagine that he wouldn't have wanted to spit out at least one 'sic semper tyrannis,' isn't it? Or to look into his father's eyes while he did it? Like Brutus and his sons, you know." She smiles faintly. "Just like staring into a mirror."

"You really are a rather disturbing person, Elkins. Do you know that?"

"But all the same," Elkins says quickly. "I think that he would have done it fast. He was in a hurry, after all. He wouldn't have wanted to risk getting caught. And he knew that Harry was going to be returning at any moment with Dumbledore. He was actually there in his Invisibility Cloak, watching the entirety of that conversation between his father and Harry and Krum, so he would have known that he hadn't any time to waste."

"That's true," agrees Eileen slowly.

"Also, the forest was just swarming with red herrings that night, wasn't it? Ludo Bagman was bopping around somewhere, and Madame Maxine's carriage wasn't too far away, and on top of all of that, he had just come across two students out there in the woods. How could he know how many other random people might come wandering by at any moment? I mean, from his perspective, it must have seemed like Grand Central Station out there, don't you think? Rather surreal, really. Almost farcical. And very nerve-wracking, I'm sure.

"So I feel convinced that he did it quickly and cleanly," Elkins concludes. "I just can't imagine that he would have wanted to waste any time, or been willing to risk any unwanted attention. I mean, he wouldn't have wanted there to be any screaming, you know, or any broken weeping, or any horrified pleading, or—"

"Do you mind?"

"Oh." Elkins blinks. "Sorry. Sorry about that, Eileen. Sorry. I just mean, you know, that he wouldn't have wanted there to be any noise. That's all. And also..." She takes a deep breath. "Also," she says, with a faint air of finality. "I don't think that he really wanted to do it."

"Oh, now, you DO remember who we're talking about here!"

"Yes, I do. We're talking about someone who in many ways is portrayed as a walking manifestation of the law of the mirror: the law of Nemesis. In some respects, he's almost like a personification of Turnabout itself. He has a very strongly developed, if also totally twisted, sense of justice. He was so absolutely infuriated by the sight of all of those smug successful DEs at the QWC that it enabled him to overcome the Imperius Curse completely for the first time in over a decade. He goes out of his way to treat his father's corpse to this sort of weirdly metaphoric variation on the theme of how his father treated his mother's body -- and by extension, his own. He nearly gives himself away with his rather excessive reaction to Draco Malfoy's unfair duelling tactics. He's just dying to learn that Voldemort punished the unfaithful at his rebirthing. In his confession, he takes particular pleasure in remembering his father being placed under the Imperius Curse. Turnabout. Tit for tat. That's what young Crouch enjoyed. Even that sense of irony of his I tend to see as related to a kind of twisted sense of justice. Dramatic irony and Nemesis are very strongly related concepts. Crouch Jr's sense of justice may have been downright weird, but it still seems to me to have been one of his more predominant characteristics."

"Elkins, you've just suggested yourself that the evil little monster not only tortured his father for Voldemort's amusement, but also that he enjoyed it!"

"Oh, but that's completely different, Eileen!" Elkins stares at her. "That's not the same thing at all. You see, that," she explains. "Was Fair Play."

"Fair PLAY?"

"Sure. His father tortured him, didn't he? Threw him to the dementors. Tried to brainwash him. Not to mention whatever 'taking him to the woodshed' might ever have happened. So that makes it turnabout. Tit for tat -- plus a good bit of interest. Perfectly fair play, according to Crouch Jr's standards."

"But—"

"He liked seeing his father enslaved, as he himself had been enslaved. He liked seeing his father helpless and subject at the hands of his enemies, as he himself had been helpless and subject at the hands of his enemies. He liked seeing his father suffer, as he himself had been made to suffer. I think that he probably even liked making his father suffer, even to the extent of the Cruciatus. But did he really like the idea of his father actually being killed?"

Elkins shakes her head. "I don't know if I really think that he did," she says. "Because you see, no matter what else Crouch Sr. may have done to his son, he did preserve his life."

"But surely he must have realized that Voldemort was going to murder his father eventually," says Eileen.

"Yeah, one would think. Although young Barty...well, he wasn't really altogether attuned to reality, was he? At the end of his confession, he's retreated into this pathetic little fantasy that Voldemort is going to come along and save him, and then he'll be sitting at his right hand, honored above all other Death Eaters. I mean, let's face it. The poor lad was schizoid. He wasn't precisely a realist."

"I think you're whitewashing," says Eileen flatly.

"Whitewashing? I've admitted that I think he got a kick out of Crucio'ing his poor old Dad, haven't I? I'm not whitewashing him. He wasn't a nice fellow. But I see plenty of indications in the text that parricide did not agree with him at all. We actually see him right after he's done it, you know. When he stomps up to Dumbledore and Harry, who are dealing with the stunned Krum, it's got to be only minutes after he's killed his father. And he seems to be in a right foul mood. He masks it by complaining about his leg. 'Furiously.' That's partly to cover for his absence, obviously, but my feeling is that he's drawing off of that emotion from somewhere. Crouch does seem to have been rather a method actor. I don't believe there is anywhere in the canon where we see Crouch/Moody showing strong emotion when Crouch does not himself have reasons to be feeling strongly emotional about something."

"Perhaps," says Eileen. "But the strong emotion that he was drawing off of could have been vindictive satisfaction. Or fear about the possibility of getting caught. Or—"

"He looks like hell the next morning," says Elkins. "When Harry, Ron and Hermione seek him out, the next day. He really doesn't look too good at all. He's exhausted, he's twitchy, he's utterly on edge..."

"That could just be because he had been out all night long, pretending to be looking for his father. And because he had a close shave, which got him a little stressed. And because he now knows that Dumbledore knows that his father had been trying to convey an important message, so he's quite reasonably fearful that Dumbledore might figure it all out. Especially if Harry tells Dumbledore that his father kept mentioning him while he was raving."

"Perhaps."

"He's certainly not feeling guilty enough to refrain from delivering one of his horrible Crouchisms," points out Eileen. "'Now, Dumbledore's told me you three fancy yourselves as investigators, but there's nothing you can do for Crouch.' Now isn't that charming. It's...Elkins, you're grinning. Stop it."

"Sorry." Elkins attempts to reconfigure her expression to one of gravity. "Sorry, Eileen. Sorry. Okay, yeah. He delivers a Crouchism. But he still doesn't look so hot to me. JKR really seems to be going out of her way in that scene to describe him as exhausted and stressed. There's even that bit where it looks as if he's very nearly slipped up on remembering to take his potion:

'He looked as tired as they felt. The eyelid of his normal eye was drooping, giving his face an even more lopsided appearance than usual.'

And then, almost immediately thereafter, he's chugging from his hip flask. Do you think he was actually starting to transform there? Right in front of students? That's really careless for Crouch. My feeling has always been that that's a sign that he's starting to slip. I don't get the impresssion that he was at all pleased about having been called upon to murder his father."

"He boasts about it, Elkins," says Eileen. "He brags of it to Harry."

"Yes, he does. 'And both of us had the pleasure...the very great pleasure... of killing our fathers to ensure the continued rise of the Dark Order!' What gives with those ellipses? With the repetition, the added emphasis? Doesn't that sound rather like he's protesting a bit too much?"

"You are whitewashing."

"No, I'm not. In Part Five I went over some of the ways in which Crouch Jr. seems to be rationalizing in his confession. Why would he feel the need to rationalize at all, if he didn't feel at least some degree of ambivalence over what he had done? And it's not the only thing about his confession that implies that parricide was not really to his tastes either." Elkins rises to her feet and walks over to her satchel. She bends down, rummages through it, and pulls out her copy of 'Sympathy For the Devil: Veritaserum, A Close Reading.' Eileen groans and rolls her eyes.

"Oh, not this again!" she complains. "Elkins, you can't really tell a thing from that confession. On the meta-level, that entire scene is engineered by the author to provide plot exposition for the reader. And on the level of the fictive reality, he's speaking under compulsion. Furthermore, the veritaserum is dulling his affect..."

"It is compelling him, and it is dulling his affect," Elkins agrees. "But that doesn't prevent him from expressing himself emotionally, nor from volunteering information that is not demanded of him. And JKR does use the confession to elucidate his character and motivations, as well as to explain the plot. She uses it for that a great deal. Just about everything that we know about his motivations or his character comes from the confession scene, and most of it is actually not offered in direct response to Dumbledore's questions. I think that if JKR had wanted to show Barty Jr. as an eager parricide, then she would have written this scene very differently.

"Just look."

=================================

While Crouch Jr's testimony in the 'Veritaserum' chapter is indeed largely a matter of plot exposition, I think that we can deduce quite a bit from it about his character and motives as well. For one thing, it is clear from his testimony that he is, in fact, capable of quite a bit of digression. He is also capable of emotional, subjective, and non-factual testimony.

This is how Crouch Jr describes his experience at the QWC. The "question" which he is answering in this passage is: "Tell me about the Quidditch World Cup."

'Then we heard them. We heard the Death Eaters. The ones who had never been to Azkaban. The ones who had never suffered for my master. They had turned their backs on him. They were not enslaved, as I was. They were free to seek him, but they did not. They were merely making sport of Muggles. The sound of their voices awoke me. My mind was clearer than it had been in years. I was angry. I had the wand.'

Okay. His affect is certainly deadened, although I've never been altogether clear on whether that's really completely due to the Veritaserum, or whether it's also due to the fact that he's finally slipped his very last mooring. I rather suspect that it's a bit of both. Whatever the cause, though, it doesn't prevent him either from volunteering information or from showing insight. Dumbledore did not ask him to explain his motives for behaving as he did at the QWC. He did not ask him about the wand. He did not ask him about breaking free of the Imperius Curse. Crouch Jr. is volunteering all of that information, based on his own interpretion of what about the QWC is important, relevant, or of interest. And given the emotional nature of the above passage, I think that it is also clear that to a certain extent, he is choosing to focus on what about this event was of importance to him.

This is really not factual testimony. It's not a 'just the facts, ma'am' account. It is subjective, emotional, and personal.

Nor is Crouch Jr. completely deadened in affect, although he is extremely dissociated. He's not exactly a zombie. He is capable of emotional responses, albeit of a rather disturbing sort.

'My father answered the door.'

The smile spread wider ver Crouch's face, as though recalling the sweetest memory of his life. Winky's petrified brown eyes were visible through her fingers. She seemed too appalled to speak.

''It was very quick. My father was placed under the Imperius Curse by my master. Now my father was the one imprisoned, controlled.'

That's what Veritaserum'd!Barty looks like when he's enjoying the memory of a bit of payback on dear old Dad, yes? He's not so far gone that he can't display emotion, albeit of a rather mad sort, at the memory of vengeance. And he doesn't lack insight so utterly as to be incapable of explaining the extent to which his pleasure at this memory derives from Turnabout-Is-Fair-Playdom either. He may have bats in his belfry, but he is perfectly emotionally comprehensible. He can explain his motives, and he seems often to be interested in doing so, even when it is not technically required of him. He does so at times quite eloquently, in fact: "It was my dream, my greatest ambition, to serve him, to prove myself to him."

But this is all that he has to say about his act of parricide:

'My master sent me word of my father's escape. He told me to stop him at all costs. So I waited and watched. I used the map...'

[There then follows some discussion of the Map, and then:]

'For a week I waited for my father to arrive at Hogwarts. At last, one evening, the map showed my father entering the grounds. I pulled on my Invisibility Cloak and went down to meet him. He was walking around the edge of the forest. Then Potter came, and Krum. I waited. I could not hurt Potter; my master needed him. Potter ran to get Dumbledore. I Stunned Krum. I killed my father.'

And that's it. There's no editorial commentary there. No mad grin. No gloating. No description of his feelings about this turn of events. Nothing. It's a very stark series of statements of fact, and it is nothing at all like the way he speaks of recovering his own volition after a decade under the Imperius, or of firing the Dark Mark into the sky at the QWC, or of watching Voldemort overpower his father.

Dumbledore then gives him an opening to elaborate on the parricide if he so chooses. "You killed your father?"

Crouch Jr. says absolutely nothing in response to this, although he does answer the next question about what he did with the body: "Carried it into the forest. Covered it with the Invisibility Cloak."

We're back to choppy sentences and 'just the facts' here, although Crouch is in fact not incapable of a far more eloquent mode of diction. He will prove this with the very last line of his confession: "My master's plan worked. He is returned to power and I will be honored by him beyond the dreams of wizards."

Even at the very end, his diction is not so degraded that he cannot manage that sentence. But when asked about the disposal of his father's body, incomplete and choppy sentences are all he has to offer.

Crouch Jr. does not speak of murdering his father in at all the same way that he speaks of either his acts of anger or of payback events that he actually took pleasure in. He shows no signs of enjoyment at the memory, nor any inclination to elaborate upon the event any further than he absolutely must do to satisfy his interrogator. While he may imply to Harry that he considered it an act of homage to Voldemort, when he is actually under the Veritaserum and therefore compelled to speak the truth, the only motive that he offers is that he was under direct orders to see it done "at all costs." He is not even willing to confess to it a second time: he does not assent when Dumbledore asks for confirmation that he killed his father. His diction degenerates into choppy broken sentences when he is forced to discuss it. Compare his diction here with his diction when he speaks of topics on which he does seem proud of his actions and eager to communicate his motives: his devotion to Voldemort, his fury with the disloyal DES at the QWC. Compare his affect here with his affect when he speaks of Voldemort's arrival at his father's home.

All of this leads me to conclude that Crouch really didn't enjoy killing his father at all. He was clearly willing to do it. But I don't think that he was at all happy about it.

===============================

"There, now," says Elkins soothingly. "You see, Eileen? My Crouch Jr. apologetics aren't really all that bad, are they? That one can give you a fast and painless death for poor Barty."

"They're pure sophistry, Elkins."

"Nonsense. It's all right there in the text. Here." Elkins pulls a leaflet entitled 'Barty Crouch Jr: Unwilling Parricide' out of her satchel and hands to to Eileen. "You can keep that one," she says, generously. "No charge."

"I found the 'he wouldn't have wanted to risk any unnecessary noise' argument much more convincing."

"Yes, well." Elkins frowns. "You would, wouldn't you. At any rate, it's really not Crouch's death that makes me pity him. I'm pretty well convinced that was relatively fast and painless. It's his life. What were you saying about the last months of his life before? Er...leaving aside the more unsavory speculations, if you would?"

"I said that he spent the last months of his life physically and spiritually alone," says Eileen. "Tormented by his own choices."

"Yes. But really, it had been going on longer than that, hadn't it? At least a decade. Ever since his wife died and he rescued his son. I mean, really, when you think about it, what sort of a life could the poor man have possibly had? He did not encourage familiarity from his associates, to say the least. He seems to have had no intimates, and no real friends. The nature of the secret that he was keeping would have prevented him from forging any new associations. He would have wanted to keep people at a distance, and certainly away from his house. Bertha Jorkins came by when he wasn't home, and I don't get the impression that this was a common occurrence, people dropping by old Crouch's house to say hello and have a cup of tea. Certainly Winky doesn't seem to have had the slightest idea how to handle the situation properly. Jorkins was probably the first visitor they'd had in years. And his son wouldn't have been very good company for him, I wouldn't think. Not under the Imperius Curse. Even assuming that Crouch had wanted to deal with his son on any normal or personable level, which I don't believe for a second that he did. You see, that's another problem with trying to make the world into your hall of mirrors. It gets lonely.

"And that's where I see the punishment exceeding the crime, frankly," concludes Elkins. "Solitude may be in some sense a just punishment for a solipsist. But ten years of having no one to talk to is really more than anyone deserves."

"Well," Eileen points out. "He did have Winky."

"Yes." Elkins smiles slowly. "He had Winky." She glances up at the subject line emblazoned across the sky above Theory Bay and shakes her head.

"Well," she says. "My, my, my. Would you just look at that."

"What?"

"I do believe that we're going to need a second prefix up there."

"Elkins!" gasps Eileen. "You're not!"

Elkins grins evilly.

"Oooooh, yes I am," she says.

*****************

Elkins

(continued in part nine)

***********************************************

This post is continued from part seven. It cites or references message numbers 37476, 45402, 46468, 47531.

 

RE: TBAY/SHIP: Crouch - Winky As Wife and Mother (9 of 9)

(continued from part eight)



Nine
Winky as Wife and Mother

"You aren't really going to propose this," says Eileen. "Are you, Elkins?"

Elkins glances up to the sky and smiles. The subject line emblazoned across the heavens slowly fades away, to be replaced by a new one:

TBAY/SHIP: Crouch - Winky as Wife and Mother (9 of 9)

Down on the beach, Affective Fallacy pricks up his ears, suddenly at the alert. The Sirius and Snape fans who have been squabbling over the rights to ride him stand back and look up. Several LANDLUBBERS let out shrieks of pure horror and flee inland, wailing and gnashing their teeth.

"Oh, honestly." Elkins rolls her eyes. "They're fine with it when it involves Death Eaters."

"I can't believe you're doing this."

"Well, why on earth not?" Elkins glances up at the CRAB CUSTARD banner. "He is Dead Sexy, isn't he?"

"Well, yes. But—"

"And you said yourself that Winky seems to occupy the role of his wife."

"Well, yes, but—"

"Really, the man must have been very lonely after his wife's death, wouldn't you think? He had no friends. He disappears from his workplace for weeks on end, and the person who actually has the best insight into his condition—which is to say, none at all—is his brand new teenaged assistant. It's really quite pathetic, when you think about it. Charis once suggested that it was part of what made him such an inviting tool. Nobody knew him. Do you really think that he would have been celibate for all that time? Does that really seem in character for Crouch to you?"

"Well..."

"He was hardly geriatric. He was prematurely aged. Still quite vital. And he does seem to have been a man of rather...well, strong passions." Elkins smiles. "As I think you've noticed, Eileen, although I do find it interesting that you've never actually once cited that aspect of his character as a part of your CRAB CUSTARD defense."

"I, er, well..." Eileen shifts from foot to foot.

"Mmm-hmmm." Elkins smirks. "Those fits of apoplectic rage, those suddenly bulging eyes. Sudden and abrupt tumescence, yes? It is suggestive of a rather...passionate nature, that. Rather like the way that the Snapefans can sometimes get about those throbbing veins that poor dear Severus develops whenever he's...oh. Oh my! My, I really am embarrassing you here, aren't I?"

Elkins steps back a few paces and regards Eileen with frank interest.

"Now that is a truly extraordinary color," she says. "How on earth do you manage that?"

"Can we just agree that he must have been lonely and move on?" gasps Eileen.

"All right. We'll drop the tumescence then. Okay, the guy was lonely. For around ten years, he'd had Winky as his only confidante. She was the only person who knew his secret. She was the only person he had to talk to. And we know that he did talk to her, too, and not just about household matters, either. He talked to her about workplace issues. He talked to her about Ludo Bagman. He talked to her about his job. Those aren't things that you normally discuss with the help. They're things you discuss with your wife. Or your mistress."

"Well, yes, but—"

"Crouch allowed Winky to intercede with him on behalf of his son. She played the role of his wife there, too, the role of his son's mother. She occupied the maternal intercessionary role, mitigating his paternal discipline. And she threw the memory of his dead wife against him, just exactly like a second wife might do. Or again, a mistress."

"Well..."

"You've said yourself that he seems to have been unduly influenced by her. Under his control. Didn't you even use the phrase 'under her thumb,' at one point, Eileen?" Elkins shakes her head. "That's a dynamic that usually comes about between a man and a woman that he is sleeping with, isn't it? There's an exceptionally vulgar term for it, actually. Needless to say, I won't use it here."

"Er."

"She even gets described in much the same language as Mrs. Crouch does in her one appearance. You said it yourself: the entire Crouch Sr./Mrs. Crouch dynamic is recreated between Crouch Sr. and Winky."

"Minus that!" says Eileen. "Minus that! I was not suggesting that...errr...there was something going on between the elder Crouch and Winky."

"I know," says Elkins. "I know that you weren't. But I am. It actually was my instinctive reading, you know. Even the very first time I read the book, I was assuming that—"

"That's just because you're BENT, Elkins!"

"She acts like she's in love with him," says Elkins quietly. "Even Ron notices that, and Ron is a fourteen-year-old boy. He says that she seems to love him. He says it without a trace of sniggering or contempt or irony or hyperbole. He says it in dead earnest. 'Love' really isn't a word that laddish fourteen-year-old boys like Ron use all that lightly, is it?"

"Ron also says that Percy loves Crouch," Eileen points out. "And I don't think that he was suggesting that they were having an affair."

"When she hears that he's been at Hogwarts as a Triwizard Judge, she perks up immediately," says Elkins. "She responds to the idea that he might be in the vicinity, that she might be able to see him again 'breathlessly'. Her reaction to having been dismissed from his service is completely neurotic. It's not normal. She doesn't accept her new terms of service. She won't accept the uniform. She won't take on new duties. She sits around in the clothes that he gave her all day long and snivels. She turns to drink. If there really is some form of magical compulsion which drives the house elves, then surely that must be every bit as bad a violation of it as Dobby's iconoclasm, don't you think? It's certainly a violation of their ethos. The other elves are absolutely disgusted by her behavior."

"She's devoted to him," says Eileen.

"Indeed."

"Like Percy is devoted to him. It doesn't mean that they were—"

"The two situations are different. Percy does have a kind of a crush on Crouch, but Crouch can't even remember his name. His relationship with Winky isn't anything like that. He doesn't strike me as the least bit disinterested in her. You've implied yourself that he loved her."

Eileen sighs. "I would be hard pressed to believe that there was no emotional bond between Winky and him," she admits.

"So would I. When I read a character described like Crouch is desribed at the QWC, 'his face somehow sharpened, each line upon it more deeply etched,' I assume that person really is suffering quite badly, no matter how little pity he may have in his gaze. That's a physical description of a man in pain. Seriously, now. Is there any particular reason why we should assume that a relationship which in all other respects seems to replicate a sexual relationship should not have had a sexual component? I mean, is there any reason that we should assume that Winky was not sharing his bed?"

"Well..." Eileen squirms. "Well, it's just sort of...distasteful. Isn't it?"

"Is it? Why?"

"Well, for starters, she's not human. And also she's...well, tiny."

"This is a novel that gave us not one, but two half-giant characters," Elkins reminds her. "And from Fudge's comment about them not all turning out like Hagrid, it would seem that it's not all that an uncommon pairing in the wizarding world, either. I don't get the impression that wizards are too particular about species. Or about size, for that matter."

"I just don't know if I think that it would occur to people in the culture to view the elves as objects of lust," says Eileen. "They're...well, they're really rather disgusting and freakish, aren't they?"

"Harry thinks that they are, but he's not used to them. I don't know if I think that the elves would seem at all freakish or disgusting to someone who was actually a member of one of those fine old pure- blooded families. I mean, you have to figure, don't you, that the elves probably fill the Nanny role in those households? If you'd been raised in one of those famlies, then the elves probably would have been the people who actually took care of you when you were an infant. They're the ones who would have watched over you as a young child; they're the ones who would have cooked your food, and quite likely served it to you as well. Food is important. They'd be your first source of material comfort, your first physical providers. They'd be your very first objects of love, most likely. You'd be used to them: the way they look, the way they sound, the way they—"

"Elkins," says Eileen. "This is—"

"It's not disgusting. It's normal. It would be normal for people who grew up in those households to view the elves as objects of erotic desire. Maybe not appropriate ones. But certainly appealing ones."

Elkins hesitates. She winces.

"Oh, this is bringing us to such a Bad Place, Eileen," she says. "You know that, right?"

"So don't look," suggests Eileen. "Just put the palantir away."

"I can't. Look, let's just come clean here, shall we? We both know why Crouch/Winky is so disturbing, don't we? We know why it's scary to talk about. We know why it's a sensitive topic. And it doesn't really have anything to do with species. Or about size, for that matter."

Eileen looks deeply troubled.

"We are going to get in so much trouble just talking about this," she says.

"I know. I know we are. But someone has to say it sooner or later. The main reason that Crouch/Winky is a disturbing concept is because she is his slave. And that's also what makes it so very convincing. Because...well, there's an awful lot of real life precedent, isn't there? And we already know that Crouch didn't scruple at somewhat, errr...coercive relationships with subordinate members of his household."

Eileen looks away. "I don't like house elves as slaves," she says evasively. "I prefer Pippin's reading of house elves as housewives."

"Right. No sexual undertones there, are there? And no implications of borderline consensuality, either." Elkins smiles. "I like house elves as housewives too, actually," she admits. "But I don't think that it's what makes Crouch/Winky such an upsetting concept. And it is an upsetting concept, isn't it? I mean, even when you weren't proposing a sexual relationship, you still called it 'nasty and twisted' in your subject heading. Well, why? Why is even the implication so nasty? Why is it twisted? Why is it so upsetting? It's because we're not entirely sure how free the elves really are, isn't it? And because without knowing that, we can't evaluate to what extent we should consider such a relationship rapacious. We don't know exactly what rights of refusal she might have had. That's what makes it so troubling."

"Winky seems to genuinely care about Crouch," Eileen points out.

"Yes. She does. Well, there's plenty of real life precedent for that too, isn't there? I don't know if that signifies. People play the hands they're dealt, and all things considered, it's far better to love than to hate. In fact," says Elkins. "Crouch/Winky sort of replicates the troubling ambiguity of the entire SPEW plotline, doesn't it? She clearly really loved him. But did she have a choice? To what extent to the elves really like to serve?"

Elkins takes a deep breath.

"And that's precisely why I believe in this ship," she says. "Not only because it's so strongly suggested by the characters' actions, but also because it just dovetails far too neatly with all of the other thematic foci of the Crouch family subplots for me not to believe that adult readers, at any rate, are meant to read a sexual relationship here."

Eileen stares at her. "You think this ship is authorial intent?" she asks. "You're serious?"

"Yes, I am. Dead serious. By the time she was writing GoF, the author knew that she had a large adult audience, as well as a young readership. I think Crouch/Winky is intentional, and that it's just glossed for younger readers. Of course, there's no way to know for sure. Especially since if I were JKR, I'd deny it if anyone asked me about it."

"Because of the Bad Place?"

"Well, yeah. And also because the woman has enough problems as it is with all those Satanism accusations without having to worry about what people might think about her sticking sexual relationships of dubious consensuality into her kids' books. But at any rate, whether it's intentional or not, it just makes sense to me. See, as I see it, the Crouch family plotline is connected very strongly to certain types of things. The House Elf subplot. The Imperius Curse. Fanaticism. Devotion. Misplaced loyaties. They're things that seem to me to tie into that closing contrast between what is right and what is easy. They're all areas of the story that highlight the difficulties of knowing what is truly your own volition and what is not. The house elves enjoy servitude, so are they really slaves? The Imperius Curse doesn't feel bad; it feels good, it makes you want to obey its dictates. Crouch's son cites as his deepest desire the desire to serve, to prove himself worthy to his substitute father figure. Both Percy and Winky grant Crouch more loyalty than he probably merits; Mrs. Crouch and Winky also give that same sort of loyalty to his son. Was it admirable of them to do that, or was it misguided? Was it a little bit of both?"

"I would have thought you'd call it misguided," says Eileen, smiling slightly. "Given your feelings about Crouch."

"I probably should," admits Elkins. "But I admire loyalty. I've a terrible soft spot for misguided loyalty. And I'm really awfully fond of Percy, you know. But at any rate, to my mind all of these issues are strongly conceptually linked. The Crouch family subplot seems to me to address questions of borderline volition. If you believe yourself to want to serve, then can you truly be said to be under coercion at all? Where does choice end? Where does brainwashing begin?"

Elkins looks both ways. She bites her lip, then takes another deep breath.

"There are questions of sexuality and gender relations that tie closely into that issue," she says quietly. "But they're really rather adult, and perhaps not altogether appropriate for younger readers."

Eileen opens her mouth.

"I don't mean adult in the pornographic sense," amends Elkins quickly. "I don't mean that at all. I just mean adult in the...well, in the grown-up sense. Sexual relationships, even the most healthy and egalitarian ones, always touch just a little bit on the borderlands of volition. They're not really freely chosen in quite the same way as platonic relationships are. But that's a very delicate subject, and it's not something that children really understand. They can't. They don't have the life experiences yet to understand it. Adults do, though, and I think that Crouch/Winky is written into the text in such a way as to provide it as another example of borderline consensuality for the book's adult readers, while still glossing it sufficiently to keep the book appropriate for children. It's there to provide another example of an area of life in which the boundary line between coercion and volition can often become hazy, blurred, indistinct.

"Besides," adds Elkins, after a short pause. "You don't want to talk me out of this ship, you know, Eileen. You really don't."

"Why on earth not?" asks Eileen.

"Because it makes me like Crouch better."

"Elkins! Why? It makes his treatment of Winky all the more abysmal!"

"Does it? Oh, I don't know. Maybe it does. But it also makes it somehow more forgivable. People get weird when it comes to their lovers. Crouch/Winky actually humanizes Crouch a great deal for me. It makes him seem less like a thematic icon, and more like a real person. It makes me find him a lot more sympathetic. Although his poor son..."

Elkins laughs and shakes her head.

"Well!" she says. "And that's another very compelling bit of evidence for Crouch/Winky right there."

"His son?"

"Yes. Do you remember a while back, when you were talking about Winky taking over Mrs. Crouch's function in both the text and the family dynamic? You said:

In her relationship with Barty Jr., Winky also seems to be like Mrs. Crouch.

Eileen nods. "Yes," she says. "She's just like his mother, really. She loves him and wants to let him off the hook, believes the best of him, even though she knows he wants to serve Voldemort."

"Well, yes. That's true. But is it really the same relationship? Is it the same relationship on his end? Crouch Jr. seems to have idolized his mother, or at the very least to have romanticized her a great deal after her death. But how did he feel about Winky? Are there any indications that he felt even the slightest bit of affection for her?"

Eileen thinks this over for a moment.

"Well, it's hard to tell," she says. "We never really see them interacting."

"No. We never do, do we? Which is particularly interesting, don't you think, given that she was actually present for the entirety of his confession? And hardly a silent witness, either. She makes quite a nuisance of herself, really. She literally throws herself on top of him when she thinks that he's been killed. She's utterly distraught. She sobs, she wails, she interrupts, she pleads. And he never even acknowledges her presence. Not once. He digresses all over the place in the course of his interrogation, but he never addresses a single word to her. Not even indirectly. I can think of two reasons why that might have been the case. The first is—"

"Veritaserum," Eileen says.

Elkins nods. "Yes. Dumbledore starts out his interrogation by asking, 'Can you hear me?' That could be more than a formality. It's possible that the stuff focusses your attention on one interrogator and one interrogator only."

"The first person who addresses you," suggests Eileen. "Or maybe the first person who asks you a direct question once you're under its influence."

"Could be. If so, then maybe he honestly couldn't even hear anyone else. He may not have been aware of Winky's presence. Or perhaps he couldn't really digress in that particular manner. But there's another possibility too."

"That he was ignoring her on purpose."

"Yes. And you know, I'm sorry to say that I really do think it's the latter? I see not a trace of affection in how Crouch Jr. speaks of Winky, and a good deal that could be indicative of a tremendous degree of hostility. If you ask me, I'd say that he hated her. For ten years, she was his only companion, yet he doesn't even refer to her by name at first. He refers to her as 'the house-elf.'"

"That's just how wizards talk about elves."

"I think it's more than that. He refers to her as his 'keeper and care-taker.' He never once states that she treated him with kindness, or with compassion. Instead, he says that she 'pitied' him. He refers to whatever privileges she managed to get for him by negotiating with his father on his behalf as 'treats.' He has not a single nice thing to say about her. He exploited her weakness at the QWC, and he seems almost proud of himself for having done so. He shows no signs of sympathy or regret when he talks about his father sacking her. In fact, I think you can almost read a trace of a gloat in that 'she had failed him' comment. That's not the phrasing you'd choose to discuss someone you viewed as a mother, is it? It's the way you'd talk about a villain's lacky getting thrown into the crocodile pit for having failed to conduct some wicked plan successfully." Elkins smiles lazily. "In fact," she says. "It's very much like the way you might describe...oh, let's just say an Evil Overlord feeding his snivelling minion to a giant snake for having failed him in some very important task. Isn't it?"

"That's really a very unkind parallel, Elkins," Eileen tells her reprovingly. "On a number of different levels."

"You think?" Elkins shrugs. "Take it up with the author," she says. "I just call 'em as I see 'em. And what I'm seeing is that while Winky is in many ways marked as Crouch Jr's mother, both textually and in terms of her relationship with Crouch Sr, he himself does not seem to have perceived their relationship that way at all. He seems, in fact, to have resented her a great deal. He doesn't even really credit her with persuading his father to allow him to go to the QWC, does he? Not really. He credits his mother's memory, just like he gives his mother all the credit for rescuing him from prison. It's very much the same thing, really. 'My father didn't save my life; my mother did.' 'Winky didn't persuade my father; my mother's memory did.'" Elkins rolls her eyes. "Barty Junior and his sainted mother."

"That Mrs. Crouch really gets on my nerves," growls Eileen.

"Yes. You know, she's really beginning to get on mine too? But her son seems to have idolized her. And he also seems to have despised Winky. It is rather suggestive, that, Eileen. You have to admit it. And there's something else, you know. One final reason for thinking that perhaps Crouch Sr. wasn't the model of fidelity to his late wife's memory — or indeed, that perhaps he had never been much of a model of marital fidelity."

"More slander, Elkins?"

"Slander? Eileen, you wound me. I am merely trying to look at the family dynamics here. Now, we all seem to agree that whatever else he might have been, Crouch the Elder was a bit of a tyrant when it came to his familial relations. You would think that he must have seemed like rather an ogre to his son, wouldn't you? He sent him off to Azkaban. He bellowed abuse at him while he was pleading for mercy. He held his life in his very hands. He controlled him. He dominated him. He bent him to his will. 'Total control.' And really, Crouch Sr. was a quite impressive man in his day, wasn't he? Forceful. Charismatic. Magnetic. Domineering. He's still rather a striking personality even by the time of canon, when he's become a lame duck. CRAB CUSTARD, you know."

"Yes."

"And his son truly hated him. I think we can agree on that point too. But what does Barty Jr. actually give as his reasoning for hating his father so much? What does he tell Harry? That his father was a bloody tyrant? That his father was a monster? That his father was Ever So Evil?"

Elkins shakes her head.

"No," she says. "What he says instead is that his father was disappointing. Now, why do you think that he would have chosen that particular word?"

"Well..." Eileen thinks about it. "The author probably chose that particular word," she says. "Because it hearkens back to Voldemort in the graveyard."

"It does do that. Voldemort is 'disappointed' in his Death Eaters. Because they've been unfaithful, isn't it? What is the significance of the fact that Crouch Jr. uses that very same word to describe his father?"

"Oh, well." Eileen shrugs. "I think that could be just...well, you know. Villain talk. Or perhaps referring to the...well..." She squirms uncomfortably. "The 'H Word' thing."

"The 'H Word.'" Elkins smiles. "How many arenas of Crouch's life do you think that word applied to? He was a political hypocrite, certainly. Did that tendency translate into his personal life, do you think? Winky talks about her mother serving the family before her, and her grandmother before that. Did Crouch ever keep any male servants? Was he ever maritally faithful? Isn't 'disappointing' rather a stereotypical word for an aristocratic young man to use to refer to a father who...well, you know. Who cheats on his wife? Who does the help?"

"You are a very sick woman, Elkins."

"Crouch Jr's treatment of his father's body suggests to my mind that to some extent he felt that he was avenging his mother," says Elkins. "The third task guardian is a sphinx. The entire family dynamic seems awfully suggestive to me of some pretty serious Oedipal issues. And I have to say that when I look at a family dynamic in which a son adores his rather sickly mother, absolutely detests his father, seems to loathe his father's female servant in spite of the fact that she has been kind to him, and refers to his father as 'disappointing...' Well, it just gets difficult for me to avoid the suspicion that there are more than political differences underlying the conflict there."

"You are just plain disturbed," Eileen says flatly. "That's all there is to this."

Elkins laughs. "Okay, okay," she says. "Suit yourself. You don't have to board the Crouch/Winky ship if you don't want to. I think it's there, but hey. To each his own. Right? And really, you know, it's not the idea of the ship that I find so disturbing about Winky's role in the Crouch family dynamic at all. I actually find that rather sympathetic, for all parties concerned. It's very human, and it's also really rather sad. No, the thing that I find disturbing about Winky is what I feel that her role conveys about the maternal role in the series as a whole. Or even about the role of women in the series as a whole."

"Oh, Elkins!" exclaims Eileen, looking frightened. "You really are determined to get us in trouble here, aren't you?"

"Looks that way," admits Elkins. "You didn't bring any asbestos suits with you today, did you, Eileen?"

Eileen shakes her head. "No," she says. "And if I had, I certainly wouldn't share with you! Not after that evil political attack back in part four. And not after you knocked over my CRAB CUSTARD table and tried to throttle me. When the flamethrowers come out, I'm just going to duck and cover. You can do what you please. But now that you've raised the issue, you might as well get on with it."

"Okay," says Elkins. "Well, I can't help but feel, you know, that Crouch Jr's respective attitudes towards his mother and Winky reflect to some extent the biases of the authorial voice itself."

"You're going to die for this," Eileen advises her gravely. "You know that."

"Yes, I know. But it has to be said. Really, when you think about it, Winky was every bit as much Barty Jr's mother as Mrs. Crouch was, wasn't she? I mean, can you really imagine Lady of the Manor Crouch changing her son's diapers? I somehow suspect that's house elf work. Along with all of the other gross, tedious and unpleasant chores of child-rearing. This gets into Pippin's preferred reading of the house elves as housewives. The person who actually fulfilled that aspect of the maternal function in Barty Jr's life was probably always Winky. Or perhaps Winky's mother, depending on how the house elf generations work. That's how it works, surely? The elves do the dirty work?"

"I would imagine so."

"And then that the entire dynamic is just replicated when it comes to post-Azkaban Barty. Once again, Mrs. Crouch left all the maternal dirty work for her elf. She up and died, and left Winky to take care of the mess that she'd left behind. She wasn't the one who got stuck looking after her crazed son all the time, and neither was her husband. That was Winky's job. Not an enviable task. Especially since I somehow doubt she was ever consulted about the wisdom of breaking him free from Azkaban in the first place."

"It doesn't seem quite fair, does it?" admits Eileen.

"No. It really doesn't. And really, when you think about it, in many ways Winky sacrificed far more for Barty Jr. than his sainted mother ever did."

"Well," says Eileen. "His mother did die in Azkaban for him."

"Yes," sighs Elkins. "She did. And I'm not saying that wasn't a sacrifice, or that it wasn't a rather brave thing for her to have done. It must have been just awful. I don't know if I would have been willing to do it. But at the same time...well, not to sound brutal here or anything, but the woman was dying anyway, wasn't she? She redeemed her son's life with a week or two of absolute misery, and I'm not saying that was nothing. But it didn't really last all that long, did it? And it wasn't...oh, I don't know quite how to explain this. It wasn't actually work. It wasn't active. It involved suffering, but only of a rather passive nature. It didn't represent a commitment of labor. It wasn't hard; it was merely unpleasant. Am I making the slightest bit of sense here?"

"Some."

"I guess that I just think that in the long run, it's a lot harder, and in some ways a lot braver, to live for someone than to die for them. What Winky gave to Barty Jr. was ten entire years of her life, and not of her own volition, either. And it was active sacrifice. It was hard work. She had to watch over him constantly. It became her job. To some extent, it became the poor creature's existence. I can't imagine that it was a walk in the park, being Barty Jr's jailer, can you? Especially since he seems to have hated her."

Eileen mutters something about ingratitude.

"Well, really," says Elkins. "Even assuming no 'ship, I don't think that I can blame him for that. After all, why should he have felt gratitude to Winky? She had nothing to do with saving his life, and no matter how nice she may have tried to be to him, she was still his jailer. She professed affection for him, and she tried to make his situation more bearable, but when push came to shove, she wasn't really on his side at all. She was his father's creature. She was his father's servant, his father's minion, his father's enforcer. She served as the agent of his bondage, and she carried out his father's edicts even when she didn't herself agree with them. If I'd been Crouch Jr., I think that I would have felt some contempt for her too. I mean, from his rather adolescent point of view, she's just his father in a skirt, isn't she? Just another two-faced liar. Just another hypocrite."

"She didn't have a choice, though," points out Eileen.

"No. She didn't have a choice. But you know, it's a lot easier to sympathize with the plight of people who are 'just obeying orders' when their orders don't happen to concern you. You know how freely my heart always bleeds for minions, but I suspect that I might find that flow starting to slow to a trickle if I were actually the person subject to the orders that they had no choice but to obey.

"Crouch Sr. seems to have felt that Winky was insufficiently loyal to him over his son," continues Elkins. "But Crouch Jr. surely would have felt just the reverse — and with far more cause, really. I can't blame him for not liking her much. But the fact that Winky herself does seem to have felt rather ambivalent about the entire situation just makes it a greater sacrifice, doesn't it? Mrs. Crouch got herself well out of that entire twisted Oedipal triangle, and she left that behind for Winky to deal with as well. She left Winky trapped in an absolutely untenable position, both emotionally and morally. She seems to have genuinely cared about young Crouch. She pitied him, yet she couldn't really help him in any way that had any real significance. She loved him, yet she was put in the position of being his jailer and his overseer. She had to enforce his father's will upon him whether she personally approved of his decisions or not. It put her in an awful position, always trying to walk the line, trying to look out for his interests and his father's simultaneously..."

"She fell off that line at the QWC," says Eileen coldly.

"Man! You really just can't forgive her for the QWC, can you? Yes, I suppose she did fall off that line eventually. But then, it was an impossible line to walk in the first place. And in the end, it utterly destroyed her, didn't it? She's a shattered wreck by the end of the novel. An alcoholic mess."

"So what does this say about the maternal role in the books?" asks Eileen.

"Well, how do you think that we're supposed to read Mrs. Crouch's sacrifice? My feeling is that it's portrayed as rather noble. Perhaps wrong-headed, in that Crouch Jr. really was a Death Eater, but wrong-headed in a manner that I think that we're supposed to read in a fairly sympathetic light. Her one on-screen appearance is rather cartoonish, but I think that we're expected to imagine whatever off-screen suffering her sacrifice entailed as happening in a heroic idiom. She languishes romantically away in prison, and I think that that's set forth in a more or less tragic light."

"I suppose so."

"Well, how about the suffering that Winky accrues from her sacrifices? Is it portrayed as noble? Is it portrayed as in any sense tragic? Is it set forth in a heroic idiom?"

"Errr...no," says Eileen. "I wouldn't quite call it that."

"No. It's totally pathetic, isn't it? Grotesque. To a large extent, her suffering is played for laughs. We're meant to understand that she really is in pain, but at the same time, the actual portrayal is...well, it's Toonish, really. She's utterly revolting. Her nose runs. She throws tantrums like a child, throwing herself down onto the floor and beating her fists against the flagstones and howling. She's filthy. She turns to drink, and she's a rather comedic drunk, too: she hiccups, she dribbles all over herself, her eyes cross, she passes out in a stupor and immediately starts snoring. The other elves wrap her up in a tablecloth. I mean, we're not exactly looking at what I'd call a tragic portrayal of anguish here. The authorial voice accords her very little dignity at all."

"Well, except for maybe in the last scene," points out Eileen.

"When she's playing the Greek Chorus in the great mad scene of 'The Fall of the House of Crouch,' you mean?" Elkins grins. "Maybe. But even there, there are still strong elements of humor and grotesquerie to her portrayal. All that, 'Oh, Barty, you bad boy" stuff. Overall, I'd say that the authorial voice treats her with a good deal of contempt. And of course, her loyalty is misguided, isn't it? She's guilty of having thrown good loyalty after bad. It's portrayed as a failing, wouldn't you say?"

"Absolutely," says Eileen, with conviction.

"Well, what about Mrs. Crouch's loyalty? Winky is no less guilty of misapplied devotion than Mrs. Crouch is, really, but are we encouraged to read them as equally culpable? I don't know if I think that we are. It seems to me that when it comes to Mrs. Crouch, there's an implication that her actions are more forgivable because she was his mother. At the very least, they get a somewhat noble portrayal. But Winky is also marked as his mother, isn't she? She's just the maternal aspect who does all the dirty work. Yet her suffering is grotesque, and her misplaced loyalties, I think, really very strongly condemned by the narrative."

"There are some troubling gender implications there," agrees Eileen. "Aren't there."

"There really are. And it's not helped by the fact that the series is just stuffed to bursting with all of these remote, idealized, nameless, tragic martyr mothers. Sickly Lady of the Manor Crouch. The nameless Mrs. Longbottom, who is not an Auror but merely an Auror's wife, and who therefore can serve as an absolute sacrificial lamb in a way that her husband cannot. Tom Riddle's nameless mother, who dies in childbirth. And of course, Lily Potter, who at least gets a name, but who has to date been given precious little else. She has no backstory, no personality, and no particular character, except that she seems to have been perfect."

"'Lily Was Nice.' But that may change."

"Let's hope so! Right now, though, that's all we've got on her. No friends, no cool legacy items left behind for Harry to play with, no backstory, nothing. We just know that she was pretty and smart, and good with Charms. And that she died for her son. So we have all of these idealized distant martyr mothers, and they seem to stand in a kind of contrast to real mothers. You know, the people who actually do 'women's work.' The ones who get down in the trenches of the actual day-to-day dirty work of mothering, whose sacrifices entail living for their children, rather than just dying for them. That role," says Elkins. "Is filled by the house elves. Who are grotesque and faintly ludicrous.

"And that really does bother me. The implication seems to be..."

"That the only good mother is a dead mother?" suggests Eileen, smiling.

"Well...yes. It does feel that way to me at times. Or even worse: the only good mother is one who doesn't sully her hands with icky feminine stuff. 'Women's work.' It seems to divorce the idealized aspect of the maternal role from the physical and material aspect in a way that strikes me as somewhat misogynist, really. It seems to me to fit in somehow with the contempt that the narrative so often shows towards other stereotypically feminine interests or endeavors: those silly giggling Gryffindor girls, you know, or Lockhart and his appeal to women, or the role of Divination, or those trashy women's magazines. I mean, what does all of that say about women?"

There is a long silence.

"What about Molly Weasley?" asks Eileen.

"Molly?" Elkins thinks, then nods. "Yes, okay. She's a bit flawed, and in some pretty stereotypical ways — the Lockhart crush, the women's magazines. But I think that she's portrayed as admirable."

There is another long silence.

"So thank heavens for Molly Weasley," says Elkins drily.

"Molly won't be enough to protect you from the flames," advises Eileen gravely.

Elkins sighs.

"I know," she says. "Maybe I should have just stuck with politics. Or...hey, I know! Want to talk about the Twins?"



*************

Elkins

who cut her teeth on works of fiction that portrayed 'women's work' with a certain degree of contempt, and who now, as an adult with no children and a rather marked (some might even say pathological) aversion to domestic activities, often finds herself wondering to what extent she might suffer from a bad case of internalized misogyny — and if so, then just where that came from, anyway.