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“Have you ever made things happen,” Albus Dumbledore asks a young boy with dark hair and a suspicious look, “things that you couldn’t explain? Perhaps something changed color, perhaps something moved on its own or flew – perhaps you saw ink on your skin that you didn’t put there?”

Tom Riddle has moved things and changed the colors of things, and he is not an idiot – he can very well explain the cause for those, which were him and him alone. But ink, he thinks, is odd – unexpected. It catches his attention by its lack of demonstration, and so instead of nodding eagerly, saying yes, I knew I was special – he frowns.

“Ink?” he asks skeptically.

Albus Dumbledore nods kindly.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Tom says, still skeptical, and that kindliness fades slowly.

It fades ever more when Tom’s skin remains pale and unmarked throughout his first year at Hogwarts. Eleven, twelve, and thirteen all pass, and what ink appears on Tom Riddle’s skin is easily explainable as himself – his own inkstained fingertips from writing essays, an accidental splatter across the back of his hand from a badly cut quill. Nothing is out of place, nothing is inexplicable.

This is unusual.

His yearmates do not experience this. His yearmates see unfamiliar ink stains appear on noses and knuckles. His yearmates doodle on their arms and receive doodles in return. His yearmates write short notes and smiling faces to one another, carrying on conversations in secret in the backs of classrooms until the professor must stop, glare, and demand that they roll back their robe sleeves and for goodness’ sake, stop talking to your soulmate and pay attention!

There is a single moment in time when Tom writes on his left wrist. He is fifteen and alone, stuck in the middle of London being bombed and with nowhere to sleep, and it is the lowest moment in his existence. Enough to drag even a boy who is normally allergic to help to reach out for the potential anyway.

Hello? Is anyone there?

He stares at those words all day, curled up in a dank corner of a train station with his trunk at his back and his wand ready, for all the good it will do him.

Nothing.

He breaks a little more, and never writes on himself again.




Barty (sometimes Barty Crouch Junior) does not spend his formative years unaware of soulmates. Of course he knows about them. Everyone’s got them, if they’ve got magic, and he’s got lots of magic. He can make all the candle-holders for the dining room table fly around his head like a strange little halo, and he can make his pillows float and become even fluffier than they usually are for a short time. He even turned a stick into a miniature broom, once, and Mother had even been awake enough to clap for him and tell him she was so proud.

So of course he has a soulmate. But – he’s not allowed to talk to them. Father said so. He’s too young for such frivolity, Father says – he shouldn’t be wasting ink all over his skin trying to speak to a mere soulmate. (Mere? he thinks, and this is perhaps the first time that Barty realizes he and Father don’t agree.) Instead of frivolities, Barty should be focusing on his lessons, because he needs to be better than he is right now. All the ink he uses should be put towards essays from his tutors and notes made in class and from his books. Anything more would be wasteful. Shameful. He would be a bad son if he did that.

So after the first slap in the face when he comes to dinner with his wrist peppered with little geometric doodles and a chicken-scratched, children’s hi, Barty never writes again. He washes off the doodles and the hi so that he will be allowed to eat dinner, and he ignores the temptations of the inkwell.

Every year on his birthday they have the same conversation.

“Father?”

“What?”

“Can I write to my soulmate now?”

“You mean ‘May I write’, Bartemius, you should know this by now.”

“S – sorry Father. May I?”

“No. Your grades need to be better first.”

“... yes, Father…”

And so it goes. Eleven, twelve, thirteen, and Barty watches his yearmates exclaiming happily when strange inkstains appear on their knuckles and wrists. He watches them doodling on themselves nearly every day, slowly building intricate and nonsensical abstract designs together with the unseen soulmate on the other end of the line. He watches them carrying on long conversations on their forearms, whole letters written on skin, swapping arms for every reply.

Most mages eventually become ambidextrous. Barty didn’t realize this until he went to Hogwarts – forces himself to write with his right hand until he is ambidextrous, too. Even if his practice has to be on paper and not on his skin, he doesn’t want to be left out.

Not that anyone would notice, probably, if he were different.


Barty is fifteen, and he is very, very good at Transfiguration. He is so good, in fact, that he is receiving private lessons. His private lessons, in fact, are taken with Albus Dumbledore.

He could just die with the giddiness of it all. He comes to every lesson eager to be attentive and learn. He revels in the joy of having this undivided attention on him, more than he’s ever gotten in his life. It is easy to talk with Albus Dumbledore – Barty hasn’t told his father anything about his tutoring sessions, sure in the knowledge that the man would step in, demand progress reports and grades, and take every joy out of it. So Bartemius Senior knows nothing, and Barty gets to speak freely. Albus Dumbledore expresses interest in his life. In his family. In his knowledge. In him, and to Barty, this is a sensation so foreign that he gives and gives and babbles his head off – something he hasn’t been able to do in so many long years of being told to be quiet and shut up and nobody wants to hear it, Barty.

They have five lessons.

The invitations stop coming.

The password to the Headmaster’s office changes.

He’s not ‘Barty’ anymore. He’s ‘Mr. Crouch’ again – no more kindly smiles, but aloof yet friendly ones, the ones you give to acquaintances and co-workers with whom you cannot fight but with whom you don’t particularly want to talk, either. Yes, of course, Mr. Crouch – my boy, I am sorry, but you must understand, with the war outside –

What war? Barty thinks angrily, eyes burning as he walks to Ravenclaw tower and tries to hold back tears. There is no war. It’s not like there are two countries fighting. How is this a war? It’s just two gangs, Dumbledore’s gang and the Dark Lord’s gang, and they’re fighting, and the Ministry just hates every one of them. Barty’s father hates every one of them, and Dumbledore hates the Dark Lord – what’s his name again? – and Dumbledore dislikes the Ministry. And Barty’s father.

He suddenly realizes what’s happened and how he’s been duped. It’s all so clear and damning that he truly does burst into tears, and has to race into his dorm room lest somebody notice and tell his father that he was crying in the hallways or the common room like a girl. No son of Bartemius Crouch would ever act like a girl, after all.

It doesn’t stop him from crying his eyes out and getting no sleep at all.

In the morning, Barty thinks again – what is that Dark Lord’s name…?


The Dark Lord Voldemort.

Barty turns this name over in his mind during Charms class. It’s review for an exam to be taken just before the Yule holiday and he isn’t really paying attention. He’ll review on his own later if he has to. He probably won’t have to, but he’ll do it anyway, because it’s not like he has anything else to do or any friends to hang out with.

The Dark Lord Voldemort. Lord Voldemort. Vol – de – mort.

It’s a nice name, Barty decides. He wonders if it’s the man’s family name. There are no Voldemorts in the genealogies, though. Yet it doesn’t sound like the name of any muggleborn Barty’s ever heard of, at the same time. He can admit that he’s not too familiar with muggleborn names, but – Voldemort still doesn’t sound like them.

Maybe an inherited family title? But then why hasn’t it ever been heard of before?

The final option – he’s foreign. Or no, the true final option –

He made it up. He named himself. Lord Voldemort is the first and only of his name, which means his old name is –

Unknown. Discarded. Perhaps even irrelevant.

Something about that revelation inflames Barty’s consciousness, in a way that stays with him for days after the Charms class. It sits with him through the very same pre-Yule exam, and he packs it into his trunk and takes it home for the holidays. It even stays with him through his first meal at home with his father, despite his father spending much of the meal railing against the unlawful nature of the Dark Lord’s movement and exhorting Barty to take a lesson from these ‘hooligans’ about how not to act.

Barty nods, and looks down demurely and obediently, and thinks about Lord Voldemort.

His father hates the Dark Lord. Dumbledore hates the Dark Lord.

His course of action is clear.


It’s almost painfully easy to get at his father’s confidential reports. It is again almost painfully easy to understand how to contact the man. Turns out, an anonymized owl addressed to ‘Lord Voldemort’ will do. Because he may wish to take revenge on Albus Dumbledore and his father both, but he isn’t stupid.

No matter how much he’s told he is.


To the Dark Lord Voldemort,

It pleases me to offer you the enclosed confidential reports from the Auror department and the DMLE. To the best of my knowledge, they are current and accurate to reality. These are copies, as well, so they are not going to be missed. I care not what you do with them – but I offer them nevertheless.

Regards,

Anonymous


Barty isn’t certain what he expected. An angry father, ranting about spies and crushing his own innocent department under an iron boot of paranoia. A brooding headmaster, chewing on his beard in helpless contemplation.

He gets the father. He thinks he’ll probably get the headmaster. But what he also gets is –


Anonymous,

My most effusive gratitudes for the reports you previously enclosed. Imagine my surprise when they were accurate! So rarely do I see such competent work done with such apparent ease – though I do of course not wish to minimise whatever troubles you must have gone to in order to obtain them.

I recognise and respect your desire for anonymity, especially given your unprecedented level of access to classified materials. But I am a scholar by nature, and a curious man, so do indulge me in this for a moment – Are you perchance an Auror? A Ministry worker? An outside agent? I wonder how you reached these reports, and I wonder too if you are only one person, or if you are many individuals of similar interest. In the case of the latter, then to whichever member of the interest group is reading this, I implore you share it with your fellows. Lord Voldemort is not reticent with his praise when praise is well-deserved.

Do send me more, if ever you should see the chance to do so. I would be most appreciative.

Sincerely and anticipatorily,

Lord Voldemort


He hadn’t intended to go back for more. He had thought perhaps that would be asking for trouble. But –

(So rarely do I see such competent work.)

The night before Yule break ends, Barty returns to his father’s office, and takes more reports.


To the Dark Lord Voldemort,

I am glad you were appreciative of my efforts, and I don’t mind your questions. It makes sense you would be curious. I will say I am one person, but I won’t say any more.

Please enjoy the second batch of reports. I’m sorry to say I won’t have access to them again for a while, most likely. I tried to make them relevant in the longer view this time, to compensate.

Regards,

Anonymous


On the train to Hogwarts, Barty waits. And wonders.

The second day back, he gets a letter.


Anonymous,

Only one person, indeed? My... You display fine judgement for a single individual, especially in this day and age. Critical thinking skills are not taught at Hogwarts, you know, and have not been for some time, so I must assume that you came by yours naturally. I applaud you for it, and similarly exhort you to continue to exercise them, so that you can maintain their efficacy.

As for the reports, and your access – fear not. The set you sent me recently is more than I had ever expected to hold in my hands, and I would be most averse to losing your talents should you act rashly and be caught. Pace yourself as necessary. I am in no hurry.

Sincerely,

Lord Voldemort


He has two letters, now. They tell him things he doesn’t think he’s ever really heard before – how he’s clever, how he has good judgement, how he’s competent. How he’s appreciated, how his efforts matter. How he’s doing good.

Voldemort, Barty thinks late one night, after re-reading his two letters for perhaps the hundredth time. Vol – de – mort.

He clutches them to his chest, careful not to tear the parchment that is rapidly uncrisping from how many times he’s handled them, and tries to impress the words onto his very soul. Maybe then, he’ll believe them.


Voldemort is a murderer, a madman. A maniac, a Dark Lord. He doesn’t belong in polite society and his ideologies are grotesque and he must be stopped at all costs. Barty knows this, because others have told it to him. But –

Maybe the man who has written two letters to him is a murderer. Maybe he is mad. Maybe he is a maniac. He is definitely a Dark Lord, or at least considers himself a Dark Lord, as he signs off with that title – and if everyone else also considers him a Dark Lord, then, what use could any argument possibly be?

But polite society has never told Barty anything but be quiet and stay still. Ideologies have never done anything for him, and Barty doesn’t know if he believes in anything, anyway. But he does wonder sometimes – what if all costs means the lives of every witch and wizard in magical Britain? What would be the point of stopping Lord Voldemort, in that case?

It won’t happen, anyway, for Barty wouldn’t sacrifice his life to stop the man.

How could he, when Lord Voldemort is the only person who has ever called him ‘clever’?

He doesn’t care about ideologies and he doesn’t really believe in anything. He’s never really believed in anything. Maybe being raised under stern guidelines and never allowed to have much leisure time makes it hard for children to develop strong beliefs, Barty thinks with sudden sideways clarity – and he almost giggles at his table in the library. Yet it’s really true – how could he believe in ideology? How could he believe in anything?

Believing in anyone, though…

He’s not certain of himself, yet. Maybe it’ll turn out to be yet another self-comforting lie – Barty’s familiar enough with those by now. He won’t be too upset, it that is what it turns out to be.

Yet sometimes, he really does think he could believe in Lord Voldemort.


He gets an A on a Potions exam. He isn’t really sure why, only that the words blurred beneath his eyes and didn’t make any sense at all, and he forgot how to write for half the period, and his thoughts are filled with loneliness and plans for what kinds of reports he’s going to look for the moment he has a spare moment alone when he gets home for the summer. After he gets it back he takes it to the library and sits with it until the words make sense again – and then it’s all clear. He rewrites his answers and takes them to the professor – no, of course not, sir, I understand that I got the grade I got. But I would really appreciate if you’d look this over for me, just so I can know that I’ve gotten caught back up?

He would have gotten an O. He knows he understands, so he tucks the old and new exams into his folder of homework and forgets about them.

At least, he forgets until quarter grades go out, and a bright red envelope falls onto his breakfast plate and starts to smoke.

He runs from it before it can speak, because he knows that if he listens to it, he is going to cry, and he can’t cry in public. The son of Bartemius Crouch doesn’t cry in public like a girl. He does cry in his dorm room like a girl, hidden and isolated behind the hangings of his bed, but then, nobody needs to know about that, right?

The Howler follows him. He didn’t know they could do that.


To the Dark Lord Voldemort,

I apologise that I have no reports for you. I wish I did. I simply haven’t had the chance yet. I have plans though, for when I do have the chance – I promise. I’m thinking about it all the time.

I just need

I wanted to talk

I want you to know I haven’t forgotten. I will get you more reports. I feel useless, and nobody but you has ever appreciated anything I do, but I will get them for you. I promise.

Anonymous


He’s going to be told to shut up again, he knows. His father only wants him for the prestige of having an accomplished, intelligent son, so long as his son doesn’t have a personality. Albus Dumbledore only wanted him for his knowledge of his father’s work, and thereafter he was useless. Lord Voldemort only wants him for the reports that Barty can bring him – but at least Barty chose to let Lord Voldemort know that Barty Crouch Junior exists, that he could be taking advantage of that very boy right now for his own Dark Lord gains.

And there are more reports. He can get more reports.


My dear Anonymous,

I sense something troubles you. Dare I ask what it is? I think I do – recall, from my earlier missives, that I mentioned I am a curious man. That fact remains, and you remain intriguing to me.

What ails you? I advise you not to lie, as Lord Voldemort much dislikes being lied to, and I do believe the few tearstains on your most recent letter more than speak for themselves.

I did not believe you had forgotten, but it still pleases me to hear this directly from the source, as it were. I continue to understand that you may not always have classified access. It pleases me also to know that you are making plans for that moment in the future when you do regain access. I wonder what they are? How wide your incidental access ranges, and what surprises you may have for me this time?

Stay strong, now. Whatever fools torment you are worthless. If it helps, focus on me, and on those plans you mentioned and the services you shall render unto me.

Graciously,

Lord Voldemort


He cries again, because nobody’s ever told him it was alright not to be useful immediately.


He has three letters. Though two are old and one is new, they are all worn smooth by fingers brushed across them too many times to count. He reads and re-reads and re-re-reads. When OWLs come and he cannot breathe while studying for fear he’ll get an unexpected E, he regains himself by thinking of those words. He carries certain key phrases inside of his chest, tucked into the spaces between his ribs. They shore up an otherwise paltry defense against external pain, patching the built-in gaps that would allow a knife or a harsh word to slip through. For once in Barty’s life, he feels like smiling when he thinks of somebody.

Maybe Lord Voldemort doesn’t care – not truly. But he recognises Barty exists. He sees what Barty can do and asks him to do it again. Tells him he is clever and good at things, and – and he doesn’t ignore Barty when he’s not being useful, either.

He got a letter.

Even with no reports, he got a letter.

He wants to send more. His fingers itch for the quill every day, urging him to seek the man out, to spill his heart upon the floor and spread out his organs in a fine display in the hopes that it will please Lord Voldemort. Albus Dumbledore doesn’t matter anymore – he’s forgotten him entirely, in favor of his nemesis, who is kinder anyway than Dumbledore ever was. It’s curious how a murderer can be kinder than a man who always talks about murder as if it is the pinnacle of inhumanity, but Barty knows a lot about such dichotomies. After all, a father so loved by his underlings, so attentive to their training and professional development, must similarly be attentive to his son.

Right?

Barty snorts. No. Wrong.

But he doesn’t need his father’s praise anymore. It’s been wonderful to let it go – to look at an E on a final grade report, know a strongly worded letter is to follow, and to be able to burn that letter without opening it. Instead of fear of not being good enough and beating his head into textbooks in the library wishing he could just change himself into what his father wants, he holds a flimsy, much-loved letter to his chest and feels no pain from a father’s disapproval.

Lord Voldemort has given Barty perhaps the greatest gift Barty has ever received, and Barty isn’t even certain the man knows it to be so. But then – he doesn’t need to know, does he? All that matters is that Barty is going to be good. For Lord Voldemort. Because this man, this Dark Lord – he wants not only what Barty has access to, but he wants Barty’s competence. All Barty has to do is give, and he’ll get more acknowledgement. More appreciation. More letters.

He wants, he wants, he wants.


It’s summer.

Barty goes home with letters from a Dark Lord in his pocket and words in his ribs. His father lectures him and Barty can finally just stand there and nod and let the words wash over him. They can’t get him anymore. Lord Voldemort protects him, even from this, even without even knowing how he does it, and gratitude swells in Barty’s chest with a strength he’s never felt before.

He does know how to thank him, though. Reports upon reports slip from behind the locked doors of Bartemius Crouch Senior’s office and into the hands of the Dark Lord.

And Barty?

He gets letters.


It happens that in July, one of the reports Barty filches speaks of the Dark Mark.

He reads the copy through a few times before he sends it off, despite the potential danger this presents. The Aurors know a little of what it can do, but can’t unravel the spells which bind it. They have no idea how to affect it, or hack it, and it resists all their attempts. It’s impossible to take off, too.

Barty stares at the elegent inked snake curling out of a skull, and a bone-deep desire stirs in his chest.

If he were to be given the Dark Mark, he would have to meet Lord Voldemort in person. He could be able, even for a moment, to sit at the feet of that man, the only one who’s ever noticed him. He could maybe even – touch him –

He looks at his own blank left forearm. The skin there is soft and pale, unmarked by quill-scratches, because he’s never written on himself. (Nobody has ever written on him, either. Barty tries not to think about that.) He imagines what a Dark Mark might look like. That he might be so intimately connected to his Lord Voldemort (and when did Lord Voldemort become his Lord Voldemort, anyway?).

He wants.


On his sixteenth birthday, Barty gives himself a present.

His father’s rules no longer matter to Barty. He has a better man to be loyal to now, a man who sends him letters and who actually cares, in his own Dark Lord way. So it does not matter if he writes on himself. Neither does it matter what soulmate may or may not see what he is about to do. After all, if they do exist, Barty reasons, they clearly don’t even want him, to never write to him.

The thought stings. He wraps himself in Lord Voldemort’s words until it goes away, thinking only of his Lord, not of any soulmates who abandon and ignore. He doesn’t need a soulmate, he tells himself, when he has Lord Voldemort.

With faintly shaking fingers, he dips his quill into the inkwell and starts to draw on himself.

It doesn’t look quite right. He’s not exactly an artist. But it’s certainly recogniseable – a skull vomiting up a snake.

Barty stares down at it, and something inside of him settles down. A tension he had not known he carried leaks from his bones as he imagines submitting himself to Lord Voldemort entirely – dedicating all that he is, his entire life, to one man.

Lord Voldemort is the only one who deserves it. Lord Voldemort is the only man he’d give it to.




His left forearm is tingling.

Voldemort spares a moment in the middle of an interrogation session to glance down at the offending arm, covered in robe as it is. The Auror in front of him, a missing person for about two days now, gasps as the torture curse lifts – spits blood to the floor.

“p-please,” he wheezes pitifully. “st – stop.”

Voldemort puts the thought aside in favor of the present moment. “Goodness, no,” he says, and smiles cruelly. “I’m afraid that was just a warm-up.”

Once he’s wiped the splatter of blood from his face and offered Nagini a limb, he writes down the information he’s gleaned. It matches the report he’s gotten from his Anonymous Informant closely enough that Voldemort chooses to consider it verified. After all, Anonymous Informant has not yet led him wrongly.

If the patterns hold, he should expect a new set of copied reports sometime soon, as well. Perhaps in his reply he ought to tighten the net a bit – offer Anonymous the option of officially swearing into his service. The small tidbits of information that Voldemort has been able to put together from the informant’s letters speak of a man (or possibly a woman, he corrects himself) who feels chronically underappreciated, who leaps at a kind word.

Voldemort can certainly do kind words – he knows plenty of them. But first, his arm, which has stopped tingling, but which still feels odd. As if part of it were not his own.

Warily, he rolls up his sleeve.

And stares.

What’s wrong?” Nagini hisses from the doorway, and Voldemort becomes aware he has been standing stock still for long minutes.

It can’t be.

It’s impossible.

He doesn’t have – !

But there it is. An inked facsimile of the Dark Mark upon his left arm, clearly not an accurate reproduction, and yet also clearly intended to be the Dark Mark. There is no doubt of that conclusion.

Voldemort did not put this here.

Is this a taunt? A threat? An indication that the person on the other end knows who Voldemort is? But how could they, at the same time? Has not Voldemort never even written? He has been ever watching, waiting, and when nothing appeared, not even that time – the one, lone time when he had allowed himself to desire it, allowed himself to hope –

A snarl takes his face, and Voldemort feels his heart plunge into rage. How dare they. How dare they ignore him, how dare they never reach out, how dare they discard him and only now contact him, in their fifties, as a taunt

He knocks over his chair and an inkwell in his shaking grab for a quill. His handwriting is jittery, for his hands won’t stop shaking – outrage, it’s outrage, nothing more – and skin is not a kind medium in any case.

What is the meaning of this?




Barty is lying on his bed, sleeve pulled back up over his pretend Mark and idly reading one of the few fiction books he’s finally allowed himself to take under his father’s nose, when his left arm tingles. And then it burns, faintly – the phantom scratch of a quill on his skin, reflected across miles.

He stares at the clothing.

No way – right?

But there, when he hastily rolls it up. A single phrase.

What is the meaning of this?

The writing is jagged, almost spiky. Its lines are wobbly, but he can’t tell if it’s from shaking hands or from the unfamiliarity of skin as a medium. Barty himself had had to start over on his pretend Mark a couple of times, before he got used to the strange drag of skin beneath his quill –

His soulmate?!

But the Mark –

Panicking, Barty scrambles from his bed and gropes blindly at his desk until he finds his wand. He casts an erasure charm upon the pretend Mark, feels sorrow as it goes. But the sentence remains – the sentence that his soulmate wrote.

Nothing! he scribbles hastily, letters even more wrecked and jittery than his soulmate’s. It’s nothing!

It’s most certainly not nothing, comes the response. Do you think me an idiot? That was the Dark Lord’s mark.

He’s torn between gleeful joy that he has a soulmate after all and terror that now he’s accidentally made contact, they’ll turn out to be devoutly dedicated to one of the many anti-Lord-Voldemort factions, and. And.

Barty feels like a traitor, like the meanest and most disgusting scum of the earth. But he can feel already that he won’t give up Lord Voldemort for the sake of a soulmate. Lord Voldemort has paid attention. Lord Voldemort responded when Barty reached out. Barty can forgive the man for not reaching out before, because before, of course he did not know Barty existed. But now that he does, and that Barty has reached out, Lord Voldemort responds. He acknowledges.

This soulmate did not even reach out. Soulmates are supposed to reach out – and Barty supposes that in all fairness he didn’t reach out either, but he had a reason. He was told he couldn’t – that first slap in his face never truly left him. He had a reason!

Yeah, he writes back. Might as well break that fragile, nonexistant connection before it has the slightest chance to form. It was.

Why?

I don’t want to talk about it.

(In a London townhouse not more than ten miles away from Barty’s current location, if located on the muggle side of the country, Voldemort frowns down at his arm and wishes he could reach through his own skin and grab whoever lies on the other side, to pull them here.)

Fine, scrawls itself across Barty’s arm. Keep your secrets. Don’t talk to me again.

He should just let it go. But his chest –

It hurts.

Why? he writes, fingers shaking until his words are barely worthy of the name. Why not? Why don’t you want me? What did I do?

As if I would “want” a person who has made their lack of interest abundantly clear. The handwriting shifts again. It’s even more jagged, as if to match his own. Forty fucking years, you utter bastard. How dare you. I have half a mind to –

It goes on. A long letter about all the curses that his soulmate will use on him if they should ever meet, and how much he will regret his existence. But Barty’s mind is stuck on that first statement – the one that doesn’t make any sense at all.

Forty years?? he asks on his other arm, switching the quill. Are – how old are you?

There is a long pause.

I am in my fifties, it comes, with a stiffness of line that speaks of rigidly controlled and selected words. Surely you can divine that much?

But – Barty writes, and the quill slips from his shaking fingers and leaves a splotch of ink all down his arm. His left forearm is still filled with threats and curses, and he’s so confused, but he thinks – he’s starting to wonder if a terrible, cruel joke has been played on him and his soulmate.

But what? is waiting for him when he finally gets the quill back to rights and into his hand.

But I’m only 15, he writes. (He’s not, technically. Technically it’s his birthday, and he’s 16 now, but that feels like too much to explain.)

Barty can feel the plaintiveness behind his own writing, and flinches away from it. His chest is raw – he feels scraped out. In his mind a story is writing itself without his consent, even as he stares at his arm and sees nothing more appear. Even as he finally has to change into his nightclothes, lie under his covers, and turn out the light.

His soulmate is in their fifties.

They’re old.

Almost all soulmates, Barty knows, are born within four or so years of one another. That way, by the time they’re old enough to really understand why a soulmate might be desirable, they can at least doodle to each other happily – at least, that’s the reasoning which is theorised by magical scholars. But –

When Barty’s soulmate was little, Barty wasn’t born. And if they’re in their fifties, then Barty continued not to be born, for – say his soulmate is 50 years old, at the stretchiest possible definition of ‘fifties’. Barty was born when they were 35, then.

For all of his soulmate’s childhood and teenhood, Barty wasn’t there. And their twenties, too. And probably most of their thirties. And –

Were they writing to him? Trying to reach out, met with nothing but silence? Barty never wrote because he wasn’t allowed, but he tries to imagine reaching out and receiving silence. Smooth skin never marked by anyone else’s quill. He imagines the utter dismay that he knows he would have felt – imagines stopping, soon, because his classmates are happily meeting their soulmate and embracing and he cannot have that either because magic did not give him a person just for him, or because the person he was given didn’t want him.

His soulmate stopped writing when nobody replied – Barty wasn’t born yet to reply. And of course they never wrote when Barty was born, because why would they know – and Barty never wrote on himself, because, because – !

In the dark, he hates his father, for perhaps the first time. It’s much easier than he would have expected.

What is he even thinking, he wonders, tears trickling down his cheeks in the darkness. He shouldn’t be bothering so much if he is going to drop his soulmate for Lord Voldemort. This rumination will only bring him more heartbreak. Yet a part of him, a part of him hopes so desperately that he thinks he will die from the force of it all.


Is it too much to ask, to wish that maybe, just maybe, he can have his Lord Voldemort and his soulmate both?


There’s another message on him when he wakes up in the morning. I’m sorry, you’re how old?

He wonders if his soulmate is awake yet. Maybe they’re at work. Maybe he shouldn’t bother them – but the urge is back. And he wants to try.

He rolls out of bed and stumbles to his desk, rubbing crumbs of sleep from his eyes. His quill’s feathering is crunched from all the shaking he did last night. For now, Barty can’t even care. He dips it in the inkwell and further underlines the 15 he wrote last night. Circles it, for good measure.

To his surprise an answer comes quickly.

Are you bloody serious.

Sorry?

My soulmate is a child?

I’m almost 16…

Almost in a mockery of Barty’s earlier method for emphasis, the word child is underlined more stringently and circled. A strange, wounded sounding laugh bubbles up from Barty’s chest.

I’m sorry, he writes again, because he is. He’s so sorry. I bet I didn’t answer you when you were little because I wasn’t born. That’s why you never wrote to me, right? You – He pauses in the middle of his sentence, quill pressed to his skin and searching for a phrase that isn’t ‘gave up’.

His soulmate saves him by answering. I did not write to you after I was 15 myself, yes. But that does not explain why you never gave me childhood doodles. Don’t children draw on themselves as a matter of course?

His breath catches in his throat. But he can’t lie. He won’t lie to his soulmate, in case this is real. In case this can be something, anything at all.

I wanted to, he writes. His hand shakes some, and he keeps his movements slow with the effort of forcing the words out. The pain, dulled by so many years of nothing, is as sharp again as the first time. But my – father. Said I couldn’t. I made a couple diamonds on my wrist once when I was 6 and he.

He can’t write it. He has to write it. He’s never said it aloud, but for this, he has to. Has to learn how to say it.

Hit me. And made me wash it off. I didn’t do it again.

There’s a long silence. Barty feels wrung out and exhausted, for all that he’s only been awake for perhaps an hour, if even that. He wants to crawl back into bed and cry and sleep forever.

Finally, his soulmate writes back.

I am going to kill your father.

He thinks that might be hyperbole. But he wonders if it isn’t, if he’d mind…

Only if I can watch, please.


In a way, it might just have been the best birthday of his entire life.


Throughout August, Barty sends reports to his Lord Voldemort. He gets back letters that tell him all about how well he’s doing, and the words inside those letters further soothe that deep, destructive ache inside his ribs, filling a hole that is no longer such a hole.

Somehow, he also writes to his soulmate. They haven’t mentioned the Dark Mark Incident again. Barty doesn’t wish to bring it up, for now, though he still knows he should – but instead he loses himself in the swell of wonder that is having a soulmate that he thought he didn’t have. He stays in his room, “studying” he tells his father, who only nods in satisfaction and leaves Barty alone to his few fiction books and his soulmate and his letters read and re-read.

Lord Voldemort is ever kinder every letter. He’s even offered Barty the opportunity to be sworn to his service, to receive that Mark, and Barty’s heart aches for the fact that he had to pretend his work did not allow him to hide it behind sleeves, and that he had to turn it down (but only, my Lord, only for that reason).

Barty’s soulmate is probably not kind. Whoever he is (I am a man, he told Barty when Barty asked, but then, soulmates are almost more often the same gender as each other anyway), his humor is almost always morbid. He speaks of murder often enough that Barty sometimes wonders how deadly serious he may or may not be. He has little patience for anyone acting foolish and very often complains about the people he works with at his job. Either they’re very incompetent, Barty thinks, or his soulmate has very high standards.

But he seems to like Barty. Enough. He does the favor of never again bringing up the Dark Mark Incident, and Barty lets it lie, because he’s weak, and because the mesmerizing sight of black ink running over his skin with no visible source is something he never realized he had craved. But crave he does, and he doesn’t want to lose this conversation.

Barty’s soulmate seems to like him, and to be very smart, too. They talk a lot about magical theory and arithmancy. Barty scratches out some basic spell frameworks he’s been working on and his soulmate makes notes on them in red ink, scrawls notes around them, says he’s impressive for his age.

He’s impressive for his age.

It’s a really good month.


Hogwarts? his soulmate asks on the afternon of the train ride back to the Hogwarts Express. Barty is sharing a compartment with some others – he doesn’t know them. But a silencing charm and a fuzziness ward means that he is left alone, the way he wants to be.

Yeah, he writes back.

What house are you in?

Ravenclaw.

There’s a short silence. But Barty’s grown used to these over the month, and knows that his soulmate writes to him while he’s at work. Sometimes he inevitably has to deal with work things. The man has carefully explained this to Barty – how his job has him on-call for roughly 24 hours every day, and how, while he enjoys his work, it means he has no strict schedule nor any demarcated leisure time. Barty understands this – he’s accepted that he won’t get attention immediately all the time. At the least, his soulmate has never left him alone with no reply for more than 24 hours, and Barty finds that this is more than enough for him.

How’s that, then? I was in Slytherin.

Barty perks up at the new information. He thinks about it even as he eagerly scrawls out a short account of Ravenclaw’s tower, and their riddle-dispensing eagle knocker. His soulmate went to Hogwarts, sometime forty or more years ago, and he was in Slytherin. He could look through old yearbooks, couldn’t he? Sort out the Slytherin boys from all the others… maybe even find his soulmate?

But his soulmate hasn’t offered his name, either, and Barty is, at heart, more eager to please than he is curious.

Can I look for you? he asks. In the yearbooks?

I’d much rather you did nothing of the sort.

Okay.

So Barty pointedly avoids that section of the library, during his first month back, until he forgets all about the temptation.


Lord Voldemort is charming, and even though Barty sent as many reports as he could in a massive envelope just before he returned to Hogwarts, Lord Voldemort is still willing to exchange letters with Barty. Yet as he continues in this correspondence, Barty starts to feel ill. His soulmate is growing more and more important to him, creeping into his ribs – and yet, Lord Voldemort remains the man who saw Barty first. The man who noticed him. The man who didn’t need him to be useful constantly, because he was competent.

But – his soulmate.

His soulmate, who magic says was made perfect for Barty, and Barty for him. His soulmate who talks to him every day. His soulmate who is witty and sharp-edged and so very, very funny for all his morbid moods. His soulmate who Barty has started to daydream about – what does he look like? Does he have blonde hair like Barty? Brown? Black, even? Is he tall? Barty rather hopes he’s tall – taller than Barty, at least. What sorts of robe styles does he like to wear? What colors? Barty knows his soulmate doesn’t have a favorite color, “except maybe black”, and he wonders if that informs the man’s wardrobe at all. He daydreams about a broad, black-robed chest and warm arms around him and feeling so very safe.


What will you do when you graduate? his soulmate asks him.

I don’t know, Barty says honestly. My father wants me to get a job in the Ministry like him. I don’t think he’ll let me do anything else, so…

He trails off, because the force of the realization is too much to bear.

Come live with me instead, the man writes on both of their arms. I’ll take care of you. So long as you never betray me in any way, I take good care of my things.

And Barty wants. Oh, Merlin, does he want. But he also wants –

I, he tries to write, and his quill falls to quivering before he can get further.

You?

He draws in a deep, deep breath, and does not cry for what he’s about to lose.

I would like that, he writes. But I want to – I’m sworn to take the Dark Lord’s Mark. At some point. And I’m going to do it. So if you don’t want –

He can’t say any more.

Sorry, he writes instead. But I have to. I have to.

In dull resignation, he stares down at his arm. The blank skin stays damningly blank, and Barty sniffles from behind his silenced dorm room curtains, imagining how it will never be anything but blank again. How he’s lost one of the only two good things in his entire life, and he will never be able to get it back.

But then again – it was a lie all along, wasn’t it? And he hasn’t lost both good things, after all. He still has his Lord Voldemort. His Lord Voldemort is still there for him. Lord Voldemort still writes him letters. Lord Voldemort still cares. Barty is still useful to Lord Voldemort.

He holds this certainty deep in his chest as he cries silently, and it is only by chance that he notices the dark ink wending its way along his other forearm.

Well, that isn’t going to be a problem.

It’s not a problem. When he scribbles the next words, his letters are disfigured and loopy.

It’s not a problem?

I’m rather more allied with the Dark Lord’s side of things than any other side, his soulmate writes. I admittedly don’t have the Mark, but it will cause me absolutely no problems should you take it. In fact I would prefer that you did.

His breath catches in his throat as he stares down at those glorious words, and he wonders how life can be so perfect.


Barty nearly dances through his winter exams. His Lord Voldemort has accepted giving him the Mark when he turns 17. His soulmate is allied with Lord Voldemort’s side. His soulmate doesn’t care that Barty will be Marked – wants him to be Marked, more like! The future stretches out before Barty in a path far brighter than the bleak, dictated Ministry future which Barty always saw before him until now. This summer, instead of going back to his father’s house, he’ll move in with his soulmate. They’ve made all the plans. His soulmate is going to pick him up at the train station. His father won’t be there to make a fuss, because his father expects Barty to be able to Floo home on his own. The man will probably be at work anyway.

But instead, Barty will meet his soulmate. He’ll go home with him. On his 17th birthday he’ll take his Lord’s Mark. Maybe he’ll go back to Hogwarts and maybe he won’t. His soulmate doesn’t seem to want him to. Barty tries not to bend before the force of will that the older man can show, even through writing on flesh, and always insists that he will need to obey whatever his Lord Voldemort thinks is best. So far, his soulmate has always seemed indulgent of this insistence, but in writing he’s agreed.

He’s so excited. He’s so excited.

Life is finally good. Barty hopes it will never stop being this good.


Figures that he makes a stupid mistake when he’s so elated.

At first he doesn’t know who his assailants are. Then he catches sight of the skull-like masks, and he knows not who they are as people, but what they mean. Lord Voldemort has found him. He hopes that it’s merely an action taken to finally pin down an unusually informed anonymous letter-writer – because he did, Barty realises as he blasts out the kneecap of one of the three Death Eaters, use his own personal owl this time. He immediately feels idiotic. His soulmate would most likely call him idiotic, if he knew. Barty can just imagine the scathing comment, even as he finally succumbs to a partially effective paralysation curse, and even as a pair of magic-suppressing cuffs are snapped around his wrists and a dark sack is shoved over his head.

Well, he thinks, as he recovers from the forced Portkey. At least it wasn’t a hit being taken out on the son of the Head of the DMLE. Barty would not put such action past his Lord Voldemort, and, not knowing what Barty knows about himself, he must admit that murdering Barty to send his father a message would be a perfectly sound strategy for Lord Voldemort to engage in.

He feels the faintest crawl of new ink against the skin of his left arm as he is shoved to his knees, and hopes his soulmate won’t be too angry for his delayed response. He thinks he might know where he is. He wants to be excited about it, but he still knows he might be here as Bartemius Crouch Junior, not as anonymous, helpful, useful, competent letter-writer.

For a moment, there is silence. He’s blind and helpless – his captors are still shoving him down, holding him still. Barty doesn’t struggle. He doesn’t see the point, and he wouldn’t know what to do, even if he did break free.

A door opens. There is a strange noise, something sussurrating against stone, and a faint tap of feet.

Barty holds his breath.

The hood is yanked away. It’s rough and quick, and Barty’s head is tugged upwards by the force of it. It’s not bright here, but his eyes still struggle for a moment to adjust to light again. Meticulously, he blinks it away, until he can see –

Oh.


Lord Voldemort is beautiful.

It is a beauty that far surpasses any man Barty has ever seen. Any woman, too – while Lord Voldemort is clearly a man, shoulders broad and chest flat beneath his robes, his figure is nevertheless more elegant than any mere human could ever be. He is garbed all in black, but his feet, in a curious display of diffidence, are bare and pale beneath the hems of his long robes, skin almost white. The silvery thread which makes up the only embellishment on those dark robes has been stitched all about the hems of his undersleeves in a series of triangles, and has somehow been partially tarnished so that only very rarely does it truly reflect any light.

Lord Voldemort wears a hood that obscures much of his face. Yet Barty thinks he might see prominent cheekbones in the way that the shadows fall upon the lower half of that face. He thinks he might see a classic, aristocratic nose – thinks he might see the faintest hint of dark hair.

But for all the beauty and elegance of this man, his eyes are without a doubt his most arresting feature. Lord Voldemort’s eyes are bright, shining red, so brilliantly vibrant that they pierce through the shadows beneath his hood and sweep unerringly across the room. Barty cannot bear to even be thought rude when they finally move to meet his own, and so he bows his head as respectfully as he can manage in his forced kneel.

“Pleased to meet you, my Lord,” he murmurs in the silence of it all, and feels right.

This was, and still remains, the man for whom Barty would give up his soulmate. (He probably will not have to, Barty knows now. But looking upon the magnificence that is Lord Voldemort, he knows without a doubt that he would. There was never any chance of a question about this.)

There’s a rustling of robes just behind him, as Lord Voldemort finally speaks – and his voice is so wonderful, rich without being terribly deep, for a man, that Barty nearly loses himself in merely the sound of it without even concentrating on what the man – on what his Lord – wants to say to him.

“Oh?” is what he starts with. Then he goes on, with a quiet, “Am I your Lord, indeed?”

It sounds rhetorical. Barty thinks, if he knows anything from his letters with Lord Voldemort, that he at least knows something of his Lord’s speaking style. Therefore he says nothing aloud in reply, but he does bow his head a bit lower, and holds himself still.

“Imagine my surprise,” Lord Voldemort finally says after another silence, “to find my favorite anonymous informant is none other than a 16 year old boy. But then,” he goes on, voice affecting a strange lilt that Barty wonders at the meaning of, even as he basks in it, “you’re hardly any old anonymous 16 year old boy, are you, Barty Crouch Junior?”

He flinches at his full name. He can’t help himself. When Lord Voldemort continues, there is a cruel sort of tone to his voice. “What’s the matter, boy? Perhaps you foolishly thought you could continue to be anonymous?”

“No, my Lord,” Barty whispers, gaze still locked on the floor. It is the truth – the thought of hiding himself hasn’t even crossed his mind. “I just really hate my name.”

Another pause.

“Do you now?”

This time the pause is one of waiting for a reply, so Barty hurries to do so. He explains how his father’s name is given to him also – how it creates for him a personality that isn’t truly his. It turns into a conversation, somehow, all about Barty – his life, his choices, why he is here. It’s the first time in so very, very long that he’s been allowed to just – talk. He can’t even think of censoring himself from Lord Voldemort, either, so from his lips fall all his secrets the moment his Lord demands them of him. It feels wonderful – makes him feel lighter and freer than he has ever felt before.

In the back of his mind, he knows very well that his Lord Voldemort is making him converse to get at any possibility of deception that Barty might be hiding. This is an interrogation dressed up in the social niceties of a conversation. But Barty finds he isn’t at all bothered. After all, he has nothing to hide. He has always acted in isolation, and without being unduly influenced. What he wants is right out there in the open. He is not ashamed of it or regretful. And so he speaks – spreading all that is himself out on the floor before his Lord Voldemort, letting the man judge Barty for himself, to use him however he wishes.

When finally Lord Voldemort sits back in thought, Barty is surprised to feel the cuffs clicking behind him. They fall harmlessly from his wrists, and he looks around, bewildered, before he can think that this may not be a good idea.

“So, Barty,” Lord Voldemort says, and Barty’s attention is immediately recaptured entirely. “What will you do now that we have had this little chat?”

What will he do? He supposes he could go home. He could continue to send reports. He could continue on with the new plans for his life, meeting his soulmate. Living with him. Taking his Lord’s Mark at 17 – but.

But he is here. He is here now. Barely has this thought passed his mind before Barty is holding out his left arm, clothed though it still is.

“Please,” he begs. “Please, let me serve you.”

Lord Voldemort stares down at him. His piercing red eyes, cold and calculating and brilliantly intelligent, drill down into Barty’s soul. He struggles to hold that gaze, and probably fails – but he begs, as much as he can with only his eyes, to be given this gift. All he’s ever wanted in his life is to have something worthy to dedicate himself to. To be useful and appreciated. Lord Voldemort is the only man who’s ever given that feeling to him, and so Barty is certain now. He will have no other master. No other human could possibly measure up, could ever hope to compare. He will serve Lord Voldemort, with everything he has, and then finally his life will have meaning. He will be complete, in a way that even a soulmate could not fully complete him.

Lord Voldemort stands from the ornate chair he’s been seated in. Moves across the stone floor with quick strides that Barty leans into rather than away from, and reaches down to take Barty’s extended wrist and yank it up.

“Will you?” he says, as Barty merely hangs there, practically speechless and quite unable to move. His arm hurts, faintly, as the socket is tugged at. He does not move to ease it. This, too, feels right – that he should be completely open to however his Lord wishes him to move his body. “How do you envision this service, Barty?”

“Anything,” he says, staring up at those red, red eyes. His body feels heavy, and yet he feels apart from himself. He does not look away. It’s no longer difficult to meet Lord Voldemort’s eyes. He feels he could get lost in them, and in the center of those red irises, perhaps, find peace. “I would do anything you ask of me, my Lord. Anything at all.”

Those thin lips tilt into something Barty thinks might be a smile. “Anything? Quite broad of you.”

“If you want me to go back and get you more reports, I’ll do it,” Barty says. It feels like an oath, for all the weight that he places into the words. “If you want me to kill my father, I’ll do it. If you want me to go back to Hogwarts and convert others, I’ll do it. If you want me to lay low and do nothing until further notice, then I’ll do it. Why would I know what needs to be done? I’m not the Lord. You are.”

It is a smile, he thinks with joy, as the hand on his wrist grows gentler. Turns his arm over and plucks gently at the hem of his tunic sleeve, and Barty suddenly remembers what is under there.

“Oh,” he says. “I’m sorry, my Lord, I forgot I have some soulmate letters there. Do you need me to erase them?”

The fingers don’t pause in the act of rolling up his sleeve for him. The Dark Lord’s fingertips are like fire on Barty’s skin, pumping warmth into him that he had never before realized he needed, when he had spent his whole life cold. “There is no need,” Lord Voldemort says. “My Mark does not show up on a soulmate, and is impervious to ink from…”

His fingers tighten on Barty’s arm. He doesn’t finish what he was going to say. Barty can’t see what Lord Voldemort is looking at – he only hopes that his soulmate’s most recent message, that one he wasn’t able to read because he was busy being kidnapped, doesn’t say something appalling. He wouldn’t think his soulmate could say anything his Lord would find appalling, but – he just doesn’t know.

“Hah,” Lord Voldemort finally whispers, impossibly softly.

Barty takes a breath, and tries to calm down. His resolve is rewarded when he sees something in Lord Voldemort’s eyes harden, and in a flash, that pale wand comes up. The tip of it touches the skin at the inside of Barty’s elbow, and then traces down, in glorious, wide curves, as Lord Voldemort – his Lord, his master, Barty thinks giddily – hisses softly. An incredibly dark magic gathers in the air, settles on Barty’s skin, digs into his very veins. He feels it tugging on his own magic, implanting itself in him, and he knows that this must be the point where so many others report pain. He senses, if he recoils from the foreign sensation of another’s magic upon his own, he will be in agony.

But Barty can’t imagine why he would ever want to recoil. He’s already sworn himself, and so he welcomes it into him. His blood seems to hum in his veins, and the giddiness swells. His heart sings. When he comes back to himself he’s slumped on the floor, and he feels drunk and stupidly happy.

He looks around. The Death Eaters who captured him are gone. Lord Voldemort – his Lord, his master – is standing a few steps away, back to him. His Lord is fiddling with something held before his chest, that Barty cannot see, and so he sits back and waits patiently, feeling more content than he ever has before in his life.

There’s an itching on his left palm. Because his Lord is still facing away, Barty chances to glance down, and sees a neat and cursive Hello forming.

It’s unusual enough that Barty frowns down at it before he can stop himself. His soulmate never begins with salutations. He merely moves right to business. It’s a bluntness that Barty appreciates, because he never has to guess if his soulmate is trying to get at something subtly. Instead, the man just asks, and Barty can answer. It’s remarkably pain-free interaction, but it means that his soulmate has no reason to be writing ‘Hello’ like this. And on the palm, too… They don’t usually write on each other’s palms.

“Give me your arm again,” Lord Voldemort says. Barty looks up, startled, but dutifully holds it out the moment he can find the right muscles he needs to command. He catches a glimpse of that glorious Mark as he does, and another wave of contentment rolls over and around him like a gentle, soft blanket.

He will be such a good servant, he promises himself. Lord Voldemort will always know he can depend upon Barty, of all Death Eaters. He is ever so ready to serve. It’s all he was made for.

He’s so busy with his giddy promises to himself that part of him doesn’t even realise what is going on when Lord Voldemort turns Barty’s left palm to him, and holds his own left palm up in the same position.

“Funny,” the Dark Lord says, in a voice that is nothing like the voice he’s been using during their previous conversation. “I’ve always wondered how that works. There’s really a terrible dearth of research on the subject of the anatomical mechanics.”

Barty blinks, and feels very confused. Lord Voldemort is looking down at him, now, a strange expression reflected in those red, red eyes. But then it leaves, or rather, recedes a bit – his mouth twists, wry, an expression further than Barty’s yet seen on him.

A hand goes up, and the Dark Lord pushes back his hood.

He was right, at least, about the dark hair. Part of it falls across the left of the man’s forehead in a wave that looks effortless. Barty would have no problem believing it were effortless. His cheekbones are prominant, cutting into his face as if his sculptor had been heavy-handed, and yet the effect doesn’t render him hollow-looking, If anything he is only more beautiful with this – his eyes are almond shaped, and his neck is slender beneath the high collar and gathered hood of his clothing.

“You silly child,” he says, in a tone entirely too light for the abject awe and bewilderment that Barty feels now. “Look.”

And a pale palm is presented to him, Hello inked onto skin.

Barty –

Stares.

Time has halted for him and him alone, carrying his thoughts away with the rest of the world for whom the sun still moves. He traces the impossible lines of that Hello – his soulmate’s writing, because by now, of course Barty is familiar with how his soulmate writes. But of course, he slowly marvels, writing on skin is ever so different from writing on parchment. The texture is different – but not only that. Skin is loose and stretchy where parchment is firm and solid enough, ignoring how thin it is. Quills need to be held differently to write on skin. It distorts handwriting and it is why children are taught not to try and identify their soulmate by the handwriting –

In a strange and impossible dream, Barty lifts his own right hand. Hello stares back at him. He looks up. Hello. Back down. Hello.

“Oh,” he whispers, and feels himself begin to tremble.

Here he had thought he was worthless. Here he had thought he was scum for knowing he would give up his soulmate for the sake of pleasing Lord Voldemort, when really, all along, he’d been ever so blessed, to have –

He can’t even think it.

“Can – can it just be summer now?” he asks, instead. His words are choked and strangled, but the force of everything has utterly destroyed him. He’d thought his 16th birthday was one of the best days of his life, but what a fool he’d been. What a fool he was. Today, today is the day when all his dreams are really going to come true. Have already come true.

“Ah,” Lord Voldemort says – his Lord, his master, his soulmate – and looks pleased. Barty feels himself melting to see that expressions. He wants more expressions – wants to know what Lord Voldemort looks like when he laughs. When he kills. When he’s asleep. Oh, Merlin, when he’s asleep. “I was hoping you would be amenable. It very much can be.”

The smile that grows on Barty’s face then is going to break his face from the force of it. He’s never felt so light. “Yes, please,” he whispers, and his body sings as he takes – his Lord’s, his master’s, his soulmate’s hand.

He’s the luckiest boy in the whole world.