Harry James Potter is born in a Muggle hospital because it isn't safe to go to Saint Mungo's anymore – a squashed little newborn already with messy black hair, sticky and thin but ruffled in every direction, and with a neat cursive scrawl exactly over his heart.
“Must be one of those weird Eastern European languages,” the Muggle nurse says to their coworker as they write the time and date – the last few minutes of July 31st, 1980.
“Mmm,” the other nurse replies. “Lucky little bugger, though. It's probably not going to be every day that somebody runs up to you and says 'Avada Kedavra'. Whatever that means.”
Harry was too small to remember how his mother screamed when she saw his chest; he was too young to remember how his father came running and collapsed against the wall; how in the first few months of his life, Lily and James sobbed themselves dry. Lily woke up crying for months; James would cry randomly, at any point during the day in sporadic bursts. And it never really got better, because while with every day the shock was less, with every day they loved him more.
Harry doesn't remember how his mother used to hold him tight and mumble under her breath like a broken prayer: “Please, please, please. Let him live. Take me instead. He doesn't deserve this, not my baby. Please, please, please.”
Harry doesn't remember how his father's laughs would suddenly hitch in his throat sometimes, like he was choking. Harry doesn't remember how it felt to reach his tiny hands up, under the glasses, to touch the glistening tears on his father's face as James Potter held him tight and cried.
Harry doesn't remember how a man with long black hair used to hold him tight and tell him quietly, “You gotta live, pup. It's gonna kill them if you don't... it's gonna kill me if you don't. Pup, you gotta live – for them, you gotta live.”
Harry doesn't remember the night where his father - so young and so terrified - yelled for them to run, and charged wandless towards death for them to have only a few slivers of time. Harry doesn't remember the night where his mother - brilliant and beautiful and barely more than a girl - begged and pleaded and sobbed and snarled at the figure in black.
Sometimes Harry dreams of it though.
Especially the high, cold laugh and the bright flash of green light.
Harry asked his aunt what the words on his skinny chest meant exactly once.
“Nothing, it's pure rubbish,” Aunt Petunia answered with a snap. “Don't ask questions.”
Don't ask questions, Harry learned that lesson quickly. There wasn't room for anything abnormal on Privet Drive, especially not the freak Potter boy and his freaky soulmark, and decent people didn't have to answer stupid questions about that sort of thing.
Decent people, the Dursleys told him, had normal soulmarks with normal words on them. Decent people married their “soulmates”, which they had exactly one of and who were also decent, normal people. Harry, by many Dursley standards, didn't qualify as normal, decent people.
(He would later learn that some of the Dursleys didn't either. While Petunia gossiped about their neighbors' various inappropriate soumarks, she never showed her own. Vernon had Petunia's words – Harry learned this when Aunt Marge (who didn't have a soulmark) came over and got too deep into the brandy again – but Petunia didn't have Vernon's.
“I lost a sister,” Petunia says when he's seventeen, before she leaves Privet Drive. She doesn't say anything more and doesn't show him, but Harry can see the way her fingers rub over the shoulder where he knows her soulmark is. He doesn't have to be told.
Snape's memories confirm everything for him anyway in the end.)
Harry Potter is eleven years old when he finds out that he's not a freak, he's magic.
He's a kid with messy black hair and bright green eyes – his father's face and hair, Hagrid tells him; his mother's eyes, the giant says – and a neat, cursive scrawl over his heart. And that heart is finally filled with hope. Wizards are more flexible about abnormality and soulmarks and “soulmates”, Hagrid tells him so when the subject comes up on their way back to shore. Finally, Harry thinks momentarily, here is somewhere for him to belong and be normal.
Except, even here, he's not normal. He's Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, and there isn't a child in this world who doesn't know his name. The hopeful feeling starts to feel a little fluttery by the time they reach the Leaky Cauldron. He feels so lost when the boy with the silver-blond hair talks at him, giving him a funny look when he answers with only monosyllabic words. By the time they've left Ollivander's, there's a cold feeling to Harry's hope.
Harry asked what the words on his skinny chest meant exactly once to this kind, fumbling giant man who was not bright in mind perhaps, but wonderfully warm in heart.
“Where'd'ya hear that?” Hagrid demands, red and flustered, wiping away spilled ice cream with a massive handkerchief. “Who said that to you?”
“Nobody,” Harry replies quietly, because it's true as far as he can remember. “It's just something I overheard somebody talking about.” Because that's true as far as he can remember too, his aunt and uncle argued about him sometimes and his soulmark came up more than once.
The giant man takes this for the truth, and he blusters and fumbles for a bit before deciding that Harry probably ought to know. He's already told Harry the story of You-Know-Who and why everybody calls him the Boy-Who-Lived, and it's not a stretch for Hagrid to believe that somebody in Diagon Alley might mention the incantation of the Killing Curse when the only person in the world who's survived it walks by.
Harry never asks anyone about his soulmate again.
He doesn't have to after that.
“Don't ask questions,” Aunt Petunia had often snapped.
He wishes he'd listened.
Celebrities often have trouble with soulmarks and “soulmates”. Great and influential people influence a great number of people, after all. Harry Potter is the Boy-Who-Lived and, unbeknownst to him, the man who will win the war against Voldemort – he will make his mark on a great many souls without ever realizing it.
By the time Harry has arrived at Hogwarts, he has met two people who have words from him - four, actually, but two of them don't tell him - and he has words from none of them.
The first is a boy with ferociously bright red hair, who eagerly rolls up his sleeve to show Harry's words on his left bicep (“Yes, but I can't remember it.” ); the second is a girl with bushy brown hair, who squeals loudly and pulls down her sock to show him his introduction on her right ankle (“Harry Potter.” ).
Ron and Hermione, as he learns in these same moments, also have words from each other. Ron has “Has anyone seen a toad? Neville's lost one.” on his other bicep and Hermione has “We've already told him we haven't seen it.” on her other ankle. It takes them a few moments to realize it, and by that time they've already antagonized each other enough to send Hermione off in a huff and for Ron to spend the next good while in a grump.
Harry has nothing to show either of them.
(Harry will later learn, during what should have been his seventh year, about the third person he said a soulmark to that day. When he breaks into Hogwarts to find the diadem, Neville will pull Harry aside and lift his shirt to show Harry the words on his hip. (“He'll turn up.” )
“I know you were talking about Trevor at the time,” Neville says with a wry smile, so very different from the tearful, pudgy boy that Harry spoke to on the train once upon a time, “but it gave me hope, and... well... here you are. You're my friend, Harry. We're with you 'til the end.”
Harry will never learn about the last person he put words on that he spoke to that day. He'd spoken to them before this day on the Hogwarts Express, but ironically the first thing he said to them was the same. A single, monosyllabic word that left the wearer in doubt/confusion/frustration for years to come if Harry even was the right person, because the soulmark simply said “Yes.” while Harry kept on saying no to everything that Draco had to offer him.)
Harry eventually gets used to the fact that he leaves marks on people wherever he goes (Dean Thomas, Katie Bell, Colin Creevey, Dobby, the list goes on and on of the people who will later say - or won't - that Harry Potter gave them courage and light in the darkest of places...), although the idea still unsettles him when he stops to think about it.
Hemione researched soulmarks like she researched everything, and there's a long history of influential figures leaving marks on the people they meet.
“V-v-volde-m-mort,” she says in a shaky whisper, “left words on half of the followers he left in Azkaban -” (Bellatrix Lestrange for one, they'll both later learn.) “- and many of his victims.”
Harry isn't sure what to feel about that.
He doesn't tell anyone about his mark; it's not hard to make sure he always gets changed facing a wall so nobody can see his heart. There are potions and spells that Hermione is only too happy to provide him with, no questions asked despite the knowing and curious look in her eye, that cover up soulmarks temporarily when the Second Task comes up.
He already hates being the Boy-Who-Lived-While-His-Parents-Didn't enough, he doesn't want to talk about what it's like to know in theory that a murdering maniac made the most important/influential mark on his soul. Harry can't even bring himself to think about the fact that it's true, so he definitely doesn't want to talk about what it's like for his "soulmate" to continuously ruin his life again and again and again an-
When Voldemort has risen again and Dumbledore won't meet his eyes and the whole wizarding world seems to have turned against him, Harry thinks that he rather has the right to be angry. He wants answers and no one will give them to him; he wants justice for Cedric Diggory and there's nothing; he wants someone to just listen to him and actually understand instead of looking at him like he's crazy or - even worse - like he's pitiful.
"I didn't ask for this!" Harry wants to scream at all of their disbelieving faces. He doesn't want to be the Boy-Who-Lived or Voldemort's Enemy or a celebrated hero or whatever they think he wants to be so that he's lying for attention. He barely manages to avoid ripping down the collar of his shirt to show them his soulmark and ask them how'd they like it having a soulmate like his, who casts the Killing Curse at him every time they meet.
When Umbridge makes him carve new words into his hand, blood red and stinging with blatant, joyful cruelty, Harry despises her for it. The universe must be conspiring against him to make him wear the hatred of such terrible people on his skin and he wants to scream at the unfairness of it all - like the spoiled little brat that Snape thinks he is. He doesn't scream, though, he grits his teeth and bears it.
Hermione and Ron are horrified at the mockery Umbridge has made of something so important on his hand. Outraged at the mark she's forcing him to carve into his skin. Hermione is insistent that he go to Professor Dumbledore, but Harry refuses. He's had worse and there are worse things to worry about. It's a little thing compared to something like the Cruciatus Curse at the hands of Lord Voldemort and he won't give Umbridge the satisfaction of the forced bow she wants. Voldemort, fine, he couldn't stop that one, but hell will freeze over before he submits to this cruel, pink toad.
It's not like his soulmark was actually worth enough to him that this fake one somehow ruins it anyway. At least this one he made himself, in his own handwriting, by his own hand. ("I must not tell lies." ) There are worse things to have written on your skin, no matter how much of a violation Ron and Hermione insist the Blood Quill is. Oh, he's angry, but when is he not these days?
(And when he reclaims the words completely for his own, in the hateful faces of Dolores Umbridge and Rufus Scrimgeour, both pushing their positioning and posing in his face and him pushing their corruption and pettiness right back at them, he feels like he's on top of the whole damn world. He takes the words and turns them back and oh, does it feel great.)
In fifth year, when Sirius falls through the Veil, Harry thinks he feels a tiny piece of him go with his godfather. This is war, after all, he finally realizes, and that last scrap of hope - that maybe it'll all be okay, maybe things won't change entirely, maybe he'll be able to live a nice, quiet life somewhere with his godfather (somewhere nice, somewhere they could both see the sky) without having to face and fight and win against that terrible, inhuman face because he's just a boy, you know - rips itself off something vital in Harry's heart and flutters miserably after Sirius Black.
Later, he'll mourn. He'll cry and cry and cry for the loss of the strongest connection he had to his parents. He'll toss away all those dreams of happy Christmases and celebrated birthdays and Sirius walking into Hogwarts as a free man just to watch Harry play (and win) a Quidditch match - cheering and clapping and later telling Harry all sorts of stories about James' best games and most hilarious broomstick accidents. He'll put aside those dreaming thoughts and instead mourn for missed chances and almost happiness.
So many stories he might never hear now. He doesn't even know if Sirius had a soulmark or a soulmate.
But for now, he rips himself out of Remus' restraining arms and chases after her mocking laughter. He goes with unforgiveness as in his heart as on it, and an Unforgivable on his lips, because people keep taking everything from him and something has to give. There's so much pain in him that he cannot contain it - he doesn't want to contain it; he wants to let it out.
He's fifteen. He's fifteen years old and he's never cast an Unforgivable in his life - never considered it - never wanted to.
But no magic has ever so easily fallen from his wand.
Voldemort's possession is almost indescribable. Harry gets that unhinging thing that was mentioned before. It feels like there a balance inside his head/heart/soul/mind and it's tipping towards a dark chasm from which there's no escape. His heart is beating like it might burst. But as terrifying as it is and as outmatched as Harry is, he refuses to fall. He refuses to let his bloody, murderous soulmate take this from him too. Connections go both ways.
Voldemort's already made his mark on Harry's life - on his soul. He doesn't get Harry's head or heart. Not. One. Bit.
In sixth year, as Harry learns about the broken boy named Tom Marvolo Riddle and his descent into Lord Voldemort, Harry notes a single dark word in a familiar, scratching scrawl on the back of the dark lord's neck. (If there are other soulmarks on Voldemort, then they are not anywhere visible.) Harry has seen this word before, in the graveyard (although he hadn't really been paying attention then) and in his visions, and he thinks in disgust that the murderer deserves a mark like that.
In his seventh year that wasn't, at the end of all things, Harry feels pity for the broken boy – the broken man – who had to live out a miserable, loveless life with that word on his neck. The dark inside him is more tempting than Harry would admit to, because it's so powerful and simple and right there in easy reach, and he's not certain which way he would have gone with the soulmate he has without his friends. With the beginning he had, with that mark, maybe Tom Riddle never stood a chance.
It isn't until the white place, the one that could have been King's Cross Station, that Harry finally makes the connection.
Dumbledore greets him with a relieved smile and sorry eyes, and Harry sees him finally as a tired, old, and fallible man who blamed himself for the creation of two dark lords and could not even bring himself to beg of Harry forgiveness for his follies because he did not believe he deserved it. All those months of anger, especially from when Rita Skeeter wrote her book announcing Dumbledore's words on Grindelwald and Grindelwald's on Dumbledore, leaves Harry completely during that conversation.
Harry forgives, even though he knows it might be undeserved, because he's tired of hating.
Regarding that tiny creature, the barest sliver of soul, Harry realizes why the word on Voldemort's neck seemed so familiar. The scratching scrawl matched that of the white letters on the back of Harry's hand; the word pulled him back into his memories to a small boy shouting at a face on the back of a head.
(“Don't be a fool,” snarled the face. “Better save your own life and join me... or you'll meet the same end as your parents... They died begging me for mercy...”
“LIAR!” Harry shouted suddenly.)
It's the first word that Harry Potter ever said to Voldemort.
Harry might have been angry once upon a time – he might have been furiously frustrated with the complex games that Fate seemed to like to play with him – but now he only has pity for his enemy and a tiredness in his soul. Self-fulfilling prophecies are terrible things. Oh, how he and Tom have done a number on each other, it seems.
It might have been funny once upon a time, if it wasn't so very, very sad.
"Avada Kedavra!" Voldemort cries shrilly, as it feels he has countless times before.
There is no recognition in his eyes, only gritted teeth and sick glee as he turns the Elder Wand on the Master of Death... and then there is fear when it turns back on him. When his curse turns on him and the both of them watch it hit with wide eyes. Harry does not (refuses to) turn away. There is so very little soul left in that gaunt husk known as Voldemort and Harry can do nothing as that last bit of what was once Tom Marvolo Riddle fades from those red eyes already rolling back.
Harry's "soulmate" dies - as quickly and easily as falling asleep; in the blink of an eye - and Harry will be left forever wondering if Voldemort even knew - ever suspected what they were to each other.
For neither can live while the other survives.
It will just be another question on the long list of things that Harry will never know, it seems.
Voldemort falls to the ground in an oh-so-mortal thump of corpse, that last bit of green light fading away, the Elder Wand clattering to the floor from unholding hands, and that once-terrifying face now a rather mundane and vacant-looking mask. He's dead. Dead.
And it marks the end of them, Harry realizes with near-unbearable relief. He's dead. This is the end of Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, and the Dark Lord Voldemort. It's over; it's finally, thankfully over. They're done.
Without thought, Harry's hand comes up to cover his heart and the words above it as his chest swells with air like it he has never been able to breathe until now.
(First words and last, he will realize later, then decide that it's probably fitting. Somehow.
Take the words and turn them back.)
And then that shivering second of silence ends and with a formless overbearing tumble of feeling, the world screams in joy for the death of horrible man.
When Harry falls in love with Ginny – after the war is long over, Voldemort is long dead, and they've finally taken the time and years to talk – he worries so desperately about what she'll think about his mark. Despite how he hasn't seen the Dursleys in a few years now (although he and Dudley have sent each other a few awkward, stilted Christmas cards), they still made their own mark of sorts on him.
What does it say about Harry that, out of all the people who love him and adore him and bear his words, he only has words from the broken madman who destroyed countless lives? There are other people with words from Voldemort and Death Eaters - there are so many people who have mark after mark from war - but Harry is the Boy-Who-Lived and he has never been treated as just another person... just another victim.
He is the Boy-Who-Lived and the Man-Who-Won and he has “Avada Kedavra” over his heart from a murderer.
Eventually, Harry breaks down entirely and tells Ginny the truth. He sobs and cries because the most influential person in his life is that because he nearly killed everyone Harry ever loved. Ginny cries too, listening to Harry talk and hugging him close until he has no words or tears left. She assures him that he's not alone, he's so very much not alone and she understands completely, she understands perfectly.
“It's okay, it's okay. Harry, I love you. Harry, I understand. I love you no matter what. It's okay, it's okay, I love you. Do you remember the diary? I understand, Harry. Look."
Then she pulls up her shirt and shows him the words on the right side of her rib cage: “Hello, Ginny. My name is Tom.”