When Harry is ten and three quarters, he gets the mark of his soulmate. Like most children his age, it’s a common time to present and the scorching etch of the words on his wrist burns like victory.
Harry races to his cupboard under the stairs, the mail at the doorway forgotten, and locks himself in the dimly lit closet. He pulls off the misshapen woollen jersey swamping his small frame and brings his left wrist close to his glasses, squinting through the warped frames.
In beautiful, careful, concise cursive that belongs to the steady hand of his soulmate, Harry reads the words scrawled in acid green. He spells out the unfamiliar words slowly, lips moving silently as he works his way through the jumble of syllables and his fingers gently caress the raised letters. Harry doesn’t know what they mean, but they're the words his soulmate will say to him when they meet for the first time. And, for that reason alone, the words are beautiful.
When Harry turns eleven years old, he is visited by a very large man. The large man has to find Harry in the middle of a storming bay with his increasingly harried relatives, of whom the very large man quickly dismisses with a booming threat and a wayward curse.
Harry learns he’s a wizard, enjoys wizarding cuisine (which is very much like normal British food with a whimsical twist, to his delight), and goes on a wizard’s shopping trip.
The adventure is fun, if a little overwhelming, and Harry feels most strange when purchasing a wand from an odd shopkeeper in an even odder, ancient wand shop. For some reason, the wand in his hand feels like the words on his wrist. A little tingly, a dash nerving, and a pinch bittersweet.
Just as Harry and the very large man named Hagrid are wrapping up the excitement for the day with a late afternoon snack, Harry shows the giant his mark, asking if Hagrid knows what it means.
Hagrid goes very still, very pale, and his eyes well up with tears. Hagrid wraps Harry’s wrist quickly with a spare handkerchief the man pulls from his massive coat, spells the crumpled fabric to bind to little Harry’s wrist (with his large umbrella, no less), then pulls Harry’s misshapen jumper sleeve quickly over the tied band.
“Yer not to tell anyone of this, child,” the man whispers, glancing around the dim pub-light of The Leaky Cauldron. After the booming conversation they had enjoyed all day, Hagrid’s trembling whisper scares Harry to his core. “Never let anyone know, ‘arry.”
It’s in this moment that Harry realizes perhaps his words aren’t so beautiful after all.
It is very rare for one’s soulmate to not be very nice to them. At least, that is what Harry used to think. Now, Harry’s not so sure. He wonders why the universe would send a person a soulmate who will be cruel or mean to them. But everyone has a soulmate, something that is stated very clearly in every history book, so Harry realizes that perhaps, sometimes, people simply get the short straw of the draw. Even mean people have soulmates. Harry thinks this maybe applies to him.
But Harry has always had somewhat unfortunate luck, so part of him is glad that he has ended up with a bad soulmate, if only to protect someone else who may have otherwise had them. Harry knows he is strong; he’s had to be in order to survive the Dursleys. And he acknowledges that he may not be a genius, but he’s adaptable and a quick study on his feet. So Harry gets to work. He needs to learn how to defend himself, even from someone he is destined to call family.
Harry learns quickly that the words on his arm are a spell, but they are not in any book he can find. Harry takes Hagrid’s words to heart, though, and does not ask the stern librarian for permission to the restricted section.
The words burn sometimes in class. Harry’s scar burns too, something it has not done before attending Hogwarts. Harry wonders if it has something to do with the school, or with magic, or a particular person. It happens in Defense class, sometimes, but it also happens during meals and when he’s alone in the library and can’t see anyone else around.
School is bright and overwhelming and exciting in all ways. Harry finds navigating this new world to be tiring but Harry would gladly shoulder all struggles in order to stay in Hogwarts instead of a cupboard under the stairs, rude insults from Professor Snape and evil caretaker cats included. Harry finds a mirror and, in this mirror, he sees his parents and a blurry, indecipherable shape of a person in the far distance of the reflection. Dumbledore tells Harry what the mirror does and the knowledge of his subconscious drawing forth his soulmate as his own deepest desire, even if just in the distance of his mind, turns Harry off from returning to the dangerous reflection.
Harry visits Hagrid often, as the man is kind and generous and the only person who knows his mark. Hagrid assures Harry that he’s not told anyone, though Hagrid recommends he tell the headmaster. But part of Harry isn’t ready for another person to look at him the way Hagrid had that one day, the memory etched deep and painful, so he nods and tells the large, kind man that he’ll think on it.
Harry changes the haggard hanky to black ink on the underside of his wrists, stuck with a tattooing charm that conceals his soulmate’s words with simplistic ease. It’s a common charm, used by those who wish to keep the soulmark private from prying eyes. His secret should last a few years yet, Harry thinks.
Harry discovers in the worst of ways that the turbaned professor is Voldemort. When Voldemort disintegrates in his hands, his soulmark burning hotter than even the scorching agony of his scar, Harry knows the truth, knows what Voldemort is. Can feel it in his bones and the sear of his mark. Harry trembles and cries as his soulmate crumbles in his hands, a soulmate he can’t touch nor love, a soulmate who would see him die for an enchanted rock hidden in a cursed mirror.
The taste of ash coats his tongue for weeks after.
Harry is not sure if Voldemort knows their connection but, either way, Voldemort certainly seems to have a problem with Harry. In Harry’s second year, things quickly go downhill. He finds a secret friend he can write to, though he does not confide the truth of his mark nor the identity of his soulmate, as it terrifies him to put it into writing – even if the words disappear the moment he spells them out. Harry cannot face the rejection he saw in Hagrid eyes from another person, even if it is just from an enchanted book.
Then Harry is chasing down a lost Ginny with a frightened friend and a revolting phony of a professor and he discovers that his close friend is Voldemort. A young shade of Voldemort, at least. Harry is itching to see the words etched on his counterpart’s wrist, and nearly manages to do so. But Harry has to kill his soulmate (again, Harry’s mind whispers treacherously) to save an innocent girl.
Harry stabs the diary, sobbing and trembling, a feeling of horrid déjà vu striking his memory and he keeps stabbing and stabbing and stabbing and the ink spurts and sprays with the warmth of blood –
Like ash from the year before, Harry can’t stop tasting ink at the back of his throat even as Fawkes’ tears drown the venom in his blood.
Third year is far from quiet and Harry does not pay much attention. He eventually discovers one of his professors is a werewolf, that Ron’s pet is both a literal and figurative rat, and that his godfather is an escaped fugitive animagus. It’s all very exciting and keeps Harry very busy for the year.
Dementors bother Harry and he hates how they bring back the taste of ash and ink, of tears and goosebumps that raise the hairs on his neck, of the echoing scream of a long-dead woman.
Hermione at last asks to see his mark, as does Ron, his two dear friends having held off for so long as such a question is seen as an embarrassing faux pas. Harry loves them dearly and loves them close. But he does not let his friends see his mark because he can’t afford to lose them and secretly vows to never allow it to happen.
Fourth Year is something of a horror show. Harry spends a fair portion of it trying to keep the tattoo spell attached to his wrist, scrambling to stop the tattoo ink from being singed by dragon flame or washed off by lake water or rubbed away by an overly enthusiastic dance partner at a school ball.
Harry learns what his soulmate’s first words to him are.
The Death Curse.
Harry knows he shouldn’t be surprised, but it hurts worse than the time his arm broke and he had to regrow every bone in a single night. Worse than basilisk venom in his veins. Worse than a professor crumbling in his hands.
When Harry is kidnapped to a dark, dank graveyard and is tied over a mouldy headstone, Harry wonders if Voldemort will look, will see his mark. Harry wants to know if Voldemort knows. It is certainly the last thing Harry should be worrying about, but he worries all the same.
When Voldemort rises from a foul-smelling concoction in a massive cauldron, terrifying and pale and new, Harry sees no mark on the monster’s body. His face is horrific, his nose but a gap and two narrow holes, eyes the burning colour of melted ore, and expression alight with demonic determination. But he has no mark. Harry wonders if soulmates can be unreciprocated.
Then Harry discovers that their wands are brothers and is shaken up again, because if that isn’t evidence of their connection, then Harry doesn’t know what is. But Voldemort doesn’t know, doesn’t see it, doesn’t care – Harry’s not sure which, but the monster is hell bent on killing him.
So Harry decides not to kill his soulmate for a fourth time, unsure if he would be able to handle it, and escapes back to the safety of Hogwarts with the body of a schoolboy in tow.
A polyjuiced professor tries to take Harry, tries to see his mark, and Harry snaps in a way he’s never snapped before – and blasts the imposter seven ways from Sunday.
When Dumbledore comes to save him, Harry doesn’t need rescuing; instead he stands tall and proud and his chin jutted just so, to show the headmaster that he is strong. Perhaps it’s a lie, but Harry maintains it all the same.
Fifth Year is very difficult for Harry. Voldemort reaches through his dreams many times and it makes Harry hurt. Makes his cursed scar hurt worse than his soulmark, but his mark is trying its best to match the agony of his scar.
A woman in pink forces Harry to carve into his own flesh. Harry internalizes the pain, now familiar and welcoming the feeling. He distances himself from the searing pain of his hand and his wrist and his forehead, instead focusing on teaching lethal spells to a group of like-minded children, of teaching them how to survive, how to kill.
If Harry were allowing himself to feel, he knows he would vomit at the thought of teaching his classmates to murder his soulmate, genocidal sociopath or not.
All Harry has ever wanted is a family and he knows that’s not something destined for him. So he teaches and his skin rips and he focuses ever harder.
Then his only family left in the world is kidnapped and Harry snaps once more and endangers the life of his friends to save his godfather.
His godfather dies anyway. Harry is empty beyond belief and even in his rage and hurt, he cannot torture Bellatrix, not even to save his own life. Harry doesn’t have it in him. And Voldemort laughs at him, mocks him, and Harry wonders what he has done in a previous life to be paired with a monster like this. And then Voldemort is in him, in his head and under his flesh and the pure agony and rage that echoes through from the possession leaves Harry rattled and burnt out and –
Then Dumbledore arrives to the rescue once more and Voldemort flees like the coward that Harry’s beginning to realise he is and Harry just feels hollow.
Sixth Year seems impossible at first and Harry spends a lot of his time watching Malfoy, if only to look for something to do. It turns out that Malfoy is a goldmine of suspicious behaviour, however, and Harry manages to uncover a plot. Harry is also kept busy by being bait for the new potions professor, being tortured by Snape’s unconventional lessons, being taught to kill his soulmate through Dumbledore’s indecipherable lessons on Tom Riddle. Dumbledore promises Harry many things and Harry trusts him if only to have something to believe in.
This doesn’t stop Dumbledore from towing Harry to an eldritch cave, the old wizard bravely swallowing poisoned water in order to steal a locket and letting himself be pushed off the Astronomy Tower and Harry retreats, retreats, retreats – not ready to be in this fight.
Harry has been given tasks. And he’s not ready to deal with anything else, so he lunges headfirst into finishing them.
Harry has come to realise that while he is not a traditional soulmate, he certainly is a type of one. Voldemort was at the start of Harry’s story and Harry will be there at Voldemort’s end. They are linked through prophecy and blood and wand and soul magic. There are very few other ways they could be any more bonded.
Harry realises that the universe has made Voldemort Harry’s problem, perhaps because he is the only one strong enough to shoulder the burden.
Harry soldiers on, knows his duty and vows to carry it out.
Harry turns seventeen before he knows it and then he’s on the run with Hermione and Ron, hunting horcruxes.
Harry bears the brunt of the locket, a different one than the trinket Dumbledore died to steal, wearing the cursed thing around his neck and suppressing the need to snap and bark at his friends. He’s been through worse. And if it means he doesn’t have to murder a piece of his soulmate for a little while longer, so be it.
Harry only gives up the locket when close to fainting from exhaustion. Most of the time, Harry demands to be the one to bear the weight with stoic, bottled pain. Harry knows the words his friends have on their wrists match one another and they’ll only suffer if they allow their soulmate to be exposed to the wretched locket.
Harry doesn’t admit either that even though the soul shard in the locket is vile and mean and vicious like a rabid dog, having a piece of his soulmate so close to his heart keeps him going day in and day out. Harry knows he will have to kill it, but savours the time spent with it all the same. Voldemort may not like Harry, but Harry doesn’t care. He allows himself this weakness, a secret between himself and his soulmark, and trudges on all the same.
Harry carries the weight and lets Voldemort send him those dreams and keeps it all contained in a locked chest in his mind; after all, Harry knows he is the final weapon and it will all be over soon.
At last, Harry stands before Voldemort in a blood-soaked field, the taste of copper and ash coating Harry’s tongue. The sound of war has faded into the background as the soulmates stare one another down. Things could have gone differently. Harry could have given himself up as requested, could have walked through the Forbidden Forest to his doom. But Harry is not willing to chance that Voldemort will live through this. He’s fought his way through countless Death Eaters to stand here in Voldemort’s way.
It has come to this at last and there are but two pieces of soul left to destroy, one in himself and one in the tall, inhuman frame barely ten metres away.
Harry is tired. Harry is ready for this to be over.
“You have lost,” Voldemort taunts.
“No,” Harry replies simply, raising his wand.
And then Voldemort is tilting his head, studying Harry in a silent moment. His eyes have narrowed, but they are oddly unthreatening.
“No?” Voldemort repeats, tasting the word, his normally high-pitched voice toned low.
“No,” Harry states calmly.
“You should have told me,” Voldemort says, then. There’s a holy fire in Voldemort’s eyes that Harry hasn’t seen ignited before. Unlike the light of obsession and rage and violence, this flame does not call for bloodshed. Instead, it burns with possessive wonder.
And Harry knows, right at that moment, that Voldemort has figured it out. That he hadn’t until then.
“I thought it was obvious,” Harry answers instead, the wand in his grip warming, tone dry, gesturing to the space between them. “How else would you explain this?”
“I suppose it was,” Voldemort replies, considering. “And I have been too far gone to see it. Though, looking back, it explains a much-needed drive to find you. Come here, soulmate. Be with me.”
It’s like a punch in the chest, wringing his lungs dry. It hurts his very soul to hear Voldemort acknowledge their bond, it hurts more than Umbridge’s punishments, more than seeing his godfather fall through The Veil, more than hearing the wails of Hermione as she’s tortured by an insane witch.
But pain is all Harry knows, all he’s ever known. Harry ignores those words, knows Voldemort is trying to draw him in with the same glowing warmth of an angler fish's lure, positioning Harry just before the strike. Harry knows that he must die to bring Voldemort down. That mutually assured destruction is the only way. So he ignores those words, ignores the potential of even more future words that Voldemort will whisper but is physically incapable of meaning, and stands his ground, staring Voldemort down with cold steel in his eye.
“It is considered a foul reflection of one’s character for their soulmate’s first word to be no,” Voldemort states abruptly. “It is poor form for your destined companion to deny you instantly. I would never have considered the words of my soulmate to have been spoken by a toddler as I raised my wand against his mother.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Harry retorts humourlessly, wand-hand beginning to tremor lightly with exhaustion, but he keeps it steadily trained on Voldemort. “Imagine if your soulmark was the death curse, words spoken to you but meant for your mother.”
Voldemort doesn’t reply to that, instead still and calm and unnaturally at peace.
“I thought I had killed you long ago, for I’ve heard so many noes from so many strangers,” Voldemort then eventually replies, contemplative. “Though if I must have an equal, I suppose I would only accept it, if it were to be you. After all, you already have a bit of my soul, don’t you?”
Harry realizes things are rapidly going downhill. Voldemort has figured out what he is; Harry sees this going one of two ways.
“Fight me,” Harry whispers sharply, inhaling deep.
“No,” Voldemort states simply, lowering his wand, lip twitching as if telling an inside joke.
Harry shrugs, embodiment of indifference, and lowers his wand.
Voldemort smiles and it is a cruel expression.
Harry thinks to himself, quietly in the confines of his mind, Extinguo Animarum. The wand in his hand glows gently at first but then, in a moment of sudden movement, a golden bubble explodes from his wand and entraps Voldemort and himself in a sphere of his own design.
“You didn’t,” Voldemort says.
Harry tries to laugh at the aghast nature of Voldemort’s tone, but a dry sob heaves out of his chest instead.
Voldemort could never expect this, would never, because Voldemort could not possibly imagine doing something like this himself.
“Extinguisher of Souls,” Voldemort whispers and he does not struggle. Voldemort knows there is no way out of this now. “You are mine, Harry, in this life and the next. Do not forget.”
The glowing, golden orb sears ever brighter. It fills with blinding light, piercing into Harry’s chest as it floods Voldemort. Voldemort’s eyes never leave Harry’s, upper lip twitching in an expression Harry cannot decipher.
This is right, this is what you are made for, Harry tells himself in the moment as the light swells to unbearableness, glows in his glasses, a reflection of his life in a solitary beam of light.
Harry hears the words echo in his memory in the timelessness between moments as his soul is ripped apart, as he feels his connection to Voldemort shatter as his soulmate is obliterated by purifying, heatless flame, as they are torn violently from the mortal plane in the mutually assured destruction of Harry’s own making.
What a couple they make.