Growing up with the Dursleys, Harry’s scar was ‘The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance’. But once he met Hagrid, Harry’s relationship with his scar began to change. Not only did he find out that it was a mark made by Dark magic and by his parents’ murderer, but he also realised that it was a mark that made him recognisable. Time and time again through Philosopher’s Stone, it was Harry’s scar that identified him as the Boy Who Lived, identified him as an orphan, or even a victim, of Lord Voldemort. Harry’s scar also changed from dormant to active throughout the first book. Whilst he was growing up, it was merely part of his appearance, but soon after his arrival at Hogwarts it started to cause him physical pain. With his entry into the wizarding world, it was almost as though the scar came alive, and with its awakening came a searing pain in Harry’s forehead that would follow him for many years to come.
In his second year, comments by Lockhart and Malfoy, emphasised to Harry that his scar was the physical sign that brought him fame and attention that he didn’t want at all. It was part of the tale of Harry Potter that he couldn’t even remember, adding to the mystery surrounding him – when all he really wanted to be known for was catching the Snitch. It wasn’t until Tom Riddle’s diary had been destroyed that Harry’s relationship with his scar shifted again – towards Voldemort. Dumbledore told Harry that ‘Unless I’m much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar’. Harry could speak Parseltongue; the Sorting Hat tried to put him in Slytherin – Harry learned that the scar wasn’t just linked to his past– it was linked to his present, and to a Voldemort who was determined to return.
In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry became increasingly irritated with his scar. Running away from the Dursleys after he’d blown up Aunt Marge, Harry was barely able to conceal his identity from Stan Shunpike on the Knight Bus, and was then exposed once Fudge collected him and Stan was able to see the mark clearly: ‘I can see ‘is scar’. Gawping at Harry’s scar, which didn’t seem to bother Harry that much in the first two books, in Prisoner of Azkaban, became something he wanted to absolutely avoid: ‘Er – no, thanks, Colin,’ said Harry, who wasn’t in the mood to have a lot of people staring avidly at the scar on his forehead’.
Goblet of Fire was the first time that the pain in Harry’s scar caused him real anxiety. In his first year at Hogwarts, he’d put his scar hurting down to being a ‘warning’ and then, of course, he’d come face-to-face with Lord Voldemort, which had made sense of it all. But in Goblet of Fire his scar started to hurt whilst he was in Privet Drive, with no Voldemort in sight. It was something new… and more threatening, and Harry’s relationship with his scar shifted again. But despite this, Harry’s scar hurting was something he first tried to keep to himself – at the beginning of Goblet of Fire he didn’t want to worry Ron, Hermione, even Dumbledore – the pain alienated him, and he isolated himself with it – though he was unable to keep his friends in the dark for long even though he might have preferred to. The pain, coupled by his dreams that seemed to link to Voldemort, started to mean that more than ever Harry’s scar was becoming a living link to Lord Voldemort. And when he was finally confronted with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in the graveyard, the pain in Harry’s scar was excruciating, unbearable – something that Lord Voldemort could use against him.
This idea of his scar as a weakness was something that solidified in Order of the Phoenix. Whilst Harry had previously viewed his scar as something to be proud of, the scar was now not only causing him physical pain, but emotional trauma too. Throughout his fifth year at Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic used it as a way to discredit and mock him. The Daily Prophet, following Rita Skeeter’s article about Harry collapsing all over the place, included lines such as, ‘Let’s hope he hasn’t got a scar on his forehead or we’ll be asked to worship him next’. Whilst in previous years, pain in Harry’s scar had been something unusual, in Order of the Phoenix, the prickling sensation in his forehead became commonplace, a constant reminder that Lord Voldemort had returned – contrary to the lies the Ministry were disseminating. In short, Harry’s relationship with his scar – with the varying levels of pain that came with visions, dreams, Voldemort’s emotions, and Ministry mockery – took over his whole life. This was something that came out in anger when Hermione urges him to tell Dumbledore that it’s hurting: ‘Yeah,’ said Harry, before he could stop himself, ‘that’s the only bit of me Dumbledore cares about, isn’t it, my scar?’ He wasn’t the boy with the scar anymore, the scar was defining him.
At the end of Order of the Phoenix, Harry found out more about his scar and what Dumbledore had been keeping from him about it for years, and this changed his relationship with the mark of Dark magic even further. Dumbledore revealed these particular words of the Prophecy that were relevant to the scar: ‘and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…’ And Harry could not stop thinking about the fact that Neville Longbottom could have been marked with the scar instead, could have been the boy whose family Voldemort decided to hunt down.
Half-Blood Prince was where it really sunk in for Harry that his scar wasn’t just meant for the past, it marked him as the one who must kill Lord Voldemort – ‘neither can live whilst the other survives’. The scar wasn’t just a battle-wound anymore; it was a target.
A poignant moment at Bill and Fleur’s wedding near the beginning of Deathly Hallows was Harry harking back to time spent with Ginny at the end of Half-Blood Prince. Watching the ceremony, Harry equated having a normal life, with one without a scar: … ‘he had been stealing shining hours from a normal person’s life, a person without a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead ...’ Harry’s relationship with his scar at this point was not one he prized – it hadn’t been for a long time – but one that he wished he didn’t have. The scar was now intrinsically linked to finding the Horcruxes, destroying Voldemort, and walking the path Dumbledore set for him.
Interestingly in Deathly Hallows, the connection with Voldemort’s thoughts and even actions that so plagued Harry in Order of the Phoenix, started to become a source of strength and knowledge for him. He used the insights into You-Know-Who’s emotions and whereabouts to assist in his own hunt for the Horcruxes and Hallows. For the first time since Philosopher’s Stone, Harry’s relationship with his scar became slightly more positive, useful – a warning, again. And then, as he buried Dobby, Harry gained something else: control – ‘On Harry dug, deeper and deeper into the hard, cold earth, subsuming his grief in sweat, denying the pain in his scar’.
At King’s Cross, meeting Dumbledore again, Harry’s scar actually disappeared. He had wished it gone so many times. But, as we know, Harry decided to return; return to fight Voldemort and regain the scar on his head and enter battle once again.
Nineteen years later, the relationship between Harry and his scar was still there, in the background, but the scar was dormant again, more like the thin lightning bolt that was once the only thing the boy Harry Potter liked about his appearance. But in adult Harry Potter, its silence also signals an end to Harry’s trials and troubles in the wizarding world: ‘The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well’.
Want to watch to Noma Dumezweni reading Chapter Two of Philosopher’s Stone, where we hear the first ever description of Harry’s lightning bolt scar? Find it here.