Harry sighs. This summer has been one of the worst. Upon arriving back in London, his Uncle had only just managed to wait until they had returned to Number 4, Privet Drive, to begin his raging.

"Freaks!" he had snarled, face turning an odd shade of red. "Bringing their freakishness and danger to my family!"

The brave-Alice mask bristles with indignation, but boy-who-won't-cry-wolf steps forward, pushing scared-Harry to the back. Brave-Alice glowers from his shelf, and scared-Harry watches the glowering mask quietly.

Why don't you protect yourself? The mask demands, because that is the personality of brave-Alice.

I do, scared-Harry responds. I have you, and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf.

That's not enough, the mask, the persona, snarls.

Isn't it? Scared-Harry asks, and curls back in on himself as the reverberations of the pain his-their Uncle is inflicting upon him-them reach him. Brave-Alice growls, but backs down, and soon boy-who-won't-cry-wolf is back, and pushing scared-Harry to the forefront.

The pain is shaking and horrible, but Harry bites his lip, drawing the metallic flavor of blood into his mouth. Boy-who-won't-cry-wolf shakes in the back of his head, cold and stoic and his mouth sewn shut, pulling at the pain.

There's not a lot they can do about anything, really.

/

Dudley laughs horribly, placing his cards down. His friend, Piers, groans.

"You're too good at this," he grumbles, putting away his own cards. It is a game that Dudley started playing while Harry was at Hogwarts—Duel Monsters, Harry thinks it's called. But Dudley isn't very good at it, Harry thinks. He only takes monsters that are strong and high-level, and casts away the traps and magic cards and lower-level monsters like so much trash.

One night, Harry sneaks some of the cards that Dudley has thrown away into his oversized shirt, hiding them so that his Uncle doesn't see.

Later, Harry pulls out the cards, and thinks that maybe there's a pull there, like boy-who-won't-cry-wolf pulls at scared-Harry's pain. Some feel warmer to Harry, like when the Mark flares warmly, and others are icy-cold. He finds one, pulling more strongly at him, and he wonders why his cousin tossed this one away—despite his cousin's taste for attack over defense, he would likely keep this one, right? It did have fifteen-hundred defense points. Then he reads the name.

Dharc the Dark Charmer.

And then it makes sense.

Magic. Dudley, raised by his parents to be nearly magic-phobic, would naturally toss away any and all spellcaster cards, urged on by his parents and their sour, bitter fury and jealousy. He stares at the picture a moment, wondering at it. It is filled with magic and darkness, and brave-Alice hisses from the back, muttering about Dark Arts and evil, but that is brave-Alice, not scared-Harry.

He hides the cards under his creaky and rickety bed, and holds his breath as his Uncle comes lumbering past his door, steps heavy. He breaths a sigh of relief as there is no pounding at the door, and his Uncle passes by, leaving Harry alone.

Hedwig stares at him, amber eyes sharp and clear, and she hoots softly, nipping gently at the bars of her cage. Harry looks at her quietly, and he thinks that maybe brave-Alice and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf are looking through his eyes too, because Hedwig seems to almost sigh, and brave-Alice nearly preens about how smart their owl is.

Harry tucks himself under his covers, and tries not to think about the coming days.

The summer, he thinks, will take a long time.

/

He listens in surreptitiously when Dudley is playing his games with friends, and wonders if Dudley realizes that the cards—while most certainly not truly alive in a traditional sense—have a pull to them, a sort of aliveness that Harry is hard pressed to explain.

His Mark flares hotly on his chest, and Harry winces. There is a big dinner party tonight, and he has to be in his room, with nothing but a few pieces of bread and Hedwig for company, until tomorrow, without a sound.

He sneaks more of the cards from Dudley's latest booster pack, and resolves to look at them later.

Unfortunately, there isn't a later, as when he is just getting ready to pull out the cards, there is a crack, and a strange creature is sitting on his bed with luminous green eyes.

"Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts!" it cries, and scared-Harry lets brave-Alice slip forward, the mask sliding on like second nature. Brave-Alice reacts, and soon the House Elf is gone, and scared-Harry is being pushed forward, and then abruptly yanked back as his Uncle slams his way into the room.

He spares a thought to thank any deity out there that he has already hidden the cards as boy-who-won't-cry-wolf curls up and waits, letting their Uncle take out his fury. Hedwig shifts, but stays quiet, and scared-Harry feels a sense of relief. Brave-Alice would be mad if Hedwig were hurt, and he doesn't think he can keep the persona back if brave-Alice really does get mad.

His-their uncle leaves him-them broken and bruised on their floor, uncaring if Dudley were to walk by and see them. Scared-Harry thinks, rather morbidly, that if he did, he would get a few kicks in at his-their expense.

But boy-who-won't-cry-wolf is pulling, and scared-Harry lets the ever-silent persona push him into oblivion.

It is quiet, at least.

/

The bars, Harry thinks, are a bit much. They are bright and red and fit in with the tall-tales his relatives have told about him being a delinquent. After all, if he's a troublemaker, why not keep him from sneaking out the window? It makes sense, doesn't it?

But Harry is skinny and tired and fragile, and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf and brave-Alice don't know how to cope. He wants to go to Diagon Alley, to escape into the nonsensical world of magic, if only for a little bit, but they can't. But showing pain, showing misery, will only make his-their Uncle happy, and brave-Alice refuses to let the one he sees as an enemy win in such a way.

So scared-Harry crafts another mask, different from brave-Alice and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf. This one is hopeful and cheerful, never letting anything get him down, so very unlike scared-Harry.

He slips into the new mask, and wonders if his Uncle will be able to tell the difference between scared-Harry and this new mask, this cheerful adventurous one. Brave-Alice mutters, and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf stares as bright-Aladdin shows up, his smile bright and strong in scared-Harry's mind.

And then the bars are gone and there is a flying car and there are Weasley's outside his window, and brave-Alice steps forward, getting their trunk and Hedwig, and stuffing the cards into their trousers.

And soon, they are soaring away, and bright-Aladdin is laughing while scared-Harry and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf watch on with silent eyes.