It is only the night before they leave for Hogwarts that Harry—scared-Harry, not bright-Aladdin or brave-Alice—has the chance to breathe, and look over the cards once again. Dharc is still there, and the sort-of-pull makes Harry shiver. There are so many magic cards and traps mixed in, that Harry only really comes across three other monsters.
Lyna the Light Charmer has a similar sort-of-pull that Dharc does, and brave-Alice mutters lowly and tries to push forward, but scared-Harry holds firm. He will be out for this little while, and it is a welcome breath of fresh air for him. Brave-Alice pulls away, and scared-Harry thinks that the persona is maybe-sulking. It's sometimes hard to tell, with brave-Alice.
A Cat of Ill Omen and An Owl of Luck make him laugh, and Hedwig hoots lowly from where she is perched, and Harry flips the card around and shows it to her. He hopes she finds the humor in it, and she churrs lowly, and Harry smiles.
"I thought you might find it funny," he muses, and he stores the cards carefully in his trunk. He may not be playing the game, even if merely for the lack of a proper deck and no understanding of the rules, but the cards pull at him, and he can't bring himself to let go of the maybe-sentient cards.
It really is all very strange.
Harry had hoped that he could simply board the Hogwarts Express and enjoy the ride, letting Hermione and Ron talk themselves into oblivion. But the barrier is closed, and he and Ron are trapped in Muggle London, and Ron has the bright idea of taking the flying car to Hogwarts. Brave-Alice pushes forward, and agrees, and scared-Harry and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf both shiver as they soar high in the sky.
It is a bad idea, and scared-Harry is tempted to shove brave-Alice away, taking off the mask, but that also smacks of bad idea, and they're already committed. When they finally arrive at the school, it is disastrous, and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf pulls the pain away, the souvenirs of their crash with the so-called Whomping Willow.
They are almost expelled, but bright-Aladdin slips on, and scared-Harry stays in his little corner. The ever-cheerful persona keeps everyone relatively calm, and soon their eyes are sliding shut, even as brave-Alice hisses about fools and bastards. Brave-Alice isn't very nice sometimes, Harry knows, but the mask's emotions towards the Potions Master are potent and vicious.
Lockhart, Harry decides, is an utter fool. A fop, and annoying while being so very foppish and vain, out of all of them, bright-Aladdin and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf are the only ones who can stand him for any length of time, and scared-Harry isn't really sure if boy-who-won't-cry-wolf can really stand anybody, but then again, boy-who-won't-cry-wolf's mouth is sewn shut, and sometimes he forcefully blinds and deafens himself, because sometimes the pain is all boy-who-won't-cry-wolf can handle.
The incident with the Dueling Club merely reinforces this impression, and when Malfoy sends forth his snake, Harry can hear it hissing in such irritation and it nags at him, pulling at his head.
He steps forward, and reaches forward, and it isn't brave-Alice or bright-Aladdin who speaks, but little scared-Harry. It makes him nervous, but he is better with animals than people, and he speaks to the snake, whispering gentle words even as boy-who-won't-cry-wolf peers forward, ready to pull away any pain.
The whispers that follow him afterwards are nasty and malicious, and brave-Alice mutters mutinously from its shelf, and bright-Aladdin finds him-itself worn so much more as the days grow colder and the storms close in.
After the incident on Halloween, once again, with Harry finding the caretaker's cat petrified, everyone has been scared, but now they have someone to focus on, to take their fury out on. Boy-who-won't-cry-wolf finds himself pulling so much those months, and Harry can't help but hide behind his curtains at night, ignoring the icy-cold pulses from his Mark and looking at the cards.
Sometimes, he thinks, the cards pulse with warmth, and sometimes he thinks he can see flickers of darkness at the edge of his vision. It scares him, a bit, and brave-Alice pushes him to put the cards away when this happens.
But, nevertheless, Harry keeps them with him. They are warm and pulling, and sometimes his not-all-there mind is pulled back to them when he's wandering off form his corner, leaving brave-Alice and bright-Aladdin to manage the outside world.
Sometimes he thinks about just wandering off and never coming back, losing himself in the dark recesses within his mind.
Sometimes it is so very tempting that it is only the masks, tugging at him, and Hedwig and the cards that pull him away.
It hurts, Harry registers blankly. His Mark is burning with icy-cold, and the form of a sixteen year-old Lord Voldemort-slash-Tom Riddle stares at him with chill eyes.
"Speak to me, greatest of the Hogwarts Four," the shade speaks, and scared-Harry feels a thrill of terror flicker through him, and brave-Alice pushes forward.
The Basilisk is terrifying, and not even Fawkes' warm song stops the chills running down Harry's spine. But Ginny is so still and so cold, lying there on the stone floor and in the stinking water and slime, and brave-Alice shoves scared-Harry into his corner, and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf pulls their pain away.
In retrospect, he really should have figured out that something big would be happening; so many petrifications, so much pain, and Harry was still so blind that it was only Hermione's bright-brilliance that solved the puzzle.
And then the Basilisk is dead, and the venom is burning in his veins, and the younger version of his maybe-Mark-match is gloating coldly, eyes madmadmad.
He takes the fang, pulls it loose from his own arm, and stabs it into the diary that had pulled Ginny into this dark and dank place that stinks of decay and stagnation. The stench is awful, and the shade screams and fades away in bursts of painful light.
Brave-Alice hisses in victory, and bright-Aladdin pushes his way forward as Ginny wakes up. The venom is painpainpain, like fire and ice all at the same time, and then Fawkes is there, all sadness and worry and tears, and the fire and ice are chased around, and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf shrieks inside as the venom is neutralized so very painfully. Boy-who-won't-cry-wolf blinds himself and deafens himself, rocking on the floor of their little space, and brave-Alice sighs and pushes forward, bright-Aladdin not far behind.
His-their Mark burns, and scared-Harry looks off into the darkness of his-their mind. It's not too clear anymore which it is, though. His, theirs—did it even matter?
He is so very tempted to wander off, to lose himself, but boy-who-won't-cry-wolf is thrashing, and they are flying, Fawkes carrying them all so elegantly.
He really doesn't like Lucius Malfoy, Harry decides. The man is pompous and hateful and bigoted, and reminds him horribly of his puffed-up brat of a son, Draco. Or maybe it's the other way round, with Draco reminding Harry of Lucius. It doesn't really matter, though, because they're both hateful and mean, just another reason why this nonsensical world really isn't too much better than the Dursleys. But it's better, and he'll take what he can get.
But the arrogant, furious man attacks Harry, and the words that nearly come out of the man's mouth make Harry's chest ache and his Mark flare hotly.
The Killing Curse.
Even now, the thought that he is tied with the murderer of his parents makes Harry both sick and angry, and he tries not to wonder how they might have been had the murderer not gone mad, not gone in search of something he could never have.
What sort of Mark-matches would they have been? He doesn't think they would be romantic, and Harry isn't even sure he knows how to love. The only expressions of love he's ever known are his Aunt and Uncle's hateful matching, all rage and hate and fury that morphed from a clashing and from what might once have been 'love' and the claustrophobic love that his Aunt and Uncle smother his cousin with.
But either way, Harry doesn't think that they are really Mark-matches anymore, and the Mark burns against Harry's chest. Perhaps, in a once-future that is now gone, they could have met, could have known why they were Mark-matches, but now all that is left is a madman intent on something that he could never have and Harry, whatever he is in his not-quite-there-ness.
Perhaps, in that once-future, they wouldn't have been broken, been shattered apart like they have, but now Harry just knows that there is no way out. That once-future is shattered like fragile crystal, and Harry turns his back on it, knowing that there is nothing he can do about it.
It still burns him, inside and out, though.