For once, his summer is quiet. His Uncle leaves him alone, and his Aunt's lips are pursed and thin, though no words leave her lips. Harry luxuriates in the sensation of being with his relatives, but not being in pain. It is a fascinating sensation.

And then come the dreams, and Harry finds he can't sleep. The dreams are sickly sweet with terror and a seductive sort of pull, and it makes him shudder. His Mark is always hot on his skin these days, burning him like a brand.

The tension is growing more and more, and Harry fears the threat of his convict-godfather won't be enough to stave off his Uncle's fury much longer. And then comes Ron's invitation, like a blessed wind, rescuing them from the growing prison.

He wonders if he's just imagining the heat that glows from the cards in his pocket every time his Uncle steps close; the heat is soft and gentle, where the heat from his Mark is burning and painful, and he finds himself quietly laying them out some nights, brave-Alice and boy-who-won't-cry-wolf and weary-bright-Aladdin all so very silent in the back of his mind. Sly-cold-hateful-snake is never quiet, though, and the chilly hisses in the back of his mind make him want to just bury himself away from the mask's hate and rage.

But sly-cold-hateful-snake is strong, and always present, and always muttering in his ears. And the rage is powerful, and wearing the mask makes him feel strong, and he can't stop himself sometimes.

It is luring and addictive.

It scares him.

/

The Quidditch World Cup is amazing and incredible. Brave-Alice is forward, the intense persona sharp and strong as they watch the graceful movements of the players in the air.

Weary-bright-Aladdin is soft now, the mask very light in scared-Harry's hands. The persona is still so very bright, but the light seems to be almost faded.

Scared-Harry pushes the thought away, resolving not to think about it.

Sly-cold-hateful-snake snickers lowly as the Death Eaters attack, and scared-Harry is so very glad that brave-Alice is speaking, because he can't help the encompassing shudder that wracks his tiny frame.

/

The dreams are getting worse, Harry knows. They are still so very sickly sweet with terror and fear and that seductive sort of pull, but there is more to them, more pain and green and death, and he's hearing those words over and over again, like a mockery of what he knows.

Avada Kedavra echoes in his ears again and again, and sly-cold-hateful-snake laughs coolly, and Harry shivers, covered in sweat. The raging persona is terrifying. But it-he is also so strong that Harry just wants to cling and hold on for dear life.

When sly-cold-hateful-snake pushes him away and forward, scared-Harry stiffens. Oh, don't mind me, sly-cold-hateful-snake murmurs, and scared-Harry can almost hear the smirk in it-his voice. You can handle it, can't you?

Harry shivers as he sits on his bed, trembling violently. It hurts. It hurtshurtshurtshurtshurtshurtshurts—

He retreats, fleeing past the laughingly taunting form of sly-cold-hateful-snake, fleeing into the all-encompassing darkness in his-their mind.

He isn't sure how long he hides there, but eventually the almost-faded form of weary-bright-Aladdin finds him, smile still eternally etched into his face.

It'll all be alright, weary-bright-Aladdin says, but the words are hollow, almost-fake. Everything will be alright.

Scared-Harry stares at him, and then weary-bright-Aladdin is reaching out and pulling him back and away, back to the center where there is light.

He doesn't want to go back, not really.

But he doesn't think he has much of a choice, and weary-bright-Aladdin looks so hollow-empty-fake that he can't bring himself to resist. He wonders if the persona will just fade away, like smoke in the wind, or dust crumbling away like reminders of a once-great kingdom of the long-distant past. A mask is gently placed in scared-Harry's thought-formed hands.

Everything will be alright, the persona assures him once more, and scared-Harry tilts his head, and the ever-present tension in his chest tightens just that little bit more.

Don't fade, scared-Harry whispers, and weary-bright-Aladdin laughs a hollow-empty-fake laugh.

Sometimes, he-it says, there is no choice.

The words taste like ash and cinders in scared-Harry's mouth.

/

Soon, soon it is time to board the Hogwarts Express once more. The brilliant scarlet steam-engine train is loud and powerful, and the crowds are harsh and closing in and filled with crying parents and awkward children, and it has never felt quite so much like home to Harry.

This is where he-they belong, he thinks, hand coming up unconsciously to grip where his Mark rests, flaring in heated displeasure.

The magic and wonder that surround him-them makes his-their heart pound, and he can't help the small, joyous smile that makes its way to his lips. Even sly-cold-hateful-snake is quiet for a moment, soaking in the pure wonder of the moment in contrast to the bleak, torturous monotony of Privet Drive.

And then brave-Alice is pushing forward, the Weasleys loud and bright as they crowd forward into the platform, and Ron and Hermione are on either side of him-them.

It is pure and wonderful and incredible and magnificent and so very much home that scared-Harry chokes back hot, painful tears in his little corner of his-their mind, and brave-Alice, in his-its sharp intense way, is smiling and joyous.

Weary-bright-Aladdin is even smiling a smile that is less hollow-empty-fake and more true-real-full than anything he has worn for a good while.

And so, they walk forward, boarding the train that would take them deep into the heart of the wondrous magic of Hogwarts that had burrowed its way into their shared-heart.

It is a moment that even sly-cold-hateful-snake doesn't wish to sour with his horrible, strong, alluring words.

Amazing, Harry thinks, stepping onto the train so very steeped in magic. Absolutely amazing.

And it is.