Hagrid is huge and bulky, and Harry shies away from touching him at first. Despite the obvious differences, he looks so similar to his Uncle that he can't help himself.
And then those words fall from Hagrid's lips, rough with the giant's accent.
"Yer a wizard, 'Arry."
And everything changes.
Diagon Alley is busy. There are so many people, and Harry had thought that the people in the Leaky Cauldron were pushy and forward, constantly moving into what little personal space he could muster, but these people are so much more so; they push and laugh and grin, but they shove and hit, and Harry knows he is shying away but he can't help himself.
He shudders at the thought of his Uncle finding out that Harry, however unintentionally, has cried wolf. The pain would be unbearable, he just knows.
But they are pushing and harsh and they nag at his head, and he bites his lip. He doesn't want them to hurt—hurt is bad, and he can make his pain vanish, why can't he make theirs vanish?—but he doesn't want to reach out, to pull the pain because the pain will hurt and it will only make Harry hurt instead. And he knows that in the end, Harry was Harry's first priority, and the rest of the world second.
And when Hagrid asks if Harry is happy, Harry aims a (fake) smile up to the giant and says, brightly, "Why wouldn't I be? This is amazing!"
It satisfies the man, and his bright beetle eyes shine as he shows Harry around Diagon Alley. Harry is content to follow Hagrid around, letting himself be led like his cousin has been so many times before.
Ollivanders, Harry thinks, is far too creepy and far too knowing. Every time the old man had reached forward and Harry had flinched away from contact, Ollivander had looked at him so pityingly, and his silver eyes had been sad.
It makes no sense, and as Hagrid returns Harry to Privet Drive, Harry puts it out of his mind, preparing to handle the pain he knows will be forthcoming.
He isn't wrong; the moment Hagrid turns his back, his Uncle is on him, breath hot and rank, and Harry bites his lip, refusing to cry wolf.
He's not like his Aunt Petunia once was, or might have been. He doesn't have fire, or if he did it's long since been snuffed out by his Uncle's fists and rage.
His Mark flares hotly that night, and he shudders in his little cupboard. Dudley's other room still has all of Harry's things, but his Uncle has forgotten or is just so furious that he couldn't stand it, and Harry had been shoved into the only safety he has known for eleven years.
It isn't so bad, but Harry brings up a hand to clutch at his shirt where his Mark is burning so hotly.
The cries do come, that night.
The Hogwarts Express is, Harry thinks, very bright. It suits this new world, this place of wonder, to have something so brilliant and shining to introduce new students, but he is hesitant to board.
In the end, it is the threat of what is waiting for him if he turns back that pushes him aboard.
This new world has to be better, has to be safer.
Ronald Weasley is odd, and as Harry shows the red-head his scar, the scar that his Uncle had hurt him over so many times in the past, the scar that his Aunt hates and verbally attacks him for having, he can't help but be stunned by the awe that shines in Ron's eyes. There is something else, something quiet and dark behind the awe, but Harry ignores it because maybe, just maybe, he's found somewhere where he won't hurt.
When the Sorting Hat murmurs you could be great, you know; Slytherin will help you there, Harry freezes. He may not have grown up here, in this nonsensical world, but he knows that there is a bias, a horrible bias against these Slytherins, and he can tell what will happen if he lands in the green-and-silver house.
He has to play the games of these people, just like he plays his Uncle's game and doesn't cry wolf. He'll be the Alice to the Wizarding World's Wonderland, but better, because he'll play along and play their game by their rules because Harry doesn't know any.
The Hat sighs in his ears, and Harry can tell it knows just what he is thinking. Not everyone is like that, child, it whispers, but Harry has no chance to reply, as the next moment the Hat is crying out to the Hall.
The red-and-gold house claps, and Harry joins them, letting what little he knows of laughter flood to his face.
He'll play their game; he'll be Alice here, just like he tries not to be the boy-who-cried-wolf at the Dursleys.
Ron is tactless. He speaks without thinking, saying things that Harry mouths alongside him, watching with hidden care. His words are hurtful and painful, and Harry can do nothing against them, because the pain they cause isn't his and the thought of touching someone else makes him both shudder and crave the contact.
Their professors are, by turns, sharp, stern, cheerful, fearful, and so very horribly bitter. The bitter-Professor snaps his words at Harry, and the bile Harry can almost taste in them makes him suppress a horrifying ripple of disgust.
Ron hisses under his breath about unfairness, and the bitter-Professor snarls about him being so very arrogant, and Harry knows that he really hasn't found a place for him.
They are different from the Dursleys, but they are very much the same too.
But a game is a game, and he plays along, letting them lead him by the nose. When Halloween rolls around, and Ron's tactlessness sends a girl crying, Harry feels a wave of disgust, but he doesn't say a word. Attracting attention to himself instead of letting the red-head send his poison out to the rest of the world would only bring pain, and Harry doesn't want pain.
Then the scared-Professor dashes in during a feast—a feast, celebrating on a day that Harry had an entire prospective future ripped away from him—screaming about a troll, troll in the dungeons.
And Harry knows that he has to play along, that if he leaves the crying-girl, some of the rose-tint will fall away from the others eyes, because he wouldn't be playing brave-Alice, but scared-Harry. And he has to be brave-Alice here, so he goes looking for the crying-girl and finds her, and the troll.
It is very scary, and Harry wants nothing more than the comforting darkness of his cupboard and the knowledge that if he just breaths quietly and holds so very still, he might escape pain. But that is scared-Harry, so he forces himself to keep playing the role of brave-Alice, and fights the troll and saves the crying-girl.
The Professors are angry and scared by turns, but no one lashes out at Harry, so Harry knows he's played his part well, that no one saw the scared-Harry beneath the brave-Alice.
He plays along all year, letting his two 'friends' drag him alongside them into all sorts of trouble, and playing the part of brave-Alice. There is a three-headed dog, and a flying lesson that leaves Harry breathless and both terrified and in awe. He loves the feeling of wind through his hair, but the openness makes him feel so exposed.
Then comes the enforced search for Nicholas Flamel, leading them to the Philosopher's Stone, and Harry wants to shake and curl up under a table. But he continues, and the role of brave-Alice seems nearly second nature by now.
The Quidditch match that nearly kills him almost makes him say no more, I can't be Alice! But he doesn't let himself say that. Because saying that would be bad, and Harry knows all to well what happens to bad people.
He hasn't seen any bruises on Ron or Hermione or Seamus or Dean or Neville, but he thinks it's only a matter of time. After all, this world is so very cruel, and Harry surely can't be the only bad one, right? But after a while, he starts to wonder if he really is the only bad one, because even as the bruises fade he can feel the pressure and pain of playing brave-Alice pressing in on him, crushing scared-Harry away into a little corner as brave-Alice chases after Quirrell, facing death in the face and ignoring the hot flare of the Mark across their chest, spitting in Voldemort's face.
When Harry wakes up, though, brave-Alice is hovering just below the surface, and the role speaks up to Dumbledore, and the twinkling Headmaster explains all that had happened. But when the old man is gone, and Madame Pomfrey is satisfied, scared-Harry pulls forward, and brave-Alice retreats, the mask being placed on its shelf for a moment.
Those words, the words he had known as long as he had been able to read, had killed his parents. They had very nearly killed him. And he knows, just knows, that he is like his Aunt and Uncle. He won't ever have the happily-ever-after the girls are always whispering about, that Ron has been promised with his Mark-match, a brunette called Lavender.
Some Mark-matches aren't meant to be.
Scared-Harry and mad-Voldemort is one of those.
The tears, Harry discovers, are hot and painful, and when the brave-Alice mask slips back into place, the tears are still falling down scared-Harry's face.
It really did hurt.