"Wow, this is … impressive," Harry murmured, staring at the spread in front of him. "If I'd known therapy involved feeling like I was dining at the Ritz, I would have started ages ago." He paused. "Though I suppose the prices are similar. Seriously, you charge a fortune."
"People pay for the quality they want," Riddle returned lightly.
Harry's lips thinned. "True. But it should be more that they get the quality they deserve."
Riddle gestured for Harry to sit down at the table that had been pulled into the normal consultancy room. "Perhaps, but nonetheless our world is ruled by money and not by sentimentality, however much the Beatles would declare otherwise."
Harry snorted involuntarily in amusement as he took his seat, looking up to see something tiny flicker in Riddle's expression.
"Aren't you supposed to be encouraging me to think happy, optimistic thoughts and not express such cynicism at the state of the world?"
"Would you believe me if I did advocate such a worldview, considering we both know of the monsters that lurk in the dark? But of course, Harry. I can oblige. Voldemort, you see, was just a misunderstood, tragic little boy and maybe if he'd been hugged more as a child, he would be doing my job as an upstanding member of society instead."
"Oh god, you're awful. Stop it. You can't make jokes like that – it's obscene! He's a mass murderer!"
"And yet you appear almost amused. Maybe we'll find ourselves getting on sometime." Riddle tipped his glass a little as if in toast to that, before setting his wine down and leaning over to serve up the food. "You can't look into people's minds for a living without gaining a grim sense of humour."
Well, he supposed that was true, even if the reference to going into people's minds made his insides twist. He knew Riddle didn't mean it that way, but … hell. He managed to slip enough such comments in, inadvertently, for it to jolt him every so often.
He tried some of the meat, feeling the flavour melt in his mouth.
Harry swallowed. "It's delicious," he mumbled, receiving a smile in response as Riddle tucked into his own meal. "Where did you learn to cook? And what is this, anyway; I don't recognise the taste?"
"Venison. And I taught myself, during my travels. I've always enjoyed the finer aspects of life and culture, so I made it a personal mission to pick up a new recipe wherever I went."
"You've travelled a lot then? Colour me jealous, I've never even left the UK. There's always been –" He looked down at his plate. "… er, other stuff."
Voldemort. People trying to kill him.
"I can imagine. Maybe I'll take you for a restful hunting trip with me sometime."
He was being teased again, wasn't he?
"Yes, I can imagine that. 'This is my mental patient who's apparently traumatised by seeing lots of people get murdered, so I took him with me to a horror-movie cabin in the woods so I can kill more things in front of him,'" Harry said dryly.
"You mean that doesn't sound like an effective treatment? Shocking. Regardless, I wouldn't want you in the woods. You would no doubt attract another serial killer and ruin my holiday."
Despite himself, Harry felt a laugh burst past his lips.
"I don't know how you get away with this. Bloody hell." He shook his head. He suspected Riddle was doing it to put him at ease with banter, especially the morbid sort of banter that was most likely intended to make him more comfortable with wandering into more serious discussions involving death and guts. He changed the topic again, sipping some of his wine. "What's the best place you've been?" he asked.
"Depends what you want to visit for. I would be hard-pressed to pick," the other stated. "If you could go anywhere, where would you want to go?"
"I don't know. Never really been anywhere before, so it's probably not the most interesting question you could ask me. A famous city, I guess. Paris, Rome, Venice …"
"Not a nice beach hideaway somewhere?"
"What, to be left alone with my head? No thanks. I wasn't joking about the horror-movie aspect of a cabin in the woods."
"The Shining. Go mad with your thoughts and isolation and try to murder me?" Riddle raised his brows.
"Something like that."
"What is it about your own mind that scares you so?"
"And we're back to the psychoanalysis. Cut it out," Harry growled, shoulders hunching as he tensed up all over again. He determinedly took another sip of his wine. "Why can't you just believe me when I say you won't like it in my head?"
Riddle continued to eat, chewing carefully, before sipping at his own wine.
"Not allowing me to help you won't make your problems disappear, Harry. They'll still be there, festering for as long as you flinch and refuse to confront them, growing in the back of your mind like an infestation. You're going to have to face them someday; the question here is do you want to have to do it alone? Or with someone like me, who can pull you out if it gets to be too much?"
Harry swallowed, staring at the table. So much for a nice lunch.
His fingers tightened on the cutlery. "I can't."
"Can't or won't?"
"Can't," Harry repeated. "If you spend as long building defences as I have, then they're not so easy to lower."
"You built your fences mistakenly," Riddle murmured, and he could feel the man's eyes burning into his forehead. "Fences keep people out, yes, but they also keep things in, and I think that might be part of the problem here? It is, or so I've gathered, your own mind you're afraid of, and not an external force?"
"Then explain it to me."
Harry's jaw clenched in frustration. He hadn't slept last night either, and how could he just talk about it without seeming like the biggest freak in the world? He wasn't a freak. He was normal! He was – he just – he had abnormal circumstances!
"I – I feel the things he does. Sometimes. There's a connection between our minds. Mine and … Voldemort's. It's how I can understand him so well."
"I thought it might be something like that."
Harry's eyes widened at that and his head snapped up.
"What? But – how – is there –?"
"It's extremely rare, but it's not unheard of. I know of someone else with the same … issue, and they're functioning with it just fine."
"Client confidentiality …"
"Oh. Right. Yeah. I mean, did they … to a … killer? Not just a normal person?"
"I am not at liberty to say. Apologies."
"Right," Harry mumbled. He felt better though – he wasn't the only one, he wasn't a complete freak! Just an unusual case!
"Did they … you said they were fine? And they weren't the killer?" He hated the hope in his voice. He felt so pathetic.
"I'm offended that you think I would so clearly look into the mind of a killer and let them walk free."
"Riddle!" Harry snapped, frustrated, and the psychiatrist sighed, before reaching over and squeezing his hand gently.
"They were better than fine, I promise."
Then he pulled back, thumb dragging absently across his pulse point and vein, and went back to his food as if nothing had happened and no progress had been made.
Harry was oddly grateful for that. Opening up would still be hard, very hard, and he wasn't liable to let Riddle poke around too much or too fast, but … he didn't know.
It was something to think about.
"Why did you get into psychiatry?" he asked instead.
"I find the human mind fascinating," Riddle said. "Most particularly, those minds that in some way could be considered abnormal, unique, and different from the herd. I've always found damage to be more interesting than health."
"Surely that would be counterproductive to actually encouraging them to heal?" Harry returned, raising his brows. "We're not your lab specimens, you know, for your amusement."
"Of course not, but helping someone back onto their feet doesn't negate the damage, the experience – it just allows open wounds or infected cuts in the mind to heal over to scars."
"And scars fascinate you? Most people would call them ugly."
"I find them to be a sign of strength. A person with no scars hasn't lived, and a person with many scars is strong for having survived a greater intensity of life and still found the courage to keep walking. Should I assume you adhere more to the view of scars being ugly?"
"Scars are a sign of mistakes. You can live, but if you're good enough, you won't get any significant scars, you'll successfully avoid them," Harry said. He'd never thought of it in Riddle's way before. "Scars are signs of pain and hurt and everything that's gone wrong and all the crap in the world, so yeah, I think suffering is ugly."
"And happiness is, thus, beautiful?" Riddle clarified.
"In that sense, one could assume you equate beauty with innocence, for it is only the fully innocent – and not necessarily the pure of heart either, by that definition – who remain unsuffering and untouched by the world. Notably, perhaps only a few very small children would qualify, because by that criterion, everyone else would hold some scar or guilt and would, thus, be ugly."
"What? No," Harry protested. "I just meant, well, someone who commits evil can't be beautiful, can they?"
"And what of being a victim of evil? Would someone who had scars from abuse, for example, not be considered beautiful in your eyes?"
"Of course they would, that's awful and not true in the slightest, scars don't work that way, I just meant –" Harry's jaw worked with frustration. "I just meant –"
Riddle was silent. Harry cursed him for not offering an answer or better phrasing that he could agree with, instead just watching him as he struggled to clarify himself. "I didn't mean them! Scars are ugly, but that doesn't mean the people who carry them are."
"And what of happy murderers? If happiness is beautiful?"
Harry scowled at the table.
"Murder isn't beautiful."
"And yet, as a whole, humanity is endlessly fascinated with it, and with the distorted glory of dark minds and the confrontation with death involved therein. How exactly do you believe criminology became a topic for study?"
"I'm sorry, are you trying to convince me murder is beautiful? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you can't tell me murder is beautiful, and what the hell anyway? I mean, yeah, it's beautiful – it's awesome – that people with scars have survived and are still here, good for them, they're fantastic, but – but that doesn't mean – it doesn't mean –"
Riddle was scrambling his head.
"I'm trying to indicate to you that your worldview is causing you unease, because you have conflicting sets of criteria," the other murmured after a moment. "It is interesting that you said 'I didn't mean them.' You hold the world to a double standard: there are things you would forgive others for and would cry in outrage over, such as that a person with scars – be they physical or mental – cannot be beautiful, because you can acknowledge them simultaneously as a sign of strength … and yet, you still say the words, which suggests to me that when you make that judgement, you are not thinking of the world as a whole, of the ideas of damage and scars as beautiful, strong, and powerful in their own right, but only in regards to yourself. You find your own damage and scars and mind repulsive."
Harry opened his mouth to retort against that, furiously, only for it to dry up and for no words to come out.
"I – so what if I don't like my own mind? You know I don't – I don't like the stuff in it when he intrudes. It's messed up. Unless you're going to tell me that feeling like I'm a murderer whenever I step into one of his crime scenes is fucking beautiful?"
"And the fact that you're linked to this man and can empathise with him, unwillingly, makes you …?"
Harry's teeth gritted, and when the hell had this turned into psychoanalysis again?! Sure, he wanted – well, needed rather than wanted – some help, but … bloody hell!
"It makes it my business, not yours," he muttered, swallowing the last of his venison. "Do you bribe all your clients with lunch?"
"Just the ones who look like they would appreciate a decent meal. Others get a rubix cube, or a pen and paper, or whatever I think would aid them most. I've found a lot of people find it easier to have a talk if they have something else to concentrate on or do with their hands, to some extent," Riddle said, eyes gleaming with mild amusement.
"… are you saying I look starved?"
"You may choose to think of it as 'I like your company', if it makes you feel less self-conscious," the psychiatrist smirked. Harry glared.
"And you accuse me of being rude –"
There was a knock at the door, and Riddle's eyes moved over. He took another sip of his wine, before standing. "Excuse me a moment."
He went to the door, but stopped when it opened right before he reached it, Ron bursting in impatiently. Harry noticed Riddle's eyes darken, just slightly.
Impolite to burst in? The man did seem to have a thing about proper manners.
"Sorry," Ron shot aside to Riddle, a little dismissively, his eyes fixing on Harry. "Scrimgeour sent me, we've been looking everywhere for you. There's been another murder. He's asking for you to come."