Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 12: Preemptive Precautions
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter universe. All recognizable characters, plots, and settings are the exclusive property of J.K Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to my editor Athena Hope, as well as my betas 3CP, Fezzik, Luq707, Raven0900, Regress, and Yoshi89 for their work on this story.
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October 31, 1942
Realizing Riddle had left Slughorn’s office had been one of the most worrying moments of Harry’s life. There was nothing he could do. It would be improper to leave and Cassiopeia was in no hurry to allow him to. Harry had a feeling Riddle’s entire posse would have done their best to block his exit had he tried. Then, there was Slughorn to contend with. He pursued Harry with the persistence of a starved mosquito in the midst of a hot and humid summer. No matter what Harry did, he couldn’t shake the man. The professor had permitted him a break to relax with Black, but nothing beyond that.
His heart beat faster and faster as the minutes ticked by. Where was Riddle? Had she made a move on the Chamber of Secrets? Part of him knew that question was naive. Where else would she have gone after slipping away on such an auspicious evening? Most of all when Harry knew it was the day a version of her had thought to be significant fifty years later.
The real question was whether or not Riddle had been successful in entering the Chamber of Secrets. She ought not to, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t. Harry had done all he could to ensure she was locked out but this was Emily Riddle. Whether she grew up to become Voldemort or not, she was every bit as gifted as Tom had ever been. If anyone could find a way to bypass the measures Harry had put in place, it would be her.
That was assuming she would need to bypass them at all.
Harry had only the word of a thousand-year-old snake to work with and his trust in that source of information was shaky at best.
October 11, 1942
The Second Floor
Harry waited for something to go wrong as he crept nearer and nearer to the bathroom he had known as Moaning Myrtle’s. Even now it was out of order, which Harry thought was odd. He had always imagined that was because of what happened when Riddle had opened the chamber. Perhaps it had been Slytherin or perhaps it had been someone who had come to the castle in later years and actually discovered the founder’s final secret.
It mattered not, but it was an interesting tidbit that Harry found himself grateful for. The fewer people lurking around this part of the castle the better for him. Tonight, anyway. He may soon wish for more lurkers if this failed and if Riddle did indeed unleash the basilisk on the school and its ill-prepared population. More lurkers would make it harder for her to be as subtle as the diary had been during Harry’s own time.
Though it was mightily convenient for him tonight — especially without the protection his father’s cloak had once offered him.
The cloak… he had found himself thinking about it more and more as time stretched on. More still since he had first caught a glimpse of Charlus Potter.
Did he have the cloak? Had the Lord Potter passed it onto him, or did he still have it? Perhaps on account of the war against Grindelwald and the first strike on British soil that past summer in Diagon Alley?
It made Harry crave it. It had been the one true link he had shared to his father, and dead useful at that. There was no hope of counting how many times it had gotten him out of trouble.
He could have used that now.
Harry had been practicing the Homenum Revelio Charm on and off since Riddle had taught it to him, but it was far from perfect. The suspicion that she was lurking somewhere near persisted even as the bathroom’s door loomed into sight.
It was with a final glance to both sides that Harry pushed it open and stepped inside. It was… cleaner. In Harry’s time — or world, or whatever the hell it had been — the walls had shown obvious signs of decay. It had been like they’d stood against many great storms. The stones of his time had been smoothed out like these ones, but they were more battered, with mould growing in between the stones and the bathroom constantly smelling like the unclean water that often coated the floor like a tight plastic wrapping in the muggle world.
The sinks were still there and Harry could see the symbol carved into the all too familiar tap. It was odd to see it from here. During his second year, he had needed to creep closer to the sink. He would never have thought it was a snake without knowing the truth, but he could tell something was there. It was a mark of how effective R.E. Gress’s ritual had been. Merlin, Harry was happy not to have seen much of that nutter since arriving at the school. The man was evidently some sort of genius, but the stories he’d heard from students in his class were the stuff of nightmares.
Harry cast one last Homenum Revelio before fixing his eyes upon the small carving and squinting. From the right angle, the etched serpent still looked as though it was writhing back and forth.
The sound of stone grinding against stone filled his ears. That worried him more than anything, but he was gone before it could be heard and Harry could hear the entrance close behind him as he rocketed down the tube.
There was darkness all around him as he plunged into the belly of the castle, but Harry could see the outlines of other pipes and tubes branching off this way and that. They looked like a snake slithering through the night, coiled and ready to strike at unsuspecting prey. Harry shivered — it was easy to imagine himself in that undesirable position.
The tunnel at the shoot’s bottom was as dusty and undisturbed as he remembered. The massive snake’s skin was already there, but Harry was grateful that Lockhart had not yet made a fool of himself whilst collapsing half the tunnel in the process. They’d had Voldemort as a professor in his first year and Harry still considered Lockhart the worst professor he’d ever had.
The tunnel twisted on for further than Harry remembered. It was funny how time and space seemed to bend and warp depending on the mood of those traversing them. When Harry had been frail, afraid, and dreading the end of this tunnel more than anything he had ever dreaded in his life, it felt shorter than most corridors. Now, it seemed to go on forever, like the passages beneath Gringotts Harry had seen whilst joining Hagrid as the jolly half giant retrieved the Philosopher’s Stone.
The first sign that the end was near was Harry’s footsteps echoing back at him. Before, the noise had simply risen and been lost in the endless blackness far above him. The ceiling must have been very high, for Harry could not see it in this damp and morbid place.
He paused before the chamber doors, just as he had in another life. The snakes carved here were larger and had a splendour to them that the ones in the bathroom lacked. It took no imagination at all to picture them twisting and hissing, alive with restless mischief.
Harry shivered as he stepped inside. The Chamber of Secrets was a drafty place, but Harry suspected that had little to do with his tremor. How many nightmares this place had featured in over his last year living back in his own time with his own friends…
He shook off the memories and moved slowly through the chamber. It was actually smaller than he had once thought. Now that he wasn’t focusing so entirely on Ginny, Riddle, and the murderous basilisk, the room seemed less shadowy and almost more real.
Well… Harry supposed not that entire statement was true. He was here with one of the same things in mind he’d been thinking about that first time.
“Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four.”
It took tremendous willpower to speak the words. They had almost meant his death once, but now he had to speak them for himself. Now he had to speak them in his bid to pursue life and to fend off death for him and for so many nameless others. For poor Myrtle Warren and all the other muggleborns who Riddle sought to target. This was bigger than him and his fears; this was what he had to do.
None of that meant Harry didn’t cringe away when he heard something begin to stir. Every sound it made was as massive as it was. Harry looked away when he could finally hear it slithering free and he jumped about a foot in the air when it hit the floor so hard that the stones beneath his feet trembled with the same fear pumping through him with every furious beat of his heart.
The voice was… odd. Harry couldn’t tell whether it was a male or female, but he could tell just by hearing it that it had lived for many years. There was a sort of power in the way it hissed, an authority with which it demanded answers from the one who had freed it after so long.
“Yes,” Harry hissed back, “I speak.”
“You are one of his, then?”
“One of whose?” Harry asked, trying to hide the uncertainty rising within him. Perhaps this hadn’t been the best idea.
What if the snake could tell he had not been the one destined to find it? What if it could smell his fear? His eyes were closed, but what if it snapped at him like that boa constrictor at the zoo all those years ago? The answer would be that Harry would be far worse for wear than Dudley or Piers had been and that he would be extremely fortunate to ever leave this chamber. There was no Fawkes to save him this time.
“His!” the basilisk hissed. “The one who left me here.”
Relief surged in Harry when he realized what the snake meant. Never had it felt so good to understand. If he had been half as clueless here as he had been during Trelawney’s class in his own time, that may well have meant the end of him.
“I am the Heir of Slytherin,” Harry pronounced, straightening his posture and trying to look as dignified as he could whilst his eyes were clamped shut. Not seeing the monster before him was extremely off-putting.
Harry could sense the serpent’s eyes on him, sense death reaching for him with bone-like hands whose fingers were just inches too short. “Good,” hissed the basilisk. “I have waited for many years.”
“I bring news.”
“News?” the snake asked. “What is this news you speak of?”
“I have come just in time. I am the rightful Heir of Salazar Slytherin, but I’m not the only speaker who may find this place. There is a usurper in the castle and she will come.”
Harry thought he heard something that might have been the basilisk flicking its tongue and tasting the air, but it was impossible to tell with his eyes pressed so tightly closed.
“She will come too late,” said the basilisk. “You are here first; Master can have only one true heir.”
That had been nearly three weeks ago. Harry had begun to sense that Riddle’s opening move was coming and could see no other way of blocking it. It was the boldest thing he had ever done. Now, he only hoped it paid off as he neared the Slytherin common room with a somewhat tipsy Cassiopeia walking alongside him. She did not hang off his arm the same way many of the other witches did their dates’. She was polite and courteous, but it was clear she was there out of obligation. Riddle had clearly put her up to it and she had clearly been meant as little more than a distraction. It was a small miracle that Harry had thought to act preemptively, but it would be a larger one still if his actions had led to results.
Harry held his breath as the wall into the Slytherin common room slid aside. There had been no news of an attack, but he had been down in Slughorn’s office. It was possible that they had all just not been made aware as of yet, but he would know for sure the second he stepped into the Slytherin common room.
A relieved exhale of breath left Harry the moment they entered. It was quite the opposite of how he normally reacted. This dark and sinister place still felt as alien to him as a quill had the first time he’d ever picked one up. He felt like his place was still Gryffindor Tower — the warm, cozy room with its crackling fires and stunning views.
Harry felt a stare on him the second he entered the common room and didn’t need to seek it out to know whose it was.
He looked at her anyway. That seemed less suspicious to him than avoiding eye contact altogether. The casual look of interest she so often adopted was there, but Harry could see exactly how strained it was. Other emotions were fighting for dominance and threatening to spread across her face and there was a glint in her eye he had never seen there before.
It was an odd light that seemed to lunge forward before retreating back. A mad sort of light that promised nothing for Harry but the things he had most worried about since first laying eyes on Emily Riddle all the way back in Diagon Alley.
He had saved Myrtle Warren and countless others, but Harry suddenly wondered exactly what that heroism would cost him.
November 2, 1942
The Potions Classroom
Harry and Dorea had finished brewing before the rest of the class. Harry was getting better at Potions. He found himself more and more comfortable the longer he spent partnering with Dorea. She had a very rational and patient way of explaining things that resonated with him. It was far removed from Snape, who loomed like a bat over the students’ shoulders and hissed in their ears when they least expected it.
The sound of simmering cauldrons filled Harry’s ears as he leant back in his chair and surveyed the room. Being the first ones done wasn’t a new experience for them. This was actually one of their slower brews, but Slughorn still beamed at Harry from across the room. Harry was altogether pleased by the fact he seemed distracted trying to prevent Avery and Flint from melting their cauldron.
“Are you all right?” Dorea asked. “You seem distracted.”
“I’m fine,” Harry answered. “It’s just… been a long few days.”
Dorea’s dark eyes darted around the room before she slid her wand from her sleeve. Harry saw her give it a flick. Nothing noticeable changed, but Dorea put it away with satisfaction. She must have cast some sort of privacy ward.
“Has she been bothering you?”
Harry tilted his head. “Who’s she?”
Dorea appeared to check the space around them again despite whatever spell she had just used. “Riddle.”
“I haven’t talked to her since before Slughorn’s party. Why?”
“Just… she’s been acting oddly ever since then.”
Harry felt his heart skip a beat. “Has she?”
He knew he should have been watching Riddle more closely than ever, but he had been doing much the opposite. Harry feared that too much of his attention would give him away. Riddle thought she knew something already. Let her think — that was one thing — having her know was another altogether.
“You haven’t noticed?” asked Dorea.
“I can’t say I make a habit of paying attention to Riddle.”
“That makes you smarter than most people, but it doesn’t help you in this case. Care to know what you’ve missed?”
“You make it sound like I don’t have much choice in the matter.”
“Not if you’re half as smart as you just made yourself sound, no.”
Harry rubbed tiredly at his eyes; it had been a long two days. “Fine. What’s going on with her?”
“She’s been watching you lately. More than usual since Slughorn’s party. It’s… actually kind of disturbing. I’ve never seen her look at anyone like that.”
Dorea seemed to chew on her words as she studied Harry. “I’m not sure you’ve noticed, but Riddle has this way of looking at people. It’s… odd. She just never looks interested. Almost like she’s completely detached.”
Harry knew exactly the look Dorea was talking about. He had seen it many times. She wore it most of the time she was around him, but Harry had seen it falter when she pressed him about his imaginary time at Ilvermorny or when she spoke about something like magic.
“I know the look you mean, yeah.”
“She’s not looking at you like that. Not since Slughorn’s party, anyway. I don’t know what changed, but… there’s more there.”
“I don’t know. She just… she always has a way of making people she stares at uncomfortable, but I’m surprised her eyes haven’t cut you open and burned you from the inside out.”
“Do you think she’s upset?”
“I don’t know what she is. She might not be upset. It’s just… intense. Really intense.”
That made sense. If things that interested Riddle made her drop the uncaring facade, this would surely rank near the top of the list if she suspected Harry of locking her out of the Chamber of Secrets.
And why wouldn’t she?
A mysterious transfer student shows up at Hogwarts and displays at least one instance of exceptional magic. Then she — the true Heiress of Salazar Slytherin — is locked out of the chamber her ancestor once built. It was a very convenient set of events that even Harry had a hard time imagining as a coincidence. Somebody as intelligent as Riddle surely could have put the pieces together. That look she had given him that night in the common room… It wasn’t the one Dorea was talking about. Riddle had at least tried to keep her mask in place, she had just done a much poorer job of it than ever before.
“And you think it means something?” Harry asked after a pause.
“You would know better than me, wouldn’t you?”
Harry shrugged. “You’re the one who picked up on it in the first place. I didn’t even do that.”
Dorea made a face. “Did you do anything at Slughorn’s party?”
Harry ran a hand through his hair. “I… uh, did a lot of talking. Slughorn was showing me off like the Quidditch Cup or something and I—”
“That’s not what I mean.” Dorea was trying to glare at him, but Harry could see that she was amused. “Okay, let me rephrase that. Did you do anything involving Riddle or that might have gotten a reaction out of her?”
Harry thought about it. “Well, I went with Cassiopeia, but Riddle was the one who set that up and she seemed pleased about it.”
“You let Riddle set up your date?” Dorea asked with wide eyes.
“I didn’t let Riddle do anything. She spoke in front of Slughorn before I could cut her off.”
“Harry, if you give that girl an inch, she’s going to take a mile.”
He snorted. “If a mile goes from one end of London to the other, then maybe.”
Dorea hid a smirk behind her hand as she feigned a yawn. “Anything else?”
“I… uh, bumped into Mulciber, but that wasn’t my fault.”
“Define bumped into?”
“Literally bumped into. Well, he bumped into me. I was getting wine for Cassiopeia and then he just came barreling into me. I think it was a setup or something. I beat him in a duel a while ago in Merrythought’s class.”
“I heard about that. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’re right. Mulciber — well, a lot of Riddle’s crew, really — are vicious.”
“Really?” Harry asked with eyebrows raised as far as he could manage. “I never would have imagined. They seem so pleasant.”
“Well then, I guess you’re not as smart as I thought you were.”
“Rich thing to say coming from someone who thought I was smart. That would be your first mistake.”
Dorea stifled a giggle. “We should talk more,” she said with a slight blush.
Harry almost dropped the knife he was tossing from one hand to the other, catching it deftly each time. It very nearly sliced straight through his skin. “What?”
“You and I,” she said, blushing even harder. “We talk a lot in Potions, but we hardly ever do when we’re not here. I like Fawley, too. We could get along well.”
This was new and uncharted territory for Harry. His friendships with Ron and Hermione had just kind of happened. Fighting a mountain troll together at the age of eleven just sort of did that. His other friends were housemates or extensions of his inner circle, but Gryffindors were different from Slytherins. Most of them were at least on good terms without any effort from either party. It was different in Slytherin. There was always a certain amount of underlying tension that had never been there in Gryffindor Tower.
“I… think I’d like that,” Harry agreed.
Dorea beamed at him just as Slughorn finally bustled his way towards them and she was forced to lower whatever ward she had raised around their brewing station.
November 6, 1942
An Abandoned Classroom
Harry hadn’t been so nervous for a Runes session with Riddle since they had met for the first time in this room. That had only been worse because it had felt so very much like leaping into the unknown. Riddle was still a shadowy figure who Harry knew little about, but he now understood she was unlikely to attack him so openly.
Tonight was going to test that. Tonight, Harry felt like a man on his deathbed, waiting for a fatal illness to claim him as he moved closer and closer to the room in which he met with Riddle.
Riddle suspected him, but how deeply? Was it enough to attack him? To try and rip the secrets from his mind? Would she threaten him? Would she blackmail him? Would she be doing something so dastardly or nefarious that Harry had not yet considered it? He doubted it; he had considered what he thought was everything that could possibly go wrong, but Merlin only knew.
He was at the door to the classroom much too fast. How he wished the corridor could have stretched on and on. How he wished to be anywhere but here as he tentatively reached out and pushed the door open, his other hand on his wand. He doubted it would do him much good if Riddle chose to attack, but he would rather not make the same mistake his father had made and leave his wand behind.
Riddle was there, waiting behind the same desk she always lurked behind, twirling a dark lock of hair around her finger as she waited. Harry looked for anything about her he had never seen before. That look Dorea had warned him about earlier in the week, the light in her eye he had spotted in the common room last Saturday, or anything else that indicated any threat of danger.
There was nothing that he could see.
That only made him shiver more. There was no way Riddle was just letting her suspicion go. Whether she was to become Voldemort or not, too many people feared her. She would not have developed the unspoken reputation she had if she was so lenient.
Which could only mean one thing.
Riddle was bottling everything up as she studied him, watching for an opening and preparing to explode at the first sign of weakness.
For the second time in the past week, Harry suddenly felt like the prey of some quietly slithering snake twice his size and with the venom to kill him in seconds. It was a far less pleasant feeling this time around.
Now that all the chips have been revealed, we are well and truly underway. I am excited to get the rest of Harry’s fourth year written out. It definitely won’t be as long as other years I’ve written in my other stories, but it will be plenty eventful.
Please read and review.
Thank you as always to my lovely Discord Editors Asmodeus Stahl and Idefix for their corrections/contributions on this chapter.
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