Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 13: Lingering Shadows
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.
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November 19, 1942
The Chamber of Secrets
There had been nearly three weeks between Harry’s first and second visit to the Chamber of Secrets, but he found himself returning with increasing regularity ever since Riddle’s demeanour had changed. It was the best place to go where she couldn’t get to him, which he found comfort in. Especially because he knew how badly she wanted to get down into the chamber. Taking that away from her was satisfying in a cruel, twisted sort of way.
Tonight was different. Tomorrow, Harry would meet with Riddle and she would tutor him in Ancient Runes. It would be the third time they had met since she had first suspected him of locking her out of the Chamber of Secrets.
Their first meeting had truly unnerved him. There was no ambush, no attack, not even a threat. Just cold and calculating intentions looming behind those dark blue eyes like deadly predators hidden by shadow or the pitch of night. Harry could feel those intentions bubbling every time he looked at Riddle, but she never acted. That was the worst thing of all. If she would have just cursed him, at least it would be done. Not knowing what she was planning or how exactly she planned to take revenge worried him.
On the outside, she had remained the same as always. Polite, courteous, intrigued by him and eager to learn more — nothing seemed to have changed. Harry knew better, but Riddle masked it well. If not for Dorea’s warning and that first night in the common room, he was unsure whether he would have suspected anything at all; that was almost as bad as the waiting. Knowing that she could strike without him knowing anything was coming was disconcerting. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had always played offence. It had been them who made the moves once they pieced together the puzzles. It had felt like a choice
This felt anything but. Every time Harry talked with Riddle, locked eyes with her, or was even in the same room, he felt a step behind and like he was being led astray. All of her friends treated him the same. They paid him no heed — except for Mulciber, who still glared hatefully towards him any chance he got. The boy had not taken his defeat to Harry in Merrythought’s first day of duelling well, and Harry was sure that whatever motive Riddle had was the only reason Mulciber had not yet tried to properly attack him.
“You seem stressed.”
Harry had let Cerastes free of the statue once he entered the Chamber of Secrets. The snake hissed from behind him so as not to be in Harry’s field of vision. It was odd talking to a creature without looking at it, but Harry much preferred the awkwardness to the fatal alternative.
“It’s been hectic. Ever since right after I came here the first time.”
There was a pause during which Cerastes seemed to consider Harry’s words. “Is it the usurper?”
That was what Cerastes called Riddle. Harry had never given the snake her name, so he supposed he couldn’t blame him. It was ironic, really. Harry was the one who had effectively usurped Riddle and her title, but he had no plans of telling the basilisk that.
“It is,” Harry admitted.
“Let me rip her, let me tear her, let me kill her.”
A shiver ran up Harry’s spine. Those words were terrifyingly familiar. They were the same ones the snake had hissed in his own time when commanded by a different master.
Cerastes was an interesting case. He was a snake, first and foremost. An apex predator who had no qualms about killing at will. Yet the snake was not a monster. It was the vessel for the Heir’s will. That was what Harry had learned quickly. Under the control of Tom Riddle, he had ravaged the muggleborn population of Hogwarts not once, but twice. Whilst following Harry, he dozed off and on in the Chamber of Secrets, waiting for him to return with tidings and food. The snake demanded nothing from him, but enjoyed speaking with Harry. Any small bits of information seemed welcome. Harry could hardly blame it; it had dwelled here unaccompanied for the better part of a thousand years.
It was just so odd how the creature could be so very different when controlled by a new master. Hell, even the notion of a beast like this being controlled by anyone was strange. It could have killed Harry at any time and there was nothing he could have done about it. How Slytherin had convinced the snake to serve his heirs so loyally, Harry would never know.
“Thanks, but I don’t think I’ll need you to do that.”
Harry could hear the snake slithering behind him. It almost felt disappointed. “It has been so long since I have truly hunted.”
“One day, maybe I’ll ask you to hunt her.” Harry hoped not. He had actually never considered the notion until now. If Riddle became too much like Voldemort by the time her seventh year rolled around, Harry did have a weapon of mass destruction at his disposal.
But could he use it? Could he condemn Riddle to death before she had passed the point of no return? What was the point of no return, anyway? It struck him then for the thousandth time how little he knew about Voldemort in his own time. Knowing more would have been helpful here. He really could end the threat with the basilisk — however good Riddle was, Harry would have been astounded had she defeated Cerastes in her fifth year.
That was a thought, though. If he waited too long… could she defeat the basilisk by the end of her seventh? Would the Killing Curse be effective against a beast of Cerastes’ scale? Could Riddle cast the curse already? If not, surely she would by the time she graduated…
There were far too many questions with answers being much too scarce. Nothing Harry had ever done felt so complicated. It seemed like the mysteries never ended — more and more of them flinging themselves at him before he could free himself of the last.
“Is she not a threat to you?” Cerastes asked.
Harry ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “That’s the problem.”
“What is the problem?”
“That I don’t know. Everything I know about her says that she’s a threat and I get a bad feeling when I’m around her—”
“Then she’s a threat.”
“But she’s done nothing to me. She hasn’t moved against me and I’m not even sure whether she’s tried to come down here yet or not.”
“You should always trust how you feel. That is important for witches and wizards.”
Something about the way Cerastes said that struck Harry as odd. He had heard all the cliches about gut feelings and of following one’s heart in the muggle world. It had never been the type of rhetoric Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon preached, but he had been exposed to it in other places.
This seemed different.
Important for witches and wizards.
“What do you mean?” Harry asked.
He heard the snake’s slithering pause. “What has you confused?”
“I’ve heard people say stuff like that, but never about witches and wizards. Just about people in general. Was that just worded differently?”
There was a long pause. “Close your eyes,” Cerastes demanded.
Harry frowned, though the snake could not see it from behind him. “What?”
“Close your eyes. I would like to test you.”
Harry shut his eyes with great trepidation. It had taken him some time and several visits to trust the snake to be out of the statue. Harry highly doubted he was about to get double-crossed even though his heart seemed far more worried than his brain. If he was, it hardly mattered whether his eyes were open or not.
“Okay,” he hissed after a deep, centring breath, “my eyes are closed.”
“Breathe deeply and feel.”
Harry’s frown deepened. “What do you mean ‘feel’?”
The snake’s hissing was incoherent. “Do you not know?”
Harry shook his head before realizing the snake might not even be looking at him. Back turned or not, Cerastes tended to err on the side of caution. “No,” he hissed after that realization.
If snakes could sigh, Harry was sure Cerastes would have. “You have much to learn,” the basilisk decided. “We will begin practising now. You will learn to feel, and then the usurper shall not worry you so much.”
Harry hadn’t the foggiest idea how those two things were related, but he was desperate enough to give just about anything a try.
November 20, 1942
The Great Hall
The mood in the castle was divided that morning. A Daily Prophet articlehad released and covered important developments from the front lines of the war against Grindelwald and his forces. It was odd for Harry to read it knowing what would happen. Or, what had happened in his reality.
The Soviets had launched strikes against the forces surrounding Stalingrad. The fight was happening on both the muggle and wizarding sides. It was going well for the Soviets thus far and Harry knew that if it played out anything like how it had in his reality, this would be one of the most crippling losses the Nazis would sustain, at least on the muggle side.
Opinions about this were… divided.
It was easy to see which students had family supporting Grindelwald at the Slytherin table, or so Harry had thought.
“It’s not that simple,” Dorea was explaining.
She had quietly become a fixture in Harry’s life ever since that day in Potions when she had warned him about the shift in Riddle’s behaviour and offered her hand in friendship. She had slid quietly in with Harry and Elena, expanding their duo to a trio. It felt surprisingly natural and reminded Harry of when Hermione had joined up with him and Ron after the mountain troll incident back in first year.
“What do you mean?” Harry asked in a whisper quiet enough for prying ears to miss.
“If Grindelwald’s forces pull out of Russia, they might look for a different target,” Dorea said just as quietly.
Harry pondered that for a moment before his eyes widened. “You don’t mean—”
“Isn’t Grindelwald supposed to be scared of Dumbledore?” That was the impression Harry had always gotten. Dumbledore had even been the one to defeat him, which lended a certain amount of credence to the theory.
“That’s what some people say,” said Dorea. “Other people say that it’s Dumbledore who’s afraid. Especially after the attack in Diagon Alley this summer.”
“Grindelwald wasn’t there, though,” Harry pointed out.
“No, they say he wasn’t. Would you go on the first mission to a new country? Plenty of people think that was just a probe.”
“So, what?” asked Elena. “He wanted to test British defences?”
“That, or test how fast Dumbledore would show up.” Dorea shrugged. “I’m no strategist.”
“Just a Black,” Elena quipped, a nervous smile upon her face.
Dorea smiled back at her. “Yes, just a Black.”
Harry could tell something was different about that night the second he and Riddle concluded their discussion about Ancient Runes. It was remarkable how far he had come under her tutelage. It was not yet three months into the school year and Harry had all but caught up with the third years. He was actually starting to grasp concepts well enough to begin learning the fourth-year curriculum on his own. It was unreasonably fulfilling and Harry thought he could finally understand why Hermione had taken so much pleasure in burying her face in books for hours and hours on end.
Riddle watched him when they finished. She often looked at him, but she avoided truly watching him nowadays when he was looking. That wasn’t to say she didn’t do it. Dorea had caught her at it many times, and even Harry had felt her stare burning into him on occasion.
“What did you think of the morning’s news, if you don’t mind me asking?”
The question caught Harry off guard. Riddle somehow hadn’t struck him as the type to ask about international politics. Least of all when their relationship was as subtly delicate now as one could imagine.
Harry chewed his lip as he considered what Dorea had said and what he knew. “I hope the Soviets massacre them,” he said, not forgetting the lie he had told Riddle about his parents’ deaths.
She tilted her head. “Do you?”
“Course I do. Those are the same bastards that killed my parents.” The act was astonishingly easy to put up, especially whilst staring at a version of his parents’ true murderer.
“And what if the rumours are true?”
“I’m sure at least Black has told you. The ones that if Grindelwald’s forces are driven back, they might set their sights on England next.”
“It would force Grindelwald to finally duel Dumbledore. We might get an end to everything if that happens.”
“You perplex me, Pavonis.”
His fake name sounded foul on her tongue; he hoped it tasted even worse and that she choked on it. “I didn’t think much confused you, Riddle.”
“If it were me, I would want to do it myself.”
Harry frowned. “Come again?”
“If Grindelwald had killed my parents, I’d make sure I was the one to kill him.”
It stunned him the way she said it. It was so matter of fact. There was no doubt or hesitation in her voice. Riddle spoke with complete and total confidence, as though she had no doubt she could kill Gellert Grindelwald.
Harry’s frown deepened. “You know what you’re saying, don’t you? They call Grindelwald the most powerful dark wizard ever. I think my parents would rather I stayed alive, personally.”
Riddle shrugged. “I’d have no intention of losing.”
“You make that sound so simple.”
“Motivation is an extremely powerful tool. I’ve learned to use it well and I would make sure I had everything I needed to win.” She fixed him with a pointed look. “I never once said I would fight Grindelwald on his terms — only that I would kill him.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I don’t think I’ll be ready to kill Grindelwald any time soon.”
“Your relationship with your parents was never the strongest, was it?”
If Riddle’s first question had taken Harry aback, this one nearly knocked him from his chair due to the whiplash it caused. “What?”
“You seem detached. For most people, living or dying would be an afterthought. It would be about vengeance.” She raised a single eyebrow. “Don’t you want that?”
Harry felt the blush rise and tried to fight it, but he could feel it invading his cheeks despite his best efforts. “Well… taking revenge only works if I can win.”
“You’re a very interesting contradiction.”
“Am I?” Harry asked, still flustered.
“You are. I’d like to commend you on such pragmatic thinking. I would like to sit here and say how you’re the perfect Slytherin for thinking that way, but you’re not.”
“Seems pretty cunning to me.”
“There’s more to the house than cunning. You seem to have a complete lack of ambition. If it was me, I would never rest. I would destroy myself in the pursuit of destroying him, but I don’t see that fire in your eyes. I don’t feel that energy around you. I think you care very little whether Grindelwald lives or dies.” She twirled a lock of shining black hair around a long pale finger. Harry had noticed before she did this often while thinking but now, there was a childish air about it. Riddle was amused; perhaps she thought she was toying with him just as easily. “Or perhaps you just want to hide in the hope that others do your work for you.”
Harry felt his temper rise, but he fought hard to keep it in check. This must be Riddle’s plan. She must have hoped to provoke him into a fight. It wasn’t going to work — he had three years of dealing with the likes of Snape and Malfoy under his belt; Riddle’s antagonism could compare to neither of them.
“Or maybe you just don’t have everyone figured out as well as you think you do,” Harry bit back as he stood to his feet. “Well,” he said just short of the door, pausing to glance at Riddle over his shoulder. Her dark eyes had followed him to the door. “I think you know you don’t understand me, and I think that fact makes you mental. Between the two of us, Riddle, you’ll have to try harder than that to make progress.”
November 28, 1942
Harry had almost forgotten about the little village by the time the notice for the year’s first Hogsmeade excursion went up in mid-November. They were usually once per month, but the outings had been postponed after the attack on Diagon Alley. Everyone wanted to wait and see whether Grindelwald struck again.
There had been no attacks ever since, so Armando Dippett and the Hogwarts Board of Governors had finally given their stamps of approval and the first expedition was set.
The wind bit at Harry, Elena, and Dorea as they traipsed their way down the sloping lawns and made for one of the carriages. There had been several light snowfalls as of late, but they left little more than a faint dusting behind that gave way quickly and left nothing behind but damp, dying blades of grass. Everyone knew winter was coming; the weather was making sure no one forgot. Harry heard Elena’s teeth chatter from beside him as they climbed into their carriage. Her travelling cloak was pulled so tightly around her that Harry thought it must be cutting off circulation as their carriage began to move.
The sky above was a dull, unrelenting grey. The sun had no hope of poking through the oppressive veil, but neither rain nor snow seemed any closer to falling, so Harry supposed things could be much worse.
Leaving the castle’s grounds via carriage had been odd. Harry had always snuck to Hogsmeade via the secret passage under the humpbacked statue of the one-eyed witch. He had considered doing that again today, but Harry feared Riddle might be watching him and that was a secret he was unwilling to give away so casually.
If that had been a bit strange, Hogsmeade itself was completely foreign. The Three Broomsticks was still there, which was no surprise. Harry had heard people say that it was as old as the village itself and that Hogsmeade’s founder had dwelled there during medieval times. The other, less savoury establishment — the Hog’s Head — also appeared to be standing as battered and sullen as ever, but the similarities ended there.
No Shrieking Shack stood weathered and decrepit atop its lush green hill. Harry had expected that, but it was still strangely disappointing. That fabled ruin had given the village splendour it otherwise lacked and it was far from the only thing missing.
Honeydukes was there, but it was different. The place looked as though it had seen better days judging by the peeling paint and thin coating of dust that had resembled the light snow the previous day before it had melted away. Zonko’s was there too, but it was closed.
“It’s because of the war,” said Elena. “My parents say it hurts business.”
“I’ll bet it did,” said Dorea. “Nobody but the noble families have money to spend and most of them don’t go looking around in Zonko’s.”
Harry had been looking forward to this trip, but it was not what he had been hoping for. He had sought an escape from the castle, a respite from Riddle’s ever-watchful gaze, and a reminder of something pure and joyful.
What he got was a slap in the face and a hard reminder of exactly what he had stumbled into. This quaint little village had been touched just as deeply by the war as Diagon Alley, but this one was sadder for Harry. It hit closer to home somehow.
His mind thought back to the conversations he had shared with Dorea and Riddle about Grindelwald and Stalingrad. Harry was much less sure whether what he had told Riddle he was hoping for had been the truth. If Dumbledore was going to defeat Grindelwald anyway, did it really matter? The last thing Harry wanted was tons of wreckage in England. The war had barely touched the country’s wizarding population and yet still it left ruin in its nonexistent wake. Harry could scarcely imagine what would become of places like Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley if Britain bore the full brunt of Grindelwald’s onslaught. He thought back to reading about the Blitz in muggle history class. It had shaped a generation of their countrymen and changed Britain forever. Harry shuddered to think what the wizarding equivalent of that might look like.
It was a relief to step inside the Three Broomsticks. Nothing had changed in fifty years inside this establishment. Nothing except that Madam Rosmerta was nowhere to be seen and was quite possibly not yet born. Harry had felt strangely disappointed at that. Her replacement was an older woman who did not quite carry Rosmerta’s luster.
Elena nudged Dorea once the trio had sat down. “He’s looking at you again,” she whispered. Harry was confused until he followed the two girls’ stares.
There was indeed a boy looking directly at Dorea and the sight of him made Harry’s heart lurch. His hair was dark and tousled, his eyes were warm and blazed with strange emotion that Harry couldn’t place, and his face — Merlin, it was familiar.
Harry recognized him at once. He was the same boy who had taken Myrtle off to the hospital wing the night Aragog attacked. The same boy who Dumbledore had swiftly called upon, the same boy who made Harry feel like he was looking in a broken mirror if he ignored the eyes, and the same boy whom he had once seen staring out at him through a very different kind of mirror.
Dorea blushed. “I wish he wouldn’t,” she muttered. “I don’t know what he’s after.”
Elena giggled. “Really? I think it’s pretty obvious.”
Dorea glared. “If that’s it, then he’s an idiot. He must know that’s not how it works with the Blacks.”
Harry had looked away, but he felt the boy’s eyes on him this time and he looked back. The expression was strange. It was… tight somehow. Like it caused Charlus physical pain to look at him, but also like he couldn’t bring himself to look away.
Harry tried not to show how fast his heart was beating when he raised a questioning eyebrow. Charlus’s expression smoothed out like the surface of a lake when its ripples disappeared and he nodded curtly.
Harry watched his grandfather even after the man had turned away. There was something odd about that whole thing. From the expressions he had worn to the words shared between Elena and Dorea. Harry would have to watch his grandfather, though something made him hesitate to do more than that.
The universe had a funny way of spoiling nice things anytime Harry sought them out. It was best not to tempt it by making true advances.
“Are you all right, Harry?” Elena asked, pulling him from his stupor. The waitress who wasn’t quite as pretty as Madam Rosmerta had arrived and she and the other two girls were looking at Harry with expectant expressions.
He shook himself with some difficulty. “Yeah, sorry, spaced out for a minute. I’ll take a butterbeer, please.”
I know these chapters are quite short, but the last couple are just moving the timeline along so I hope you understand. I really want to avoid unnecessary bloat with this story, so I do hope to achieve at least that much.
I have been wanting to set something up with Charlus for quite some time due to a moment that will take place in Harry’s fifth year and I thought now was the time. I’m happy to finally have that plot underway as well as to have Dorea be part of Harry’s small group of friends. Do let me know what you think of the developments as they progress.
I’ve said this before, but it may be worth reminding you that Dorea and Charlus are Harry’s grandparents in this story, not Euphemia and Fleamont.
Please read and review.
Thank you as always to my lovely Discord Editors Idefix and Slytherin Muffin for their corrections/contributions on this chapter.
A massive thank you is also extended to my Othrian-level patron, ShadowWolf, for his incredibly generous support on that platform!
PS: The next chapter will be posted in exactly two weeks. It will be released for readers on Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021. IT IS AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW FOR ANYONE WHO JOINS MY DISCORD SERVER, AS IS CHAPTER 15! Those who sign up to my Patreon page will gain immediate access to THE NEXT SIX CHAPTERS. Both of those links can be found on my profile. If you have trouble with either of them, a generic search of my pen name will bring up my website and direct links to both can be found via the home page.
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