CoP 14

Conjoining of Paragons

Chapter 14: Shifting Balances

By ACI100

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.

Self-Promotion: I have a Discord server where you can chat and read all of my chapters early. If you would like to join, simply click the link. You can do likewise to check out the ACI100 Twitter account for live updates, as well as my official website.

If you like what you read and wish to generously support me directly, I also have a Patreon page, where you can support me in exchange for exclusive, Patron-only benefits. Patrons at the $5 tier or higher get access to all of my chapters many weeks in advance of even Discord, who in turn get chapters long before FFN and AO3.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: I have posted a new one-shot titled Fire and Ice! It isn’t the most serious thing in the world — just a short story about a teenage fling, but I thought it appropriate given the season and would appreciate if you would all check it out. There is a free audiobook version recorded and edited by a professional voice actor named Sam Gabriel that can be found on my YouTube channel if that’s more to your taste.

December 7, 1942
The Defence Against the Dark Arts Classroom
1:18 PM

Professor Merrythought did many things very well. Harry thought one of her best and most infuriating qualities was her affinity for keeping students on their toes at all times.

She never seemed to schedule the days on which students would duel — they just happened. All the class knew was that those days would be once every month. 

Today was supposedly set to be Harry’s third duel. He had taken great pleasure in trouncing Mulciber during the first. Beating the Crabbe girl had been less satisfying, but imagining her as Malfoy’s lackey fifty years in the future had certainly served as its own kind of motivation.

Now, it was time for the class to duel again — the final time it would happen before the fast-approaching winter break.

That was something that had been plaguing Harry often as of late. 

The Fawleys had invited him to return to their home in just under two weeks’ time for the winter holidays, but Harry was torn. In his own time, that would never have been a question. Hogwarts was his home and that would have been the end of it.

Yet, this was not his own time. 

Both Elena and Dorea were returning home for the winter break, as were most of the castle’s inhabitants. It was especially pronounced in Slytherin, where most of the students had important families to return home to. 

Two of the only students left in the castle would be Harry and Riddle — a prospect the raven-haired youth dreaded.

“Just come home with me,” Elena had told him time and time again. “It’s the perfect way for you to avoid her.”

“I’m with Elena,” Dorea said every time the conversation was raised. “There’s something about the way she looks at you… it’s unnatural.”

Harry wanted badly to listen to them. They were preaching what was best for him and he knew it. Staying inside the castle next to alone with Riddle was like poking one’s head into the fire without floo powder and hoping for the best. It was ludicrous.

Yet Harry feared it was the only way.

Harry still somehow feared that Riddle would take control of Cerastes despite all the snake had been doing for Harry. That fear would only swell if he left the castle. It would give Riddle the perfect opening and if Harry was nowhere to be seen for weeks, that would be the most plausible time for Cerastes to switch sides.

He felt a strange duty to stop Riddle’s plans involving the Chamber of Secrets. Perhaps it was because he knew Hagrid and did not wish for him to be expelled again. Perhaps it was because after seeing what Myrtle was in life, Harry dreaded seeing her reduced to what she had been in death. Or perhaps it was something else altogether. His feelings towards Riddle or even that damned nobility that had gotten him into trouble so many times.

Harry had no idea what it was, but it was making his decision regarding the winter break extremely difficult. That was unhelpful, for the deadline was approaching fast and Harry had only days to make his final decision.

“Your partners for this month’s rounds,” Harry heard Merrythought call as if from far away. Tuning back into the class and conversation was much more difficult than it ought to have been. Harry missed the first number of pairs, but he caught a name that interested him and finally jolted him back into the swing of things. “Riddle, you’ll duel Crabbe.” Harry saw the big girl pale. He couldn’t blame her. Riddle had made easy work of both Parkinson and Rosier in her first two duels. “Pavonis,” Merrythought went on, “you’ll duel Dolohov.”

Antonin Dolohov… 

Next to Riddle, it was probably the worst draw Harry could have gotten. Rosier and Black were both talented, but Dolohov had exceptional technical prowess and he was the most vicious of all of them. He had pushed Merrythought’s rules in both of his first two duels. Harry knew this was going to be very unlike his duels with both Crabbe and Mulciber. This time, he was really in a fight. 

Harry met Dolohov’s shark-eyed stare and the boy nodded curtly. It was clear that Harry wasn’t the only one who realized he was in for a fight.

He pondered the upcoming duel as Alphard Black took his stance across from his sister, Cassiopeia. Alphard was the odd Black out for Harry. He reminded Harry more of a Malfoy than a Black. He was too quiet to ever be a Malfoy, but he was a smooth talker and lacked the aura the other members of the Black family seemed to carry around. Harry certainly did not expect him to be competitive in a duel against Cassiopeia. 

He realized within the first number of seconds that he was right and refocused on his own upcoming task. He would never have given himself a chance against Dolohov early in the year, but now… things had changed.

Dolohov was definitely better than Elena and there was probably a meaningful gap between the two of them. Outside of Riddle, he was known as one of the best duellists at Hogwarts. The only other more vaunted was Charlus Potter. Many people feared Arcturus Black, but not necessarily in that way, though Harry had little doubt he was skillful.

Yet he had been improving rapidly himself. The gap between him and Elena was widening. She had beaten him often enough early in the year, but that hadn’t happened in ages. Not since he had been distracted after seeing the Unforgivable Curses had Elena wrested his wand from him or otherwise incapacitated him. Now, their duels were hardly competitive and Harry was beginning to worry he would need a new sparring partner if he was to continue improving at the same pace.

Harry almost jumped at the scream as Alphard toppled backwards and slammed hard against the classroom’s floor. Harry could smell burning flesh and hear Merrythought giving Cassiopeia a lecture of sorts, but the female Black waved her off and countered the curse with what seemed like minimal effort. Alphard was still cursing and wincing when he got to his feet, but Harry didn’t fail to notice the way Cassiopeia practically glowed as she walked back to Riddle.

Harry doubted he was a better technical duellist than Dolohov. The boy was not only a year older — he had been duelling for much longer than Harry,

He thought back to Dolohov’s previous two duels. There hadn’t been a whole lot of movement. Dolohov had stayed quite stationary in both duels and just defended with magic. Rosier had moved much more than Dolohov and it had given him problems. Harry was faster than either of them and moved often, so he at least had that going for him.

Mulciber’s body hit the floor as Parkinson summoned the fallen boy’s wand with an immensely smug air about her. It was incredible how she had been so utterly helpless against Riddle, but against Mulciber, she looked like a polished duellist who was skilled and well-practiced. Mulciber just looked livid — he had lost all three of the mock duels.

Elena had always said Harry had a strange ability to cast magic faster than anyone she had ever seen. Harry remembered thinking the same thing about Riddle and wondered whether their duelling styles were similar. She was immensely powerful, but Elena had complained many times that her shields seemed less effective against Harry than they were against most other people.

“Even you must have noticed. Both half bloods, orphans, raised by muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look something alike.”

Tom Riddle’s words still haunted him even now, but perhaps in this instance, they could be of some use.

“Pavonis, Dolohov, you’re up!”

Dolohov was tall, but thin. This was the first time Harry had been so close to him. Merrythought had the curtains drawn so the room was lit only by torches. Dolohov’s pale skin looked waxy in this light but his eyes glinted with the malicious intent Harry knew he carried. This was not Mulciber nor Crabbe. This would be the single most dangerous opponent Harry had ever duelled. He prepared himself for that reality as he could feel Merrythought’s call coming, the spell building on the tip of Dolohov’s wand…


Harry leapt to his right in the nick of time. A jet of purple light from Dolohov’s wand sailed right past him. Harry cast four successive Stunners at top speed, forcing Dolohov to shield and take a step back. Harry fired a Blasting Curse that shattered Dolohov’s shield and sent him staggering, but he deflected Harry’s next two spells with deft precision before countering with three curses Harry had never seen before.

Their exchanges were so fast, Harry had no time to think. It was instinctual, spell for spell, movement for movement — Harry loved it. There was something thrilling about this kind of duelling, something thrilling about the pace, the intensity, and the uncertain outcome. Every part of him seemed to be humming as he dodged, shielded, and even deflected some of Dolohov’s spells. That was a trick Harry had spent the better part of a month learning. Dolohov did it with far more grace than him, but he was improving and Harry could tell Dolohov had expected the duel to end sooner and that he was surprised he still had a live opponent fighting back.

Dolohov snarled as Harry forced him backwards with three quick spells before deflecting Harry’s next offering and lunging forward, lashing out with another curse Harry had never seen before. Harry dove sideways and rolled, avoiding the next spell that he knew would come. He was on his feet again, shielding one spell, dodging another, leaning just out of the way of a third, and countering with his own barrage.

He heard the hiss of pain as a Cutting Curse sliced through Dolohov’s robes and created a wound on his left shoulder. Harry wished he would have gotten Dolohov’s wand arm, but it would do — it was first blood.

Something had changed in the boy’s expression the second he had been wounded. A light blazed behind his eyes that Harry had not seen there before. If it had been there during either of Dolohov’s first two duels, Harry had missed it. It was wild; the kind of look one would expect from a predator backed into a corner.

Harry almost startled at Dolohov’s next barrage. He recognized the first two curses, though they came so fast that Merrythought likely did not. The first would weaken the skin of the affected area to dangerous levels and the second was a Cutting Curse. Combined, they could do horrific amounts of damage. 

Now it was Harry’s expression that changed. Dolohov had upped the stakes significantly, Harry thought as he dodged, watching Dolohov’s wand follow him but his feet stay in place. 

It was like Harry had expected. His biggest advantage was speed, both in casting and in movement. His spells seemed more powerful, too, but Dolohov was not as easily overwhelmed by that as Elena. 

At least not yet.

Dolohov was extremely aggressive. One spell flowed perfectly into the next and his selection was near perfect. Everything had a purpose and was handpicked for the situation. They were all deadly accurate and every single one of his spells carried malicious intent.

But defensively? 

He relied on minimal movement, admittedly excellent reflexes, and magical shields. None of them allowed him to switch the tide of a duel very quickly. Putting Dolohov on his back foot was a nightmare, but when Harry did, it stayed that way for some time. Dolohov was excellent at closing openings, but Harry was beginning to realize that his biggest fault as a duellist was that he had no gift for creating openings.

One of Dolohov’s spells grazed Harry’s ribs and he winced. Heat flared up in the target area, but he had been fortunate. He unleashed a torrent of magic towards Dolohov as fast as he could and forced him on the defensive. Then he opened up, raining down spell after spell on Dolohov, whose shield was buckling under the onslaught. Harry pressed harder and harder until the shield shattered. Dolohov was finally forced to move, lunging sideways and rolling with considerably less grace than Harry. Another Cutting Curse tore into him, this time slicing a wider cut in his leg. More magic was soaring towards him by the time he took to his feet, but he fired off one spell towards Harry before diving out of the way again.

“Expello Viscera!”

Harry almost gasped aloud. He knew that curse only from finding a hideous book in the Fawleys’ library. It was the Entrail-Expelling Curse and it did exactly what it sounded like. He could hardly believe it. He knew Dolohov was vicious, but this? This would be murder in a classroom and in front of witnesses all because of what? Because Harry had given him two wounds that would be easily healed? Because he refused to lose in front of his peers? Or perhaps because he refused to lose in front of Riddle?

“That’s enough!” Merrythought called as Harry sidestepped, but he paid her no heed. 

Harry slashed his wand and bellowed his own incantation, sending a blazing stream of fire towards Dolohov, whose eyes widened as he lunged out of the way.

“I said enough!” screamed Merrythought as Harry and Dolohov began trading curses at top speed once more. 

Harry was back to not thinking. Shield, lean, counter, deflect, counter, offence, step back, shield, lean, counter, dodge, dodge, counter, offence, shield, roll, shield, dodge, deflect, counter…


Harry didn’t remember falling to the floor, but he remembered the earth-shaking sound and he remembered lying there, looking up at the ceiling and the torches on the wall as his vision swam. He raised a hand to his head, but felt nothing. There were no bruises, no cuts, no signs of damage at all. 

His vision was slowly clearing and the ringing in his ears was fading as he began to put together what had happened just as he saw the truth of it.

Riddle was standing there, her wand still held almost delicately up in a ready position as her eyes flicked between Harry and Dolohov. Her spell had knocked down both of them and she had clearly acted at the behest of Professor Merrythought. 

Harry could see that Lestrange was helping Dolohov to his feet and he tensed, worried the boy might attack him again. 

Then, Riddle was by him, swift as the wind, and offered him a hand up. The idea of touching her was vile, but the room still spun and the idea of letting her spell keep him down for so long was worse. Her hand was colder than Harry thought it ought to have been as she helped pull him up and steadied him with her other hand on his back. He shuddered as ripples of cold seemed to spread outwards in a web from where she touched him.

Dolohov had indeed turned unsteadily to face Harry with hatred in his eyes, but all of that had died when he saw who stood near him.

That was all Harry needed to know. 

Already, one of the most dangerous students danced to her tune and after that last spell, it was not difficult to see why. It was the most telling thing Harry had learned so far about Emily Riddle.

Later that night, in an abandoned classroom…

“So he just… attacked you?” Elena asked when Harry had finished telling the tale of his duel with Dolohov.

“He must have just snapped or something. I don’t know “

“That’s odd,” Dorea muttered.

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Is it?”

“Yes. Dolohov isn’t really known for that. Avery, Carrow, Lestrange, Mulciber — all of them, yes. Dolohov is known as the quiet and controlled one.” She fidgeted uncomfortably. “I don’t like it.”

“What do you mean it?” Harry asked. 

“I just think there’s something else going on and whatever it is, I don’t like it.”

“Like what?” asked Elena. “What do you think it could be?”

Dorea gestured vaguely. “I don’t know. Dolohov is one of Riddle’s creatures. He could have done it for her.”

“I don’t understand why she would want him to try and kill me in a classroom full of witnesses though. Besides, if Riddle wanted to attack me, she’s had plenty of chances when I’ve been alone with her.”

“Maybe she didn’t want to do it.”

Harry waved her off. “Doesn’t matter — could have led me into an ambush or something. Point is, it makes no sense to have Dolohov attack me like that in class and risk getting expelled.”

“Do you have any idea how much trouble he got in?”

“Detention with Merrythought until the end of the year. She was taking him to Dippet, too.”

“Like that will do anything,” Dorea said with a sneer. It was an expression Harry hadn’t seen her wear before, but it reminded him exactly which family she came from. “Dippet is useless and has been for years. His wits left him decades ago.”

If this Dippet was the same as the one from Harry’s reality, that might actually have been true. He could think of no other way the old man had allowed Riddle to convince him that Hagrid of all people was the Heir of Slytherin.

“Be careful in that class. You’re on your own against Riddle and her posse.”

“I’ll be fine,” he assured. “I’m not looking forward to duelling Riddle, but otherwise, I’ll be fine.”

“There’s probably some way out of it,” Elena said quietly.

“I’m not afraid of her.”

The two girls exchanged glances before Dorea sighed defeatedly. “I guess that means you’re going to stay for the break too then, doesn’t it?”

Harry nodded, a steely expression fixed in place. “It does, yeah.”

“You know, sometimes, there are just some people you should be afraid of.”

Harry could not help but think they were ominous words, but he ignored them as the trio removed their wands for a night of practice.

December 9, 1942
The Great Hall
8:51 AM

That morning, Slughorn finally went from student to student and confirmed who would be staying behind at the castle and who would be returning home for the winter holidays. Harry had decided to stay back despite his real wishes and better judgement. If Riddle made a move on the Chamber of Secrets, he was the only hope.

His two friends were flummoxed as to why Harry would stay behind. It wasn’t exactly as though he could tell either of them about the Chamber of Secrets. That would raise too many questions he couldn’t answer. Besides, the fewer people knew about it, the better. If Riddle grew desperate enough, she may well try and take the secrets from them either through Legilimency or by more forceful means.

“I would stay back with you if I could,” said Dorea. She even sounded like she meant it.

“Why?” asked Harry. “I imagine your family does something interesting for the holidays?”

Dorea’s smile showed no mirth. It was all teeth and sharper than any of the swords held by the suits of armour all over the castle. “Interesting’s the right word for it. That doesn’t always mean it’s pleasant.”

“Do you get along with the family you have at Hogwarts?” Elena asked tentatively. When Dorea just raised an eyebrow in return, she blushed and looked away. “I just never see you with them.”

“I’m close with Arcturus,” she said. “Not really with any of the others. Not anymore.”

The wording struck Harry as odd as he glanced down the Slytherin table. It sounded like something had happened. The way Slytherins gossiped, Harry was surprised he hadn’t heard about it. What with her being a Black and all. They were rather high profile.

Arcturus Black was talking to no one as he ate. His head was low and his eyes were on a book. He always appeared to be much the opposite of what Harry expected from a Black. He was quiet and unassuming as opposed to brash and arrogant. He was alone and aloof as opposed to outgoing and surrounded by flocks of sycophants. The latter, in particular, just struck Harry as odd. Especially with Arcturus being next in line to inherit the Black lordship. Harry would have expected him to spend most of his Hogwarts days forming political alliances based on the little he knew from Slughorn over the summer.

Arcturus Black was an interesting contradiction, but so was Dorea. She was hardly what Harry would have expected from a daughter of the Founding House of Black in her own right.

Didn’t that all just sum up his experience so far? Not what he had expected. How much easier this all could have been if he could anticipate everything in advance. That was what one thought of when they imagined travelling back in time, but that had not been Harry’s reality. Everything had only become even more uncertain than it had been before the dementors had ruined the lives of his godfather and his best friend.

Harry longed for the contradictions to end. He longed for certainty to reassert itself, or at least for things to become a touch less opaque.

Yet somehow, Harry suspected the questions, confusion, and uncertain tension would only continue as the year drew on. Especially with Riddle making half the house dance on strings as she moved closer and closer to whatever it was she was planning. 

December 11, 1942

The Entrance Hall

10:44 PM

Harry’s day had been miserable.

Slughorn had announced that morning in Potions that he would be holding another party; this time, to celebrate the holidays. He hadn’t thrown one in November, so Harry really ought to have expected it but he hadn’t. He had been so caught up in his time with Cerastes, worries about Riddle, and frustration over all the uncertainty that he found himself completely blindsided by the new development.

It really had ruined Harry’s day, but there was enough clarity left in his mind not to fall into the same trap he had last time.

The first thing he had done after Potions class was to ask Elena to go with him. This time, he would not be stuck with one of Riddle’s cronies because he was too cowardly to ask one of his friends to go with him. This time, he would be prepared and he wouldn’t let Riddle use this as another opening to try and take what Harry couldn’t let her have.

That had been stressful, but it had gone well. What had gone less well was Dorea. She had been strangely distant all day and largely ignored both Harry and Elena as they went about their business. It was frustrating and reminded Harry of how he and Ron had gone through a falling out with Hermione during their third year. He hadn’t been able to understand what Hermione was thinking then, and Dorea’s thoughts now were just as elusive to him. He hadn’t the foggiest of ideas what had her in such a storming mood. She had been fine at breakfast. Perhaps she too was dreading the Slug Club meeting? Harry had no idea.

And if that wasn’t enough, it was Friday, which meant he had Ancient Runes tutoring with Riddle.

This session was tense in a different way. Harry felt… it was hard to describe. He was more nervous than ever, but that wasn’t it. There was a certain feeling that came with knowing how easily Riddle had laid him and Dolohov out on Monday. It had been from behind with neither having a chance to defend themselves, but the magic had spoken for itself. 

It left an unspoken weight upon the room as they worked their way through the fourth-year Ancient Runes curriculum. Riddle was determined to get Harry to the point at which he could take and pass a mock fourth-year exam before letting the sessions come to an end. Harry was less thrilled by the prospect, but he couldn’t deny he was learning much faster with Riddle’s help than he would have done without. 

“You seem tense,” Riddle said when they finished that night.

“It’s nothing. It’s just been a long week.”

Riddle watched him carefully. “If it’s about Monday—”

“It isn’t,” Harry lied, not meeting her eyes. “It’s just… been a long week.”

“I can sympathize,” she said. “It’s difficult watching all of my friends return home over the winter break whilst I have nowhere to go.”

“You live in an orphanage, right?” Harry knew the answer, but he felt it was right to ask. She had told him over the summer that both of her parents were dead, but she had never actually told him where she lived.

Riddle nodded. “A muggle one, yes. My mother was a witch who died giving birth to me and I never knew my father.”

Harry wished Riddle would just go home with one of her lackeys, but he actually wasn’t sure she was kidding. Prodigious as she might have been, she had not yet proven herself outside of academics and the fact she was a halfblood leading around a group of the harshest pureblood supremacists in the country. Harry thought there really was a high chance their parents would not take her presence well.

“I’ll be staying, too.” Harry didn’t know what made him say it. He tried to tell himself that it was a warning, a reminder to Riddle that she would have opposition over the break if she tried anything, but part of him didn’t think that was it. His voice didn’t quite have the bite for it, either. It was too quiet, too soft.

Riddle smiled. “I look forward to it. It would be nice to learn more about you.”

It took Harry a moment to realize that Riddle had played him for a fool. 

What had he just done?

She had flipped the script so quickly that the room seemed to spin all around him.

He had planned to stay behind in order to be her foil — the protector of the castle against her many ill wishes.

Now, it felt different. It felt like he was a dog who had growled too loudly and then been put back in its kennel. 

Somehow, Harry was going to need to either win back the upper hand or avoid Riddle altogether — unless she strayed too close to the second floor for his liking. 

Looking at the small smile on her lips and the crazed light dancing behind her eyes, Harry thought the latter might be his better option.

Author’s Endnote:

One more chapter left before the winter break. This one was a little bit longer than the last two, so I hope you enjoyed it. I do enjoy how the balance of power between Harry and Riddle just keeps shifting back and forth. It is an interesting game to play.

Please read and review.

Thank you as always to my lovely Discord Editors B U G, Commissar Red, Hyuck, Puddle, and Thanos 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, January 5th, 2022. IT IS AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW FOR ANYONE WHO JOINS MY DISCORD SERVER, AS IS CHAPTER 16! Those who sign up to my Patreon page will gain immediate access to THE NEXT SEVEN 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.

Don’t forget to check out my new one-shot, Fire and Ice, while you’re at it! It’s posted here and can also be found as an audiobook on YouTube!

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

%d bloggers like this: