Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 15: Failed Intrusions
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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December 13, 1942
The Chamber of Secrets
Harry let out a long, deep breath as he opened his eyes and once again allowed the Chamber of Secrets to swim into view.
“You are improving,” hissed Cerastes from behind him.
It was true. The basilisk had been teaching Harry how to sense magic and it was working. Harry was beginning to learn to sense the nature of spells and the like. The snake obviously couldn’t cast anything, but it had acute sensory abilities of its own and was passing on the knowledge to Harry. Outside of the Chamber of Secrets was where he had been practicing those skills the most. Trying to guess spells cast in duels before they were fired, trying to gauge what kinds of wards Dorea put up on abandoned classrooms Harry’s trio found themselves in, and so on.
The effects were further reaching than just sensing spells. Harry had begun to find casting easier. Magic of his own was the easiest to sense. If Harry miscast a spell, he could usually now determine his error and how to correct it. It allowed him to learn spells faster than he had before, though he longed for the day he would be able to sense the spell’s makeup before it left his wand. Cerastes said it would one day come but that it was a skill of great difficulty and he was unsure exactly how long it would take.
“Slowly,” Harry hissed back.
“No. Not so slowly. Faster than I expected.”
“But you still don’t know how long until I’ll be able to sense magic before it’s cast?”
“No. These things cannot be predicted. I would hardly have been surprised by your progression if they could be.”
The snake had Harry there. It did feel like he was progressing quickly. It hadn’t for quite some time. It seemed like no progress at all had been made in the first month or so, but since then, his improvements had come more quickly. The problem had been that Harry had a right pain of a time forcing his mind to still. There could be thoughts, but the more it leapt from thought to thought, the harder it was to sense and interpret magic. Getting past that roadblock had been immensely difficult.
“You seem stressed,” Cerastes commented.
“I am,” Harry admitted.
“The usurper’s still watching me. She’ll make her move soon, I’m sure of it, but she hasn’t yet. It just feels like it’s building and building but going absolutely nowhere.”
“You stress too much. If the usurper had courage, she would have moved already. One who lacks courage is not one to be worried about.”
It was odd hearing this sentiment from Slytherin’s monster. With all the enmity between Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor, it was strange to hear Cerastes praise Gryffindor’s values. The snake had said little of Slytherin and until now, Harry had never thought to ask. Perhaps when the time arose, he would. It was an unparalleled opportunity to learn about one of the greatest wizards of all time. If any wisdom came from it, all the better; Harry suspected he would be needing all of it in more in the months and years to come.
“I think she’s just a perfectionist. She won’t commit to a plan unless she’s sure it’ll work. I can feel her watching me any time I’m not looking even though she’s an excellent actress.” Harry made a face. “I still wish this magic sensing could be used to read people.”
“I have told you that’s not how magic works—”
“Yes, yes, I know. Magic isn’t inside of people. There’s no core or any such nonsense. Magic is all around us and witches and wizards are just the conductors. It’s only magical creatures like you that have magic as a part of you.”
“That is right. How do you expect to use your ability to read someone knowing this?”
“I don’t expect anything. I just wish I could.”
“Wish? What is wish?”
Harry cocked his head to the side as he thought. “Something you want to happen. In this case, something I want to happen even though I know it can’t.”
“That’s ridiculous,” argued Cerastes. “Why do humans waste their time with these wishes? They accomplish nothing.”
“They’re pleasant to think about sometimes,” Harry defended.
“Pathetic. Do not wish — create. Wishes sound foolish. It sounds like something that somebody who was incapable of creation would spend their time doing.”
This wasn’t the first time Harry had to explain something like this to Cerastes. The basilisk was intelligent, but he was still a snake and thought like a snake. They had no place in their minds for abstract things like wishes and dreams. Life was a task to them; one large problem that could only be tackled with a systematic approach.
Harry thought he could have done with some of that thinking during his first three years at Hogwarts. Maybe then he wouldn’t have felt so far behind. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel so lost. Maybe then he could have prevented the dementor attack and not have wound up here in the first place.
He was wishing again. If Cerastes had anything right, Harry thought it was his stance on wishes. They were pointless and almost always went unanswered. Creation, Cerastes had said? Yes, Harry liked that better.
“Let’s keep going,” Harry said as he closed his eyes and took a deep calming breath.
“You are learning,” Cerastes responded, hissing in a manner more smug than Harry had ever heard before.
December 14, 1942
The Potions Classroom
Harry was unsurprised when Slughorn held him back after class that Monday morning, but he wished the man hadn’t. The classroom was always stifling after a class of brewing and he really hoped the professor would just tell him to come to his office that night instead. Not only were thin streams of sweat rolling slowly down Harry’s face like water down a windshield, but breathing in this room was difficult. All the fumes made the air thicker than butter and Harry thought that if he had ever used a snorkel, this would surely have reminded him of that.
“I must say, you are improving with Miss Black,” Slughorn started, holding the vial of potion Harry had submitted up to the light as he rolled it back and forth across his palm.
“Thanks. Dorea’s been great.”
“She’s always been good at Potions. Much of her family is, but she has a touch for them unlike even the rest.”
“She’s patient, too. She doesn’t snap and always takes the time to explain things.”
“A fine girl.” Slughorn set the vial of potion down upon his desk. “Perhaps you might even want to consider her for the party this Friday night.”
Harry’s stomach gave a nauseating lurch at the thought. Meeting Dorea was one of the best things that had happened since arriving in the past. Not only was she one of his best friends, but there was something special about getting to know his grandmother. That feeling would be shattered very quickly if he got to know her in… more intimate ways. The thought of it made Harry’s stomach writhe like a pit of a hundred vipers. This must have been what Ron had felt like in their second year whilst vomiting slugs into Hagrid’s great basin.
“We’re just friends, sir.”
“Of course, of course,” Slughorn said with a wave of his hand. “Harry, m’boy, I would never dream of insinuating anything otherwise. Not at all what I meant, not at all.”
“What did you mean then, Professor?”
“Just that it would be best if you had a companion again this Friday. I thought Miss Black might be amiable if you didn’t plan to go with her cousin again.”
Oh, Merlin… Harry had never even considered that last time around. It really was fortunate that he and Cassiopeia had gone together out of nothing more than obligation. If that hadn’t been true, Harry wasn’t sure he would ever be able to live it down. He would need to bleach every inch of his body before he had any hope of not vomiting every time the thought arose.
“I’m not going with Cassiopeia this time, no.”
“See, there you go?” Slughorn frowned. “Young Dorea would be the perfect companion.”
“Sir, I already—”
“Or is it because you’re hesitant to ask her? Or maybe that the two of you are such good friends? I have noticed you two talking an awful lot these past few weeks.”
“We have. We became much closer friends in November.”
“Ah, say no more! I can understand completely why you wouldn’t want to complicate that dynamic. I would never dream of intruding. No, no, I understand.”
Harry felt thoroughly perplexed by now and he felt his lips fall into a frown that likely indicated just that. “What do you mean, sir?”
Slughorn wagged a finger. “Not this time, Harry, not this time. You have played the role of ignorant fool one too many times. The act won’t fool me again.”
Harry felt his cheeks flush with heat. If only he really had been acting every time Slughorn thought he knew more than he did. “But, sir, I—”
“Would you like me to arrange something for you? I know Emily was kind enough last time, but I would hate to trouble her with such arrangements. Especially not after she failed to find herself a companion of her own last October. It was really quite disappointing. I would be happy to—”
“Professor, I already have someone who I’m going with.”
Slughorn looked as though he had been knocked unconscious and had just staggered to his feet. There was a dazed frown on his face and a vacant look in his eyes as though he had not quite understood what Harry had just said.
“Come again, m’boy?”
“I’m already going with someone. I set it up myself this time. I… uh, didn’t want to trouble Riddle again, like you said.”
Slughorn blinked rapidly three times. “Oh,” he said flatly. Harry had expected pride, excitement, or at the very least curiosity. What he had not expected was for Slughorn to look so… dejected.
Harry could not for the life of him understand what had sparked such a reaction. “Is everything all right, Professor?”
“I was just checking that everything’s okay.”
“Oh, yes,” said Slughorn, his gusto suddenly returning. “Oh yes, everything is quite all right. Just… I‘ve been suffering with the worst headaches as of late. I’m sorry, but I must go and administer a cure. You understand, of course.”
Harry glanced back at the classroom door after stepping out into the dungeons. That had been the oddest interaction he had ever shared with Professor Slughorn. That would have been like him saying that one of Malfoy’s sneers had been uglier than all the others. It was a monstrous claim to make, but Harry was confident in this one.
If only he had any idea what had actually made Slughorn act so strangely. The headache was clearly nonsense, but what had happened? Had Harry done something wrong? Had he just lost his foremost ally inside the castle?
He let out a long, frustrated breath as he buried his head in his hands. This year’s complex troubles never ceased falling upon his shoulders. He felt like Atlas under the impossible weight of the sky and soon, his knees would buckle and he would be painfully crushed under it all if something didn’t change.
December 15, 1942
The Transfiguration Classroom
“I was quite pleased with this class’s performance in this term’s final examination,” Dumbledore was saying. “The improvements some of you have demonstrated have been truly remarkable. It warms my heart to see such commitment to such a complex subject and those of you who scored admirably should be very proud.”
Dumbledore flicked his wand and the graded tests began handing themselves out. It had become less odd seeing Dumbledore behind a teacher’s desk twice a week, but it was still jarring on occasion. Times like this, when he handed back tests and praised the class for their commitment to his subject. Especially with the sunlight streaming through the window and making his auburn hair and beard look even more vivid. That was something Harry would never get used to. Dumbledore would have his silvery hair and beard again by the time the auburn looked anything short of otherworldly.
Harry looked down at his test and smiled. A perfect score. Hermione would scarcely have believed it.
It turned out that Harry was really quite good at Transfiguration once he’d found what worked for him. It really should have come as no surprise. Harry had heard for three years how gifted James Potter had been. In the Shrieking Shack, he had even learned how he had become an illegal Animagus alongside Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black.
Harry had begun to wonder about that lately. His improvements here had been staggering. They had been more rapid than even in duelling or magic sensing. Harry was breezing through the curriculum and wished he could skip ahead here as well. He knew it would never happen and that Slughorn and Merrythought had made a very special exception, but he didn’t mind too much.
Dumbledore had caught onto his improvements early on and begun giving him more and more challenging tasks that focused on larger transfigurations or finer details. The Transfiguration professor had been as big a part of Harry’s growth in the subject as he had. Harry held no ill will towards Professor McGonagall, but he had never seen her help a student as much as Dumbledore had helped Harry. He really was a remarkable teacher and Harry had considered asking him what it would take to become an Animagus.
It would need to be done in a way that wouldn’t arouse Dumbledore’s suspicion. That was the difficult part. How did one deceive somebody as brilliant and as perceptive as Dumbledore? The ministry would never allow Harry to become an Animagus — not for many years and not without sufficient qualifications — so he would have to do it illegally if he wanted to do it before he was middle-aged.
That was not to say Harry was delusional. He knew he was now beyond fourth-year level in regards to Transfiguration, but he was just as aware that he was miles away from being able to become an Animagus. The thought just cropped up the more and more he thought of Riddle duelling in Merrythought’s class. She was so far ahead of him it was laughable. That gap was closing, but would it close fast enough? If she rose to become Lady Voldemort, Harry was going to need every advantage he could get. He was reasonably sure Voldemort had never been an Animagus. That would be one weapon she would never expect. Though, with his luck, he would end up as a rodent or some nonsense. It would be typical — for Harry to spend years developing a new weapon against Voldemort that only makes it easier for her to kill him if he ever used it.
“I am very pleased with the way you have performed this term, Master Pavonis.”
Harry looked up and met those piercing blue eyes that were all too familiar. “Thank you, Professor.”
“I have rarely taught anyone with your talent and I’m happy to see it is not wasted on you. I’m aware the scope of this class doesn’t challenge you, but come to me at any time if you would like to make swifter improvements. The work would be extensive, but I would be happy to nudge you in the right direction with some supplementary material as well as answering any questions you might have.”
Harry’s heart stopped for a moment. Had Albus Dumbledore just offered to teach him magic?
Then, the muscle soared into his throat when he realized that was exactly what had just happened. The greatest wizard in the world — the man who was destined to defeat Gellert Grindelwald in less than three years’ time — had just offered to privately teach Harry magic!
His face split into a broad grin. “I appreciate it, Professor. I’ll be taking you up on it as soon as possible.”
Dumbledore smiled. That was another thing Harry was not yet used to. Certain expressions worn by the old man not being marred by the lines of age.
“Come and see me after the winter break has concluded. I would be happy to discuss it all with you then.”
“Aren’t you just everyone’s golden boy?” Dorea asked in Harry’s ear once Dumbledore moved away.
She had become more talkative again in the past number of days after giving both Harry and Elena the cold shoulder for reasons the former still couldn’t put together. It seemed that Dorea had been unable to keep up the act. It was funny, actually, to think that a daughter of House Black had been unable to keep up a cold and aloof persona.
“You can call me whatever you want if it means I get extra Transfiguration practice with Dumbledore.” Dorea’s expression changed to something more calculating and Harry’s eyes narrowed. “What is it?”
She looked around before idly flicking her wand and bringing up what Harry felt was a privacy ward. It was a powerful one. The magic felt thick and unyielding. Not hostile. It probably wouldn’t lash out if anyone got too close, but it would prevent them from hearing anything and potentially even warn Dorea. Harry was only guessing at that last part; he had no idea what kind of sensation would indicate that.
“Dumbledore’s never liked Riddle,” Dorea said in a hushed whisper as Elena leant her own head in to hear. “She’s apparently gone off about it in the common room once or twice. It must have been during her first year because I’ve only heard about it, but everyone knows it.”
“He did seem a bit short with her after she fought off the spider,” Harry said, feigning thoughtfulness as his heartbeat quickened. This could be the kind of information he needed.
“He’s always been like that,” said Elena. “It’s weird. Riddle is… Riddle, but Dumbledore’s always seemed to like everyone.”
“He’s a genius who isn’t fooled by someone just because they’re charming and brilliant,” said Dorea. “Dumbledore probably tried the same thing at Hogwarts and saw through Riddle from the beginning.”
Harry had never thought of it that way. Riddle had said in the Chamber of Secrets that Dumbledore had never been fooled by his persona, but Harry had never wondered why. Dumbledore was Dumbledore and that was all the explanation he had needed. Though it was a bit strange how someone who fooled almost everyone failed so utterly to fool the person who she should want to trick the most. Dumbledore was the last enemy Harry would want to make if he were in Riddle’s position.
“That’s all really interesting,” said Elena, “but what does it have to do with Harry?”
Harry might have asked the same question, but he had been content to let Dorea ramble about Riddle. The more information about her, the better. Harry was starving for something that might renew his confidence in the cold war the two of them were waging.
“Well, everyone knows Riddle is brilliant with magic. Maybe the best the school has ever seen. Slughorn says she’ll go on to become the greatest sorcerer in the world. This time, I’m not sure it’s just him saying something outlandish for the sake of saying something outlandish.”
“And you don’t think Dumbledore wants Riddle to become that?” asked Elena.
“Wait a minute,” said Harry, “so you’re telling me you think Dumbledore wants to… what? Train me to be Riddle’s equal, or something?”
Dorea’s lips curved upwards into a small smile. “No, I don’t think that’s right.”
“But you just said—”
“A man like Albus Dumbledore would never settle for equal. I think he wants to train you to be better.”
December 18, 1942
Horace Slughorn’s Office
Harry was much more comfortable this time around than he had been during Samhain. Much of that had to do with Elena. Having her at the party and with him at all times was a relief. Dorea was a part of the Slug Club too and was unaccompanied, so she sat with Harry and Elena for most of the outing.
Yet that wasn’t all.
Everything Harry knew about Emily Riddle told him that she wouldn’t try the same thing twice. He still watched her, but not as closely. There wasn’t the same panic there had been at Samhain. There wasn’t the same looming dread every time the girl’s eyes so much as flicked towards the office’s door.
The room itself had been expanded for the evening and it was well-decorated. The carpet was pure white and enchanted so that it rippled under one’s feet to simulate the snow outside. The torches had all been replaced by candles made from ice. The carpet sparkled in the candlelight, glittering like a thousand pale gemstones reflecting warm and vibrant sunlight. The sound of wind whistled through the room even though there was no biting chill to speak of. There were other things too; holly, mistletoe, and other plants Harry had never even seen before. Evergreen garland draped about the room so that it seemed to be everywhere. Slughorn really had gone all out, not that anyone was at all surprised.
Harry was again introduced to a crowd of important people, but it was more bearable this time with Elena by his side. Despite Slughorn having not invited her, she was recognized by many of the people who met her and Harry.
“Your grandfather is a great man,” one especially old wizard told her.
“If I had my way,” another had said, “Lord Fawley would still be the Minister for Magic.”
It was quite some time before the two of them were able to extricate themselves from the gaggle of people and make their way back towards the first table not teeming with people that they found.
“What a lovely surprise. Good evening, Harry. You as well, Elena.”
Harry’s blood ran cold and he watched as Elena’s face lost some of its colour. They had been so lackadaisical about which table they chose that they had wound up sitting with Riddle. It also hadn’t helped that the crowd around them had been so thick, Harry had lost track of her.
Elena glanced at Harry with wary eyes, but he was looking at Riddle. Appearances were more important now. “Evening, Riddle. Have you had your turn as Slughorn’s trophy yet?”
“Oh, yes,” she said with a small smile. “I’m sure I’ll have another round before the night is done. Perhaps he’ll even show us off together. He seemed fond of that last time.”
“He did, yeah. The man finds pleasure in odd things.”
“Not so odd, I don’t think. He’s very high on both of us. It’s only natural that he wants to establish a positive connection before we make it in the world.”
Harry would have admired the sureness in Riddle’s voice had it been anyone else speaking, but it meant little from her. Of course she was going to make it in the world. It wasn’t a show of confidence, just a display of common sense.
“I suppose, I’ve never been much for showing off.”
Elena watched the exchange between Harry and Riddle with wide eyes. Harry supposed she had never seen anyone keep up with Riddle like this. She must have underestimated what spending three months in abandoned classrooms together had accomplished.
“No, it never has been your style. I remember how uncomfortable you looked at the beginning of the year when everyone asked about your parents and your history.”
It was strangely specific phrasing. Harry thought it almost sounded planned and he could not help but glance at Riddle’s face.
That was when it happened.
A lance of pain erupted behind Harry’s eyes and darted across the inside of his skull like a leaping shadow. Riddle had done something, but Harry wasn’t sure what… until it clicked.
Legilimency — she had just tried to use Legilimency against him! It must have failed because she had obviously tried to take information protected by his mother’s sacrifice.
Riddle pulled back at once, grimacing and gasping as she pressed a palm flat against her forehead. Cassiopeia was beside her and she turned to Riddle at once before glaring at Harry and reaching for her wand.
“Put it away, Cassiopeia.”
It was a new voice that spoke. Harry had never heard it before; it was deep yet sharp and cut across the chaos like a rowers oar across a smooth lake’s surface.
The voice belonged to a boy who Harry recognized at once. He had black hair and grey eyes so dark they were almost of the same colour. High cheekbones, a sharp nose, and a strong jaw completed the regal visage of the boy who Harry knew as the Heir of the Founding House of Black.
“I said put it away!”
Cassiopeia shoved the wand up her sleeve, but she scowled at Arcturus before turning back towards Riddle. “Emily, are you—”
“I’m perfectly all right,” Riddle said with an attempt at an easy smile. “I somehow managed to bite down hard on my tongue. I blame the wine.”
Arcturus snorted. “I’d be careful biting into that if I were you. We wouldn’t want all the poison in it leaking into the rest of you. It would be a real travesty.”
“Thank you for your concern, Heir Black, but I think I’ll be just fine.”
“If you keep to yourself and stop trying to invade others’ privacy, I’m sure you will.” The tall seventh-year boy turned towards Harry. “Pavonis, I’d like a word.”
Harry stood. There was hardly anything else to do. The last sight he caught of his friends was of Dorea, watching the pair of them with suspicious eyes.
“What is it you want with my sister?” Arcturus asked once they had left the room and slipped into one far more isolated.
“What?” Harry asked, taken aback.
“Dorea. What is it you want with her?”
“Nothing. We’re friends, that’s it.”
Arcturus studied his face carefully. “You have no intention of changing that?”
Slowly, he nodded and extended a hand. “Arcturus Black. I would say it’s always a pleasure to make the acquaintance of someone who bests Riddle, but it doesn’t happen enough for me to know.”
That was the best thing Arcturus could have said if he wanted to gain Harry’s trust. “Hadrian Pavonis, but Merlin, just call me Harry. I’m happy to meet anyone who likes watching Riddle get shown up.”
Arcturus grinned. There was no mirth in the expression — it was all teeth. “So long as you keep your word about my sister, I think we might just be able to get along.”
I’m sure some of you were waiting for the Black heir to be introduced after I mentioned him on several occasions, so here it is.
The next chapter will take place during the winter break. Once that wraps up, this story’s pace will speed up again until the end of the school year.
Please read and review.
Thank you as always to my lovely Discord Editors Idefix and Puddles 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 19th, 2022. IT IS AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW FOR ANYONE WHO JOINS MY DISCORD SERVER, AS IS CHAPTER 17! 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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