Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 17: Sudden Confrontations Part I
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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Harry Potter and the Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 17: Sudden Confrontations Part I
December 25, 1942
It did not take long for Dorea to find herself bored by the night’s affairs. There were many perks of being a daughter born to the Founding House of Black: money, influence, power, and respect, among other things. But one facet Dorea had never enjoyed was gatherings like tonight’s.
Yule was supposed to be a celebration and a day that all enjoyed, but Dorea had never much cared for her family’s practices on the night. A simple family dinner was more a political display than a proper gathering, and it never failed to exhaust her. Least of all with her uncle Cygnus constantly probing her about marital futures until her own father stepped in. Lord Sirius Black II was the only one Cygnus ever listened to. Both men were stubborn, and at times belligerent, but even Cygnus knew not to cross the lord of his house.
This dinner was even worse than most others. Its purpose was less about gathering the family and more about announcing Pollux’s new-found betrothal to Irma Crabbe. Dorea had nothing against the girl, but she thought her unworthy of such an honour. There was nothing special about her except the fact her family was old. Pollux might not have been the heir, but if something ever happened to Arcturus, he would be the one taking his place. Their father had considered denying the proposal and finding Pollux a more beneficial match, but he had decided against it; Cygnus was quite fond of the idea and Sirius tried not to rouse his brother’s anger when doing so was not strictly necessary.
Irma herself looked starstruck and Dorea almost felt bad for her. She’d had nothing to do with the girl during her three and a half years at Hogwarts, but Dorea could tell she was out of her depth. There was a vast difference between growing up a Crabbe and dining with the Blacks. Crabbe’s parents were present as well, but they said very little.
She felt a stare on her and glanced in its direction. The one benefit of the night’s oddities was that Sirius had yet to press her about her own future. She supposed the break had stretched on too long and expected to see him looking at her, but instead she met the eyes of her brother, Arcturus.
The two of them had scarcely spoken during the months since their return to Hogwarts. More so in the beginning, but less since Dorea had developed true friendships of her own. It had become more difficult to slip off and there had been nothing all that pressing to discuss.
Or so she had thought.
The look he was giving her now indicated something very different. Arcturus had a way of looking older than he really was. Sometimes, Dorea could swear he was twenty-five instead of seventeen. Those eyes looked as though they had seen great battles and mass destruction, like they had looked upon horrors the rest of them could hardly imagine. His face seemed too hard at times, set in a firm line of calculating coldness. The expression still made Dorea shiver on occasion, despite having seen it for years. It was rarely directed her way and she could not imagine what she had done to make him look at her like that.
“Father,” she asked next time there was a lull in the conversation, “may I be excused to relieve myself?” The man had roast ham in his mouth, but he nodded curtly and Dorea pushed her chair back and stood, leaving the room with footsteps that were surer than she felt.
Arcturus’s look had been the final straw. She had already wanted out of that room, but the pressure had grown immense under his stare and she had suddenly needed an escape. She loved her brother, but that table was not the place to make her feel so anxious. Least of all with the entire family there and watching.
“I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Dorea fought the urge to jump despite the voice’s words. “Merlin, Arcturus!” she cursed. Her brother had an annoying affinity for sneaking up on people. Dorea envied his ability to move so soundlessly. None would call her ungrateful, but the Black heir moved with a special breed of smoothness and subtlety. “Don’t do that!”
Arcturus smiled. “Do what?”
“Sneak up on me like that! I swear, you don’t make a sound.”
“I think I’ll keep doing that part if you don’t mind. I have a feeling it will be useful one day.”
Dorea swatted at him. “Prat.” She bit her lip. “Why did you follow me?”
Arcturus shrugged. “You looked stressed.”
“And looking at me like that was going to help?”
He frowned. “Looking at you, how?”
She sighed. “Don’t worry about it. You just get this look sometimes.”
“I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Are you alright, Dorea?”
“I’m fine. I just… I’m not fond of these gatherings.”
Arcturus sneered. “I can’t say I’m fond of watching Pollux clumsily flirt with Crabbe, either.”
Dorea smiled. “You know that’s not what I mean.”
“I do,” he admitted. “I also know that’s not the only reason you’re so stressed.”
Arcturus’s perceptiveness was both Dorea’s most and least favourite thing about her brother. It was useful when he deduced truths she wanted known but dared not say aloud, but in times like these, it was more vexing than anything. Sometimes, Dorea wanted things to stay secret or, at the very least, private. Having Arcturus around made that exceptionally difficult.
“It’s nothing to do with you.”
He raised a single eyebrow. “You’re my sister. Anything to do with you has something to do with me.”
“Poor wording,” she said with a sly smile. “I imagine there are some things you’d want nothing to do with.”
“Probably. Luckily for me, just because they have something to do with me doesn’t mean I need to get involved in all of them.”
“Then how do you know you need to get involved with this one?”
“What was it you said, sister? Something about how I had a look about me at times that gave my thoughts away?” Dorea glared at him as his lips curved upwards into a knowing smirk. “You’re not exactly the hardest in the family to read.”
Dorea screwed up her face. “Well, Cassie emotes about as much as a wall, so I would hope not. I sometimes wonder if she has any fun at all.”
Arcturus’s eyes darkened so fast that Dorea wondered if she had said something wrong. “She has plenty,” her brother said. “Most of it just involves Riddle.”
That single name seemed to chill the hall they stood in. It was far enough away from the main dining hall that they heard nothing of the family’s meal. It was a long dark corridor with a few torches, just barely enough so that one was not blind. Most of the walls were covered in other accessories — spikes with the heads of dead house elves impaled upon them. Some were long dead, yet others were ones Dorea had known as a child. They had upset her once when she was but a girl. Now, her eyes swept over them like they weren’t there at all.
“She scares you,” Arcturus observed.
“She does not!” Dorea countered.
“Then she unnerves you.”
“She unnerves everyone, Arcturus. No one should be able to do magic like her in their fifth year. She could beat most of the professors.”
“All of them,” her brother corrected. “Well, all but Dumbledore. Gress is a special sort of maniac, too. I wouldn’t put it past him to outthink her, but he wouldn’t win an open confrontation.”
“See? Of course she unnerves me.”
“I see no reason why she should unnerve you. Dumbledore is the most powerful wizard in the country and I don’t see you go pale as a ghost any time he passes by.”
“Dumbledore isn’t… Riddle.”
“What does that mean? Are you worried she’ll hurt you? You’re a Black; she wouldn’t dare turn so much of the house against her.”
“Would they even turn? She’s got most of them so wrapped around her finger, I’m not even sure they’d react.”
“They would if enough of the older students pressured them. Not everyone, but many.” His stare intensified. “Now, the truth. What is it about her that has you so on edge?”
“It’s… not me I’m worried about.”
“What did you do that night at Slughorn’s?” she asked, suddenly fierce. “When you dragged him off with you.”
“I didn’t drag him anywhere. I just asked to talk.”
“And did what?”
“Talked,” he said simply. “There were some things I needed to ask him. Besides, he wanted out of that room worse than you want out of this dinner. Him and Fawley were caught at a table with Riddle and she had already failed to legilimize him.”
“She did what?”
“I suppose I can’t be sure, but I know I’m right. She met eyes with him and then winced. It was a noticeable reaction. Pavonis must have fought her off.” Arcturus watched her closely. “Were you aware that he was an occlumens?”
“How much do you really know about him?”
Dorea opened her mouth, but closed it. She had never thought of things from that angle before. What did she know about Harry?
“I know him as a person,” she said carefully.
“But not about him,” Arcturus finished. “You have no idea where he came from—”
“His parents died in a raid—”
“I know what the official story is.”
Dorea’s eyes widened. “And you don’t believe him?”
“I’m sure there’s some truth in it. His parents dying in a raid adds up surprisingly well.”
“So does Ilvermorny. He’s needed help in Runes and Arithmancy all year.”
“Plenty of people have trouble with those classes, but yes, that’s a point in his story’s favour.”
“What don’t you believe then?” Dorea asked with her hands on her hips.
Arcturus studied her for a moment before he spoke. “Do you honestly believe that a son of no-name travellers would be an occlumens talented enough to fend off Riddle at the age of fourteen?” Dorea felt as though someone had smacked her, but her brother went on. “Do you believe he would be casting a Patronus Charm and that he would be so talented in Defence that he was moved ahead a grade; something not even Riddle earned the right to do?”
“What’s your point?” Dorea asked, flushed and feeling a great heat rising in her chest.
Her stomach twisted at the mention of this. Logically, she could deny none of it and understood that he was right, but every word against Harry felt like something was stabbing at her twisted innards.
“My point is to be careful,” her brother warned. “I’ve spoken to him and I think he means well, but intentions aren’t always what matter in the end. I’m saying that he isn’t who he says he is and I’m warning you not to get dragged into anything you’re not aware of and prepared for.” He smiled. “Being caught flat-footed would be most unbefitting for a daughter of House Black.”
December 31, 1942
Horace Slughorn’s Office
“How have your holidays treated you?” Slughorn asked through a mouth full of tender lamb.
That was a complicated question. Harry had enjoyed much of his break, yet the cloud of worry still hung dark and imposing above his head.
Meeting Charlus had been one of the best things to ever happen to him. Harry hadn’t realized how badly he’d needed a male friend again, but Merlin it was nice. Not that there was anything wrong with either Dorea or Elena, but Charlus offered something very different that Harry badly needed. Having a new and talented duelling partner was also nice, in its own way.
Yet the tension with Riddle had only thickened since the arrival of her present on Yule. The book was not what troubled him, though he did plan to figure it out one way or the other. What troubled him was the girl herself. She had not pressed him over the holidays like he had expected. Harry had spent much time in the chamber, but he was beginning to realize it was unnecessary. Riddle had even backed off some since her friends departed. Perhaps she was buried in her own pursuits, but Harry was not about to discount the prospect of her acting with nothing but deliberation. She might think it would lower his guard. Sadly for her, she was mistaken.
Or… was she?
Harry’s face twisted into something foul even as he considered Slughorn’s question.
Harry had received a letter the day before from Slughorn asking him to lunch that day. Harry had expected the letter for some time. The few Slug Club members that remained at Hogwarts were all getting them, each dining privately with Slughorn so he could focus entirely upon them. It was a wise move on his part, especially in Harry’s case. He would have tried to find some kind of excuse to get out of the meeting had Riddle been invited to the same lunch as him.
Harry had been on edge before the last Slug Club gathering, but her Legilimency probe and its implications worried him. What was worse was the distance she had kept since the holidays began. Two weeks ago, Harry would have said he wanted nothing more than a break, but the respite was ominous and screamed of slowly hatching schemes. It made Harry’s skin crawl and worried him more than any display of magic or power she could have shown him.
Yet there had been that damned gift. Something that was so useful on the surface, but something that surely had to be a trap of some kind. If Harry could prove it, he could perhaps move against Riddle and force her out of Hogwarts.
Slughorn was frowning when Harry refocused on the conversation. There was a moment of silence before Harry realized he must have missed something whilst he’d sunk into his own contemplations.
“Sorry, sir, I didn’t catch that.”
“I asked if you were all right, m’boy. You seem troubled and that look… you’re sure you are well?”
“I’m all right, sir. Just a bit under the weather is all.”
“I see. Holidays not treating you as well as one might hope?”
“I’ve enjoyed the holidays. I’ve met some new people and enjoyed the break. Presents are never a bad thing, either.”
Slughorn chuckled. “No, they aren’t. I must thank you for the crystallized pineapple. It is my favourite as I’m sure you well know.”
Harry wondered just how much crystallized pineapple the man could eat. Harry hoped for his sake the answer was plenty. The fact it was his favourite was common knowledge amongst Slug Club members. Slughorn had let that slip on a number of occasions and Harry was sure most of them had elected to buy the professor the same gift. Though, in this case, he ought to thank Elena’s parents, for it was them who had begun giving Harry a steady allowance last summer.
“It’s no trouble, sir. It’s the least I could do after everything you’ve helped me with.”
Slughorn waved a hand, all troubles from a moment ago seemingly forgotten. “Nonsense, m’boy, absolute nonsense. It’s all been a pleasure. You’ve been a joy to have at Hogwarts. Professor Merrythought raves about you in the staff room and even Albus is impressed.”
“I like Professor Dumbledore. He offered to give me extra instruction once the new term starts.”
“Did he?” asked Slughorn, eyes gleaming. “You plan to take him up on it, I hope?”
Dorea’s words came back to him as he thought about Dumbledore’s offer and the prospect of expediting his progress in Transfiguration.
“A man like Albus Dumbledore would never settle for equal. I think he wants to train you to be her better.”
The prospect made his skin tingle with anticipation. Whether Dumbledore really could elevate Harry so far, he had no idea. Yet improvement was improvement when all was said and done. Extra learning with Dumbledore was the thing Harry most eagerly awaited. The old man had been next to a god in his own time, and the thought of working closer with him boosted Harry’s confidence all on its own.
Cerastes, Dumbledore, Dorea, Elena, Charlus — all of them together would continue to elevate Harry. And perhaps Riddle too, though he doubted it was her intention. Once he discovered whatever trap the book contained and drove her from the castle, Harry had every intention of sucking the book dry of every bit of information it had to offer on Occlumency. If he were to do that, he had by now decided there was only one way.
“Good,” said Slughorn. “Any sort of tutoring Albus offers you would be more valuable than any gift I could ever give.”
Harry fidgeted in his chair as though nervous. It was hardly difficult — asking things of adults was still nerve wracking for him after years spent in the Dursleys’ care on Privet Drive.
“Sir, I… wondered if I could ask you something.”
Slughorn beamed at him; by now, Harry knew nothing gave the man greater pleasure than feeling needed. “Ask away, dear boy, ask away.”
“Well… I wanted to look more into Defence Against the Dark Arts. If Professor Dumbledore is going to help me get ahead in Transfiguration, I want to make sure I keep up in Defence.”
Slughorn frowned. “I don’t imagine even I could convince Professor Merrythought to extend that courtesy. She is most fond of you, but—”
“That’s all right, Professor. I understand.”
“My apologies, Harry.”
“That actually wasn’t what I was going to ask.”
“Oh.” Slughorn looked puzzled as he fiddled with his walrus moustache. “So sorry then, Harry. Ask away, one more time.”
“I was wondering… I don’t think it’s a normal thing. I’m not even sure you’re allowed…”
Slughorn winked at him. “Some rules can be stretched in the right circumstances,” he said with a suggestive smile.
Harry took a deep breath. “I was wondering if I could have a pass to the Restricted Section.”
It would have been so easy back in his time. Harry had snuck into the forbidden section of the library under the guise of his invisibility cloak back in first year. He had gotten away with it even after rousing that horrible screaming book. Had he still been in possession of his cloak, none of this would have been necessary.
Slughorn continued to twirl his moustache. “A pass… hm.”
“It’s all right if not,” Harry hastened to say, but a contemplative look had come over Slughorn’s face.
“You are quite the exceptional student and wouldn’t be the first seeking extra credit. Yes, that would appease the old man.” Slughorn waved his wand and summoned a sheet of parchment. Harry could hardly believe his eyes as he watched him scribble upon its surface.
January 2, 1943
An Abandoned Classroom
The new year broke with little drama. Riddle continued to keep her distance and the snow outside continued to fall in great pale flakes that stuck in Harry’s hair any time he dared to step outside. Many of the flurries broke against the castle’s ancient stone walls, but much more of the snow had begun piling up on the ground far below. There had to be twice as much of it as there had been when most of the students had departed.
None of its effects were felt inside the castle, where yet another thing remained unchanged.
Harry and Charlus still met often to practice duelling and general magic. If anything had changed, it was that the frequency of their meetings had increased the closer the two of them had grown.
It was strange how fast they had come together, but it just felt natural. More so even than speaking with Dorea or Elena. It was like Harry had Ron back sometimes, though Charlus was a far cry from his old redheaded friend. He was older and a great deal more studious. He was also harder somehow, as though the war or something else had made him grow up much faster than Ron. Harry supposed that if something about it had stopped him from returning home then that made a degree of sense.
The two of them had practiced strictly duelling until their last session, during which Charlus had decided things needed to change.
The previous day…
Harry let out a frustrated grunt as Charlus tossed him back the wand that had been torn from his hands.
Losing to Charlus had been no surprise. The Potter heir was two years older than Harry and extremely talented in his own right. He was a feared duellist even amongst the older Slytherins and some whispered that he was the only boy in the castle whom Riddle did not dare cross.
What had been less expected were the results as of late. Charlus had beaten Harry as expected, but their duels had been competitive. Had being the operative word. The gap between them seemed to expand instead of close the more they sparred, and Harry was beginning to grow frustrated.
“You’re too predictable,” Charlus told him, snapping Harry from his irritation and forcing him to look up.
“What do you mean?” he snapped back. “I’m using all sorts of different spells.”
“Curses, jinxes, hexes.” Harry frowned at Charlus, unsure of what he was saying. “It’s not hard to defend any of those when you know they’re coming. You just need to realize what it is that’s being used against you.”
“That’s not being predictable,” Harry argued, “you just know more spells than me.”
Charlus raised an eyebrow. “How did you lose the last duel?”
Harry actually had to think about that; it had all been over in an adrenaline-induced blur. “You created a wall that blocked my spells. I tried to blast it apart, but the break gave you long enough to fire back at me while my guard was down.”
“In other words, Transfiguration. Conjuration if you want to get particular.”
“Are you saying I need to conjure things if I want to beat you?”
“It would help, but not necessarily. If you fancy learning how to enchant things, that works too, but I wish you the best of luck with that; very few ever manage it. You can also use things like elemental magic. Just not the same thing. Curses, curses, curses. They’re just flashing lights. They get easier to defend once you’ve seen them enough times. They’ll never work against anyone elite on their own.”
Harry scowled. “I’m not a sixth year.”
“So, I don’t know how to do any of that.”
Charlus just smirked. “No time like the present to fix that, I say.”
Back in the present…
That had been what tonight’s meeting had consisted of. Conjurations were much more difficult than anything else Harry had ever done with Transfiguration, but he had managed to make a flock of birds appear from nowhere. Charlus said Harry had managed it faster than him — and the Potter heir was allegedly the best in his year at the subject.
He had just left whilst Harry waited. Neither of them particularly wanted to be seen in the hall together given the rivalry between their two houses. It wasn’t quite as bad as it would be fifty years from now if nothing changed, but Harry dreaded the consequences of some Gryffindor seeing the two of them walk together. Especially after he had gone to Slughorn’s party with Cassiopeia Black.
Charlus’s absence suddenly made the task of matching Riddle feel enormous. In his mind, it dwarfed Cerastes, the castle, and anything else Harry had ever known.
Even more so when he heard the door open behind him and turned to face the girl herself.
Harry’s mouth fell open. Both he and Charlus had placed every ward they knew upon the room. There was no way she could have just strolled in so casually, was there?
“Good evening, Harry,” she said with no hint of a smile. That was how he knew he was in trouble. “I’ve been quite kind in giving you the space you want, but I think it’s time we finally talk. I’ve grown tired of being ignored.”
I’ve been working up to that last scene for the past number of chapters, so it’s nice to have it written at long last. Next chapter will open with their meeting and stretch to include the beginning of Harry’s next term at Hogwarts.
Please read and review.
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