Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 18: Sudden Confrontations Part II
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, Thanos, and Yoshi89 for their work on this story.
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January 2, 1943
An Abandoned Classroom
The blood in Harry’s veins froze at the sound of her voice. There could be no mistaking who had entered the room. That voice had permeated enough of his nightmares for him to recognize it on instinct. Soft and quiet, smoother than silk but sharper than any sword. An involuntary shudder ran up his body as every muscle inside of him seemed to twitch in single-minded unison.
She was all that stood between him and the door, but she might as well have been a mountain for how effectively she blocked his exit. Harry had almost grown used to Riddle’s unnatural height, but the way he had to look up to meet her eyes struck him now. It made her seem all of a sudden more imposing. An obstacle that was impenetrable. It was like she knew what he was thinking too. The way her lips curved upwards as she looked down at him; Merlin, he hated that she could look down on him.
Then he realized she may well know what he was thinking. Harry averted his eyes and began to think, but no way out sprung to mind. There was, of course, the chance this was something innocent, but Harry was not naïve enough to believe that was true. If any part of him might have suspected it, her greeting had stopped those thoughts dead in their tracks.
“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.”
The worst part of this whole thing was that Harry felt unsure what upset him more — the fact he’d found himself in this position, or the fact he hadn’t seen it coming.
Part of him had known this altercation would come, yet he had been caught unaware. No part of him could justify it nor tell himself he could not have known. Some might have taken her pleasant distance over the holidays as a blessing, but Harry had known it heralded some kind of curse.
Of course it would be tonight. The other students would return that next evening. It would normally have been several hours earlier, but the Hogwarts Board of Governors had decided to run the train on Monday instead of Sunday. It was a last-minute change of plans to divert any possibility Grindelwald might have of striking. Harry thought the precautions were needless despite the attack on Diagon Alley, but he had foresight on his side. Everyone from his own time said that Grindelwald had steered mostly clear of Britain; Harry did not expect to see him inside the country’s borders again.
In hindsight, this had been obvious. Striking tonight meant that the fewest people possible would be present in the castle. Riddle must have thought it would make following Harry and trapping him alone easier, and that it would minimize her risk.
She had been right.
Harry had considered none of that. His mind had been on duelling and improving. The concept of Riddle and what it would take to beat her had occupied so many of his thoughts that he stopped considering the real thing entirely; now he was going to pay for it.
“You look troubled,” Riddle observed.
“I don’t like being snuck up on.”
Being confrontational would get him nowhere. Three years of dealing with Snape would have taught Harry that much even if he had not learned the lesson long ago on Privet Drive.
This was much like those experiences, whether they were in the past or the future. Riddle had all the power here, and Harry knew it. She had surprised him and obviously had a plan; which was much more than he could say. He could draw his wand, but to what end? If he did, he would only end up battered as well as defeated. Harry was set on beating her one day, but that time had not yet come and it would not arrive soon. Harry was not delusional enough to convince himself otherwise.
Which left him very few options. The only feasible one he could see at the moment was damage control; despite every inch of him aching to run or to fight, logic be damned.
“That’s a funny coincidence,” said Riddle. “Personally, I dislike being ignored. Perhaps we can come to an accord.”
An accord? She wanted to negotiate with him? That seemed remarkably out of character based on everything Harry knew regarding the Riddle of his time. Lord Voldemort did not negotiate — he took what he wanted and asked no questions.
Though perhaps that was what Riddle meant to do. She might well have thought offering Harry some delusion of a choice might convince him to lower his guard. Or perhaps she just wanted to see how he reacted. If she hoped to lower his guard further, she had squandered that possibility as soon as she had ambushed him. If she wanted to see how he reacted… he supposed there was little he could do about that, particularly because Harry himself still had no idea how to act.
“What do you want?” he asked Riddle, eyeing her long, pale fingers. Harry had seen a wand appear between them seemingly from out of nowhere in the past. If they so much as twitched, he would go for his own wand. Futile or not, he would fall in battle like his father if that was what this came to.
Riddle just raised an eyebrow. The nonchalance about that simple gesture made Harry’s blood boil. How dare she treat this so casually? It was like he posed her no threat at all — like nothing he would ever do could ever hope to trouble her in the slightest. Her arrogance was maddening — most of all because Harry found convincing himself she was wrong to be difficult.
“Have I not made that obvious? I thought I said my answer clearly enough.”
“You just said that you don’t like being ignored.”
“And I don’t. I have a great distaste for it. I’ve spent most of my life being ignored for my successes and hounded for my failures. It feels as though you’ve been doing that all year.” She fixed him with that unnerving stare of hers. “It’s curious, really. Most boys in this castle fall all over themselves at the sight of me, yet you pull away and seem to hold something against me.” She took a step forward and Harry moved back, only to find himself pressed against the cold glass of a window overlooking the edge of a cliff and the Black Lake far below. “The matrons at the orphanage had a reason. A pathetic, misguided reason, but a reason. I’m curious, Pavonis — what is your reason for disliking me so much? I can never remember being anything but pleasant towards you.”
“Liar.” Harry’s posture stiffened. “Right now, I am curious and impatient. Lie to me again and that may change.”
A bead of sweat as cold as the winter air outside tumbled from Harry’s forehead and slid slowly down his cheek. His tongue flared nervously out and caught it. The salt of it attacked him, but Harry found the poor taste pleasant. Anything to distract him from the all-consuming blankness of his mind was pleasant.
That was what really made this a nightmare. Riddle had threatened him for the first time ever. Her perfect facade was gone and now, Harry was finally getting a peek underneath at the monster he had once known. Yet there was no fear — not even anger. His nerves certainly mounted and he would be lying if he said he did not dread whatever she would do to him, but he was not afraid. There was something to be said for having died and come back to life again. Very little could truly scare a man after something as harrowing as that.
There was nothing but a void of numb uncertainty. It all came back to the same problem that had been plaguing Harry all year — uncertainty.
In his world and his time, Harry had known what Voldemort wanted. Power and vengeance. Stopping him from getting those things was easier said than done, but Harry had at least known from what angle to look at things from.
Here, he was not afforded even that luxury.
This glimpse had made Harry surer still that Riddle was already walking the path that led to her becoming Voldemort, but even now, he could not be sure. Even if he could, her motivations remained unclear. Voldemort had possessed a good reason to fixate upon Harry in his own time, but here? What was it Riddle wanted with him? Why was she so unreasonably interested? Harry might have thought it was because he had repelled her Legilimency attack at Slughorn’s party, but the fixation had started long before they had stepped foot in that room.
She did not fear him; that much was clear. She was too dismissive; even now she stood wandless and with her hands held carelessly before her. Yet for the same reason, Harry didn’t think she wanted to curse him. She’d had countless opportunities this year. Sure, he might have gone to a professor, but what of it? She could probably cast a Memory Charm by now and even if not, this was a version of the boy who had escaped punishment for premeditated murder. His back had been turned when she had entered the room, anyway. If there was any time to cut him down, that had been it.
So what was it Riddle wanted?
Could it be as she said? Did she just want to understand why he disliked her? Harry doubted it; there had to be more to this curiosity than that. Even if it was only as she said, it did him no good. It was not as though he could answer her question — he would sooner suffer her wrath than let her in on that secret and grant her an avenue of learning what could very well be the future.
“I wasn’t lying,” Harry answered carefully. “I don’t dislike you. I just don’t trust you.”
There was at least a grain of truth in it. Harry hated the idea of what she may become more than anything in the world, but Riddle herself had given him no explicit cause to hate her. None but the fact she still dared to look down at him in that way of hers, always managing to look vaguely amused, as though the world was some kind of sick joke that only she understood.
“That much is clear. Had you trusted me, I doubt you would have moved so forcefully back in October.”
Harry’s heart began to race as he willed himself to look up and meet her eyes as he took a wild gamble. He thought hard about the Chamber of Secrets — but only in the context of his own time. Harry knew it worked when he saw the momentary flash of doubt in her expression; she had seen nothing despite her efforts.
“It’s irrelevant,” Riddle decided. “The only thing that matters is that you’re wary of me.”
“Plenty of people in the house are wary of you.”
“Not like you. There is something about you… an air of knowing things you have no right to know.”
She was brilliant — Harry had to give her that. Riddle would never know how close she was to being right, never feel the horrible lurch his stomach gave at her words, never experience the wave of panic that threatened to drown him before he just barely managed to fend it off.
“I don’t see how that would explain any of this. You volunteered to tutor me, you set me up with your friend, and now this. None of it makes sense to me. You say I know too much and wonder why I don’t trust you? Connect the dots, Riddle. I don’t think it’s hard to work out why.”
Her eyes had not left his face, but Harry wished they would have. “Your actions don’t add up, even when applying your own logic.”
Harry frowned. “How don’t they?”
“If you were wary of my intentions, surely you would try to find out what they were. If you were unnerved by how interested I’d become in you, logic would dictate you find out why.”
“Or you suspect things about me that give you pause. Things that make you stay away. It’s said that humans fear the unknown, but you think there’s something about me that’s more concerning than that and you’ve thought so from the moment you met me.”
“So you still think that I’m lying to you?”
Her lips tugged slightly upwards. “No. If I thought you were lying to me, this conversation would look very different. I just think there are things you’re not telling me.”
Harry scoffed. “Things I’m not telling you? Of course there are things I’m not telling you. Do you expect me to spill every last secret I have to a girl who I met four months ago?”
“No. I just don’t make a habit of expecting boys I’ve never met to treat me as though I had the plague.”
“Make your point, Riddle.” The time had come for a resolution. Harry knew if this went on, they would talk in circles for hours and hours. It was a game she seemed content to play and it was one she’d likely practiced before.
“Yes, your point. You’ve found out nothing you didn’t know already. What is it you want?”
She actually did smirk this time. Not a trace, but a full smirk that split her face and sent a twisted light leaping through her eyes. “I’m afraid I didn’t think of this in terms quite so linear.”
Harry’s lips thinned. “Linear?”
“Yes, linear. There was more to this than a point and it was never so straightforward.”
“You said you wanted to come to an accord,” Harry reminded.
“Yes, an accord. An accord that would be based on information I had not yet gathered.”
“Well, you’ve gathered it now. Make your point or leave.”
Harry could feel the tension building. His hand itched to snatch his wand, but still he bit down the impulse. It would get him nowhere, and though the room’s air was ominous, Harry did not think it heralded the coming of a storm. Something was brewing behind Riddle’s eyes, but Harry had not yet gotten the impression it was an attack of any kind.
Riddle’s foot tapped swiftly upon the floor as she twirled a lock of hair idly around one of those long fingers of hers. “Yes, I suppose I have gathered a certain amount of information.” She considered him for a moment, weighing him under the judgement of her stare. “I would like to offer you a proposal.”
Riddle really did want to negotiate with him; he could see the truth staring back at him plain as day. What had his life become since being plunged decades in the past?
“A… proposal?” Harry asked carefully.
“Yes, a proposal. It suddenly strikes me that the tension between us stems from poor communication and a lack of understanding on both sides.”
If only it was that simple. Harry yearned for it to be so straightforward. It was ironic that Riddle spoke of linear thoughts in one breath and then simplified something so inherently complex in the next. If it had all been so easy, Harry would have avoided a great deal of mental and emotional strife. If it had all been so easy, perhaps he would not have done what he had this year. If everything had been as she said, perhaps there would be no burning desire to be this girl’s better.
Though he suspected there would. No matter what she said or did, Harry had a hard time envisioning a world in which he did not see at least the shadow of Lord Voldemort any time he looked at her. That was always going to breed a desire to be better. Just like how in his own time, Harry had quietly decided it would be him who finished Lord Voldemort once and for all. Back then, he had simply lacked both the courage to admit that to himself and the drive to pursue such lofty goals.
Much had changed since he’d arrived in the past, and not all of it was so bad. There were facets of Harry’s new life he enjoyed, but most of all he was becoming something he could be proud of. Had he stayed in the world he’d once known, Harry was unsure how long it would have taken for him to reach a similar realization. Mayhaps that thought would never even have come.
“What does that have to do with your proposal?”
“My proposal is that we resolve these communication issues by communicating more often.”
Harry almost snorted out loud. She could play as much chess as she wanted; he wasn’t going to give in just because she had made her point colourfully. “And you think I’m going to agree even though you’ve said I’ve been ignoring you all year?”
“Agree so easily? No. This is why I said it was a proposition and not a request. You would never accept that request.”
That moment was the most Harry had ever doubted everything he knew about Riddle — the most he ever wondered whether his suspicions were wrong. He would have expected her to make threats or perhaps even brutalize him until he agreed to her terms, but she was doing none of that. It put him on edge. There was still the issue of what would happen when he inevitably declined her proposal.
“And if I refuse?”
“Then you’re a fool.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “Or just wary.”
“Wariness would not account for turning down immunity from the pack of purebloods who would like nothing better than to curse you into oblivion.” She smiled a sharp smile that made Harry shiver and before she spoke her next words, he somehow knew she had him. “Not to mention the magical room that can become anything you like and aid you in any ways you could imagine.”
Several hours later…
Harry had tried to sleep, but it had been to no avail. Thoughts of his earlier conversation with Riddle had plagued him and driven off all attempts weariness made to ensnare him in its clutches. His doubts, worries, and raging emotions were all daggers driving away fatigue every time it threatened to come too close.
Harry hardly remembered getting up from bed and making his way out of his dorm room, but before he knew it, he was stepping into the dark tunnel leading to Salazar’s fabled chamber, listening to his footsteps echo in the dim corridor as he robotically moved one foot in front of the other.
What Cerastes or the Chamber of Secrets could do for him now, Harry didn’t know.
The doors parted and he stepped inside, hissing at the towering statue and turning away as a massive body thudded against the floor.
“You seem troubled,” Cerastes observed.
“Is it the usurper again?”
The snake spat; Harry could practically feel the hatred rolling off its scales in forceful waves. “I will never understand why you don’t let me kill her.”
Neither would Harry, if truth was to be told. There was just a part of him that hesitated. It would be easy and his life would become a great deal less perilous. At first, Harry had told himself it was wrong. It was something Voldemort would do and stooping to such a level would be defeat, whether he won or not.
Harry thought of that less often now. There were other reasons he had for not unleashing the basilisk, but they lurked just out of his reach and hid in shadow. Their forms remained unclear to him, but Harry could sense their presence. They existed, Harry was just still unaware of exactly what they were.
“This time’s different,” he hissed as way of an answer.
“Different how?” the serpent asked.
“She offered me a proposal.”
“Terms to speak and interact more often. She’s noticed that I ignore her and she doesn’t understand why.”
Cerastes spat with fury again. “She lies. You prevented her from usurping your right. She knows this.”
Harry thought back on that conversation and for the first time this year, he wondered whether that might be untrue. There had been doubt in her expression when he had used the last vestiges of his mother’s protection to deceive her and her Legilimency. For the first time all year, Harry thought he might have put true doubt in Riddle’s mind. It was his proudest moment since diving back into the past.
“I don’t care whether she knows or not,” Harry lied; he thought he was becoming more adept at lying as of late, but a bitter taste lingered every time he did.
“Then what is it that troubles you?”
Harry ran a hand through his hair and felt his shoulder twinge. Every muscle was so tight that even such minuscule movements sent painful jolts coursing through him. Never had he been so tense; not when facing Quirrell for the Philosopher’s Stone, not the first time he had been down in this chamber, and not even when slumped atop the Astronomy Tower minutes before his life had been uprooted.
“The fact that I’m not sure I can turn her down.”
Harry almost looked at Cerastes before his brain caught up and he fought off the urge. That was the last thing he had expected the basilisk to say. He had always been a strong advocate of killing Riddle, but now he was advising Harry to accept terms he had not yet heard?
“Don’t seem so surprised,” Cerastes hissed with more bite than Harry had expected. “You are my master’s heir, are you not?”
“I am,” Harry hissed with as much false conviction as he could manage. That particular lie was difficult to tell at the best of times.
“He would not care if she wished to usurp him. He would care only for himself. Does this agreement advance you?”
“Yes… well, it should, anyway.”
“Then why do you hesitate?”
Another question he could not answer. Not without revealing things that would undermine his entire story. There were few things Harry hated more than when his path was impeded by the truths he could not tell.
“She’s a Legilimens,” he decided after a long pause. “There are secrets—”
“Secrets that will be kept when you learn to defend your mind.”
Harry frowned. “And how am I supposed to do that?”
Cerastes made a sound Harry had never heard before. He thought it might have been laughter, but it was impossible to tell.
“Trust in me and it shall be done.”
This was definitely the hardest chapter to write up to this point. That first scene took more drafts than I would care to admit and I am still quite unsure of it.
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