Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 19: A Calculated Risk
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.
Self-Promotion: I have a Discord server where you can chat and read all of my chapters early. ANYONE WHO JOINS THE DISCORD SERVER CAN READ THE NEXT TWO CHAPTERS RIGHT NOW! If you would like to join, simply copy the link on my profile. You can do likewise to check out the ACI100 Twitter account — @ACI_100 — 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 P*T*E*N 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. ANYONE WHO SIGNS UP TO THAT PAGE WILL IMMEDIATELY GAIN ACCESS TO THE NEXT TEN CHAPTERS RIGHT NOW!
January 3, 1943
The Entrance Hall
It was almost strange seeing Dorea and Elena stroll back into the castle after what felt like such a long time away. The fact it had scarcely been two weeks seemed surreal to Harry. It was as though the winter break had stretched over months or years for all that had happened. A new bond with lost family that seemed to run almost as deep as his friendships with the two girls moving towards him, a promise of more rapid progression by the secret monster still under Harry’s command, and of course, the agreement with Riddle.
That pact had not yet been agreed to, but Cerastes had spoken true. If Harry could protect his mind and his secrets, he had much to gain. The idea that Riddle might be able to discover things about him even without Legilimency was what worried him most, but how could he turn the offer down? A room that could serve any purpose, immunity from some of the most dangerous students in the castle and their schemes, and the potential to grow as a wizard more than he ever could without the agreement?
Accepting the bargain would probably be the thing truest to his old character he had done since arriving back in the past. It was aggressively on-brand for the Gryffindor golden boy, but Harry liked to think there was some Slytherin cunning in the choice. It was about mitigating risk. Harry was not happy with the agreement; he was simply aware that turning it down would be pragmatically foolish.
“Harry!” cried Dorea as she moved forward and threw her arms around his neck. Harry stiffened for a second in surprise. He felt Dorea’s arms loosen, but he hesitantly reached up and wrapped his arms around her in return before she could pull away. The Dursleys and their cruelty were half a century away and in a different world on top of that. Allowing them any power over him here would be the rawest form of defeat he had ever suffered.
“Excited, are we?” asked Elena. Harry thought there was something odd about her expression. The way she looked between Dorea and Harry as though she knew something no one else did.
“I’m excited to see just about anyone who doesn’t have the surname Black,” Dorea said as the three of them began trudging their way through the thickets of students clustered around the hall. They eyed the grey stone stairs leading down to the dungeons some ways up ahead, but a seemingly impenetrable wall of flesh and bone separated it from them.
“Was it that bad?” Elena asked with a frown as the trio slowly began making headway.
“Yes. The entire dinner on the evening of Yule was all about Pollux.”
“Seventh year, right?” Harry asked. “Cousin of yours, I think?”
“Sixth year, but yes.”
“You don’t get along?”
“We don’t talk all that much. There’s nothing wrong with him and he wasn’t even the problem.”
“Then what was?”
“The fact that it was all about him and his new betrothed.”
The word tasted strange on Harry’s tongue. He knew, of course, that a number of the old pureblood families still worked within the confines of betrothal contracts. Slughorn had taught him as much over the summer, but the concept still felt foreign to him. A part of Harry had a difficult time viewing it as anything other than barbaric, but above all else, it was unimaginable. The idea of being betrothed before you were out of school, oftentimes against your will… there were very few things Harry could imagine being more unpleasant.
“It’s still common in my family,” Dorea explained. “Pollux is second in the line of succession. Besides, if something were to happen to Arcturus…”
“Why Crabbe?” Elena asked. “Surely Pollux could have done better than her.”
“That’s what I said! I don’t know. It never made any sense to me, but Father didn’t see fit to block the match.”
Harry furrowed his brow. “So it was Pollux’s father who made it?”
“Cygnus, yes. He was never quite as sensible as Father.”
Harry saw Elena open her mouth to say something or other, but she closed it just as fast. For a moment, he wondered why. Then, he felt the stare upon his back. He knew who it belonged to without needing to turn around.
Her cerulean blue eyes felt like they were dissecting him; tearing his back open and peering inside to see exactly what made his body work the way it did. Riddle kept her word — she had promised not to press Harry until he had decided on his answer to her proposal — but a shiver ran up his spine nonetheless.
He could see the way Elena’s skin lost some of its lustre. Dorea tensed, but her movements were more subtle. She was a daughter of House Black; Harry doubted she was fazed by a schoolgirl — not even one as powerful and dangerous as Emily Riddle.
“How did that go?” Elena asked in a hush just as a gap opened leading to the stone staircase.
Harry waited until they began descending its steps before answering. “You make it sound like I spent two weeks locked in a cage with a tiger.”
“It’s not far off,” Elena muttered, but Harry only rolled his eyes.
“Riddle’s a schoolgirl—”
“You know that isn’t all—”
“Maybe not, but you act like she’s Grindelwald or something.”
The words almost stuck in Harry’s throat. This lie was especially difficult to weave. Dismissing Riddle’s danger felt wrong, but what else was he to do? Dealing with her on his own was difficult enough. Dealing with her whilst two paranoid girls hounded him over it would be even more trying. Elena, in particular, had always been wary. Harry was not at all interested in dragging this on any longer than it had to go.
“You never answered the question,” she pointed out.
Harry shrugged with deliberate nonchalance. “It went fine. I just avoided her for most of the break. I met up a ton with a new friend of mine, so that part was nice.”
“A new friend?” Dorea asked.
“Potter.” His own true surname sounded almost alien on his tongue. It had been so long since he’d heard it. Hearing it still made his stomach lurch, but he had long ago stopped thinking of the name as his.
“Potter?” Elena frowned.
“How’d that come about?” asked Dorea.
Harry shrugged. “We sort of just ran into each other and hit it off. We started practicing duelling most nights during the holidays and it just sort of happened.”
“You practiced duelling with Charlus Potter? Isn’t he supposed to be the best in the school outside of Riddle?”
Harry grimaced. “Yeah, he’s good, trust me.”
Elena hid a smile behind her hand. “Have you finally found someone you can’t beat?”
The three of them laughed as they continued down towards the dungeons, the dark shadow of Emily Riddle forgotten for now.
January 5, 1943
An Abandoned Classroom
Harry lunged forward and shifted in mid-air, contorting his body so that both spells fired off by Charlus missed him by inches. Pain flared up his leg the second he landed. His ankle throbbed; it felt as though everything from his knee down had just been lit on fire. Harry allowed himself to fall but used the momentum to roll, allowing Charlus’s next three curses to miss as well.
Harry waved his wand and three of the desks in the room’s corner rose into the air and hurtled at the sixth-year’s back. Charlus fired three spells at Harry in quick succession before turning to face the desks that were accosting him. It was clever; by forcing Harry on the defensive, Charlus ensured he would be unable to act on his own momentary shift in focus.
A swished wand later and the desks both split into two long, jagged stakes that sailed towards Harry, whose eyes widened. Charlus never played when it came to duelling.
“There’s a war out there,” he’d said when Harry first looked surprised at how dangerous some of his offensives were. “There’s no point practicing to duel when we might need to fight.”
It was true enough, but it had been a harsh lesson for Harry to learn.
He brought his wand up and sliced the stakes of wood in two before banishing them back towards Charlus who, this time, vanished them with a wave of his wand. Harry fired three spells that forced him to raise a shield before conjuring a flock of birds and sending them racing towards his older adversary. Charlus burnt them to ash with a surge of fire, but Harry could see the change in him. Harry had taken what Charlus had said about varied attacks to heart and the older boy realized it.
An approving nod later and they were back at it again, exchanging spells for several more minutes before Harry finally fell.
“See?” Charlus offered him a hand up and pulled Harry to his feet.
“You were right,” Harry admitted, smiling despite himself.
“I’d say! You lasted twice as long as usual and the desks almost got me. It was clever to use them once my back was turned.”
“You did well to drive me back on the defensive.”
“You should have deflected the spells. If you’d done that, you might have won.”
Harry grimaced. There was truth to that, he knew. There were many things he could have done to win, but it mattered not until he started doing them.
“I will,” he vowed.
Charlus raised an eyebrow. “Will what? Start using spell deflection?”
“That too, but no — I meant win.”
Charlus smiled slightly. “We’ll see.”
“I closed the gap that much with one tip. I’m sure I can do it.”
“Maybe,” Charlus said with a grin, “but I don’t plan to make it easy on you.”
“You never make anything easy on me. That’s what makes this interesting.”
Charlus laughed. “Interesting’s one word for it.”
“What would you call it?”
“Necessary. I plan to head off and help the war effort if it’s still going on by the time I graduate.”
Harry’s stomach gave a sickening jolt at the mention of Grindelwald’s war. Sometimes, it was easy to forget that anything was happening outside of Hogwarts. They received regular updates via the Daily Prophet, but neither Grindelwald nor his men had laid a foot on British soil since the attack on Diagon Alley back in August. The war seemed half a world away. Harry never felt the same investment he had when thinking about Voldemort’s war, though Grindelwald had not murdered his parents, no matter what he told the others.
“Didn’t you say that was why you didn’t go home over the holidays? Something about the war.” Charlus stared out the window for a moment and did not immediately answer. “Sorry,” said Harry, blushing, “I didn’t mean—”
“No,” Charlus cut in, “it’s not you. It just… worries me.”
“A bit, but probably not the way you think.” Harry stared patiently back at him and the older boy sighed. “Grindelwald doesn’t seem to want anything to do with Britain. Not yet, anyway.”
“Don’t they say he’s afraid of Dumbledore?”
Harry had heard this retold decades later and some even whispered about it here. It made sense seeing as Dumbledore had eventually been the one to defeat the dark lord, but Harry got the impression Charlus was more knowledgeable about all of this than any other student Harry had ever spoken to.
“Some do, yeah.”
“You don’t sound sure?”
“I’m sure they say it, I’m just not sure it’s true.”
Harry frowned. “But he’s never attacked Britain personally, has he? The thing in Diagon this August was the first and they say he wasn’t there.”
“Dumbledore’s never gone off after him, either,” Charlus said quietly.
“Why would he? If the fighting hasn’t touched Britain—”
“He’s done things like it before,” said Charlus. “He has a seat on the ICW and they’ve sent him out with others as peacekeepers.”
“Have they asked him to go after Grindelwald?”
Charlus shrugged. “I’m not sure, but plenty in the public have.”
“So you’re worried Grindelwald will eventually make his way to Britain?”
“A bit, I guess, but I’m worried about my father.”
Charlus nodded. “That’s why I couldn’t go home over the holidays. My father’s gone and is fighting in the war. He has been for the better part of three years now — ever since the German muggles attacked Britain. He reckoned Grindelwald was behind that even if he didn’t dare to do it himself.”
It struck Harry — not for the first time — how little he knew about his family. He’d never known a great-grandfather of his had opposed Grindelwald in what some had called the Blood War.
“I… didn’t really know many wizards did that.”
Charlus’s face darkened. “All kinds. A bunch of your housemates have families who support Grindelwald.”
Harry vaguely remembered Dorea mentioning something about Grindelwald and perhaps even her family, but he could not remember what. If the Blacks were open Grindelwald supporters, Harry thought he would have heard about it by now.
“So what… he just went off?”
“With some family allies, yeah. They’ve joined forces with a bunch of other wizards on the front lines. This war’s different from the last. Wizards were barred from fighting in the muggles’ last big war, but loads of them did anyway.”
“Did your father fight in that one, too?”
Charlus actually laughed. “My father was ready to give up a Wizengamot position to fight in that one. Yeah, he did. He was one of the first, and plenty of people followed him.”
“You said you couldn’t go home for the holidays. What about…” Harry’s voice trailed off. He had gotten halfway through asking his question before the words caught in his throat. It was suddenly much less difficult to imagine how tactless some people had been in his own time. Sometimes, one did not think before speaking and just became lost in the ebbs and flows of a conversation.
“It’s fine,” Charlus said a bit stiffly. “My mother went over with my father as a healer. She’s dead now.”
Harry grimaced. “I’m sorry.”
Charlus smiled darkly. “You really might be. You lost yours in some kind of raid, didn’t you?”
Harry nodded. “One of Grindelwald’s random strikes.”
Charlus’s face twisted into something ugly. “Seems like we’ve both got scores to settle then,” he said, stepping back into his stance and raising his wand like a sword. Harry too slid into position and they began anew.
January 8, 1943
A Secret Passage on the Third Floor
Harry and Riddle did not meet that evening as usual to work on Ancient Runes. Riddle had been serious about her promise to not press Harry until he’d declined or agreed to her proposal, but they were meeting now.
Harry had pulled Avery aside after Potions and asked him to pass the message along to Riddle that he had his answer. A large part of him had just wanted to pass along the verdict, but he sensed this was something he needed to do in person. To do it via an envoy would be to admit defeat. It would be proclaiming that fear had closed around his heart.
Harry did not fear Emily Riddle and it was important she knew that. Harry was also determined to ensure Riddle held up her end of the agreement as soon as possible. They would be touring that special room tonight if she wanted her proposition accepted. That would not have been possible had Harry used an envoy.
Another of Riddle’s followers had come to Harry after lunch and given him a sheet of parchment that simply had a list of directions. They were unnecessary — Harry knew the secret room Riddle had indicated, hidden behind a massive mirror on the fourth floor. Harry had seen it countless times on the Marauder’s Map, but it had been unusable in his time. The twins had said so, at the very least, and Harry had taken them at their word.
The floor-to-ceiling mirror slid aside like the entrance to their common room when Harry touched it with the tip of his wand. He couldn’t say what he had been expecting behind it, but it was not what he was confronted with. It was a long but narrow room with a burning fire in its centre and plush armchairs situated in a circle around the only light source in the room. There was a chill in the air despite the fire — or perhaps that had to do with the girl sitting in one of the two chairs nearest to the blaze.
She was facing Harry, peering at him impassively as she waited for him to take the chair directly across from her. Harry thought she looked serene sitting there with her eyes glittering like an ocean’s surface and her skin almost glowing in the dim light of the room. Her hands were folded in her lap, but Harry noticed her wand was out. She was merely toying with it, but it put him on edge nevertheless. Riddle must have sensed this, for the wand disappeared up her sleeve a moment later.
“Avery told me you’ve come to a decision.”
Harry nodded curtly as he stood behind the proffered chair. “I have.”
Riddle gestured to the piece of furniture in front of him. “Take a seat, Harry. It would be a shame for us to start a relationship so coldly.”
“I haven’t given you my answer,” Harry reminded her, but he did reluctantly sit nonetheless.
“I beg to differ,” Riddle said lightly, a thin smile teasing the corners of her lips.
Harry narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean you beg to differ?”
“You should know this by now, but I’ll tell you in good faith if we’re to be friends. You can’t hide things from me.”
“Because you’re a legilimens?”
“I am, but that isn’t why. Besides, you seemed to have no trouble fending off my probe.”
This was the first time Harry realized exactly how talented a liar Riddle was. It was a half-truth at best, but she told it masterfully. During their last meeting, Harry had baited her with inadvertent thoughts and had seen the reaction in her eyes. Riddle at least thought she had breached his mind once, but Harry would never have known it. There were no signs of deception in her voice nor her expression. She could have given a masterclass on deception.
Not for the first time, he wondered what had become of this in his own time. The Tom Riddle Harry had met in the Chamber of Secrets had been like this girl. A touch less composed, but charming and eloquent. Yet everything he had ever heard of Voldemort screamed nothing of the sort. Violent, reactive, and confrontational; a profile that matched well with the one time Harry could remember coming face to face with the monster in his first year whilst scrambling to save the Philosopher’s Stone.
“What is it then, if not Legilimency?” he asked.
Riddle smiled. “Do you mind if I be a bit arrogant for a moment?” Harry shook his head. “I am much smarter than most people.” There was no note of boasting in her voice, nor even a note of pride. It was simply said as a point of fact; the same way Harry’s math teachers back at primary school had once introduced new concepts to the class. “I find everyone else terribly simple-minded. I sometimes feel like I’m playing chess and I can guess where the pieces will move before they even decide themselves.” Her smile broadened. “Sometimes, I even nudge them in the right direction.”
Harry wondered if that was what Riddle meant to do with him. Uproot him from his current place and toy with him, turning his piece over and over again between her fingers before carelessly discarding it once she was bored, like she had seemed to do with almost all of her friends. Of the students Harry most often saw with Riddle, only Cassiopeia was one he thought she might genuinely respect, at least on some level.
“Why are you telling me this?” Harry asked, his voice hardly discernible over the soft crackling of the fire between them.
“Because I don’t want you to see how I treat others and think it’s how I view you.”
Of all the answers Harry could have anticipated, that was one he would never have expected to hear. “Why?”
“You’re different. You’re not so simple-minded — not so predictable. You have depth and dimension. I don’t want you to see how I treat the others and think it’s how I will ever treat you.”
Harry supposed that was probably half true. Riddle would doubtlessly treat him differently to the others… until she found out what she wanted to and won her little game.
It was something Harry could not allow to happen.
“Now,” Riddle said before Harry could reply, standing from her chair and appearing to rise forever before she stood at her full height. “How about I show you the wonders of the Room of Requirement?”
I am officially almost finished writing the first year of this story. I project the end of Harry’s fourth year to come in chapter 33, and I wrote chapter 29 last week. My goal is to finish those next four chapters this month, so if you’d like to read the rest of the year early, feel free to sign up to my P*T*E*N page. Once I finish the year, I will also probably allow the Discord server to get further ahead, so feel free to join that as well.
Please read and review.
Thank you as always to my lovely Discord Editors Idefix and Merc 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, March 16th, 2022. IT IS AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW FOR ANYONE WHO JOINS MY DISCORD SERVER, AS IS CHAPTER 21! We are slowly creeping towards 4,000 Discord members, so if you’re interested in discussing any of my works with others, that is the place to do that as well. THOSE WHO SIGN UP TO MY P*T*E*N PAGE WILL GAIN IMMEDIATE ACCESS TO THE NEXT TEN CHAPTERS, PLUS I EXPECT THEM TO HAVE THE END-OF-YEAR FINALE BY THE END OF MARCH. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST TWO COP CHAPTERS POSTED THERE NEXT WEEK. 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.
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.