Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 20: Deceptions and Detractors
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 10, 1943
The Great Hall
It had been more than a day since Harry had agreed to Riddle’s proposal, yet still it felt like he moved through a dream; slowly and with difficulty, every step laboured, every thought clouded. He’d spent that first day after the agreement locked up in the room Riddle had spoken of — a room she had promised could be ordered to keep anyone out.
Harry had spent a large part of that day experimenting with the room. Like Riddle had told him, things like food were impossible, which made sense. Harry had been reading ahead in Transfiguration ever since he’d discovered his talent for it. His progression had been rapid ever since Dumbledore’s advice and some time ago, he had read about the five principal exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration.
One thing the room could provide him with was books. Harry’s working theory was that it somehow pulled them from the library, for nothing else made sense. It would be his new place of study regardless — the unparalleled access to exactly what he wanted whenever he wanted it was difficult to believe. Harry had feared Riddle had reneged on their agreement, but now he wondered whether she realized exactly how much she had given him. Harry was sure that, with this, he could improve faster than he’d ever imagined.
Yet dread still clung to him when he entered the Great Hall for the first time in more than a day. The sky seemed to share his mood. The clouds were thick and grey as sleet, but there was no lightning, no thunder, no sign of a storm that might break up the monotony and bring with it the promise of relief.
Dorea and Elena walked on either side of him. Harry could feel their eyes watch him every now and then, but he did not return their stares. Both of them knew that something was wrong. They had known since he’d returned to the common room after his discussion with Riddle. Both girls had pressed him, but Harry had given nothing away.
That was about to change because Harry could already feel another’s eyes watching him, and had no reasonable pretence to ignore the stare that still sent shivers running up his spine.
She was there waiting for him, sitting in the centre of the Slytherin table, surrounded by her friends or her sycophants. Harry suspected the latter but wasn’t entirely sure. Riddle appeared to actually like at least Cassie and she had positioned the girl well with Harry at Slughorn’s Samhain gathering. Of course, that could be nothing but a facade and her maneuvering little more than the strategic placement of pawns.
“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.”
She had not omitted Cassie from that speech, but Harry supposed she wouldn’t have. It would have weakened her point had she mentioned exceptions other than him. With Riddle, one could never tell what was genuine and what was false. Harry thought that as a general rule, assuming the latter was a much safer option, but one that might make interacting with her next to impossible.
The table was in front of him impossibly fast. Had he crossed the Great Hall already? It had been but five strides ago when he had walked through its doors, or had it? Weariness did odd things to one’s mind. Harry remembered noticing how short the walk to the chamber felt this year compared to when he visited it in his own time. He had never noticed how long the corridor was whilst he feared for his life, but then, he wished for a more direct route that would take less time and require fewer steps.
Harry almost tripped on the bench, so swiftly it had come upon him. Riddle just smiled and gestured. The boys on either side of Harry shuffled down a spot. A place for Harry had already been set but now, there was one each for Dorea and Elena.
Merlin, he could feel their stares already. He needed not look over his shoulder to know that their eyes were wide. Elena was probably gaping at him. Dorea had better self-control, but she was doubtlessly raging and wondering which of Riddle’s traps had ensnared Harry. She probably thought that it had happened over the winter break, and it was hardly as though Harry could tell her she was wrong. Dorea was annoyingly perceptive that way — Harry just hoped she did nothing foolish in what she viewed as retaliation.
“I didn’t see you at all yesterday,” Riddle said, greeting Harry like an old friend. “I was growing worried.”
Had she thought Harry had broken his promise so soon after making it? He supposed she might have. If Riddle truly did suspect him of being the Heir of Slytherin, she could have wondered whether he had simply chosen to hide away in the Chamber of Secrets. That sounded somewhat tempting, but it would be a fool’s choice.
Harry heard movement behind him, then Elena was sitting on his left, stiff as any statue. Dorea was slower to move. She just stood there and watched.
“Are you all right, Dorea?” Riddle asked, her eyes leaving Harry for the first time. “You seem tense.”
“I’m fine,” she answered, taking a seat to Harry’s right without any further comment and adopting what appeared to be a single-minded focus on the food she began piling on her plate.
Riddle smiled at her all the same. “I’m glad to hear it.” She turned back towards Harry. “Do you feel quite all right? No illness or anything of the like?”
“I’m fine,” said Harry. “I just had homework that I’d left for too long and almost forgotten about.”
“A nasty habit,” Riddle chided. “You should fit it into a routine. I find that it’s more efficient.”
Harry shrugged as naturally as he could. “I’ve always been a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to homework.”
“Shame. If you break that habit, you might find you’ll have even more time to pursue what interests you without the added stress. A clear mind is much more efficient.”
Harry knew already that what she said was true. His classes caused him less stress now than they had ever before. He thought that was a large part of why he was improving so fast in something like Transfiguration. Without the mental stress and anxiety caused by classes like Divination, Harry could focus more freely on the things that mattered.
A storm of flapping wings and rustling feathers disrupted their discussion as the school’s owls flew into the room. There was a cluster of them near the centre that all had feathers so grey they blended with the dreary sky above. The array was broken at once when the birds swooped down towards their targets and levied upon them the missives they had carried.
One landed in front of Harry, who blinked at it but reached for its leg nevertheless.
“Expecting mail, Pavonis?” It was not Riddle who spoke, but Felix Rosier — the fifth-year male prefect who worked closest with her.
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but the words caught in his throat when he saw the tall, looping script he recognized so well from his own time. Words failed him at the sight of it, so he just shook his head before reading his letter with mounting excitement.
I promised before the break that I would begin tutoring you privately in my subject at its end if you wished. Now that the school year has begun again in earnest, I see no reason to delay any longer. If the time is agreeable, I think we shall begin meeting at 8:30 every Friday evening in my office. My office can be found in a first-floor corridor off to the right of the staircase leading up to another that is wonderfully decorated in the image of your house.
Harry felt light for the first time in almost two days. This was something he had been eagerly anticipating ever since it had been promised. An opportunity to work with Albus Dumbledore in a subject he was specialized in was one Harry revelled in. Not even Riddle would be able to match his aptitude in Transfiguration, he was sure of that. If he was talented now, Harry could only imagine to what levels he would rise in the subject under Dumbledore’s tutelage.
“Who’s that from?” And just like that, any feeling of bliss was torn ruthlessly away. Harry contemplated for a moment whether he could avoid answering Cassiopeia, but decided he could not. It would reflect ill on him.
“Dumbledore,” Harry answered, watching Riddle’s face closely. It twitched at the name.
“What does he want with you?” asked Avery.
“I have no idea,” Harry lied, choosing to look at the boy who’d asked and away from Riddle. Hopefully a lack of eye contact would mean his lie could go unnoticed. “He just wrote telling me that he wants to arrange some sort of meeting later in the week.”
“He probably wants to put you ahead in his class, too,” Dorea suggested. There was something about the way she said it. Almost like the words were stones and she was hurling them at someone — Riddle, most likely, though she seemed entirely nonplussed.
“I think that’s unlikely,” she answered. “If they wanted to make any class adjustments, they would have done it by now. That would be quite the adjustment for anyone in the middle of a school year and with half the time to prepare for a new set of exams.”
“Pavonis here might be good enough to pull it off,” said Avery, turning towards Harry. “Favourite subject of yours?”
Harry smiled tightly. “One of them. We had a good instructor back at Ilvermorny. It was one of the school’s better subjects.”
“They need some of those if they’re to make up for their appalling lack of focus in Ancient Runes and Arithmancy,” Riddle said dryly.
“Not the two subjects I’d have left out of a curriculum had I been the one planning it,” said Rookwood.
“I wouldn’t have left anything out.” It was perhaps the least surprising thing Riddle had ever said.
“Not even Astronomy?” Dolohov asked, speaking for the first time since Harry had joined them. Neither he nor Mulciber had done anything outwardly antagonistic, but Harry could tell that there was still tension on both of their parts.
“Astronomy has its uses whether you like to admit it or not.”
“Like what?” Harry was shocked by Elena’s boldness. It was perhaps the first time he could remember her willingly speaking in Riddle’s presence, and inquiring off the back of her question, no less.
“Archaic magic. Astrological alignment has significance in certain facets of ancient magic. The type that doesn’t use wands or other conduits.”
“Rituals.” The word sounded poisonous on Dorea’s tongue.
Harry had never heard the term rituals used in relation to magic other than in his own head. That was what he had deemed the process Reginald Gress had used to fix his eyesight, but whether it was proper or not, he had never known.
“Among other things, yes,” Riddle agreed.
Rituals… that was something to remember. Harry had plenty of other things on his plate, but something about that word called to him. If he was right in assuming one of them had been used to fix his eyes, he wondered what else such magic could do.
Some time later, in an abandoned classroom…
Harry, Dorea, and Elena tagged along with Riddle and her posse that morning. They did nothing interesting — only lope around the library and discuss classes and occasionally the war. None of their chatter interested Harry, but he would have rathered it lasted longer. His two real friends watched him throughout and he could tell that a confrontation would come at the first available opportunity.
Sure enough, Dorea grabbed Harry by the arm and began dragging him through the halls as soon as they were free of the larger group.
“Oi!” Harry hissed, but Dorea paid him no heed.
She stormed down the hall without a backwards glance. Harry noticed that Elena failed to speak up in his defence; only following silently behind them, biting her lip as she went.
They kept walking until they came to the first abandoned classroom. Dorea shoved Harry inside with so much force that he stumbled and almost fell. Harry waited for the accusation. He waited for her to accuse him of lunacy or bellow at him for abandoning his senses. Perhaps she would even try to curse him. Would he stop her? No, he didn’t think he would. Any reaction she had would be reasonable. Harry had no high ground here. He could do little but wait with dread and accept whatever came his way.
Nothing during his year in the past had surprised him more than what happened next. Dorea’s lips moved and Harry waited for them to part, waited for the rush of bellowed curses to fly from them and strike him harder than any bludger.
Harry gawked at her. “What—”
“Oh, don’t play coy with me. You’re too smart to have fallen into Riddle’s hands like the others. You’re not interested in her and I doubt she has any blackmail material on you.” Dorea placed her hands on her hips and straightened her posture, tilting her head to the side.
“You were avoiding her before, but now that we’re back, it’s different. What did she do over the holidays? Something problematic enough to want to infiltrate her circle of friends? What are you trying to accomplish?”
Sometimes, it felt to Harry like his two female friends had some kind of telepathic link. This train of thought seemed foreign for someone like Elena, but she appeared entirely unsurprised. It was like the two of them had rehearsed this spiel, but that was impossible — Harry had been with them for every second since they took their seats with Riddle’s circle for breakfast.
Leave it up to Dorea to come up with something like this. It would have been a scheme worthy of a Black, but she overestimated him. Harry had fallen prey to one of Riddle’s traps, and he had not been sharp enough to find his way out. Frankly, he counted himself fortunate to have gotten as much from the agreement as he had. He might even win the bargain long-term… assuming that it didn’t backfire so poorly before then that its long-term implications ceased mattering at all.
The only thing that had changed was that Riddle had stopped toying with him and moved in. Harry had been manoeuvred into place the second that had happened and he opened his mouth to say as much, but paused.
“Oh, don’t play coy with me. You’re too smart to have fallen into Riddle’s hands like the others. You’re not interested in her and I doubt she has any blackmail material on you.”
Dorea was stubborn — perhaps the most stubborn person Harry knew who was not named Dursley; though he supposed none of the ones he had known were born quite yet. Perhaps he could affect the timeline in such a way that they never were.
Merlin, that thought had grown dark. What was getting into him? Harry hated the Dursleys, but never had he thought so grimly before — not even whilst under their tender mercy on Privet Drive.
Morbid thoughts aside, there was a very real possibility that Dorea would refuse to believe him. She had a belief in mind and a standard she held Harry to. Him failing to meet those was something Harry doubted she could imagine. Trying to convince her otherwise might well be as useless as arguing with his primary school teachers, trying to convince them he was blameless for whatever Dudley had accused him of that week.
Or, it could be worse. If Dorea could not imagine Harry failing to live up to those standards, what if he did convince her? Would she turn her back on him? Would he have disappointed her and squandered a friendship he had cherished?
No — that thought was unbearable; it was a possibility Harry would not chance.
“The party,” he managed to get out, using the first lie that sprang to mind. It was a disturbingly convincing one. It seemed Harry had changed more since arriving here than he had realized. He supposed lying about his identity for months on end would make him a better liar than he ever had been.
“Slughorn’s. When Elena and I stumbled across her at the table, she tried to use Legilimency on me. I want to know what it is she wants and what to do about it.”
January 15, 1943
Something had clicked the night Charlus first advised Harry to vary his attacks. The duels had grown much more competitive ever since. Tonight, Harry had almost beaten Charlus. It had only been in one of their duels and the Potter heir had still come out on top, but it had been a near thing. Harry hoped that by the end of the year, he would be able to match Charlus’s prowess, especially when he had Dumbledore’s tutelage to lean on.
After being followed and cornered by Riddle, Harry had considered telling Charlus about the Room of Requirement, but something gave him pause. The same something that reared its ugly head every time he considered telling Dorea or Elena. It was difficult to explain, but it felt wrong somehow. That room was Harry’s escape — surely he was entitled to some secrets that weren’t damning? Some secrets that he chose not to share as opposed to having no choice in the matter at all.
Thoughts of the room faded the further Harry got from the seventh floor and new ones arose. Dorea and Elena had taken his story without question earlier in the week and even tagged along with him and Riddle’s group of friends more often than not, but Harry could see they were not welcomed as readily as he. Elena specifically — being a Black naturally afforded Dorea a certain amount of leniency.
Harry wondered as he reached the bottom of the stairs leading into the dungeons and stepped into a deep pool of shadow why everything had to be so complicated. He’d hoped to escape that after being driven from his own reality, but things here were even more complex. He could not have said six months ago how something could be more complex than scheming dark lords, escaped mass-murderers who actually turned out to be innocent, and ancient secrets long forgotten, but it turned out such things were indeed possible.
Harry faltered when he saw movement from the shadows and suddenly, his path was impeded by two older boys. He recognized one at once, for he was nearly a doppelgänger of Lucius Malfoy — the father of Harry’s fiercest school rival. The other took a moment, but Harry remembered him standing alongside Abraxas whilst verbally sparring with Riddle.
“Good evening, Pavonis,” Abraxas drawled, leaning leisurely against the wall with his hands in his pockets. If one of them was not clasped around his wand, Harry would snog Riddle in front of the school. “Arriving late, are we?”
Harry held his tongue. Abraxas was a prefect, but his friend was not. Nott wouldn’t have accompanied him had he been doing his prefect rounds and even if he had, Harry doubted Abraxas was the type to hand Slytherins detention for being out past curfew.
“Are you quite all right?” Abraxas asked, eyes narrowing. “You look troubled.”
Harry must have scowled when the thought of bigotry came to mind. If there were any muggleborns in Slytherin, Harry had no doubt at all Abraxas would happily have given them detention and worse. The thought made him sick, but now was not the time to show it. Harry had told anyone who asked that he was a halfblood. It was a believable middle ground. People like Malfoy and especially Nott would still look somewhat down on him, but there would be no blatant discrimination. Harry could live with that.
“I’m fine,” he said, “just tired.”
“Late night studying?” asked Nott.
“Something like that, yeah.”
“I can’t help but notice the company you’ve been keeping lately, Pavonis.” Abraxas spoke quietly and his voice was perfectly polite, but Harry could sense the edge hidden somewhere within.
“What about it?” Harry asked. “The rest of the house seems to hang off Riddle like she’s royalty. You won’t catch me going that far.”
“Which means you have more sense than the rest. The problem is that you should never have dirtied yourself with the mudblood at all.”
Harry almost let his eyes widen. Was Abraxas trying to scare him, or was he really working against Riddle behind the scenes? Harry would not have guessed so after their confrontation in the common room, but perhaps he was stubborn. Draco certainly had been in his own time.
“Isn’t she a halfblood?” Harry asked carefully.
Nott sneered. “She says so; that doesn’t mean it’s true.”
“You can do better than her, Pavonis,” said Abraxas. “You were doing well. An alliance with Fawley was a good start, then to bring in Black was even better. Don’t throw away all of that progress by associating with people like Riddle.”
Abraxas had pushed off the wall and leant closer to Harry, looming menacingly over him with his grey eyes flickering in the dark corridor like raging storm clouds.
Harry considered giving him the same story he had given Dorea or Elena, but he bit his lip at the last second. These two could not be trusted. For all he knew, they were trying to set Riddle against him the same way they wanted Harry against her. All they had to prove his blood status was his word, after all. The last thing he wanted was for his devised cover story getting back to Riddle.
Which meant that there was only one way forward.
“Thanks for the advice. I appreciate the thought.”
“I am a prefect, it’s my duty to ensure that students make wise long-term decisions.”
“That’s the thing, though,” Harry went on. “I think I’m making a perfectly intelligent decision.”
Nott’s eyes flashed. “By befriending a good-for-nothing mudblood?”
“Good-for-nothing?” Harry raised an eyebrow. If there was one thing that would bolden him, it was what Nott had just said. “She might be the most talented student Hogwarts has ever seen. Where exactly do you get the idea that she’s good-for-nothing?”
“So you’re using her?”
Harry shrugged. “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. That’s my business, not yours.”
“You would do well to treat us with more respect,” Abraxas said in that silky smooth way of his.
Harry stepped around him. “And you would do well to stay out of my way. I don’t appreciate it, and I doubt Riddle would, either.”
Harry expected a curse to follow him, but none did. There weren’t even any words thrown his way. Harry left nothing in his wake but ominous silence and somehow, that made him even more wary.
Things are going to heat up noticeably in a couple of chapters as this story moves towards its next major arc. The next couple of chapters will be spent setting that up.
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