Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 21: New Wrinkles
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 21: New Wrinkles
January 16, 1943
Albus Dumbledore’s Office
“Ah, Master Pavonis, thank you for your punctuality. Please, sit down.”
Harry stepped forward as if in a dream. Any time he thought about Dumbledore’s office, he still conjured up images of the circular tower room, decorated with ornate trinkets the likes of which Harry had seen nowhere else. Some of them were already dotted around his more mundane office here, but many had yet to be added. Harry couldn’t help but notice the golden instruments he had seen puffing smoke during second year were absent, as was his phoenix, Fawkes.
Harry wasn’t sure what felt stranger as he took his seat across from Dumbledore — the fact he was here at all and not lording over the school as headmaster, or the fact that he was about to personally instruct Harry in magic. It almost felt wrong. They had not spoken terribly often in Harry’s time, but the youth had felt a connection there. A much stronger one than the nonexistent version he shared with Dumbledore now. The fact he was being taught now and not then felt unnatural. Harry couldn’t help but remember Dorea’s words about why Dumbledore might want to teach Harry Transfiguration and a part of him wondered whether or not they may even have been true.
“A man like Albus Dumbledore would never settle for equal. I think he wants to train you to be her better.”
Was that even possible? Harry had witnessed Riddle duelling in Merrythought’s class. She was a whirlwind — easily the most talented duellist Harry had ever seen. People spoke about her like she was some kind of goddess. Harry was making incredible progress and lately, he had begun to hope Dumbledore was right; but now that the time for the real work had come, he felt doubts creeping back into his mind and nesting in its shadowy corners, watching and waiting for their time to strike.
“Thanks for inviting me, Professor,” Harry answered Dumbledore, bowing his head and hoping none of his thoughts had shown across his face.
Dumbledore smiled. That sight too was odd. The lines in his face that Harry remembered had not yet appeared and those that had were shallow and vibrant compared to the ones Harry remembered. “Think nothing of it. I am a teacher; passing my talents onto the next generation of magicians is my passion.”
Harry bit his lip. Dumbledore wouldn’t answer in a way that would confirm or deny Dorea’s assumption, but he had to ask regardless. “Sir, can I ask a question?”
Dumbledore smiled thinly. “You just did, but you may ask another.” Déjà vu slammed into Harry like a wall of concussive force. Suddenly, he was no longer in that room sitting across from his auburn-haired professor. He was in a darker room with barren walls and long-forgotten furniture; a room housing a mirror that still haunted Harry’s dreams all this time later.
“Sir — Professor Dumbledore? Can I ask you something?”
“Obviously, you’ve just done so,” Dumbledore smiled. “You may ask me one more thing, however.”
That had been in a different time, a different world, and with two different people. Yet it felt so much like that day all over again and suddenly, for the first time in months, Harry wished for all of this to end and for a return to the life he once had.
He crushed the thought just as quickly. There was nothing to return to. Hermione was gone and so was Sirius. Voldemort was on his way back to power and if Harry was unsure he’d have time to match Riddle in this world, he would never have had a chance in his own. No, it was better here — painful as that thought might have been.
“Sir, I was curious why you chose me specifically.”
“Were you?” Dumbledore asked, running a hand through his long auburn beard. “Tell me, Master Pavonis, why is it that you wonder?”
Harry stumbled blindly for an answer. “I… well, there are plenty of students here, aren’t there?”
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled in that maddening way of his. “Indeed there are.”
“Well… there must be something different about me, then?”
“Indeed there is. I believe we have spoken about it to some degree already.”
“Is it just that I’m good at Transfiguration?”
“You have a natural flair for it, the likes of which I’ve scarcely seen. That is not simply being good at Transfiguration. A man only has so much time to give even if he wished he had much more of it. I wish to pass along all that I know, but there are few who could bear that weight. You are the first in some time I have seen with such ability in my subject. It is now, or never.”
There was something about the way he said that. Dumbledore spoke like a man much older than he was; like they were back in Harry’s time and his hair had long-since paled. This Dumbledore had half a century left or more. So why was it he spoke with such urgency in his voice.
Harry frowned, a dark thought creeping up inside his head. “Professor… are your worried about the war?”
“Worried?” Dumbledore asked, sighing. “Harry — I do hope it is all right if I call you such?” Harry nodded. “There is very little in this world that worries me more than the war.”
“They’ve been saying Grindelwald might attack England if the fighting in Russia keeps going the way it has.”
“I think we can be relatively confident about the outcome on that particular front. The fighting looks bleaker for Grindelwald’s forces every passing day. I doubt he will wait much longer before ordering a retreat, if only for now.”
“You think he’ll try again?”
“Oh, yes, Grindelwald is not the type of man to accept defeat so easily. It is why I’m so sure his forces will return to England in one capacity or another, though I admit, a part of me once thought us safe from him for the foreseeable future.”
“So you think the rumours are true?”
“I don’t know,” Dumbledore admitted, looking out the window with a far-away expression. “I certainly think their forces will strike here again. Whether it is for pride or with the intention to stay, I cannot say.”
“But you guess it’s the second one, don’t you?”
Dumbledore’s lips curved upwards. “You are an inquisitive young man.”
Harry blushed. “Sorry, sir, I didn’t mean—”
“It’s quite all right, Harry. Curiosity is not a sin, nor is being more perceptive than most your age I have met.” Dumbledore paused and brought his stare back into the room, fixing Harry with it, pinning him to his chair with the intensity of his eyes. “I do think Grindelwald will eventually try to break England just as the muggles tried several years ago. And since I know the question you are too polite to ask, I foresee myself meeting him along the way, whether by choice or otherwise.”
“So you want to start passing on what you know, just in case?”
“Just in case,” Dumbledore agreed, nodding slowly.
“Sir,” Harry asked, “why are you telling me all this? It seems like a lot to trust me with the first time meeting?”
“Perhaps,” Dumbledore admitted, “but I have told you nothing you couldn’t have deduced on your own. Nothing I have said is dangerous or can be used against me or my goals. It is trust I am placing in you in the hope that you will do likewise, and I tell you of my intentions to justify my ambition.”
Harry tilted his head. “Your ambition, sir?”
“It is my hope to have taught you the necessary components of the NEWT-level curriculum by the end of the year.”
Harry spluttered, almost choking on his next breath. “The NEWT-level curriculum? Is that even possible?”
“Certainly.” There was no doubt in Dumbledore’s words. Just cold, hard finality. “Is may seem daunting to you, but I am sure you can do it. Be warned that it will take much work on your part, but it is necessary. If I wish to pass along the more valuable pieces of the subject’s complex puzzle, I must instill the basics in you as quickly as I can.” Dumbledore met his eyes for the first time. “Is this agreeable to you, Harry? Are you willing to work hard enough for my goals to be achievable?”
This was a very different Dumbledore. His age had mellowed him and made him more passive. This Dumbledore played offensively whether he spoke his intentions truly or not. Harry found that he respected him all the more for it and was nodding before he’d much considered the offer.
“Yes, sir, I’ll do anything I need to.”
Dumbledore nodded, smiling. “Excellent. Now, let us begin.”
Some time later…
Dumbledore had not been kidding when speaking of his ambitions. He had tested Harry briefly before nodding and moving on to new material. Not one of the transformations Dumbledore had tasked him with learning had he even seen before. Most of them were manageable, though not elegantly, but there were several that Harry would be researching before they met again. Dumbledore was pondering whether once a week would suffice or whether the pair should meet more often.
Between lessons with Dumbledore, duelling with Charlus, practicing the same with Dore and Elena, and now tagging along with Riddle and her friends, Harry was swiftly coming to the realization that his schedule was going to be quite full. None of that was even considering the sporadic times when he would slip off to the Chamber of Secrets and spend several hours with Cerastes.
“He kept you longer than I expected.”
Harry whirled and had to resist the urge to jump. Riddle was calm as ever, watching him with a small smirk and amusement dancing in her dark blue eyes. Harry hated how well that expression suited her. It was infuriating. Riddle always looked like she knew some kind of joke no one else did and the worst part about all of it was that Harry found himself looking at her every time and wishing it would stay before berrading himself for such idiocy the second it fled.
“Merlin, Riddle, don’t do that!” Harry hissed.
“I probably shouldn’t,” she admitted, gesturing for Harry to follow as she made her way down the corridor. “I forget that not everyone is so aware of who and what’s around them.”
If that was supposed to mean something, it went straight over Harry’s head. “Why’d you wait for me? Did you even have any idea how long I’d be?”
“Not particularly, no. Dumbledore tends to be long-winded, but I had nothing better to fill my time with.”
Harry looked up at her doubtfully. “You had nothing better to do than standing outside of Dumbledore’s office waiting for… however long you stood there?”
Riddle laughed softly. “It might seem to you like I was doing nothing, but trust me, that isn’t true.”
Harry frowned. “What were you doing then?”
Harry waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t. “None of the others came with you?”
“I’m not sure they realized I’d be gone for longer than a few minutes. I didn’t exactly advertise that I would be.”
The hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end. Riddle had a way of unnerving him even when she had no intention of doing so. Harry could remember very few conversations with her during which he had never felt a pinch of nervousness rise at something she had said. This time, it was the way she said it; like she had ominous plans for him.
“You wanted to talk with me?” Harry guessed, raising an eyebrow.
“I did,” she admitted.
“Why? What’s up?”
“Must I have a reason? You’re willing to question me, willing to presume you know things without being told them. Do I need a better reason to choose you over the others?”
“I guess not,” said Harry, “but I have a feeling you have one anyway.”
She laughed again. “I would say that you’re right, but you know that already.” There was a slight pause. “I couldn’t help but notice the looks you’ve been getting from Tiberius Nott and Abraxas Malfoy as of late.”
Did she miss nothing? Harry hadn’t even noticed them looking at him any differently. He wasn’t all that surprised they had been, but not even Dorea had warned him of anything this time. It was like Riddle was using some kind of magic to know what was going on at all times, like she could read people’s moods, or even their…
Harry almost smacked a hand against his palm. Legilimency — there was a very real chance that she had gleaned the truth via Legilimency. “I don’t suppose you’ve gone poking around in anyone’s heads lately?”
She smiled. “You’d be harder pressed to find a week I hadn’t than one I had, but no one who’s important; nothing more than practice.”
“So what gave it away, then? Nobody else has mentioned anything?”
Riddle’s smile widened, amusement dancing in her eyes once more. “I never told you that I hadn’t used Legilimency. Just that I hadn’t gone poking around in people’s heads.”
Harry scratched his head and idly began ruffling his hair, suddenly realizing how little he actually knew about the Mind Arts.. “Isn’t that what Legilimency is?”
“Only a facet,” said Riddle. “That is the majority of what people would call Active Legilimency. Passive Legilimency is more complex. I have a natural gift that others can’t match. I don’t need to actively legilimize people in order to learn what the general idea of what they’re thinking is. I can’t pick out thoughts just by standing near them, but moods are simpler and emotions easier still.”
Harry fought against his grimace. Legilimency was quickly becoming the kind of magic he despised most. It explained much about how Riddle always seemed to know what everyone was thinking and what all was going on.
“I’m guessing you’ve never explained this to anyone else, have you?”
“Not exactly. Cassiopeia and I have spoken about it, but she has some foundation in the Mind Arts already so I was explaining nothing new.”
Why was it that tonight, people who Harry expected to be secretive were overextending themselves to give him useful pieces of information? “So why tell me?” he asked. “That seems like a big advantage to give away?”
“Is it? Your Occlumency is stronger than anyone else’s I’ve encountered. I glean emotions from you, but little more. Besides,” she said, smiling again, “why would I have secrets from an ally and a friend?”
If Riddle truly considered Harry her friend, he would throw himself from the Astronomy Tower. “And because you thought that by opening up, I might tell you about Nott and Malfoy?”
“You’re learning,” Riddle praised, reaching over and patting Harry on the shoulder. If she felt the muscles tense beneath her fingers, she was unbothered by it. Harry wished she was less fond of touching people. Well, touching him, anyway; he wasn’t sure he could ever remember a time she’d touched anyone else. That was odd.
“It was nothing, really,” he said after recovering. “They told me I shouldn’t be hanging around with you.”
“Did they?” Riddle asked, twirling a lock of raven hair. Harry nodded. “And what did you tell them in return?”
It would have been a valid question from anyone else, but Riddle was too clever not to know the answer. Harry wondered whether she was just fishing for praise or whether she wanted to see how he answered. He suspected the latter, though a dark lady being vain enough to care for the former would make a degree of sense as well.
“I asked them why not considering you’re the best student in the school.”
“I’m sure they were thrilled to be reminded,” Riddle said through soft gales of laughter. She was so odd. Charming and polite yet shamelessly confident, almost arrogant. No, Harry thought, not almost; absolutely arrogant.
Harry shrugged. “I don’t really care what they thought of it. It’s true and they don’t need to know my reasons. That’s my business, not theirs.”
They walked in silence for a moment. “I think you might find that they disagree with you.”
Harry scowled. “Let them. It means nothing to me.”
“You’re a strange wizard, Harry. So wary of a girl not yet passed her OWLs, yet so confident against two of the school’s upperclassmen.”
“Age doesn’t matter,” said Harry, knowing that it was true. How many seventh years could have dealt with the basilisk or fought off a hundred dementors? “We both know you’d school both of them.”
“I don’t imagine they would find you an easy target, either.”
“Maybe. Who knows?”
“I certainly hope we have no reason to find out,” said Riddle, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder again. Her grip was tighter this time, almost… protective? “If they trouble you, come to me. I’ll deal with both of them if that happens.”
It… did sound protective, but that made no sense. Why on earth would Riddle want to protect him? Every time Harry thought he was making progress at piecing her together, she showed a new wrinkle that changed the game entirely.
The oddest thing about it all, Harry reflected as their footsteps echoed in the otherwise silent halls, was that after considering it, he really did believe that Riddle would protect him if the circumstance arose and Harry found himself entirely unsure how to feel about that.
January 18, 1943
The Third Floor
Harry knew that the students nearby were watching him even without looking. He and the fifth-year Slytherins had just finished up another round of monthly duels in Defence Against the Dark Arts. Harry had taken down Marianna Parkinson almost as fast as Riddle had several months earlier. Of course, that was only because Riddle had taken the time to toy with her whilst Harry had not, but it was still whispered of among the students in class.
“Are you sure you still want that rematch, Dolohov?” Rosier asked with a smirk, eyes cutting between Harry and the pale-faced Dolohov, who scowled.
“Whenever Pavonis is willing to offer it,” he said, looking at Harry with those dark, cruel eyes. Despite his inclusion in Riddle’s group, there was still tension there between him and Dolohov. Mulciber seemed to have been cowed by whatever Riddle had told them, but Dolohov was more persistent.
“I’ll duel you,” said Harry, the eyes of the group upon him. What was he to do? Turn him down? He would look like a coward and lose any respect he had gained since joining this circle of students. Besides, it would be a good test and better practice. Dolohov was the most skilled duellist Harry had faced, discounting Charlus. Harry would learn quickly if his improvements were as exponential as he hoped. If the duel turned violent again… well, there was no better way of practice.
“I think not,” said Riddle, speaking more sharply than Harry had heard before. “The two of you duelling seems like a recipe for disaster.”
“It won’t degenerate like last time,” Dolohov promised, “I won’t let it last that long.”
“I think you may overestimate yourself, Antonin,” said Riddle.
Dolohov sneered at Harry. “He won’t have the element of surprise on his side this time.”
“And you won’t be lucky to duel me while I’m doing nothing but flinging basic curses,” Harry bit back, reminded painfully of all the times he had bickered with Draco Malfoy. Dolohov was infinitely more dangerous, of course, but Harry was suddenly bitter and ready to lash out against him like he’d never been able to against Draco.
“Not until both of you can calm yourselves and duel civilly.” There was no room for question in Riddle’s voice. Not even Dolohov spoke up, so Harry followed suit unwillingly.
Unwillingly… that was a thought, and a comforting one at that.
After all the shadowy threats Riddle posed, this exchange had proven to Harry that, if nothing else, there was still no fear of Emily Riddle inside of him. Just a healthy respect and a much less healthy bundle of conflicted emotions.
January 21, 1943
An Abandoned Classroom
“I’m going to beat you soon,” Harry said through heaving breaths, noticing to his satisfaction that Charlus also looked the worse for wear.
“You might,” he admitted, regaining his breath much faster than Harry.
Harry scowled. “How do you do that?”
Charlus frowned. “Do what?”
“Recover so fast. Any time we have a duel like that, my chest feels like it’s about to collapse for the next ten minutes.”
“Train,” Charlus said simply. “Not just your magic, but your body, too.”
Harry frowned. “Isn’t that a muggle thing? I didn’t know witches and wizards made a habit of it.”
“They don’t,” Charlus admitted. “Dad picked it up whilst over in Europe when he snuck off to fight in the muggles’ war. I’m sure some aurors and people like that probably do it, but he’d never seen it before.”
The bulk of Harry’s exercise on Privet Drive had been him running from Dudley, but that only took one so long and had happened long ago. He had played Quidditch at Hogwarts, but that was just time spent sitting on a broom and even that was more than he did now. Duelling was great, but it could only happen so often. Harry could remember the sight of sweat-soaked men jogging down sidewalks in smouldering heat whilst he tended to Petunia’s garden, remember the way their breaths wheezed in unison with their heavy footfalls. None of that sounded at all appealing to Harry, but if it allowed him to keep up with Charlus, perhaps it was worth it.
“What do you do?” he asked.
Charlus shrugged. “Run, mostly. I do some other stuff now and then, but really just running. It doesn’t work miracles or anything, but I’ll take what I can get.”
“Would you mind if I joined you for a day or two? Just to see what it was like and how miserable it was?”
Charlus waved a hand. “Come if you want. I usually do it in the mornings, though, so fair warning.”
Harry snorted. “I’m awake earlier than anyone in my house. I don’t mind mornings; I just usually spend them in the library.”
There was a certain, icy quality to Charlus’s words that took Harry aback. He opened his mouth to answer but was unsure what to say. Charlus knew it, too. He opened his mouth to respond but before he could, an awful sound tore through the air and caused both of them to jump, hairs on their necks standing on end.
It was like that night with Riddle when studying runes all over again. The night Aragog had savaged Myrtle before being driven off.
Charlus reacted every bit as fast now as Riddle had then. He was armed with his wand in an instant and out the door before Harry could think. He cursed and raised his own wand, charging after his older friend and following the sound of pounding footsteps as others charged towards the same place Harry and Charlus were now bound for.
This time, there was no giant spider. Harry wondered for a moment if they had come to the wrong place, but a larger crowd had gathered and most were muttering in hushed voices.
“Stick close behind me and follow me through,” Charlus muttered, pushing through the crowd and flaunting his prefect badge to anyone who protested. Harry did as he said and before long, both of them reached the front and finally, Harry saw what had caused the screaming… well, he saw who had likely screamed at least.
It was a girl Harry had never seen before. She was wearing Hufflepuff robes, but there were dark spots of blood over her stomach where she must have been cut. Harry could see no sign of blood still flowing, but the stain was deep like a patch of spilled wine. Harry looked over her body more closely as Charlus knelt to lift her robes and examine the damage. Something else caught Harry’s attention as Charlus lifted the robes. Something… peculiar.
She appeared to be unconscious with her eyes closed and deep, shaking breaths, but her body shook and spasmed every ten or so seconds as though an electric shock had been sent up her spine. Harry frowned as he looked at her, trying to imagine what could do something like that. He had never seen anything like it.
Except… that wasn’t true. He had never seen anything like it when he’d landed here in the summer, but that had changed all the way back in September when Professor Merrythought had demonstrated three disturbing curses.
“Merlin,” Harry heard Charlus mutter from his spot on the floor as though he was reading Harry’s mind. “I think she’s been tortured.”
I suspect the next chapter may turn out to be a longer one, but we shall see. It will set into motion a number of events that will lead to the end of the year and the major arc that accompanies it, so I am excited to get that underway and hope you all are as well.
Please read and review.
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