CoP 24

Conjoining of Paragons

Chapter 24: Beware the Heir

By ACI100

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, as well as my other betas 3CP, Fezzik, Luq707, Raven, Regress, and Yoshi89 for their incredible work on this story.

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Harry Potter and the Conjoining of Paragons

By ACI100

Chapter 24: Beware the Heir

February 25, 1943

An Abandoned Classroom

10:52 PM

Harry could begrudgingly say, after more than a month of running, that Charlus had indeed been correct. By no means did he never find himself winded in duels, but particularly drawn out affairs such as this particular skirmish would probably have broken him six weeks ago. There had been shorter, less intense duels than this during which Harry had simply lacked the energy to continue but now he found that — though his lungs burned and his calves ached — he was able to keep fighting.

Charlus’s stunner came for him but Harry knew it was a feint. When he sidestepped, he brought his wand up at once, ready to deflect the inevitable follow-up curse. Harry saw Charlus’s eyes narrow from across the classroom when Harry batted his spell aside and countered with a volley of his own. This was not the same boy he had begun duelling two months ago and he was becoming more aware of that the longer the duel stretched on.

Harry kept his wand moving whilst Charlus fended off his spells. This plan was one he had devised during one sleepless night spent analyzing their last round of duelling. Harry was never going to beat Charlus just by trading spells. The Potter heir had said that himself and there had been no deception in his words. Harry knew that now; the way to beat Charlus was by using more intricate tactics in the hope of catching him off guard.

A bolt of red energy shot from Harry’s wand. Charlus cursed and lowered his shield, recasting it so it might hold against the oncoming Blasting Curse, but the spell struck not at Charlus, but at the floor some teen feet in front of him. The stones of their dungeon classroom broke apart and as they did, Harry’s wand was already swishing and flicking towards Charlus. The stones rose up into the air and soared towards the taken aback looking sixth year, who lowered his shield and countered with a Blasting Curse of his own — his non-verbal.

Harry had expected that so with another flick of his wand, the debris twisted, elongated, and sprouted what, for a moment, looked like oddly shaped protrusions before they solidified into sets of ebony wings. The fully formed flock of sharp-taloned birds dove towards Charlus, who cursed.

Harry took the opening to fire spell after spell towards the sixth-year as he moved his wand in an effort to vanish the birds. One of them raked its talons across the back of his neck, causing Charlus’s focus to waver and for others to move in as he hastily batted aside one of Harry’s spells and returned fire. This let more of the birds get close to him and begin hacking at his skin. Charlus grunted and staggered backwards into the wall of wings and feathers at his back, stumbling over himself for a moment before something took him in the chest and knocked him off his feet. His wand left his grasp and his eyes widened at the sight of a black cloud bearing down on him, but the birds vanished before their attack could finish.

Harry was whooping on the other side of the room. His grin must have been something to behold, for even he noticed it was unnaturally wide. Harry couldn’t remember the last time he had smiled like this and a bout of joyful laughter came from him as he reached up and caught Charlus’s wand.

“Bloody hell,” Charlus muttered, climbing to his feet, “I underestimated you.”

“You thought the stones were just a distraction so that I could take you down with curses.”

He nodded. “What I didn’t bloody realize was that they were just a setup. You knew I’d blast them, didn’t you?”

Harry shrugged. “I couldn’t know, but I guessed. You use blunt force a lot when dealing with stuff I conjure or transfigure. It seemed like a safe bet.”

“Well, it worked,” Charlus said with a scowl. “I should have used fire on those birds. I still could have won if I had, even after making the mistake with the stones.”

Harry frowned. “I hadn’t actually considered you might use fire against them. That would kind of have ruined my plans, yeah.”

“Then you would have been stuck dealing with a fire wall whilst I fired curses at you.”

Harry nodded. “When I first started duelling, I thought it was just about who knew more spells. I figured out pretty quick there was more to it than that, but Merlin, it gets technical when two people are fairly matched.”

“You should see some of the professional duels,” Charlus said with a smirk. “If you think this is bad, they’d probably make your head explode. Some of those go for hours.”

“Hours?” Harry asked, incredulous.

“Well, not often,” Charlus admitted, “but it does happen. Every now and then, two people will just be so evenly matched that they’ll pretty much just go until one of them makes a mistake. Those duels can get ridiculously complicated, especially if the two of them have duelled enough to know each others’ styles.”

Harry loved duelling, but that sounded entirely too complicated to hold his attention. That was one of the things he loved most about Quidditch despite the fact he’d had little time for the game here. The rules were simple and it was easy to follow. Someone could learn the basics of Quidditch within a couple of days. Duelling — duelling was much more complicated. Harry had been at it for months and still, he felt like his journey had only just begun.

Yet… he had just beaten Charlus.

“How many people in the school do you think could beat you?” Harry asked, eyeing his would-be grandfather carefully.

Charlus screwed up his face in thought. “I don’t know,” he admitted after a time. “Arcturus, maybe. I’ve never seen him fight, but the Blacks are known for having some nasty magic. I’d probably trounce him in a duel, but in a full-blown fight when he could throw around some of the darker stuff he probably knows, I don’t know.”

Just that name brought Harry’s mind back to darker things. Things that he suspected lurked in shadow but things he had not yet managed to glimpse. Things that troubled his mind but evaded his eyes. A troubling theory, but not one he could prove and not one he wished to put forth unjustly.

Just thinking about the theory called forth a sense of gloom that Harry had only recently shaken off. He tried to fight it, but it weighed on him so heavily now that the protective walls built up inside his mind began to buckle and before he knew it, he was remembering Dorea’s sharp words and the sound of her footsteps leaving the classroom.

Both of those memories stabbed at Harry’s chest, but his suspicion was somehow worse. It twisted at his stomach and made him sick in ways nothing he’d lived through during his time quite matched. The image of a grief-stricken girl huddling against his older sister’s words, the implications of all it meant, and the horrible abuse of power encouraged by the very system that governed their world.

Surely Arcturus wouldn’t…

Harry mentally grimaced and forced his mind away from such things. If the Black heir had acted, he did so with reasonable intentions. Besides, his actions did not mean Harry had lost everything. His friendship with Dorea was not over, just on pause, and not all his closest friends had left him. Charlus was evidence of that, as was Elena, whose boldness had struck Harry soon after his fracture with Dorea.

Eight days ago…

Harry had been dreading this moment ever since Dorea had cornered him and told him that she would be stepping away. That was a blow Harry had not yet recovered from. He had known few friends in his life and to have one of them so casually walk away from him hurt more than anything. Ever since, he had been wondering whether his slowly-growing theory was rooted in logic or his own selfish desire to have not truly been betrayed. He had yet to decide, which was one of the many reasons he had not yet acted.

Now, here he was again, alone in an abandoned classroom with one of the two true friends he had left. She looked less bold than Dorea had, though brave in her own way. Harry could see it in her eyes, see the way Elena was talking herself into saying something that was difficult for her. The blow was coming, a blow that would drive Harry to his knees, tear the air from his lungs, and leave him broken perhaps beyond repair. If one of them turning away had damaged him so grievously, he feared to imagine what would happen when Elena said what must come next.

“I’ve decided,” she said, voice somewhat shaky. 

Harry nodded numbly. He tried to speak the words he’d thought of many times, but they wouldn’t come. They were like chalk; any time they rose to his lips, his mouth felt too dry to speak them. “I get it,” he said at last, opting for an abridged version of what he’d had planned. 

Elena blinked, then frowned. She was looking at him strangely, almost as though he had said something she had not planned for. Harry looked back at her, just as perplexed. Had she put such little thought into the inevitable conversation? Merlin, that somehow made it even worse. Harry could not have imagined a moment ago any way this could become more painful.

“You think I’m going to do what Dorea did, don’t you?” 

Harry opened his mouth to answer, but then hesitated. Was that… hurt in her voice? Yes, he had learned to read Elena in the months they had been friends and he thought it was. But why… 

Then, it clicked, and Harry’s mouth fell open, eyes going wide. “You’re not going to?” he asked, suddenly breathless. Elena shook her head. Harry’s heart did a good job at trying to leap upwards into his throat, but he forced it back down. She had still wanted to talk to him alone. Life had a funny way of showing him hope, then pulling it away. There would be no celebrating until he knew what Elena had to say, no matter how joyace those words made him feel. “What is it then?” he asked, bracing himself for some unknown storm.

“I’m not going to stop hanging around with Riddle’s group.”

Of all the things Dorea could have said, this was never what Harry would have imagined. He had told Elena of Riddle’s offer for her and Dorea to cease spending time with her group the day after Riddle had made the offer. Harry had told her to pass it along to Dorea, but Harry had heard no word back. Harry had hoped briefly that it would bring Dorea back to him, even if they wouldn’t be able to spend as much time together as he would like. Elena, though… Harry had thought for sure she would take Riddle up on that offer.

“Why not?” he asked, unable to help himself. “You’re terrified of Riddle, you always have been. And now that she’s… you know, a Parselmouth…”

A visible shiver ran up Elena’s spine, but she met Harry’s eyes despite it. “I would hardly be able to speak with you.”

This time, Harry was unable to hold back his body’s celebration as warmth poured into every inch of him. Never had a single sentence made him so feel warm and alive. Merlin, if Dorea’s words from days ago had been darkness closing in around him, Elena’s were a hundred blazing lights poised and ready to drive that darkness away.

“You know you’ll have to deal with Riddle, right?” Harry asked quietly. “I doubt I’ll be rid of her any time soon and now that she’s revealed herself as a Parselmouth, I have no idea how often she’ll be toying with snakes.”

Elena took a deep, shuddering breath, but nodded. “To hell with Riddle,” she said fiercely, an uncharacteristic boldness shining in her eyes. “You’re my best friend, Harry, and the only one I have. I’ll… deal with her if it means I get to keep that.”

Harry beamed. 

Back in the present…

The memory of Elena’s words and the look in her eyes filled him with warmth even now and slowly, the dark veil of gloom pulled back and allowed Harry to think more clearly again.

“Anyone else?” Harry asked, following the previous line of questioning to keep his mind occupied.

“Everyone says Riddle’s brilliant,” Charlus said with a frown. “I find it hard to imagine I’d get beat by a fifth year, but after tonight, I guess people might have a point.”

Harry winced, suddenly torn between two ways in which he could support Charlus. Had their duel wounded his confidence? They had duelled a handful of times tonight and Harry had only won the once. It was a feat he doubted would repeat itself for some time, so why did Charlus seem bothered? Had his confidence been shaken?

Then, Harry remembered. His father was off fighting in the war against Grindelwald and Charlus meant to join up when his Hogwarts tenure was complete. That explained it. However talented Harry was, Charlus must not imagine he was on the level of some of Grindelwald’s soldiers. He was probably second-guessing some of his long-term goals. Harry could sympathize with that; he had been there many times in his pursuit of Voldemort, or in this world, the girl who may one day become her.

He had considered explaining to Charlus exactly how talented Riddle was after how confident the boy had appeared when discussing her a few weeks ago, but now Harry decided against it. That could happen another time when Charlus was higher on his own ability. Harry suspected him capable of beating many of Grindelwald’s soldiers. 

Harry had a split-second of hesitation before he decided to be bold; probably bolder than he had been since being thrown back into the past. “I’ve duelled some of Grindelwald’s men.”

Charlus’s head snapped up. “You what?”

Harry winced. “Well, uh… duelling might not be the right word. I kind of just got my arse handed to me, but at the time, I had no idea what I was doing.”

Charlus’s eyes narrowed. “Define no idea what you were doing?”

“Absolutely none. I knew a couple of basic defensive spells and that was about it.”

Charlus’s expression remained. “How long ago was this?”

“During the summer.”

“Oh, come off it. I appreciate you trying to boost my confidence, Harry, but there’s no need to take the piss.”

Harry blinked. “What?”

Charlus moved a step further, appearing to examine him even more closely. Then, slowly, his eyes widened. “Merlin,” he breathed, “you’re serious, aren’t you?” Harry nodded and Charlus slumped back against the wall, suddenly looking like the strain of their duels had struck him all at once. 

“Course I am,” Harry answered, scratching an itch on his back with a confused hand. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“How the hell have you gotten so good so fast?” 

Harry was taken aback by the question. He made to answer it, but faltered. Merlin, it was startling when thinking of it that way, wasn’t it? Back in the summer, he had scarcely known a handful of defensive spells. Now, he was on his way to becoming a master of Transfiguration and was already one of the best duellists in the school. What made the whole thing crazier was that his growth seemed exponential. Harry could hardly imagine where he might be in six months, let alone a year. 

“I… don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I’ve just spent a lot of time on everything, plus I’ve had help from people like Dumbledore—”

“Dumbledore’s helped you?” Charlus asked, wide-eyed.

“Yeah,” Harry admitted, “he gave me some pointers in Transfiguration early in the year that helped me out massively. They changed the way I cast magic. He’s tutoring me in the subject now, but he’s not all. There have been… others.”

Harry was taking a leap of faith in telling Charlus about the confrontation in Diagon Alley, but it was a leap he was reluctantly confident in. Telling him about Cerastes and the Chamber of Secrets? Now that would be a more treacherous jump that Harry doubted the result of. Some things were better left unsaid. In his own time, he had resented people like Dumbledore for holding secrets from him but the more time he spent in this time, the more he thought he understood the Dumbledore he’d once known.

Charlus just shook his head. “You have no idea how incredible this all is, do you?”

“I think I’m starting to get one,” Harry admitted, toying sheepishly with a few stray locks of raven hair. “I just… hadn’t really thought about it.”

“The teachers at Ilvermorny must be awful to have wasted a talent like you,” Charlus said with a shake of his head. Harry smiled and Charlus’s eyes refocused. “Right, you said you fought some of Grindelwald’s men?”

“Got trounced by them more like, but again, I was an idiot.”

“Same difference,” Charlus said with a wave of his hand.

“Not really, but yeah, I was there.”

“What were they like?” Charlus asked, eyes alight. “How did they fight?”

“Honestly,” Harry said, preparing to tell the tale in full for the first time since that fateful afternoon with Slughorn, “after watching you duel, they don’t impress me.”

And so the tale began.

February 28, 1943

The Great Hall

7:14 PM

Harry had hoped to sneak down to the Chamber of Secrets today, but as of yet, that had not been possible. Much of his day had been spent in the company of Riddle and her group of friends, and the rest had been spent alone with Elena. Any time the two of them were together, Harry still felt the presence of Dorea’s loss. It hung over him like a dark storm cloud, rumbling especially loud whenever he had forgotten. Elena’s presence kept it away, but barely. Harry wondered what would cease first; the feelings of missing Dorea, or the way Elena drove those feelings away just by being near him. He hoped, for his sake, that it was the former.

The day had been dazzlingly bright and remarkably warm for the end of February. There had been a soft breeze touched by the scent of spring, bringing with it the promise that the cold, desolate season would soon give way to something altogether more tolerable. Without Quidditch, Harry had cared less about the weather than ever before until about a month ago. That was when Charlus had convinced him to take up running, of all things, and as a result, there was no one more excited for the warmer temperatures than him.

Charlus was another person Harry had been thinking about often lately. Not only about their most recent round of duels and the secrets Harry had divulged, but about other possibilities. The longer their friendship stretched on, the more Harry considered introducing him to Elena. The problem was Riddle. Harry had no idea how she would react to the information that one of Harry’s best friends was Charlus Potter. It wasn’t that he thought Elena would tell, it was that he doubted her ability to be subtle enough to pull it off. Harry moving freely through the castle on his own and vanishing for hours at a time was one thing. It became more suspicious if it was two of them and Harry suspected that, at the very least, Riddle would fear they were planning something. 

He supposed that in this way it might have been better if Elena had accepted the offer to part from Riddle’s group, but Harry would not have traded her continued presence for the world. There would be time for all of his friends to meet in the future. For now, he would just have to enjoy them separately. Just one more reason to decide exactly how to proceed with Riddle and what to do if things surrounding her turned especially problematic.

Harry let his eyes rest on Riddle, who was currently engaged in a conversation with Felix Rosier. Her mouth was just parting to say something or other when all words from anyone in the hall were drowned out by a horrible scream, followed by complete and total silence.

The hall remained perfectly still for about three seconds before students were on their feet and were surging towards the door. Harry was one of the first to move, impossible thoughts racing through his mind. No… it couldn’t be… not after all he had done to prevent it.

Finding the source of the scream had proven less than difficult. It had come from near the mouth of the Great Hall itself and there, strewn across the floor, was a body Harry recognized as belonging to Myrtle Warren. 

There was no thought in his decision to begin pushing through the crowd. He hardly noticed he was doing it at all until he stood over her body. A glance over his shoulder revealed that both Dumbledore and Riddle’s posse were hot on his heels, so Harry took the opportunity to crouch and examine her more closely, hoping beyond hope that history had not repeated itself.

A sigh of relief escaped him when he pressed his fingers to her neck and felt a lively pulse. It was a touch slower than Harry thought was healthy, but it was there, so he lifted his eyes and let them roam over the rest of her. His initial examination caused dread to rise like bile from the pit of his stomach, searing his throat and choking the life from his lungs as it fought to claim him.

Harry took a deep breath and pulled on the Occlumency exercises in Riddle’s journey. His mind slowly returned to him, but the panic still thundered in his ears with every beat of his chest.

Strong hands grabbed his shoulders and Harry spun, poised to bring his elbow up.

“Stand back please, Harry, I would like to have a look at her.”

It was fortunate he hadn’t, for it was Dumbledore who spoke, eyes dark and expression troubled. Harry reluctantly stepped back and faded into the circle of Riddle and her friends.

“Anything of note?” she asked in a whisper. Harry looked up at her and blanched. Merlin, that look in her eyes — it was almost identical to the one she’d worn before attacking Abraxas Malfoy and subjecating the rest of Slytherin House. 

He shook his head. He had no information to share and even if he did, none of it would be passed along to her.

“What does it mean?” Harry heard a younger student ask from nearby. Harry frowned. What did what mean? He was the only one who knew this may have any meaning at all, right?

Frowning, he turned his eyes back to the scene and saw it for the first time. He had been so transfixed on Myrtle before that Harry had missed the writing on the wall — done in a hauntingly familiar script of red letters that dripped at the edges. Wait… no, that was different. Any time a message had been left in his time, it had looked like the attacker had written in blood. This time, there was no mistaking it — the attacker had absolutely written in blood; though the message was indeed hauntingly familiar.

Enemies of the heir, beware.

Author’s Endnote:

I did say things would be heating up quite soon. Don’t expect all the unanswered questions to be resolved next chapter; this arc will be the one that sees them through to the end of the year, though everything will play out quite differently to how most probably imagine.

Please read and review.

PS: The next password will be posted for you all on Wednesday. THE NEXT SIX CHAPTERS ARE AVAILABLE FOR PATRONS RIGHT NOW, AND I WILL BE POSTING THE FINAL TWO CHAPTERS OF COP’S FIRST YEAR NEXT WEEK! If you want to read those chapters and experience the year’s grand finale early, feel free to sign up to my Patreon page.

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