Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 26: Dread on the Wind
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 26: Dread on the Wind
April 3, 1943
Spring had officially arrived in the Scottish highlands. The air was warmer, the wind less ruthless, the ground no longer covered in snow. It was instead damp with the season’s rain and coated in a thick layer of mud that pulled at the feet of the students moving through the bustling town of Hogsmeade.
“I was excited for this trip,” Marianna grumbled, looking up towards the rain-filled sky. Raindrops pounded against the carriage’s roof as they neared the village, sounding like a hundred frantic knocks upon an old oak door.
“It’s just water,” Lestrange scoffed. “It isn’t as though it’s made from poison.” The look on Marianna’s face suggested she thought otherwise, though she argued no longer; probably because the carriage had come to a stop and they were all filing out one after the other.
Harry actually thought the girl might have a point as the mud squished beneath his feet and rain quickly wetted his hair. He pulled up the hood of his cloak, but he knew that before long, it would be soaked through and weigh him down. Thunder boomed somewhere off in the distance as the remaining members of their group exited the carriage. Harry found himself forcefully reminded of the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff near the beginning of this third year. There were thankfully no dementors this time around. Harry had realized not long ago that the thought of Ron and Hermione no longer sent him spiralling, but he still feared how he might react to the presence of dementors. He could fight them now — that was not the problem — but they would likely trudge up those memories in more chilling detail.
“Just be grateful we can be out here at all,” said Rosier, the last to step down from the carriage.
“What do you mean?” asked Mulciber. “It’s a basic right of Hogwarts students. It has been for centuries.”
“The basic rights of Hogwarts students may change if Grindelwald targets England. The whispers are getting louder, you know.”
“I’ve heard,” Lestrange added, “Father says Grindelwald might try something this summer. Something more serious than his attack on Diagon.”
“I’d wait too if I were him,” Marianna grumbled, glaring one last time at the sky before their group began moving further into the village.
Harry wondered as they walked whether there was actual evidence to support Rosier’s rumour or whether his father had just been blindly theorizing. People had said for months that Grindelwald may attack England if his expedition failed in Russia. His forces had retreated almost three months ago, yet still, there had been no sign of them anywhere near English soil. Harry had begun believing many of the whispers, but now he was sceptical again. Grindelwald had not attacked England in his own time and he was beginning to suspect that would not change now — not even when the likes of Dumbledore were wary.
Marianna was doing her best to hide in her cloak before long and soon after, even Harry shivered. Then, suddenly, it was like the cold had been pulled from his skin, replaced by a pleasant warmth in his stomach. He recognized the spell as the Warming Charm and wondered who’d cast it. Then he noticed something else; the water was no longer lingering on his cloak.
“Nifty spell,” Rosier said, nodding approvingly at Riddle, who just smiled. Harry thought back to the spell Hermione had used on his glasses during that miserable Quidditch match. Riddle’s was like that, but she had applied it to his while cloak and it seemed much more effective.
The spell extended their time outside once it had been cast on everyone, but still, they did not linger long before ducking inside the Three Broomsticks. It was the group’s favourite establishment in Hogsmeade and today, a steaming butterbeer sounded especially pleasant. What was less welcoming for Harry was the revelation that, during his limited time spent in Hogsmeade before being thrown back into the past, he and his friends too had enjoyed the Three Broomsticks.
The pub was surprisingly full given the bleak sky outside, though Harry supposed that could be attributed to the fast-approaching Spring break. Much of the school would be on the Hogwarts Express heading back to London in seven days, leaving this as an ideal chance to spend time with their friends before that happened; especially when this next week was so full of end-of-term tests.
Of course, having a psychopathic assailant on the loose didn’t hurt desires to leave the castle, either. It had been more than a month since the lone attack and the general buzz had died down, though the shadowy threat still hung high above them all. Some students whispered that the Heir would strike once again before the break, sending much of the population home with fear in their hearts.
Harry, for his part, had been no more successful in working through the complex web of contradictions surrounding Riddle and her possible involvement. Again, he longed for the invisibility cloak. It would have made following her much easier. She would still have access to the Homenum Revelio Charm, but Harry might still have gambled had he possessed the cloak.
The most he could do for now was decide how to let slip to the professors how effective Mandrake Draught would be in curing Myrtle of her plight. The draught was apparently more obscure in these times, having been a relatively new discovery. None of the professors had mentioned it, and though Harry had considered doing so, he could not decide how to proceed without looking incredibly suspicious.
The sound of drinks being placed on the table drove his more abstract thoughts away. The pub was so full that its bartender was in perpetual demand, so Riddle and Cassie had gone up to the bar and retrieved the group’s drinks.
Cassie placed Harry’s down in front of him, but Harry thought he saw something odd about the motion. His eyes narrowed as he reached for the bottle, spotting a slight protrusion from underneath it. He paused and waited until the group was distracted before lifting the bottle and snatching the roll of parchment beneath in a deft motion that somehow went unseen. Only Cassie met his eyes, giving him a single nod before turning back to her conversation with Riddle.
April 5, 1943
The Defence Against the Dark Arts Classroom
Harry had once been very anxious about taking Defence Against the Dark Arts with the fifth years. Indeed, he’d had good reasons, but now, Harry found it the most pleasant of his classes. Not because of the students that were there, but because of the students who were not. Seeing Dorea was always painful. Harry had hoped after their schism that time would begin healing those wounds. Perhaps it still would, but if so, its process was slow and came only after much pain had already been experienced.
The note Cassie slipped Harry turned out to be from Arcturus. Harry had seen the signature before reading the note and, for a moment, hope had swelled him since him. The actual contents were far from a death blow, but they were certainly not as promising as Harry might have hoped. Leave it up to a Black to respond in such vague terms. The bastard might as well have ignored him for all the good his reply did at clarifying things.
Today’s Double Defence Against the Dark Arts was their duelling session for the month of April. Harry was grateful for that. He had begun thinking about Dorea less in the past weeks — though much of that likely had to do with how much uncertainty he was perpetually contemplating — but, ever since Arcturus’s note, Harry had thought of her more often again. This class would force him to abandon all thoughts of her. Thinking about lost friendships in a class like this would only get him hurt, especially if today wound up being the day he would finally duel Riddle.
Harry had duelled almost everyone in the class throughout the course of the year. The only students remaining were Cassie and Riddle. Last month, Harry had duelled Felix Rosier whilst Riddle had duelled Cassie. Cassie had lasted longer against Riddle than anyone else, but the duel had still not been overly competitive.
Harry had expected his own duel with Rosier to be a battle reminiscent of the one he’d had months ago with Dolohov. Harry had been mistaken, but pleasantly so. Rosier — who was probably the fourth most dangerous duellist in his year after Riddle, Cassie, and Dolohov — had passed Harry few problems at all. He was swift and precise with a keen mind for duelling. That was Rosier’s greatest weapon — his spell selection was textbook, his positioning perfect — but it had proven far from enough. Harry had transfigured Merrythought’s desk into a pack of rabid dogs that had attacked Rosier. That had caught him off guard, as had the way the floor kept snaking around his legs. In the end, Harry had landed a Cutting Curse on his shoulder seconds before one of the dogs took a bite out of his leg and sent him sprawling, signifying the duel’s end.
There had been whispers after that duel the likes of which Harry had heard often this year, but never in regards to him. He recognized them as the same kinds of whispers that followed Riddle around the castle — the same kind of whispers Harry had once known in his second year when the entirety of Hogwarts had thought him the Heir of Slytherin.
Then, Harry had hated them but now, they excited him. There had been plenty of signs throughout the year marking Harry’s stunning progress, but this one had a special sort of meaning to him. Others were taking notice, and not just those who spent the most time with him. It was better they feared him than looked down on him. If they compared him to Riddle, perhaps it would give her pause in the future. Perhaps it even meant that Harry really was closing the gap fast enough and that, soon, he would be able to compete with her.
Perhaps today was the day Harry found out for himself. Riddle knew it, too; Harry could see it in her posture. She sat a notch more stiffly than usual, though she did a good job of hiding it. Was she nervous? Did she seriously wonder whether or not she could best him?
“Today will be the penultimate rounds of duelling,” Merrythought told them immediately after taking the roll. “The entirety of June will be spent preparing for the O.W.L exams.” Everyone in the room held their collective breath, waiting for the bracket to be read. It appeared Harry and Riddle were not the only ones tense with anticipation. Merrythought actually smiled — a rarity for her. “There are two undefeated students remaining, as you all seem to know. They will not duel today. That match is one I am selfishly saving for the finale. Miss Riddle will duel Master Dolohov and Master Pavonis will duel Miss Black.”
Cassiopeia Black — this was going to be an interesting fight indeed. Harry used the word fight because, against Cassie, that was what it would be. She played dirty and was not afraid to use very questionable magic if she thought herself able to get away with it. Harry knew from his past duel with Dolohov how easily that sort of behaviour could escalate things, so he mentally prepared himself for the worst.
Merlin, he had been so fixated on the prospect of duelling Riddle that he had spared Cassie no mind. She was bloody dangerous in her own right. If Harry was not careful, only Riddle would enter their inevitable clash unbeaten.
Cassie was like an odd blend between Rosier and Dolohov. She was offensively-minded and attacked with the same viciousness as Dolohov, but she was faster, more graceful. Her defensive capabilities were sounder, too, even if Dolohov probably had the edge as a purely offensive duellist. Harry’s path to victory against Dolohov had been obvious — use his speed advantage and force him on the back foot. Against Rosier, Harry had needed to overwhelm him. He suspected that day, against Cassie, a similar strategy would be necessary.
The difference was that Cassie was unlikely to give Harry the time he may need to cast more complex magic. He would need to force those openings himself, and he could already see in Cassie’s eyes just how seriously she was taking this duel.
Bloody hell, she looked determined. The first pair had started duelling and still, she continued to stare a hole right through him. It was like her life depended on this duel or something. Harry felt another stare on him and turned to meet Riddle’s eyes. She looked from him to Cassie with a contemplative expression and finally, Harry understood.
This was about impressing Riddle. Cassie remembered the praise Riddle had given Harry that first night after the Heir’s attack and sought to steal it all away from him. She was the most genuinely loyal of them to Riddle and, at times, like her shadow. It made sense and, unfortunately for Harry, it was probably a powerful motivator.
The duels stretched on longer than ever before. This was relatively normal. Every session, they grew longer. Part of this was the general increase in skill level, but Harry suspected there was more at play. He remembered the way Charlus had spoken about professional duelling and how some contests could go on forever. It had more to do with skill — he had said the more two people duelled, the closer they often became. His duels with Harry had proven as much and though no one in the room had duelled the same combatant more than once, Harry knew all of them watched every duel carefully. They probably all had a general feel for each other’s style and had therefore begun planning for future opponents, even if that planning was subconscious.
Dolohov did not seem to plan for anyone. He fought the same way regardless of the opponent. Even against Riddle, he did his best to blitz forward with a barrage of precise, offensive strikes. Riddle defended using mostly Transfiguration, widening the window for each counter and stripping Dolohov of his wand before long. It was less magically impressive than most of her previous duels, but the efficiency with which she took Dolohov apart was startling. She had decided to show a different facet of her game today. Harry realized after a moment that she had duelled much like him. Movement, transfiguration, diversion — Riddle had played his game and won.
She smiled at him on the way back to her seat. That sealed it. She was trying to goad him into matching her style to the best of his abilities. Her style tended to be overwhelming opponents with elaborate magic they were unprepared for. Harry bit his lip. If Riddle wanted him to do it, it was probably a bad idea. That logic felt sound, but overwhelming Cassiopeia was exactly what he planned to do and despite all the changes this year, Harry still had a Gryffindor streak a mile wide.
He pondered his approach even as he stood facing Cassiopeia — not until Merrythought called for the duel to commence did Harry decide to accept Riddle’s challenge.
He dove to avoid an array of curses fired as soon as the duel began. Cassie had wasted no time, as expected, and had attacked with a series of spells that could best be described as shady.
Fine, Harry thought, no holding back then.
The floor split at his feet, stones rising up to defend against her next volley. This was something Dumbledore had shown him during their last lesson. The Transfiguration Professor had begun using combat-based teachings as incentives for Harry to complete tasks.
The stones perfectly intercepted Cassie’s volley and with a wave of his wand, Harry sent them hurtling back towards her, morphing first into a flock of ravens, then into a halo of arrows. Cassie did not make the same mistake Charlus had months earlier. She answered with a blazing stream of fire that choked the room with smoke and sent an unpleasant prickle of hair-steering heat up Harry’s front as the fire drew near.
Harry let it come close, swishing his wand at the last possible second and taking control of the fire, moulding it into a flaming whip that he pulled back behind him, then lashed towards Cassiopeia, whose eyes had gone wide. It had been Charlus who taught him that overpowering someone’s will and taking control of their creation was possible. He had done it to a flock of birds, sending them back towards Harry and following them with arrows. That had actually been where Harry got the idea to combine them.
Cassie made the mistake of diving to the side. Harry forced the whip to split with some difficulty, sending a tendril of fire towards Cassie. She grunted with pain as one of her pant legs blazed.
Harry knew Merrythought would stop the duel any second if it continued, but he didn’t plan for that to happen. The floor cracked again, but this time, the stones wriggled around Cassie, trapping her arms and legs and effectively pinning her to the floor.
Harry stood in shock as the adrenaline began to ebb. Surely, there would be a lecture coming for escalating the duel so drastically, but he was beyond caring.
Had he just done that?
Some of that magic wasn’t anything he had ever tried. Sure, he had known it was all possible, but to pull it off the way he had? Merlin, he really did have an affinity for underestimating himself. Dumbledore might not have been directly teaching him much combat-based Transfiguration yet, but Harry was learning most concepts could be extrapolated and used in things outside their intended scope.
The class was completely silent, but Harry ignored all but one of them as his eyes searched for Riddle.
She was sitting at her desk with her hands folded, eyes unblinkingly watching him. He held her stare until she smiled lightly and dipped her head before turning her attention to the now irate Professor Merrythought.
Harry almost leapt for joy. Finally, he had won a round.
April 9, 1943
Horace Slughorn’s Office
The school was abuzz with tales of Harry’s performance before the day was at its end. The stories only grew wilder as the hours bled into days. Harry had even heard some first year whispering about how he had conjured a battalion of flaming warriors to do his bidding when he passed by. Harry thought that sounded like a good idea, though it was miles beyond his capabilities right now. Even the flaming whip had been difficult and he had almost lost control when sending an individual tendril off towards Cassie who, for her part, had been surprisingly pleasant with Harry following the duel. She had not been at all upset about the conflict’s escalation. They had both understood the other’s intentions, so to them both, all had been fair game.
Others in the group had begun treating him somewhat differently. Mulciber had all but stopped scowling at him whenever Riddle wasn’t looking, and Rosier engaged him in conversation almost as often as he did Riddle. Dolohov was unchanged; tense, unyielding, and quietly seething any time the two of them conversed. If not for Riddle, Harry doubted Dolohov would have gone so long without seeking retribution for their duel earlier in the year.
One person who had thankfully not changed one bit was Elena. She had only smiled and congratulated him when Harry told her exactly what had happened. That was one thing about Elena. She never looked surprised any time Harry pulled off something monumental. She just smiled and went about her business as if such things were expected. Of course, she had been the first after Slughorn to point out his potential, but her faith in him still baffled Harry from time to time.
Elena was accompanying him tonight for yet another Slub Club meeting — the final one before spring break. The holidays were set to begin that next morning, with the Hogwarts Express taking all interested students back to London. Harry had elected to stay behind at Hogwarts once again. The Fawleys really were kind for offering, but Harry could not afford to ease up — not now that he was beginning to see such rapid improvements.
During Yule, Harry had been tense and waiting for Riddle to make her move. He had spent those holidays living in fear, but now, he actually felt excited. There would be more time to practice with Charlus, and he had sent a letter earlier today inquiring as to whether Dumbledore may be able to offer an extra lesson or two during the break. Harry was still painfully aware Riddle was a cut above him on a magical level, but he was riding the high of that Defence lesson — even if Charlus had gotten the better of him just last night. It was difficult to be upset about that; Merlin, those duels had been close.
Slughorn was at his politicking best that evening, leading Harry around the room like a prized trophy, raving about how he would be the nation’s next Transfiguration master. Harry glanced to his side any time the professor made such claims. Riddle was annoyingly persistent in following him tonight. Even during his brief respites, she shadowed him and Elena. She looked perfectly unbothered by Slughorn’s remarks any time Harry glanced her way. As a matter of fact, Harry’s performance in Defence Against the Dark Arts had not appeared to unsettle her at all. If anything, Harry thought she had been even more talkative ever since. She had certainly been touching. Harry thought he knew what that meant — it was Riddle’s way of showing he did not at all intimidate her despite his flashy new abilities.
“My feet are killing me,” Elena muttered when they were allowed another break. She had used it to take a seat at the nearest table, with both Harry and Riddle following suit.
Harry allowed himself a smirk despite Riddle’s looming presence to his left. “I told you those shoes were a bad idea. What made you wear them, anyway?”
“She likes the extra height they provide,” Riddle said before Elena could answer. Harry thought it was a quip, but he saw her blush. Now that he thought about it, Elena was one of the shorter members of their group. Harry had grown these past few months and was now noticeably taller than her. Most of the fifth-year boys in their group were several inches taller than Harry, Cassie was tall for a girl, and Riddle taller still. That all felt trivial and meaningless to Harry, but it did seem the sort of thing that might make Elena uneasy.
“Here,” said Riddle before Harry could devise a reply, waving her wand towards Elena, who actually sighed with something resembling content.
“That’s better,” she breathed.
Riddle smiled. “It’s an obscure charm and mostly useless, but it’s a nice relief on evenings like this.”
Elena nodded and eyed the nearest table of drinks. Harry would have offered to fetch them, but leaving Elena alone with Riddle would be a special kind of cruelty. She stood and excused herself to fetch water a moment later, leaving Harry alone with Riddle instead.
“You ought to be more observant,” she said once Elena was gone.
Harry frowned. “More observant about what? Elena being insecure about her height?”
Riddle smiled. “No, the fact that one of the house elves has been watching you all night.”
Harry blinked. “Which one?”
Riddle gestured to a creature floating a tray of pastries above its head. It was indeed stealing a glance at Harry from beneath the tray. “I should also point out,” said Riddle, “that the elf does not belong to Hogwarts.”
“How can you possibly know that?” asked Harry.
“I have a rather exceptional memory and am about as trusting as I am forgetful.”
Harry decided not to dignify Riddle with a reply, instead returning his attention to the place the house elf had been a moment earlier.
A place where the elf stood no longer — it must have realized Harry had noticed it, for now, the elf was gone.
April 10, 1943
The Entrance Hall
The rest of the night’s affairs had gone off without a hitch. Having an entire Slug Club gala pass without major incident felt strange after the previous two and the drama that had accompanied them.
Now, Harry stood beside Riddle as the two of them wished the other members of their group farewell. Harry himself was in high spirits despite Elena’s departure. Dumbledore had written him back promptly and his missive at breakfast had indicated he would be willing to arrange more lessons during the spring break. Really, the only part of the break Harry did not eagerly anticipate was Riddle. Now that they were ‘friends’, she would doubtlessly try and use the emptiness of the common room to spend more time with him than ever before as they were the only two members of their group remaining at Hogwarts during the break.
The others would soon be on the Hogwarts Express back to London, but for now, they were trapped in the long line leading to the open front doors through which blazing sunlight streamed, sending aisles of pale light sprawling across the floor as its rays glittered brightly off portrait frames and the like.
Riddle placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder. He had to resist the impulse to tense. She had no regard for his personal space and this particular gesture was one she was fond of. She did it to others, too. It was like her way of reminding people just how much control she had over them. It was annoyingly effective given how bloody tall she was.
Riddle opened her mouth — likely to wish the others well a final time before leading Harry away — but she was interrupted by an awful scream so loud that the portraits rattled on the walls.
Harry winced as Riddle’s nails bit into his shoulder. She turned towards the sound so forcefully that he was pulled with her, marching in her wake as she removed her hand from him and drew her wand.
Harry felt something cold close around his chest as they moved towards the screaming just as it died. Riddle had been with them all morning — Harry had seen her enter the common room from her dormitory before breakfast. They had all been tied up the night before, too, and this attack was close by. Harry had heard no Parseltongue — something that had been prevalent during his second year.
One horrible thought plagued Harry as they pushed through the crowd, already knowing what they would find before them.
Riddle might genuinely be innocent after all — someone else in the castle had the power to make this all happen.
It probably feels like Harry is progressing rapidly, and he is, but I should note that the better part of two months have passed in the last two chapters. The pacing has really sped up and will remain swift until the year’s end, so things will feel quite fast until the year one finale wraps up.
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