Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 27: Falls From Grace
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Harry Potter and the Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 27: Falls From Grace
April 11, 1943
Dorea excused herself early from dinner for the second family gathering in a row. Last time, all the drama over Pollux’s engagement to the worthless Crabbe girl had made her sick, along with the general family politicking that usually devolved into nonsensical sniping back and forth between two or more members of the family. That summarized many of Dorea’s experiences with these gatherings, but she would have taken all the politicking in the world over what she felt tonight.
Tonight, she had excused herself not out of disgust over her family, but over the vengeful void of fire that erupted into being inside her stomach any time she found herself in a room with Arcturus. The bastard hadn’t even made mention of their situation to their father, who just eyed Dorea every now and then. He probably thought they had argued over something trivial and were simply being trivial. Lord Sirius Black II had a bad habit of treating those around him as somewhat unworthy of his attention.
Yet the truth was so much darker than her father suspected, and any time Dorea thought of it, she had to forcefully restrain herself from lashing out at her brother. She was no match for Arcturus, but she knew he wouldn’t curse her. At most, he would defend himself, but Dorea suspected he may well let her vent in whatever form that venting took.
She had considered cursing him that first night but decided otherwise. Knowing that Arcturus wouldn’t respond made the entire thing unfair. The balance of power was entirely in her favour and Dorea would simply be abusing it. She would be no better than him, mirroring the horrid abuse of power that had her so upset in the first place. No, she was better than Arcturus and she planned to show him that.
Maybe if she did, he might snap out of whatever state he was in. Arcturus had always been the best of them. He would listen when their father dismissed her, he would defend her when others let her fend for herself, and he would always care for her more than anyone else in the family. That was the Arcturus she knew; cold to most but saintly to her. He was gruff, yes, but he had always been Dorea’s favourite.
Now, she had no idea what had come over him. The Arcturus she had known would never have made that choice. Never would he have considered abusing the power he held over her; the thought of making her life a living hell over a social disagreement would have sickened him then. Yet now, he had made the choice with a blank expression and a hard look in his eye. It had not even appeared to pain him and somehow, Dorea wondered whether he was lost like the rest of their family.
She had hoped that by now, she would have gotten over the pain and conquered her anger, but she had done neither. More than a month had passed, and still, it raged on. Even now she trembled, nails biting into her palms as every muscle inside her body tensed at the mere thought of it all.
“I thought I might find you here.”
Dorea whirled and went for her wand, but Arcturus had his out already. It was held waiting in a defensive posture. As she suspected, he had no plans of attacking her.
“Go away!” she spat at him.
He raised a single eyebrow. “No.”
The word struck Dorea harder than a Bludgeoning Curse. “What do you mean no?” she hissed.
“I mean exactly what I said. You’ve been avoiding me all break and now I find you like this?”
“Both of which are entirely your fault!” Shouting such things in this house was unwise, but Dorea didn’t care. Arcturus had probably warded the corridor they stood in already, and if he hadn’t, so be it. Dorea was far beyond caring what her family thought of her. She cared for very few of them. Now that she had been betrayed by the one she had once respected, it all felt meaningless.
“So I’m right in assuming this is about Pavonis, then?”
It was the way he spoke — exasperated, resigned, and exhausted — like he was speaking to a child he’d known would act up.
Dorea’s nostrils flared. “Of course it’s about him! He was my best friend, Arcturus; the first real friend I’d made at Hogwarts after three years! What did you think was going to happen? Did you really think you were making my life better by ruining my first friendship? Did you expect me to just smile and thank you for it?”
“You make it sound like I enjoyed the decision,” Arcturus muttered under his breath.
“Maybe part of you did, I don’t know. Violette seemed to enjoy making the same one before Riddle stepped in.”
Her brother ground his teeth together. “I would like to think I’m better than Parkinson.”
“So would I, but she at least had the courage to stand up to Riddle instead of putting her little sister through hell out of fear for her.”
“Making a proclamation in the midst of a crowded room isn’t courage. If you disagree, you’re in the wrong house.”
“My point stands.”
“Does it? No matter how you think of me, I imagine we can both agree that Malfoy and I will never be comparable. Yet both of us had the same idea about getting people away from Riddle. Why?”
“Malfoy didn’t care about getting people away from her, he just wanted to antagonize her.”
Arcturus smiled thinly. “Do you think so, little sister? Has Malfoy fooled you that completely with his acting.” Dorea opened her mouth, but closed it quickly. “Abraxas Malfoy is not incompetent regardless of what some might have you believe. Riddle has made a more dangerous enemy of him than she realizes. He can’t match her magically, but he’s still dangerous. Of course he wanted to antagonize her, but Malfoy rarely does things for a single reason.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that two of the most intelligent people in the house decided to remove people from Riddle’s proximity. Do you think that’s a coincidence?”
“I’ve never once argued that Riddle is anything but trouble.”
“Yet you continued floating around her?”
“I continued floating around Harry, Arcturus!”
“It amounts to the same thing.”
“No, it doesn’t. I’m starting to think I’m not the only friendless one at Hogwarts. If I wasn’t, maybe you’d understand that some sacrifices are worth making for people you care about.”
“Some sacrifices are suicide, Dorea. Do you think Riddle’s little group of attack dogs is going to break up when they graduate? Do you have any idea what she may lead them to do in the real world?”
“She won’t do anything. You underestimate Harry.”
Arcturus paused for a moment, then nodded. “I think that’s the first intelligent thing you’ve said tonight. I’ll admit, I have underestimated Pavonis — the recent rumours have made that much obvious. I’m just not convinced he can keep you out of the shit storm Riddle’s going to stir up.”
Dorea felt a slight ray of hope pierce the dark clouds that had hung over her for the past month. “And if he could?”
“If he could what?”
“If he could keep me out of danger around Riddle, if he could convince you of that?”
Arcturus studied her for a long moment. “You two think remarkably alike.”
Dorea frowned. “What do you mean?”
Arcturus reached into the pocket of his robes and removed a bit of parchment that he passed to Dorea. It was a simple message written in a hand she recognized as Harry’s.
I understand why you’ve ordered Dorea to cut ties with me, but I want to meet with you and explain why you don’t need to. I know that you worry about Riddle, but I honestly don’t think Dorea will be in real danger around her.
I hope you respond quickly and that we can meet soon. I would rather Dorea and I not have to deal with this much longer.
What was it Harry knew that she didn’t? Dorea was exaggerating her confidence in Harry’s ability to keep her or anyone else safe around Riddle. Yet, he really did seem confident. One of the reasons he had stayed behind during the winter holidays had been to watch Riddle, or something. When they had returned, Dorea had assumed Harry had been outplayed, but even then, it seemed to factor into his plan. Was it possible Harry really was the one in control despite the situation appearing otherwise? Was it possible Riddle was being played by Harry just like the rest of them?
Dorea had to believe it. She at least had to believe it enough so that no skepticism showed on her face, for Arcturus was watching her very closely.
“Are you going to meet with him?” she asked once finished reading, taking great care to keep her voice measured.
Arcturus nodded. “I am. I underestimated how much this would affect you and will at least hear him out.” He raised a hand to forestall her thanks. “I’m not promising I’ll agree with anything he says, Dorea. I want you to be happy, but not at the cost of your life being ruined without you even realizing it.”
Dorea nodded; it was the best she could hope for as of now. She would just have to trust that Harry knew what he was doing.
Meanwhile, in an abandoned classroom back at Hogwarts…
Harry felt his shield waver under the weight of Charlus’s onslaught. Elena had always been quick to tell Harry exactly how much power his spells packed and, at the time, he had been relatively ignorant of what she was talking about. Duelling Charlus opened his eyes some, for the two of them seemed relatively equal in terms of how much damage their spells caused. Charlus was more experienced and more technically skillful, whilst Harry had a stunning control over his magic that the Potter heir had no answer for.
Harry had begun thinking about that lately. Cerastes had implied that magic sensing would open up other possibilities. Harry had long-since become comfortable with the art and ever since, his Transfiguration work had been nothing short of sublime. There was certainly more to it than that — Harry was not foolish enough to think anyone with the ability to sense magic was going to become a Transfiguration prodigy — but he had begun realizing just how important an intuitive understanding of magic really was. There was so much more to casting spells than waving one’s wand and muttering an incantation.
For the first number of weeks, their duels had been one-sided and Harry had felt as though he had no advantages at all. Charlus’ advice pertaining to varying his attacks had been one of the most useful pieces of advice Harry had ever been given. That had closed the gap some, as had Dumbledore’s Transfiguration lessons and, more recently, Harry’s newfound ability to cast wordlessly.
Dumbledore had begun pushing him down that Non-Verbal path some time ago, but it had proven more difficult than Harry had expected. He still couldn’t cast new spells on his first try and he occasionally struggled with some of the more complex spells he knew, but in general, Harry had finally picked up on the ability, though using it in duels was something he had only started doing very recently.
It still threw Charlus off from time to time, Harry could tell. Even now as he dropped his shield and counter-attacked, Charlus’ reaction was a bit slow. His mind had become adept at reacting when Harry incanted aloud and it was proving a difficult habit to break.
A habit Harry thought he could exploit.
Harry swished his wand and caused stones to rise from the floor around Charlus, who raised his own wand wardingly towards them, waiting to see what form Harry would make them take. Harry fired a few spells through the gaps between stones to keep Charlus occupied before vanishing the stones and thrusting his wand towards Charlus, making it clear they were, indeed, a diversion.
Charlus, having learned from his mistake during the first duel he’d lost, let loose a torrent of flames to intercept the swarm of birds, but they never came. Instead, a volley of arrows rocketed towards Charlus and when they collided with the fire, they sailed straight through, now alight and even more dangerous.
Charlus yelped and dove to his right, which Harry had expected. A well-placed Disarming Charm caught him in mid-dive and, for the second time since their practices had begun, Harry found himself clutching Charlus’s wand.
“Bugger!” the Potter heir cursed after standing to his feet. “That was clever; well played, mate.”
Harry grinned and tossed Charlus his wand.
Yes, there was more to magic than shouting incantations, and there was much more to being successful than knowing the most powerful spells. Harry had learned many lessons this year, but that second one was probably the most important. His old self would simply have leant on his newfound talents and hoped to blitz whatever opponent stood before him.
That version of him would never be able to combat the likes of Riddle, so Harry was grateful for the change, but it did make him wonder. What would have happened had he learned these lessons earlier? Harry would certainly like to think he would not have wound up fifty years in the past and in an alternative universe, but what else might have changed? How much of his original timeline could have gone smoother?
He cleared his mind using Occlumency and allowed his thoughts to move on. Harry had mostly gotten over thoughts about his previous life, but these sorts of contemplations still crept up every now and then. They were, of course, entirely useless, so Harry dismissed them whenever they did. What was it Dumbledore had said during his first year when standing before the Mirror of Erised?
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
For all Harry’s progression this year and thoughts of how foolish he had been in his past life, that was another of the most valuable lessons he had ever learned. Merlin, if Dumbledore could see him now — hell, if either Dumbledore could know how much they had collectively done for Harry, he could only imagine how brightly their eyes would twinkle.
Harry hoped that, in this time, he could repay Dumbledore by dealing with Riddle before his senior years were spent single-handedly leading a country in resisting her. It was yet another reason for Harry to succeed.
April 12, 1943
Horace Slughorn’s Office
Slughorn had repeated his practice from the winter holidays, that being to host members of his Slug Club privately for meals in his office. This time, his conversation with Harry was somewhat different. He was more interested in Harry’s work than ever before, questioning him in detail about exactly how far ahead he was in each of his subjects.
Slughorn must have heard the rumours like everyone else and wished to know how much truth there was to them. There was no real reason Harry had for hiding them, so he told the professor exactly how his duel with Cassiopeia had gone.
Slughorn beamed at him. “I’m glad to see that pass I gave you during the holidays is being put to good use,” he said with a chortle.
Harry smiled. That pass had less to do with his progress than Slughorn thought, but it had been helpful and if the man wanted to believe he had done more than he had, that was perfectly fine by Harry. It was the exact sort of assumption that would keep Slughorn loyal.
That would keep Slughorn loyal? Merlin, when had he started thinking like that? It was no wonder why so many people thought of Slytherin House as a bunch of manipulative gits if this was how Harry thought after less than a year in their ranks. Yet… it didn’t bother him as much as he might have expected, but then again, he had not been blind to his manipulative side. He had lied to a number of people about Riddle, his intentions, and his confidence.
“Thanks again for that, Professor, it’s been a big help.”
Slughorn waved his hand. “Any time, m’boy, any time. It’s rare that I get the pleasure to work with one so talented. It is my duty as an educator to make sure that talent is fulfilled in every way possible.”
Harry bit his lip; there was something he meant to discuss with Slughorn and this was likely the best opportunity he would get. “Professor?”
“How much do you know about Arcturus Black?”
Slughorn frowned. “Arcturus? Why, I’ve taught him since his arrival here. He’s in my NEWT-level Potions class.”
“What about as a person? He seems to come to most Slug Club meetings, but he never says much.”
“He is a quiet boy, yes. That’s really to be expected from the Black heir. Always hounded by the other pureblood children, always pressured by his family to make the wisest decisions — I imagine he appreciates any time he can get alone.”
“What is he like? When he’s not just being quiet, I mean.”
Slughorn massaged his round stomach as he thought. “Well, he’s never lacked confidence. I could count on two hands the number of questions he’s ever asked me in Potions and the boy’s graduating this June.”
So Arcturus was sure of his decisions and rarely second-guessed them. That was less than ideal for Harry, but not altogether troubling. Such things were to be expected from one such as Arcturus Black.
“Sir, Dorea’s always been a bit distant from the rest of her family. I don’t think she cares much for the politics and whatnot.”
Slughorn nodded. “That fits with what I know of her, yes.”
“Do you think Arcturus is the same?”
Slughorn thought for a moment, then nodded. “I would think so. His father hardly stopped politicking whilst at Hogwarts. I don’t imagine it’s a coincidence that neither of his children seem fond of it.”
So Arcturus’s father had forced him into a position he did not wish to hold. That was something Harry could more easily use. It was something he was intimately familiar with; he understood exactly how powerful such feelings were.
Yes, that was certainly something of value. It had been one of the many reasons Harry had changed so drastically. Now, all he had to do was point it out to someone else and hope it led to even more changes.
April 16, 1943
The majority of spring break had passed in what felt like no time at all. In two days, the students would return back to the castle and on the next, classes would resume as the school year entered its final term. It would be nice to have Elena back at Hogwarts, but Harry had quite enjoyed spring break. Dumbledore had slotted him in for three lessons, he and Charlus had practiced almost every day, and Harry had even slipped down into the Chamber of Secrets.
All in all, it had been productive and the best part was that Riddle had been shockingly distant and had not seen fit to impose her presence upon him at all.
Until tonight, anyway.
Harry stepped out from a secret passageway hidden behind a suit of armour and into a scarcely lit corridor that always felt strangely crafty. It was the place Riddle had asked him to meet her that night when they parted at breakfast. She was out on her prefect rounds, but apparently, there was something she wanted to show Harry. He knew it would be nothing pertaining to the Chamber of Secrets, but part of him still hoped. The last attack had made Riddle seem innocent, but nothing had been proven. She could still be behind the attacks. Harry had heard no hissing, but if Cerastes knew he was a Parselmouth, he might well have made a conscious effort to strike stealthily.
The more Harry thought about it, the more he decided that a part of him wanted Riddle to be the Heir of Slytherin. The unknown was a daunting thing and it had been the biggest obstacle during second year. It was not something Harry wished to deal with again. The devil he knew was incredibly dangerous, but at least he could anticipate what might come next. If Riddle wasn’t the Heir and there was another with such malevolent power… well, that would just be one more problem added to Harry’s list.
Speaking of Riddle, she shimmered into being just feet in front of him. Her Disillusionment Charm was perfect — Harry had never once seen it falter and he wondered exactly how she did it.
“I’ve always appreciated your punctuality,” Riddle said idly as she began leading him in the direction of the Slytherin common room and, beyond it, the stone steps leading up into the main castle.
“Likewise,” Harry answered, trying to puzzle out exactly what Riddle wanted to show him.
“Who do you think is behind the attack?”
The question was so sudden and out of character, Harry almost stumbled. “What?” he asked.
“The attacks,” Riddle repeated, “who is it you think is behind them?”
Their footsteps echoed in the hall as Harry formulated an answer. “I don’t know,” he answered. “I’m not sure why you expected me to.”
Riddle’s step did not falter and her expression did not shift, but Harry felt something change in the air between them. “I had hoped you might be honest.”
“Honest?” he asked, frowning.
“Yes, honest. I know you suspect me; I would rather you have come out and say it.”
Merlin, she could be impossible at times. “And what would have happened if I had?” he asked, knowing there was no reason to argue with her now. “What would you have done? If you are behind them, you would hardly have admitted it.”
“I would have.”
Harry’s step faltered. “I don’t believe you.”
“Nor do I expect you to, but it’s the truth.”
“Would you tell the others?”
“None but Cassie.”
“Because if I was behind these attacks, they would be to serve a purpose I think you could sympathize with.” There was a long pause before Riddle turned to inspect him. “I had once considered doing something similar, but my plans were dashed.”
A chill ran up Harry’s spine. This was the most openly she had ever discussed the Chamber of Secrets. “And you suspect me of dashing them?” he asked, not knowing where the boldness came from.
“I do,” she admitted. “I wonder if you still would have stopped me knowing what I aimed to accomplish.”
They had reached the stone stairs now and began ascending up into the castle proper. Harry felt nervous energy swirling inside him. This conversation was dangerous and he could not fathom why Riddle was having it with him now. Unless her plan was to try and pry information from him before making him her next victim. That was logical, but something told Harry that it was not her plan. Something else was at play here; he was just so far incapable of deciphering exactly what that was.
“I think you’d have to be more specific about exactly what you think I’ve stopped,” Harry said carefully. “I’ve had a complicated year.”
Emily laughed softly. “I really do like you, you know — much more than the others. It’s painfully dull when people stop viewing you as a person and refuse to engage with you at all.”
“Do you like me enough to answer my question?”
She laughed again. “Almost, but not quite. If we’re to truly be friends, I won’t have you asking such sloppy questions in the pursuit of information. A ten-year-old could have recognized that as a probe.”
They rounded the corner and walked past the Great Hall and the marble staircase, turning down a familiar corridor leading towards the hospital wing. A bright shape glided out from behind the next corridor and Harry almost jumped, but he realized quickly that it was Nearly-Headless Nick. The ghost just dipped his head and kept on moving, shining brighter than anything in the hall as he slowly glided down an adjacent corridor.
“Let me try something different then,” Harry said once Nick had glided out of earshot, “what exactly is it you’re showing me?”
“Proof of my innocence.”
The hospital wing door loomed into view. Emily turned to face Harry and placed a finger to his lips. They seemed to burn with an odd heat when she pulled the digit away, but before Harry could react to the sudden touch, she wrapped him over the had with her wand and something cold seemed to run down his back.
It was the feeling one got when disillusioned, but it was stronger than the one Harry had used back in the library — doubtlessly one of Riddle’s perfect iterations.
Disillusioned and silent, the two crept into the hospital wing. Harry felt for any wards, but there were none. The room itself was empty but for two beds with their curtains drawn, their fabric like liquid silver when coloured by the moonlight shining through a large window and bathing the room. Riddle swept her wand around them and Harry felt something heavy and oppressive take hold in the air. It was a Silencing Charm — now, they could speak openly.
“Your proof is in the hospital wing?” Harry asked.
Riddle just nodded, stepping forward and pulling back the pale curtains on one of the two beds. It was Myrtle’s. She remained the same way Harry remembered her last — unmoving with pale skin and closed eyes…
Wait… closed eyes? None of the victims attacked by the basilisk could possibly have closed eyes. Not unless the matron had closed the eyelids. Harry forced his mind clear but focused on replaying the exact memory of Myrtle being attacked. In that too, her eyes were closed.
That was not the only odd thing, either. Her skin was a touch paler than natural. Not deathly so, but enough to imply something was unnatural. That never happened to any of the victims attacked by Cerastes during Harry’s own time. And what was underneath her skin? The veins… they looked wrong somehow — filled with something dark.
“She’s been poisoned,” Harry breathed, connecting the dots.
“Poisoned by the Draught of Living Death,” Riddle confirmed in a whisper. “A draught whose ingredients cost a fortune. Professor Slughorn has been out of for months; I checked after the first night coming here.”
“You have rich friends,” Harry whispered back. “Any of them could have gotten you the ingredients.”
Riddle shook her head. “Unlikely. Some of the ingredients are shared in very powerful healing potions that are currently at a premium and almost exclusively being distributed in areas impacted by the war. I will admit Cassie could likely have secured them for me, but none of the others. Even then, she could not have gotten them without being questioned. I imagine it would have caused quite a stir in her family, one Dorea would have told you about.”
“By the time the first attack happened, I wasn’t speaking with Dorea.”
“Given how long the potion takes to brew, you were still speaking with her at the time its ingredients arrived at Hogwarts.”
Harry opened his mouth to counter, but there was nothing. She had him. “You wouldn’t have used a potion,” he mused aloud, heart beginning to thump harder inside his chest. “It’s too easily traceable — you’re not that sloppy.” Riddle simply nodded, but Harry frowned. “Why are they still unconscious? The Draught of Living Death has an antidote, does it not?”
“Do you remember how there were screams during both attacks?” Harry nodded. “They were hit with the Cruciatus Curse soon before the potion was ingested.”
Harry frowned. “What difference does it make?”
“A large one. The Draught of Living Death slows down all bodily functions. Slower blood flow, for example, is the reason she’s so pale. The Cruciatus Curse overstimulates the nerves. Her body hasn’t been working fast enough to counteract its effects. If she was woken up right now, the shock and pain might well stop her heart.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “So is she stuck like this?”
Riddle shook her head. “No. They’ll just have to wait for her body to recover in its sluggish state. Once that happens, they can revive her. The other — a third-year Hufflepuff girl — is the same. As I’m sure you expected, she’s also a muggle born.”
“The attack earlier in the year,” Harry remembered, “someone used the Cruciatus Curse then. They could have been practicing.”
Riddle nodded. “That’s exactly what I think he was doing.”
“He?” Harry asked, turning to face her, watching for any shifts in her expression. All he got was a nod. “You know who it is, don’t you? You’ve known this whole time.”
“I’ve suspected, but I didn’t truly know until after the Hufflepuff girl was attacked. The sample size was too small. Usually, I would still say it is, but the circumstances are so specific that I think two is enough.”
“Who is it?” Harry asked, glancing involuntarily around the room as though the culprit would come for them from the shadows.
“Have you not put it together?” Riddle asked, turning away from Harry and moving back towards the room’s exit. “Someone claiming to be an Heir weeks after I reveal myself as a Parselmouth, using a method similar to myths about a monstrous snake some say Salazar Slytherin once controlled? Someone who not only did both of these things, but made sure their first victim was one I was known to have associated with.”
Harry’s eyes widened as it all came together. He had reminisced in the past just how much more dangerous this batch of Slytherins was compared to his own time, but he had no idea just how far the Malfoys had fallen in two generations.
This was the hardest chapter of the story to write so far, bar none, so there are some rough patches due to writing fatigue and some other factors. I plan to touch them up before this goes live on FFN/AO3, but please do pardon me for now. I would like to think the last scene makes up for it, but I suppose you all will be the judges of that.
Please read and review.
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