Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 31: The Spinning of Schemes
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 31: The Spinning of Schemes
May 12, 1943
A Secret Passage on the Third Floor
The past twenty-four hours still didn’t feel real to Harry. The moment he’d realized the bodies belonged to Elena and Dorea still felt like something out of a nightmare. The entire day had a dream-like feel to it, with life going on mostly as normal. Students were now being escorted to each class by one of the professors, but little else had changed.
It reminded Harry strongly of his second year, but he tried to force those thoughts from his mind along with the whispers he heard floating through the Slytherin common room. It had been one thing when muggleborns were the victims, but now that precious purebloods had been attacked, things would change, or so people said. The likes of Lord Sirius Black were not going to take this sort of thing lying down and some theorized there would be aurors in the castle within a week.
All the while, Harry grappled with what he had seen. Dumbledore nor Slughorn had noticed him, so he had snuck back into the hospital wing after some time. Riddle had been waiting for him, sitting alertly up, resting against her pillows with inquisitive eyes shining.
Harry had reluctantly explained what he’d seen. There was still a part of him that screamed in protest at the idea of sharing such sensitive information with Riddle, but it was outvoted. Harry now had proof that Abraxas Malfoy was the one responsible and the only other in the school who knew that was Riddle.
Harry had contemplated taking his findings to Dippett or Dumbledore, but he suspected neither of them would believe without proof. Riddle had agreed.
“I may be able to talk the Headmaster around, but even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. A pureblood heir like Abraxas Malfoy can’t just be expelled on the word of two halfbloods. We would need something much more solid; things like pensive memories aren’t viable in a court of law.”
Harry loathed to admit it, but Riddle was probably his best aid. Together, they were perhaps the two most skillful students in the school along with Charlus. The idea of bringing him on board was tempting, but Harry was unsure the Potter heir possessed the subtlety required for something like this. Even if he did, the idea of Charlus Potter throwing his hat in with Emily Riddle sounded so ludicrous that Harry was sure it would never work.
Everything had been too fresh that night. Harry had stumbled through numbness during his talk with Riddle. That was beginning to fade now, replaced with overwhelming sadness, fear, and fury.
Harry had seized an avenue of regaining Dorea’s friendship not moments before she was taken from him more permanently. Elena had suffered the same fate, and she had been Harry’s closest friend and fiercest supporter. If none of the others had yet showed vitals promising enough to revive, then Harry feared how long it would be before Elena and Dorea could be awakened. That was, of course, assuming Riddle’s hypothesis was right at all and that they could ever be awoken.
Another thing scared Harry almost as much. Just minutes before the attack, Harry had done his best to assure Arcturus Black that he could look after Dorea. That promise had not lasted the night and now, Harry feared the Black heir would be even more aggressive in keeping Harry away from his sister.
Then there was the fury — white hot and unlike anything Harry had ever known. Never had he hated anyone the way he now hated Abraxas Malfoy. He had once thought he hated Sirius this way, but he’d been wrong. It was one thing to hear about awful deeds and another thing to see them. Harry had wanted to kill Sirius once, but his wand had faltered when the moment came. If he faced Abraxas again… well, that was something he’d rather not think about.
It was better to move against Abraxas before another confrontation was forced upon him, but Harry had few ideas. Riddle hadn’t the night before, either, but the two of them had arranged to meet in Riddle’s favourite room, which was where they found themselves now.
“You snuck back into the hospital wing?” Harry asked, referencing Riddle’s plan from the night before.
She nodded. “It’s like I expected. Everything about this attack is identical to the others. Black may have ingested less of the potion, but it’s not a meaningful difference and won’t change anything.”
Harry forced his eyes shut and took a deep breath, quieting his mind before speaking regretfully. “So we can’t do anything for Dorea or Elena.”
“I’m sorry,” said Riddle, an expression much softer than Harry was used to upon her face.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, “I was prepared for that. We’ll just have to focus on Malfoy. Any ideas what he might do next?”
Riddle’s lips thinned. “He’s annoyingly difficult to predict. His actions contradict each other.”
Harry frowned. “Contradict each other how? I think it’s pretty obvious he’s still trying to frame you. You know, attacking two of my best friends hours after the duel.” Harry watched her face for any signs of anger or annoyance at his mention of their duel, but there was nothing to see.
“It does look that way, but I’m less sure. I think the framing has been done well enough already. If the ministry stepped in and was forced to choose the most likely candidate, I would be chosen the second any of our housemates opened their mouths.”
“Maybe he doesn’t want to gamble on that. Maybe he worries none of them will speak up.”
Riddle waved a hand. “Can you honestly convince yourself that the likes of Nott wouldn’t hand me over to the aurors in a second whether I’d committed the crimes or not?”
Harry was forced to shake his head, the taste of bitterness sliding across his tongue. “If he didn’t attack them to frame you, then the whole thing makes even less sense. Half the school is going on about how big a mistake it was to drag in purebloods — especially a Black.”
“They’re right. The ministry might be hamstringed when it comes to intervening at Hogwarts, but I doubt that will mean very much. I’m not sure how much power the Wizengamot has, but we’ll find out soon. I expect action to be taken when they meet this Sunday.” Riddle’s expression darkened. “I won’t be shocked if that action involves a closure of the school — temporary or permanent.”
Harry’s heart skipped a beat. That was something he had never considered. During his own time, the school had only been on the brink of closing after Ginny Weasley was presumed dead. Harry supposed that, subconsciously, he had expected it would take a death to close the school, but he had ignored politics. Merlin, why did it always have to come down to politics?
Harry locked eyes with Riddle and felt a mutual understanding pass between them. Harry had always viewed Hogwarts as the only home he’d ever had, but he knew that Riddle thought likewise. He had watched a male version of her practically tell as much to Armando Dippett via the diary, and the entire reason he had turned over Hagrid was to ensure the school stayed open.
Harry wasn’t sure if Riddle realized just how important Hogwarts was to him, but he knew she could see something, for in that moment, both of them knew that something had to be done before the school could be closed. How much time they had was a mystery, but it could be as little as six days if the order was given on Sunday and the school closed on Monday.
“Okay,” said Harry, “so we need to get some kind of proof before that can happen. Any suggestions?”
Riddle thought for a moment. “The most obvious and concrete answer would be his wand.”
Harry blinked. “His wand?”
“His wand, yes. That way we could prove his wrongdoing with a Priori Incantato.” Harry continued staring puzzledly back at her. Riddle opened her mouth to go on, but paused, suddenly looking contemplative. “It’s a lot like what happened yesterday,” she mused, sounding more thoughtful than Harry had ever heard her. “Almost identical, in a way, but the cause…” she trailed off, appearing to realize she was musing aloud. “Sorry, I became distracted. Priori Incantato is a charm that triggers what’s called the Reverse Spell Effect. It forces a wand to show the last spells it cast in reverse order.”
Harry’s eyes lit up. “That’s easy though, isn’t it? All we have to do is disarm Malfoy and take his wand to Dippett? Hell, either of us could do that. So long as it showed the Cruciatus Curse, we’d be rid of him.”
“I’m not sure it’s that easy,” Riddle said as she twirled a lock of dark hair around her finger.
“Why not?” asked Harry.
“Because there are limits on Priori Incantato. It depends on the power and will of the caster, plus the wand’s composition, but it doesn’t go on forever.”
Harry felt himself deflate as the reality came over him. “So we have to catch him right in the middle of an attack or something, don’t we?”
Something flashed in Riddle’s eyes — annoyance, frustration, impatience; it was impossible to tell. “That’s probably our safest option, yes.”
Something about the way she said it put Harry on edge. It was like she had a better answer she was hiding and was, for some reason, disappointed by her own reluctance. Harry could make neither heads nor tails of it, but now was not the time to focus on such things.
“That makes things harder,” Harry said with a scowl. “His attacks all seem random.”
Riddle studied him. “What would you say if I told you I don’t think he planned to attack either of your friends?”
Harry shook his head. “That’s crazy.”
“Is it?” Riddle asked, a single eyebrow raised. “Is it so hard to believe the two of them were coming to see you and just got caught up in the way?”
“Caught up in the way of what?”
“The tying of loose ends.” When Harry did not immediately react, Riddle went on. “If Malfoy’s victims ever wake up, they’ll be able to tell anyone who listens exactly what happened. Even if Malfoy’s graduated by then, this is the sort of scheme that would land him in Azkaban.”
Harry’s eyes went wide. “You think he was trying to silence his victims?”
Riddle nodded. “I think he was trying to silence them whilst I was in the wing, specifically. He probably thought I was asleep and realized he could kill two birds with one stone — silencing his victims whilst paining the blame even brighter on me.”
“You actually look impressed,” Harry said, still scowling.
Riddle shrugged. “I can appreciate a well thought out plan even when it doesn’t work.”
“So you think he’ll return to the hospital wing, then?”
Riddle smiled, but there was no mirth in the expression. “Under the right set of circumstances, I’m sure he will.”
Soon after, in the Chamber of Secrets…
Cerastes was not a creature Harry would ever describe as patient, but the serpent did at least know how to listen and when to hold his tongue. Harry traipsed down into the chamber almost immediately after his meeting with Riddle and began ranting about the past day’s affairs. Cerastes waited behind him and hardly shifted an inch as he listened, making no move to interrupt until Harry finished speaking.
“So the usurper believes if she puts herself in the infirmary again, she can draw out another strike from this new pretender?”
“That’s what she said, yes.”
Cerastes finally began shifting behind him. “I disagree.”
If the mood was less grim, Harry might have smirked. “You always disagree with the usurper.”
The snake’s movements became more agitated. “It is more than that,” Cerastes hissed. “This new pretender’s strength seems to lie in planning.”
Harry considered that for a moment. “I guess it does,” he admitted. “Malfoy’s solid magically, but there are better in his year. He’s intelligent, but not brilliant.”
“Cunning is the great equalizer,” Cerastes preached.
Harry would have dismissed that once, but now, he found himself nodding. Just the faintest bit of cunning this year had gotten him far. It had helped him hold together relationships even whilst infiltrating Riddle’s group that he would certainly have lost to his old Gryffindor brashness, plus it had presented him with opportunities he would never have once had. If someone like Abraxas Malfoy used the same kind of cunning both more viciously and more sparingly, Harry could imagine why that might be so dangerous.
“So you don’t think he’ll attack the hospital wing again?” Harry asked.
Cerastes’s agitated rustling intensified. “If that is his plan, he will, but not in the way he already failed. He will attack differently and under less predictable circumstances. The usurper’s plan will fail.”
Harry wanted to disagree, but he couldn’t. It would have been easy to fall back on Riddle’s genius and expect her to be right, but Cerastes had a point, one that Riddle was unlikely to see. She had a way of underestimating those around her. She had done it with Harry more than once and now, he realized she was doing the same with Abraxas. No one who had gotten as far as he already had would make such an obvious mistake — Harry ought to have seen that sooner.
“We have to try it,” Harry hissed back.
“Why?” Cerastes asked, sounding frustrated.
Harry wrung his hands. “Because without it, we have no real hope of catching him in the act.”
Cerastes hissed in an odd way that Harry had come to recognize as laughter, though he could not imagine what the basilisk would be laughing at. “Allow me to propose a solution.”
May 14, 1943
An Abandoned Classroom
Harry grunted in frustration as his wand was torn from him again. Losing to Charlus had once frustrated him, but not like this. Back then, the Potter heir had simply been the better duellist. Harry was unsure that remained true now, but he had made a fool of himself tonight. Not only had he failed to disarm Charlus so much as once, but he had never come remotely close.
It was the poorest Harry had performed in months, but his mind was just in other places. It was difficult to duel a friend when every time you looked at him, you were reminded of exactly where your other two friends were, reminded of the way Charlus had once stared at Dorea from across the crowded Three Broomsticks, reminded of how far away she and Elena were now.
“Let’s call it,” Charlus said from across the room, tossing Harry back his wand.
“Sorry,” Harry muttered, leaning against the wall as he waited for Charlus to come closer. “I’m just… distracted.”
“Mate, I get it,” the older boy said, holding up his hands. “I was surprised you agreed to come at all tonight and I wouldn’t have blamed you if you hadn’t.” Harry nodded absentmindedly; he could think of no other response. Charlus frowned and rested a hand on his shoulder. “It’ll all work itself out,” he promised. “They’ll wake up and be able to say exactly who did it. The bastard won’t get away with it, whoever they are.”
The temptation to explain everything Harry knew was incredibly strong, but he held his tongue. Charlus would probably run off to Dippett and the only good that would do would be to alert Abraxas Malfoy that they were after him. It would make the plans Harry had with both Emily and Cerastes much more difficult and was not a risk Harry was willing to take.
“I just hope it gets sorted out in time,” Harry muttered.
Charlus winced. “You’ve heard the rumours to?”
“Rumours?” Harry asked. “I’m not sure it’s really a rumour. If you were Lord Black or Fawley, would you let this go? Hell, if you were one of the other Wizengamot members, would you argue that the school should stay open?”
Charlus closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “I might,” he said after a long pause. Harry opened his mouth, but Charlus held up a hand. “Listen, I get that the safest thing to do is to close the school. That’s obvious and makes sense. But if the school closes, whoever the hell’s behind this could be out of Britain by the time the victims wake up and explain what happened.”
Harry had never considered that. “Can the ministry not persecute them if they’re not in Britain? I’ve heard the muggles have some sort of treaty for that.”
Charlus shrugged. “It depends where they went and is complicated. They probably could, but the chances of them actually getting it done would be a lot slimmer.”
Harry clenched his fists, not even flinching at the way his nails bit painfully into his palms. “I hate it!”
Charlus nodded. “I know. Trust me, I do.”
Harry realized that he probably did. Might this have been how Charlus felt wishing justice upon whoever had killed his mother? Harry had at least always known how his own parents had died and exactly who to blame, but Charlus had never been given that small degree of mercy.
“How do you deal with it?” Harry asked, his voice scarcely more than a whisper.
Charlus’s sharp smile was uncharacteristically grim. “You plan to do something about it and hold onto that hope like you’re dangling from a broom a hundred feet off the ground.”
Harry nodded, eyes far away. It was probably sound advice and showed that the two of them not only looked alike, but shared some similar thought patterns. Staying active against threats and worries had always helped Harry in the past, and now, that was exactly what he planned to do. He just hoped that, this time, he would be as fortunate as he had been when facing down other forms of danger.
Harry forced his emotions down once he and Charlus parted ways. Occlumency was something he’d held onto for dear life since the attack, but it was not something he was comfortable showing so outwardly around someone like Charlus. Using it to keep his mind clear in a duel was one thing, but using it to make emotions more manageable tended to leave more visible signs of what he was doing.
It was all just overwhelming when Harry let it run free. How was it that things only became more stressful once Riddle was removed from the equation? Well, removed from the opposite side of the equation, anyway. Harry had spent all year worrying about her — and perhaps those worries would one day still be valid — just to have the real threat come from someone he had hardly paid attention to until it was too late. Harry had really thought he was free of Malfoys making a mess of things when he travelled back in time, but apparently, he ought to have been more cynical.
Harry’s step faltered. He thought he saw movement from the shadows out of the corner of his eye, but when he looked more closely, nothing was there. Harry frowned but kept walking. It felt almost like a ward was up nearby, but he must be imagining things. No ward had ever felt quite like this; it was just the most comparable feeling Harry had experienced.
This really was getting ridiculous. Being wary of Riddle was one thing, but Harry was growing somewhat bitter about Abraxas Malfoy making him leap at shadows. He could imagine Draco Malfoy fifty years from now sneering at Harry’s grandchildren, boasting about how his grandfather had driven Harry to paranoia back during their Hogwarts days. The thought made him scowl. The Malfoy of his time was probably even petty enough to do something like that.
The ward-like sensation suddenly vanished and the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end. There was no rhyme or reason, but Harry threw himself forward and to the floor, trusting in his instincts and hoping he had not just made an utter fool of himself.
The Unforgivable Curse sailed straight through the place Harry had been not a second sooner. His heart raced as he leapt to his feet and summoned his wand. The ward-like feeling must have indicated a Disillusionment Charm — well, three Disillusionment Charms, in this case — for three figures moved slowly towards him. The one in the lead was easily recognizable by his shining hair and dark grey eyes, but the two who trailed gave Harry pause. Both were taller than Malfoy and nearly twice as broad, but Harry gave them no consideration as he fired his first volley of spells towards Abraxas.
The Malfoy heir was prepared this time and took a page from Harry’s book — banishing the hall’s torches towards him with a long sweep of his wand. Harry struck as he did so and Malfoy staggered, a stain of red suddenly appearing over his left shoulder. Malfoy’s wand movements were wider and more looping than Harry’s, which gave the younger Slytherin openings to strike.
Harry slashed his wand towards the oncoming torches and transfigured them into a volley of flaming arrows that he sent back towards the trio. He breathed a sigh of relief when done. That was a more complex transfiguration than Harry was accustomed to and, for a moment, he had feared he would be unable to complete it.
One of the previously shadowed figures yelped and lunged sideways to avoid several of the arrows, and that was when Harry saw his face. It was like the Goyle of his own time had travelled back with him for how much they resembled each other, though this boy was much larger. That was only natural, for Gregory Goyle Sr. was a seventh year. Harry just hoped he was as useless as his son.
The hem of the third boy’s robe burst alight with fire and his howls filled the corridor. Harry spared him only a brief glance — recognizing him as a sixth-year boy named Aiden Burke — before turning his attention back to Abraxas. Malfoy’s robes were singed, but he had avoided the worst of Harry’s volley and was now counterattacking in kind.
They exchanged spells back and forth for what felt like a minute but what could not have been more than seconds. Malfoy was good with this kind of magic. The duel was more competitive now that Harry wasn’t using Transfiguration, but he couldn’t; Malfoy was doing an excellent job of pelting him with spells frequently enough as not to give Harry the time required for anything intricate. Still, Harry slowly advanced, but whatever ground he gained he tended to lose when Goyle fired potshots from over Malfoy’s shoulder.
Harry’s eyes narrowed. Burke was crawling away down the corridor, blanketed in the putrid scent of burning flesh. Harry was confident he would not return to the fray, but that still left Goyle to take care of before he could properly deal with Malfoy. Harry tried to sneak around Malfoy to get a shot at him, but Goyle managed to use Malfoy as a buffer between the two of them. It was actually not a terrible strategy. It allowed for him to remain constantly on offence in the hopes of overwhelming Harry. The problem was, Harry was not at all overwhelmed.
Malfoy’s eyes widened at the incantation and he lunged aside, leaving a suddenly pale Goyle alone. The Stunner Harry had actually fired under the guise of a Cruciatus Curse struck Goyle straight in the chest and he toppled over backwards, leaving Harry to face Malfoy, whom he whirled to face.
Now it was Harry’s turn to look surprised as he dove for cover and heard the wall behind him explode as green fire suddenly spewed forth from the break like molten lava from the mouth of an active volcano. Harry tried to take control of the fire, but it resisted him. It was not to be controlled; a force all of its own, one that had been born from death itself. Yet that was not to say Harry couldn’t use it.
A burst of spells forced Abraxas to step backwards, and that was all the opening Harry needed. The stones beneath the fire lifted and hurled themselves at Abraxas, who just barely managed to dodge but who screamed as bits of flaming shrapnel sprayed down and opened more bloody gashes as he stumbled in the direction from which Burke had retreated.
Harry made to follow but felt his senses flare from behind him and leapt aside, avoiding a silent curse he had never seen before. Harry whirled, but all he saw was a tall figure with broad shoulders running down the corridor in the opposite direction, little more than a shadow with his back to Harry from this distance.
Harry spun again to face Abraxas, but Malfoy was already out of range, running for his life and leaving the still crawling Aiden Burke behind.
Harry’s lips parted as he made to scream with rage, but then, something Cerastes said came back to him and, despite all that had happened, a predatory grin spread across his face.
“You should have killed me, Malfoy,” he whispered aloud. “You’ll wish you did soon.”
We are drawing incredibly close to the year’s end. I know I’m harping on about this at the end of each chapter, but this is the longest time I’ve ever spent on a single year, so it feels somewhat surreal to me.
Next up, the penultimate chapter. Big things are coming, so I hope you’re all excited.
Please read and review.
PS: The next chapter will be posted in two weeks. THE NEXT FIVE CHAPTERS ARE AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW FOR PATRONS. ANYONE WHO SIGNS UP TO MY PATREON PAGE CAN READ THOSE CHAPTERS NOW.
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