Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 4: Complicated Riddles
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 editors Athena Hope and Fezzik, as well as my betas Luq707, Raven0900, and Yoshi89 for their work on this story.
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SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Since the last update to this story, I have posted a new fanfiction titled “Harry Potter and the Perversion of Purity”. It is a realistic, psychologically-based take on the Dark!Harry trope and there is a lot planned for that fic that I have never seen done before. All ‘books’ will be posted under the same title on FFN and the first year is completely posted. If you guys would check that out, it would be greatly appreciated. If you enjoy, follows, favourites, and reviews would also be quite splendid. About half of Book 2 is up on my Patreon page for any who read and are interested.
I have also posted a 32k word Harry/Fleur story if you’re interested in that. It was more so an experiment, but I was reasonably happy with it.
September 1, 1942
The Home of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Fawley
Birds chirped happily outside, adding to the striking scene of the sun rising and casting its soft glow upon the large estate dominated by a handsomely lavish house. The sun’s warm light caused the early morning dew to sparkle as it tinged the dark horizon a vivid orange.
Inside the large home, one occupant was very much awake, pacing impatiently back and forth across his spacious room, having already showered and dressed some time ago.
Harry Potter could not entirely decide whether he was more excited than he was nervous, or whether he was more nervous than he was excited. No matter which was true, it went without saying that he was extremely anxious; a feeling that only mounted as the sun ascended higher and higher into the still dark-ish sky.
Today was the day he would return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a full forty-nine years before he was technically supposed to attend the institution in question. The idea filled him with excitement, just as it had in his own reality, but he had never been so nervous to return to the ancient castle.
It was his home more than any other place in the world. Even being thrown fifty years back into the past had not changed that. There was little more he wanted than to return to Hogwarts.
Yet, it was going to be different.
It might still be home, but it certainly wasn’t going to be the home he remembered. What made it even worse was that he wasn’t entirely sure how different it would be. The staff would, of course, be entirely new to him — except for Professor Dumbledore, who was the Deputy Headmaster and the professor of Transfiguration in these times. The culture was certainly going to be different as well. More formal and less free, he suspected; not just in customs but also the enforcing of the castle’s many rules, a practice that had been somewhat lax during Dumbledore’s tenure as headmaster.
He would have to act differently because of all of this, inevitably stumbling his way through various practices he had only just learned and had yet to put to the test. From formal greetings to mealtime posture and day-to-day addresses, Harry’s social life was going to be vastly different this time around.
All of this was exceedingly stressful, but none of it was the heart of his concerns.
What worried him the most were two things. One may have seemed small to some outsiders, while the other doubtlessly seemed colossal to any who pondered it.
He was entering Hogwarts without a social circle for the first time since his first year. He was not a very social person. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Once he became suitably comfortable around a person, Harry tended to be sociable enough, if still a bit quiet and withdrawn at times. The problem was that he didn’t know anyone aside from Elena and his social anxiety was going to be perpetually piqued until that fact changed. Elena didn’t have many real friends, so she and Harry were going to be rather alone. He would not at all miss the constant stares brought on by his status as the Boy-Who-Lived, but he would miss the slight sense of social security it granted him. Much as he enjoyed anonymity, he would miss his friends above all else.
He tried his hardest not to think of Ron and especially not of Hermione. Every time thoughts of his two best friends swam sinisterly to the surface of his mind, he attempted to shove them back into the depths with ruthless force. This had been a fruitless practice at first, for their persistence was such that it eventually wore out the part of his brain that had been trying to compartmentalize them away.
The practice had become marginally more manageable, but it was still a struggle even in the best of times. The pangs of loss and sorrow had become no less frequent, but he was slowly starting to become accustomed to the crushing reality of his situation and the horrible truth that he would never see his friends again.
It said a lot about how socially pessimistic Harry was that he viewed all of that as being on par with the threat of somebody discovering who exactly he was — and where and when he had exactly come from. In particular, he feared a tall, pale girl deducing any of this. In her hands, it could be an infinitely more powerful weapon than the Killing Curse that he’d read about not a week ago.
Another horror Harry had read about was that of Legilimency, the nature of which Harry had yet to decide upon. Perhaps Slughorn’s mention of the subject had been advertent, or perhaps it had been a terrible slip of the tongue. He could not be sure which was true, but it mattered not.
Legilimency may have scared him more than anything else, largely due to his fear of being discovered. It was the practice of mental manipulation. One could do a vast number of horrifying things with Legilimency, things that would likely fill the nightmares of many. The ability to read thoughts, see images, and extract memories was one that Harry feared above all others.
All the more because it seemed the exact sort of thing Voldemort would have known, and he had long since decided Emily Riddle could be no one but the female manifestation of Lord Voldemort. Or the female manifestation of Tom Riddle, at the very least. Why he had been thrown into a reality in which Voldemort was female, he had no idea.
If she truly was Voldemort at all.
She had seemed so… innocent. Certainly imposing in her own sort of way — both through her words and her stature — but not in the way he would have expected a dark lord to be imposing. Or a dark lady, he supposed; not that he had any experience at all dealing with dark ladies. In a twisted sort of sense, they sounded far more terrible to him than any dark lord who had ever existed.
Emily Riddle hadn’t seemed to be a dark lady. Yet, neither had Tom in the Chamber of Secrets, prior to Harry putting the pieces together himself. They both had the same deadly charisma, yet Emily had a natural sort of innocence about her that Tom had lacked. Perhaps it was just Harry being far more familiar with, and thereby suspicious of, males as opposed to females. He really had no idea, but there was an inkling of doubt in his mind as to whether Emily Riddle would ever become the monster he had known as Lord Voldemort.
An inkling of doubt that not even Elena’s odd fear of Riddle had completely crushed.
Elena had practically dragged Harry into a dark, deserted alcove near the edge of where the more densely populated, more socially acceptable alley conjoined with its darker, shadier twin as soon as they exited Madam Malkin’s.
Once in the alley, Elena’s eyes had darted fearfully around as she tried in vain to convey what exactly had made her twitchy without warning. It obviously amounted to Emily Riddle, but she didn’t say exactly why. No matter how many times Harry asked, she never answered why.
The rest of the summer holidays had passed quickly. Things one was looking forward to usually crept towards them at a maddeningly slow pace, whereas things dreaded often approached with the swiftness of a speeding bludger, yet with the subtlety of a particularly stealthy wizard garbed in an invisibility cloak.
And by Merlin, was Hogwarts going to be different without the assured protection of his cloak. No longer would he be able to sneak through the halls as undetectable as the most subtle of poisons gently creeping through human veins.
It was just one of a great number of things that would no longer be the same. One of a vast number of things that were different and one of a tremendous number of things that led him to be exceedingly anxious as the time to be present at Platform Nine and Three Quarters swiftly approached.
About five and a half hours later, on the Hogwarts Express…
Emily Riddle strode confidently down the train’s main hall, her expression completely passive as she continued away from the compartment that had just held the annual prefect’s meeting and made her way towards a different compartment. One in which she knew those closest to her would be patiently waiting.
It had been a long summer, seeming to stretch on forever just as all the ones before it had. Every moment spent away from her true home seemed to last twice as long as it was supposed to, and that was before she considered the constant whinging of the young children who occupied the orphanage. There were, at least, no bombings anymore and there hadn’t been for some time. That was a small mercy, for those had been the darkest days she had spent locked up in that horrid place.
Emily wiped her mind clean with but a thought and allowed its vast power to be occupied by more productive things — she had no desire to wallow in such dark and depressing memories. Thoughts of what this coming year at Hogwarts might bring, particularly after the revelations she’d made at the end of her fourth year and her actions over the summer holidays. Revelations that brought her mind back onto the stunning, ancient ring that rested comfortably upon her right hand.
Emily saw that her chosen compartment had indeed been claimed. Her trunk had been moved into the compartment in question and already levitated up into the overhead compartment. It was in a position easy to access, for those in the compartment knew all too well she would likely extract a book at some point during the long, monotonous journey.
There were only four others in the compartment due to the limited amount of space it provided, but that restriction wasn’t going to last long. Emily had always found the lack of space in the compartments to be vexing, so she had read up on a way of remedying that during the summer. She had been lent several interesting tomes to occupy herself with whilst at the orphanage and this particular spell had caught her eye. It was quite advanced and she didn’t even think the Hogwarts curriculum covered it, but she also had little doubt she would be able to use it successfully.
Emily — with Felix Rosier, the other new fifth-year prefect trailing not far behind her — removed her wand from her sleeve. She wove it through the air in a tight, intricate pattern, watching with smug satisfaction as the compartment doubled in size, rapidly expanding before their eyes. Those within looked at her with more than a little bit of awe. For her part, she acted as though this was completely natural, striding casually into the compartment and taking the seat nearest the window.
“How in Merlin’s name did you do that?” asked Antonin Dolohov directly across from her.
“Magic. You should know better than to doubt me when it comes to magic.” Dolohov recoiled slightly despite her teasing tone as Emily turned to Rosier, who was presently taking the seat to her right. The only thing to her left was the window. “Thank you for the book, Felix. It was very enlightening.”
He smiled a thin smile that screamed of hidden implications. “My pleasure, Riddle.”
“Go and fetch the others,” Emily said with a look towards Dolohov. “Now that there’s room, I see no reason we shouldn’t all be together.” Dolohov scrambled to his feet and hurriedly rushed out of the compartment, leaving Emily alone with Alphard Black and Romulus Lestrange, as well as Felix Rosier.
“How was your summer, Romulus?” Emily asked casually, leaning slightly against the window as she tilted her head to better observe the Lestrange heir.
Romulus shrugged. “Same as ever, really. We spent some time in France, but most of it was spent as normal.”
Emily glanced towards the other two, not needing to repeat her question before both of them gave more detailed accounts of their own summer exploits. She was at least pleased to know that they had all taken the time to study the magic she had asked them to.
Dolohov returned minutes later, leading a procession of students into the compartment, all of them looking suitably impressed before taking seats around the expanded interior. When they had all sat, Emily took time to peer over what she liked to think of as her inner circle. She had her hoards of admirers, but this was her core group. The important ones, at least.
From the fifth years, there were the aforementioned Alphard Black, Antonin Dolohov, and Felix Rosier, as well as Silas Mulciber and Cassiopeia Black. There were two members of the fourth and sixth years respectively. From the former, there were Derrick Avery and Blake Selwyn, while the latter’s representatives were Nero Macnair and Augustus Rookwood. Emily had her fingerprints all over the fourth year Slytherin contingent, but these were the two whom she trusted most. From the seventh year, Darius Shafiq was present. It was by far the upper year she had the least amount of direct influence in, but nobody in that year was foolish enough to oppose her, either. It was sort of an unspoken agreement that if they didn’t meddle in her business, she wouldn’t complicate theirs.
“So,” Macnair asked with bated breath, leaning forward like a helpless moth ensnared by the alluring power of an open flame. “Why the call, Riddle? Big plans for the year?”
All in the compartment darted their eyes rapidly between Riddle and Macnair. The former’s posture didn’t shift in the slightest. She merely swivelled her dark, intense gaze to fall upon the sixth year before her, freezing him in place with her stare alone.
“Must there be a purpose, Macnair?”
The boy suddenly looked far twitchier than he had but a moment earlier. “You-you don’t do things without a reason,” he forced out. Emily nodded slowly along with his hastily spoken words.
She examined him for what must have been about ten seconds before a thin smile slowly crept onto her lips. “This is true,” she admitted with an odd gleam in her eye. “How perceptive of you, Macnair. It seems you have me all figured out.”
“I don’t think any would dare to assume they had you all figured out, Riddle.”
Emily laughed a soft, musical laugh. “You flatter me, Augustus,” she said lightly. “I do try and avoid becoming predictable. Having others anticipate your actions becomes quite dull, and I am easily bored and not as easily entertained.”
Harry and Elena hadn’t had any trouble finding an empty compartment clustered somewhere among the number of other, more populated ones dotted throughout the train’s spacious interior. Elena seemed to be almost as excited as Harry was himself, though she didn’t seem to be burdened with much of the nervousness that was currently gnawing persistently at his innards.
For much of the ride, Harry watched an array of fields stunningly carpeted in an equally vast number of vivid, autumn colours speed by the window as Elena regaled him with enchanting truths about the castle he’d known for some time.
The door to the compartment slid open several hours into their journey and a younger, red-headed girl poked her head inside, interrupting Elena’s impassioned story about how her Defence Against the Dark Arts class had struggled a great deal with the boggart the previous year.
“Excuse me,” the new arrival said, shuffling her feet and fixing her warm brown stare upon Harry, who stared warily back at her. “Are you Master Pavonis?”
More than a month after being christened with the name, Harry still had to resist the powerful urge to say no. It still didn’t quite seem to be his name, but he forced his face to not reflect his inner conflict as he nodded, prompting the girl to step forward and offer him a pristine roll of parchment. The girl exited the room as quickly as she had entered, leaving Elena to peer openly at Harry with an inquisitive expression.
Shrugging to indicate he had no better idea as to the origins of the letter than she did, he unrolled the offending parchment and read it quickly, causing his eyebrows to knit tightly together.
I would be delighted if you would join me for a bit of lunch in compartment C.
Professor H. E. F. Slughorn
“An invitation from Slughorn,” Harry said with no small bit of bemusement. He’d never heard of a professor riding the train to Hogwarts. He couldn’t think of why anyone would do such a thing when they had the altogether more convenient options of floo travel and apparition.
“He invited me last year,” she said with a small frown.
“I’m sure your invitation will come,” Harry said assuringly, though he had an odd sort of feeling that might not be the case.
Harry very much wished he hadn’t been right.
Elena had never gotten an invitation from Slughorn, which left Harry to nervously trudge through the train’s main corridor, trying not to become too entangled in the gaggles of students conversing out in the halls. He’d thought he had escaped the constant stares and murmurs when he had inadvertently fled from his Boy-Who-Lived moniker. It turned out this didn’t hold quite as true as he would have liked.
Apparently, a new boy who looked quite young but not quite young enough to be a first year drew a fair bit of attention. Harry supposed he couldn’t really blame them, much as he detested their pointing and muttering more than they could ever imagine. In his three years at Hogwarts, he was certain there had never been a transfer student. If there had been, he would doubtlessly have heard about it. He did try to keep well away from the incessant Hogwarts rumour mill, but he had also shared a common room with Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil, so doing so completely hadn’t been at all possible.
He did eventually find the specified compartment, though he noted with a small pang of embarrassment that he was about three minutes late to the gathering. He had an apology quickly forming on his tongue as he pushed open the compartment door, but it died far more quickly than it could escape when his emerald eyes swept around the room.
It was extremely jarring to see the spitting images of people he’d known in his own time, but still to know they were not and would never be the same. Two of the older students in particular drew his attention.
One of them was a platinum-blond boy with dark grey eyes that could be nobody but an ancestor of Draco Malfoy. Probably a grandfather, if Harry were to guess. The same could be said for the brown-haired boy beside him with the dark, cruel-looking eyes who was practically Theodore Nott reincarnated. Others looked familiar, as well. He thought one of them looked an awful lot like Ernie Macmillan; whereas another still greatly resembled Susan Bones — an auburn-haired Hufflepuff girl from Harry’s old world.
The most jarring similarity of all — yet still far from the single most jarring sight in the room — were those who were very obviously the ancestors of his godfather, Sirius Black. Horace had forced upon him a great deal of study in recognizing important people by their common characteristics. There were several students gathered in the compartment with the unmistakable regal air of a Black. Mixed with high, elegant cheekbones and dark, vivid hair, Harry had little doubt, though the fact shook him more than he would care to admit.
Yet none of that shocked him nearly as much as the girl who sat closest to Slughorn himself. Her angelic face, pale skin, dark hair, and intense eyes couldn’t be missed and Harry could tell via the eager manner in which Slughorn’s eyes darted from Riddle to himself what was about to happen. Irrational dread and mild panic seized tightly around his chest at the same moment he realized he would be able to do nothing to prevent what was to come.
“Harry, m’boy!” boomed Slughorn, crafting no illusion about having never met Harry before today. “Do come in, do come in! Hmm… where to put you? Ah, yes! Right here there’s a seat. Right beside this stunning young lady to my right.”
Harry knew anything but his immediate acceptance would draw attention he didn’t at all want. He tried to stay as calm as possible as he slowly stepped towards the seat to Riddle’s right. He wasn’t sure how he looked, but he felt as though he was being marched towards his execution. His chest was so tight that it felt as though a boa constrictor had a hold of him. His heart was beating much too quickly, as though it was trying to escape whatever bindings seemed to have appeared around Harry’s chest.
Riddle’s smile was warm and welcoming as Harry took the seat beside her, a fact that oddly sent his brain spinning. How could anything about the maybe future dark lady be something other than cold and cruel?
“Harry here is new to Hogwarts,” Slughorn said cheerfully, and Harry realized to his great discomfort that everyone in the room was watching him closely now. Even more unsettling was the fact Riddle now had a perfectly viable excuse to thoroughly examine him. He felt every gaze, but hers felt like the heat and light of the sun compared to the spectral spotlight of the moon on a mostly cloudy night. One was visible and ominous in its own sort of way, but the other was infinite, inescapable, and often overwhelming.
That was, at least, if the light of the sun was given the ability to function as an x-ray beam. Much like back in the alley weeks ago, Riddle’s gaze seemed to pierce his skin and burrow far deeper, as though she was performing a muggle autopsy without the aid of medical equipment.
“Harry here is a transfer student with quite the… tragic past,” Slughorn continued, giving them a very brief summary of Harry’s fabricated life.
The youth in question did feel a swell of gratitude for his mentor — if that was indeed the right word — when Slughorn implored all of them to spread the facts around to the best of their ability. The man hadn’t lied about one thing. It really was best for Harry’s mental health if he didn’t have to repeat the circumstances which had led him here.
There was a long round of introductions and Harry found out his earlier assumptions had been perfectly true. The blond who could have passed as Lucius Malfoy’s doppelganger was indeed the current Malfoy heir; he was named Abraxas. The cruel-eyed boy was a Nott named Edward, and several members of the Black family — Alphard, Pollux, Cassiopeia, Dorea and Arcturus — were also present. The second-to-last caused a shiver to run down Harry’s spine and he had to resist the urge to gape, or to examine her with a clinical precision that would have made the still staring Emily Riddle jealous.
He had seen this girl before. She had popped up several times in the photo album Hagrid had gifted him with at the end of his first year at Hogwarts. Even before that, he had spotted her in the Mirror of Erised on a cold, dreary night late in December of 1991.
Slughorn saved Emily’s introduction for last, something that Harry found oddly predictable. The way he looked at her made it very obvious she was his undisputed pride and joy at Hogwarts.
“And this charming young lady is Miss Emily Riddle.” Harry could not help but notice that most in the room looked on in adoration while a select few — like Abraxas Malfoy and Edward Nott — looked on with something more akin to feigned indifference.
“She’s a year above you and a newly-minted prefect. Most well-deserved, I might add.” Emily smiled modestly back at Slughorn, not speaking and therefore allowing him to continue his monologue. “Most brilliant young mind I’ve ever seen, you know. Why, I’ve been telling Albus for some time that he’d best enjoy his spot atop his podium while he can. He might not be Britain’s greatest magician for a whole lot longer.”
Some gathered around laughed while Harry saw others hide smirks. Some still looked a bit skeptical, while a few still tried their best at acting indifferent.
Riddle herself merely looked pensive. “That’s a very bold prediction, sir,” she said, speaking for the first time since Harry had entered the room.
Slughorn chuckled. “Oh, not so bold as you might think, my dear.” He winked at her. “I know talent when I see it, and by Merlin, I’m not sure of the last time such talent existed on these isles. Now,” he continued, “with the introductions out of the way, let us tuck in!”
The sheer amount of food laid out before them made Harry think painfully of Ron and how his best mate had often complained about the ruthless stab of hunger as they waited for the welcoming feast at the beginning of each new school year. The trolley was a nice and welcome addition to the train, but it had nothing on this. A large table neatly covered in a white linen cloth was the centre point of their loose rectangle. The table was buried under no small amount of food, and Harry idly wondered whether or not he would even be hungry by that evening’s feast.
He tuned in and out of the general din of conversation, focusing more on the food in front of him and trying to make himself scarce. Being in a room with several important people he’d never met and knew nothing about was very stressful and the best way of minimizing the feeling was by staying as far out of the conversation as possible. None of the purebloods near enough to speak with Harry paid him any mind, but conversation was eventually broached by the absolute last person in the compartment he presently wanted to speak with.
“Does Ilvermorny have most of the same classes as Hogwarts?” Riddle asked from beside him, daintily dabbing at the corner of her mouth with a napkin as she gifted him with her full, undivided attention and all of the disconcerting feelings that immediately accompanied it.
Harry forced himself to stay perfectly calm as he answered her question with a surprisingly level tone of voice. Well, he forced himself to look calm, at least. His heart was beating quickly again and his stomach seemed to be doing its best to tie itself in knots. “Pretty much, some of them just go by different names.”
“Which class do you most enjoy, then? And which electives have you chosen to take?”
“Defence Against the Dark Arts is definitely my favourite. I’m taking Runes, Arithmancy, and Creatures as electives.”
“You enjoy them?”
“Well… one of the only classes Ilvermorny didn’t have was Runes. I’m interested in them, but not sure how well I’ll do.”
The part about Ilvermorny not having Runes was mercifully true. Slughorn had been unbelievably persistent that Harry take Runes, Arithmancy, and Care of Magical Creatures. He’d tried to explain to the man he’d never taken Runes and Arithmancy in his life, and that he would be terribly behind in both subjects. Slughorn had not relented even for a second, insisting he would help him catch up in Runes and that Arithmancy wasn’t all that difficult if one knew basic muggle maths.
Harry appreciated the value of the subjects even if he didn’t entirely understand them. That still didn’t mean he was at all looking forward to the Gringotts vault full of stress that would inevitably be involved in catching up to where the rest of the class currently rested in terms of their academic progress.
Riddle nodded, gracing him with a soft smile. “I would be happy to help if you ever fall behind,” she offered. “I’m quite good in both subjects; Runes, in particular. It’s one of my favourites, actually.” Her eyes sparkled. “Defence is definitely my favourite subject as well, though.”
Of-fucking-course the maybe-future-Voldemort’s favourite subject was Defence Against the Dark Arts.
Oh, the irony.
“Thanks for the offer,” Harry said with no intention of ever taking her up on it. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Please do,” said Riddle. “Do remember to come to me if you ever find yourself… out of your depths.”
“Offering your services already, I see?” Slughorn asked fondly. “Don’t take on too heavy a load, my dear girl. This is your O.W.L year. Most prefects take on quite a light load in their fifth and seventh years.”
“Thank you for the concern, Professor. I’m sure I’ll manage just fine and I’ll be sure to scale it back and come to you for help if I ever need it.”
She was good — she was really good. Harry could see the way the subtle stroking of his ego caused Slughorn to swell, immediately bending to Riddle’s whims.
Merlin… what had Harry gotten himself into.
By the time Slughorn noticed the time, the sun was setting outside the still speeding Hogwarts Express. It beamed through the large window and caused glittering glares to form on the surface of the pristine plates and goblets as it cast long, deep shadows all around the steadily darkening compartment.
“Dear me,” Slughorn cried when he saw just how low the sun had stealthily sunk in the sky that now appeared just as orange as it did blue. “Look at the time, look at the time! You all best be getting back to your compartments in time to change. Dear Merlin!”
Harry knew Slughorn well enough to have predicted this outcome. He’d already changed before arriving. As had Emily Riddle, who shot him a conspiratorial sideways smirk, as if she was sharing the joke between just the two of them. It was oddly irritating how normal that gesture was. It was one Harry would have made if sharing a joke with Ron or Hermione.
“Harry, m’boy, stay for a moment, will you? You as well, Emily.” Harry tensed for only the barest of seconds as he and Riddle paused in their respective rises back to their feet.
Harry saw Emily nod vaguely to a cluster of students awaiting her at the exit, causing them to close the door. Judging by the sound of footsteps moving away from their compartment, he assumed that gesture had indicated they were to return to their own compartment.
Merlin, people already obeyed her just via nod!
“You wanted to speak with us, sir?” asked Riddle, her face a total visage of complete curiosity and perfect politeness.
“Why, Emily, I always enjoy speaking with you.” He chuckled. “Same for Harry here, of course.”
Emily’s brow furrowed. “I wouldn’t have thought the two of you knew each other, Professor? What with his recent transfer and all.”
Slughorn just winked meaningfully at her. “Now, now, Emily, you know I can’t give up all of my secrets. That would be telling, now wouldn’t it?” He laughed a deep, full-bellied laugh.“I know Harry here quite well,” Slughorn said after regaining his composure. “Spent some time getting to know him over the summer. Great young chap he is, too.” Harry tried unsuccessfully not to blush, but Riddle was at least polite enough to pretend not to have noticed.
“He’s been through quite the shock as of late,” Slughorn continued, “and getting adjusted to Hogwarts will be no small feat.”
Oh… fuck! Surely he wasn’t about to…
“I was wondering if it might be too much to ask of you to ensure that Harry here adapts to his new surroundings?”
Oh… this had to be a joke!
…or this Riddle really wasn’t going to become Voldemort.
“Of course, Professor,” Riddle said with a small smile. “I’m always happy to help.” She seemed to ponder something for a moment. “The prefects don’t have our patrol schedules yet, but maybe I could take Harry out with me on patrol later in the week when we’re both free and show him properly around the castle?” She bit her lip as if nervous. “I know prefects usually aren’t supposed to take their friends out on rounds, and I know it might be asking for you to place quite a lot of trust in me, but—”
“Not at all, not at all,” Slughorn said with a wave of his thick hand. “Why, I think it’s a wonderful idea!” The Potions Master glanced towards Harry. “What say you, m’boy?” Harry nodded quickly, trying to look shy and nervous, which really wasn’t hard after feeling those exact things for a number of hours. “Excellent, excellent!”
“I’d be happy to help with Runes and Arithmancy as well if needed,” Emily offered.
Slughorn seemed to sag with relief. “It might be best,” he agreed. “Runes in particular is quite a heavy subject. I was going to take on the task of helping Harry here catch up myself, but…”
“It’s no trouble, sir,” said Emily, still smiling. “I enjoy Runes and they say that once you can teach something, you have truly mastered it. I wouldn’t mind finding out how close to mastering the subject I really am.”
Slughorn laughed heartily. “I dare say you might just be there,” he said through his chuckles. “Well, get your schedule, Emily, and then come and see me in my office. I’m sure we can work something out.” Harry just sat there, transfixed and helpless to stop anything from transpiring.
Slughorn glanced back outside. “You two best be getting along. I would hate for either of you to be late. Especially you, my dear, being a prefect and all.”
“I’ll make sure to be on time, Professor,” Riddle got to feet and indicated with a gesture that Harry should do the same. She beat him to the door and held it open, which he found rather odd, since he was pretty sure traditional customs were that he did just that for her.
It became obvious why she did it a brief moment later when she closed the door behind her, following him out into the corridor and reaching out, resting a firm hand on his shoulder.
He tensed, but Riddle seemed not to notice. “I don’t imagine the caretaker will take well to the story of a transfer,” Riddle said thoughtfully, beginning to guide him through the corridors, her grip on his shoulder still firm as ever. “He’s a bit… touchy in his old age. It would be a shame for you to get falsely accused of faking your age or any such nonsense on your first day. I can help you with him if you’d like.”
Harry knew at once it would be impolite to decline and he knew that he had to keep up decent relations with Riddle, at least for now. He wanted to keep Slughorn very firmly on his side and Riddle seemed to have indoctrinated herself to him long ago.
Not that she had spoken her last sentence as if it were a question. The words might have implied that, but the tone certainly did not.
Nor did her grip on his shoulder. It wasn’t painful, but Merlin did she have a hold on him, and she still managed to look casual as she maneuvered both of them through the hall, which was swiftly beginning to fill with Hogwarts students waiting to exit the train after hours of being trapped in static monotony.
The two of them didn’t have much time to talk before they came to another compartment with several students standing ready outside the door. Harry suddenly felt very wary and as if Riddle had led him into a trap. All of the gathered students were staring at him as if they were a pack of rabid predators.
Riddle’s grip tightened on Harry’s shoulder enough to make him briefly wince as she sent a hard look at each of the gathered members of what must have been her inner circle of friends. Or minions, depending on how closely this timeline likely followed his own.
They didn’t stop glancing at Harry as Riddle, with a hand still on his shoulder, led him off the train, but their glares became much less predatory and much less frequent.
“Have you read up on the four houses?” she asked him. He nodded. “Any guesses as to where you’ll land?”
…holy hell, he hadn’t even thought about that!
He had obviously been sorted into Gryffindor during his own time, but would that stay the same?
“You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that…”
Harry shivered as the Sorting Hat’s words came back to him in a rush.
Was it true? Would he have been great in Slytherin?
He shivered again.
Could he still be great in Slytherin?
Was he still a Gryffindor after the colossal shift in mentality he had gone through after staring brokenly into those lifeless, hollow eyes?
“I… don’t know,” he admitted.
Obviously, he sounded just as nervous and defeated as he felt, as Riddle gave his shoulder what must have been meant to be a reassuring squeeze. “All of the houses have their values.”
She said it with such sincerity that Harry honestly wondered if it was true. The Voldemort of his time certainly hadn’t believed that. Perhaps at this age, but even the Riddle in the Chamber hadn’t struck him as being overly inclusive.
Riddle led him towards a tall, burly man with short, oily hair and tanned, wrinkled skin. The man’s name was Apollyon Pringle and he was apparently the Caretaker at this time.
Merlin, even Filch hadn’t been around yet. This really was going to be a strange year.
As much as he was sure personally escorting him had been a ploy of some kind, Harry was genuinely thankful that Riddle had done so. He hated it, but he was thankful for it. Pringle did seem rather skeptical of his transfer status. It took even Riddle — a far more eloquent speaker than Harry would likely ever be — a solid minute or two of explaining before the old man grudgingly accepted the claim and barked at Harry to follow him.
“Good luck,” Riddle called, finally releasing her grip on him and allowing him to walk after the Caretaker.
It felt odd having her hand off of him. He felt as though he could still feel its weight and his skin seemed to tingle under his robe.
He took the same route across the Black Lake he had taken as a first year and was led up out of the same docking station and up to the castle’s imposing front doors. Pringle knocked with much more impatience than Hagrid and when the door opened, Harry had to resist the urge to gape.
It wasn’t stern Professor McGonagall in the doorway in her plain black robes, but an auburn-haired version of Professor Dumbledore, one who looked far younger, far less weathered, and who was resplendent in robes of sky blue trimmed in silver.
“The new batch,” Pringle said shortly.
If Dumbledore was at all taken aback by his tone, he didn’t show it. On the contrary, his eyes were gleaming like the stars far above them. “Why thank you, my dear man,” Dumbledore said cheerfully. “Do come in and enjoy the warm hospitality of the castle while I get this lot filled in.”
Pringle did just that and Dumbledore, smiling, led them to the rather familiar-looking antechamber off the main hall and gave them a rousing speech about the four Hogwarts houses. All the while, the constant drone of hundreds of voices could be heard from the hall beyond.
They were led into the hall itself minutes later and Harry did all he could not to smile too broadly as he felt truly at home for the first time since arriving back in the past.
The one major upside about being hurled back in time was that this was the shortest summer break he’d ever had. Short as it might have been, he had still very much missed everything about the castle. From its towering turrets to its high, imposing towers. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed the small things currently dotted throughout the great hall; the ghosts shining misty silver, the enchanting glow of the goblets, reflecting the pale magical light shone down upon them from above. And Merlin, how the hall’s enchanted ceiling never failed to take Harry’s breath away.
Seeing this younger Dumbledore place the ancient Hogwarts Sorting Hat atop the spindle-legged stool as opposed to McGonagall was strange to say the least. Only when the Sorting Hat started singing did Harry suddenly realize he hadn’t heard it since his first year. During his second, he and Ron had been busy flying an enchanted Ford Anglia into a particularly short-tempered tree. During his third, he had been busy being fussed over after the dementor-induced hell that had been the end of his journey to Hogwarts that September.
When the hat finished its song, Dumbledore uncoiled a comically long roll of parchment, cleared his throat softly, and began to call the first years forward, one by one.
Harry tuned out most of the sorting, for he was far too busy panicking.
Until Riddle had mentioned it on the way down to the castle, he had completely forgotten about the Sorting. It was just so natural for him to think of himself as a Gryffindor that he hadn’t honestly given it a whole lot of thought. Now that he was doing just that, he was suddenly becoming less and less confident in himself being a Gryffindor.
He certainly still fit the house’s traits. He was doubtlessly brave and he liked to think of himself as chivalrous, but that wasn’t the question.
The question was whether or not they were still his most prevalent traits, at least when comparing them to those of the other three houses.
He certainly had been far more Ravenclaw-like as of late, spending great amounts of time in the Fawleys’ library. His work ethic had been indicative of a Hufflepuff and he thought himself to be loyal, if admittedly to a very select few who earned his trust.
His goal during his own time had been to conquer Lord Voldemort. He had never consciously said it aloud, but it had always been there. Avenging his parents’ murder and granting himself freedom in the process. He still thought that to be his goal, assuming Riddle did indeed turn out to be Voldemort, but if she didn’t?
And cunning… was he cunning? Resourceful… well, his adventures would certainly indicate he was resourceful, but…
Much earlier that day, Harry had reflected on how quickly things one tended to dread approached; this only validated the thought. He’d become so lost in thought he hadn’t even registered the passing of time, nor the rapidly shortening line in front of him.
He hardly even felt his steps as he mechanically walked up towards the stool, trying not to shake and shiver along the way.
Dumbledore met his eyes for a fraction of a second before he took his seat and he thought he saw… something unfamiliar within them, but he was on the stool before he could recognize it, and the hat had been placed atop his head.
It was still comically large on him. He was quite small for his age — not drastically so, yet noticeably — but he was not nearly as undersized as he had been at the age of eleven. On that occasion, the hat had basically engulfed his entire face and head.
‘My, my,’ the hat whispered inside his mind, ‘it seems the next half a century is set to be quite eventful, hm?’
Oh… that was not good.
Harry hadn’t even considered the fact the hat could see his thoughts. He hadn’t even considered it might glean the truth of how he had arrived.
Merlin, this was not—
‘Calm yourself, Master Potter,’ the hat said calmly. ‘I cannot reveal your many secrets, and I wouldn’t even if I could. Knowing the future is a dangerous thing in the best of times. Knowing the future of a slightly altered world that may or may not come to pass in this reality is still more dangerous.’
Harry felt his heart rate quicken. ‘So,’ he thought back, ‘there’s a chance things don’t play out the same way?’
‘A chance?’ the hat asked with obvious amusement. ‘Of course there is a chance. Our worlds are different and your inclusion in this one… well, it will certainly spark changes, no doubt about that. How large these changes are to be… only time shall tell. Is there a chance Albus Dumbledore might not best Gellert Grindelwald in this world? Perhaps. Is there a chance Lily Evans may never marry James Potter? Unlikely, unless you get too directly involved, but it’s possible. Is there a chance Emily Riddle may never become the monster you saw in your own time? Certainly, with the right… alterations.’
‘Alterations?’ asked Harry.
‘It’s one word for it,’ the hat mused. ‘The word I have chosen to use, at the very least. We shall get to that in a moment. I feel there is something else I should inform you of, for I feel the nudge of something that may well be reality compelling me to do just that. It is very taxing to say no for too long.’
‘What is it?’
‘You are terribly worried that others who know Legilimency may look into your thoughts and glean your past, and what is possibly our future.’ Harry gripped the edges of the stool very tightly as his anxiety mounted. ‘You do not have to worry about this quite as intensely as you might think,’ the hat said very carefully, obviously choosing its words with the utmost caution.
‘This isn’t to say that can’t happen. It most certainly can, but not quite as easily as you might think.’
‘What do you mean?’ Harry asked tensely.
‘Reality does not like being disturbed, as I’m sure you know very well, Harry Potter.’ It almost felt odd hearing his real name after so long. ‘Still, it doesn’t just create things to keep itself safe. But if given something to twist… well, your mother’s protection was quite successful in defending your body from those who tried to do it harm. I think you will find that the protection lingers. Since Miss Riddle has done nothing wrong to you at this time, it is not applied to her specifically, but more… broadly.’
‘It stops people from reading my mind?’
‘Oh, heavens no; not in the slightest.’ The hat laughed and Harry tensed, but it began to speak again after a pause.
‘People may read your thoughts at their leisure. What it does is make it very difficult to learn of your… travels. They can learn that your name is Harry Potter. They can learn that you lived with your muggle relatives and that you had a friend named Ronald. What they will incomprehensibly fail to do is put the pieces together and learn the whole truth.’ The hat paused, seeming to seriously consider its own words. ‘Well, I think they could figure it out, but only if you allowed a particularly skilled mind-walker unfettered access to your thoughts for a prolonged period.’
Harry took all of that in.
The protection of his mother’s sacrifice had been warped if the hat was to be believed. It seemed less effective now than it was in his own time, but it seemed to apply to everyone and not just Voldemort.
‘Equivalent exchange, Master Potter,’ the hat said knowingly. ‘Magic is all about equivalent exchange. Especially magic of the more… abstract variety. If you don’t believe me, you might want to ask our new Alchemy professor.’
Harry didn’t quite understand exactly why the hat sounded so amused, but he didn’t have long to ponder, for his heart practically stopped beating when the hat spoke its next words.
‘Now, I can see the masses are becoming impatient, so it’s time to do what I was made to do. I am afraid this will not be quite as prolonged as the last time we discussed your sorting.’ The hat seemed to pause and Harry’s heart started beating again…
Very, very quickly, as he somehow knew what was about to happen right before it did, though it still sent a horrible jolt of shock coursing through his body.
‘It is time for the alterations we spoke of that might shift some things around a bit.’ Harry could practically feel the hat’s smirk. ‘And it would be quite boring for you if you just relived the same reality again, hm?’ It paused once more. ‘And I do not like being made a fool of.
‘Fool me once — shame on you! Fool me twice — shame on me! I am afraid you won’t quite trip me up this time, Hadrian Pavonis. Enjoy your stay in…’
I would like to apologize for the lack of updates on this story and explain how I am going to remedy that going forward:
My plan was to only upload this story when the corresponding chapter was done in audio form and ready to go up on Spotify and YouTube. This was perhaps a bit ambitious and it has led to horribly long waits even though I have the next several chapters written. Going forward, I will no longer be posting audio chapters at the same time. The audiobook will still update, but not alongside FFN and AO3. Audio chapters can still be accessed through my YouTube and Spotify but this way, you can all get the chapters much faster.
Apologies once again — it was an experiment I wanted to try, I have learned that it is more logistically trying than I had imagined.
Please read and review.
Thank you as always to my lovely Discord Editors Doreen Grey and Hyuck for their corrections/contributions on this chapter.
PS: The next chapter is live on my Discord server right now! You can read it at any time by following the link on my profile. The next two chapters are available to those who sign up to my Patreon page and there is more of this story coming soon on there.
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