Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 41: Smouldering Secrets
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter universe. All recognizable characters, plots, and settings are the exclusive property of J.K Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to my editor Athena, as well as my other betas 3CP, Fezzik, Luq707, Raven, Regress, Thanos, and Yoshi89 for their incredible work on this story.
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October 17, 1943
An Abandoned Classroom
A cold breeze blew in from outside, chilling the sweat on Harry’s brow. Strands of raven hair blew across his forehead whilst his chest rose and fell. Across the room, Charlus too panted, bereft of his wand and doubled over, hands on his knees. The duel had been fierce, and though Harry had controlled it, the pace had been frantic.
“I was hoping to break you,” Charlus gasped through rasping breaths. “Hoping that if I pushed the pace enough, you’d get tired and sloppy.”
Harry tried to speak but nearly hurled. He swallowed then breathed, waiting another moment before answering. “If you could have held out a bit longer, it might have worked. I’ve been running and all that, but you’re still in better shape than I am.”
Charlus stood back up, smiling despite the stitch he clutched in his side. “Yeah, well I had a few years’ head start. I think I’d be fuming if you were fitter than me already.”
Harry sucked in another long breath. “Not yet,” he said, looking out the window and towards the dark and distant trees. I need to work more on fitness. I thought it was good enough, but Charlus proved me wrong. Another cold draft blew through the open window. Goosebumps rose along his arms. I’m not looking forward to running in this weather; it’s bloody cold this autumn.
“Not that it mattered,” said Charlus, scowling. “I can’t believe how good you’ve gotten. I can barely keep up with you now.”
“You’re busier than I am,” said Harry, trying to reassure him. “Being Head Boy is probably eating into your time, plus NEWTs. I’ve just kept practicing in my free time.”
“Lucky bastard,” quipped Charlus, the scowl falling from his face. “Speaking of schedules and all that, are you going to Slughorn’s party on Samhain?”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, why? Are you invited?”
“Yup. Guess Slughorn decided I was more interesting as Head Boy than I was as a prefect. What are they like?”
“What are what like?”
“Oh, they’re all right. Slughorn tends to just parade me around with Riddle and show us to all of his important friends. I imagine they’re better if you’re not me.”
“Ouch, that sounds like hell.”
“It’s all right for a bit, but it gets tiring and Slughorn doesn’t seem to realize when that point is.”
“Either that or he just doesn’t care.”
“Probably a bit of both.”
“Do you have a date? I guess it’s sort of expected for something like this, isn’t it?”
“Kind of, yeah. Slughorn was on my case about it last year. I used to just take Elena, but she didn’t like it very much. I feel bad dragging her along, so I’m gonna try and get someone else.”
“I’d say you’d better get on that, but I haven’t even thought about a date yet, so you’re still ahead of me.”
Harry waved a hand. “You’re a Potter and the Head Boy; finding a date won’t be hard for you.”
“I don’t really want a date,” said Charlus, frowning, “especially not one who’s only going because of my name and my badge. That’s kind of my problem.”
“You could always just go with a friend. Elena and I have never seen each other that way, or anything.”
“I don’t think you realize that a lot of guys don’t just have female friends hanging around to choose from. I only really hang around with a few guys and come meet up with you.”
Inspiration struck, sudden as sleep. “I could ask Dorea if she’ll go with you.” Harry could never make himself ask her to go. Even as friends it felt wrong with her being his grandmother and hopefully fated to marry Charlus.
The boy’s face lit up. “Do you think she’d go for it?”
Harry eyed him, remembering the way he had watched them in the Three Broomsticks almost a year ago. “No clue. You seem keen, though.” He grinned.
Charlus blushed. “A little,” he admitted.
Harry laughed. “Didn’t you just say you didn’t want a date?”
“This wouldn’t be a date.”
“No, you just hope it turns into one later.”
His cheeks brightened further. “And what if I do?”
Harry held up his hands. “I’m just fucking around.” He offered his friend a smile. “You’re a great bloke, so I hope it works out. She could do a lot worse than you.”
Charlus crossed the room and slapped a hand on his shoulder, beaming. “Thanks, mate. I appreciate it.”
Harry suppressed a stinging behind his eyes. “Always.”
October 21, 1943
The Slytherin Common Room
Harry glanced back up towards the clock and sighed. Another night of walking around the castle and finding nothing interesting approaches. He was considering just using his prefect’s rounds as excuses to try and find more secret passageways, but if something did happen on his watch, he would have to answer for it.
Elena stood and muttered something about a restroom, gliding down the tunnel and towards her dorm, swallowed halfway there by pools of shadow.
Harry glanced up at the clock again, then looked at Dorea. Emily and the rest of her friends were still at dinner, so the two of them now sat alone.
“What?” Dorea asked before he could speak. Harry’s expression must have slipped because she rolled her eyes. “You’ve been wanting to ask me something or talk to me since Elena left. What is it? Is everything all right?”
Damn her! How does she do that? “Are you sure you’re not a legilimens?”
“Positive. If you know Occlumency, it just doesn’t work on me.”
Harry sighed. “All right, you got me.”
“So?” she prompted, smiling faintly.
He looked around to make sure no one overheard. He and Charlus had kept their friendship secret last year. Rumours had spread after their greeting on the train, but no more than that. “Charlus wanted to know if you’d go with him to Slughorn’s party?”
Dorea’s mouth fell open. The expression brought Harry some sick satisfaction. You didn’t read that one in advance, did you? “Charlus Potter?” she asked. “Like, the Head Boy and heir of his house who’s two years older than us?”
That last sentence filled him with worry. “Yeah, that’s him.”
“I’m guessing that is where you vanish off to, then? To go meet up with him?” She didn’t sound at all surprised. I guess she didn’t forget about how we greeted each other on the train. Figures.
“Yes,” he admitted. “We ran into each other during the winter holidays last year and became friends. We practice duelling and a bunch of other stuff, but also just talk and relax.”
“And you didn’t tell Elena and I because…”
Harry reached for answers that slid through his fingers, eluding him. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I was sort of just keeping the secret from everyone, I never thought to tell you.” I hate secrets. They’ve taken over my life so strongly that I lie without thinking about it. I never even considered telling them.
Dorea sighed. “You should work on that.” For a heartbeat, Harry thought she really had read his mind. “I know you moved around a lot before Hogwarts, but you can trust Elena and I.” Relief filled him. She didn’t mention Emily, though.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’ll try and be better about that now.”
She smiled. “Good.”
“So… will you go with him? Just as friends, obviously.”
Dorea’s smile suddenly looked less sure. “I’ll go,” she agreed. “I’ve never really talked with him, but he must be all right if you two are spending so much time together.”
A warm glow filled him. This was how it ought to be. Always when he had imagined travelling back in time, he had envisioned pulling strings to better things for everyone. It sounds so easy in your head, but then you actually get there. Hopefully it goes more like this from now on. Things had finally started going smoothly, but a single icy block of dread still withstood the surging warmth. Something tells me I’m still not through the worst.
The broom closet slammed open and a pair of fourth years scattered, gone before he could admonish them. Harry just looked after them and sighed. They could have at least learned some basic wards.
He felt her presence before she spoke. “Do you really just spend your rounds stumbling after fourth years?”
“How is it you always seem to find me?” Harry asked, turning a raised brow on Emily.
“The same way you should be doing your prefect’s rounds,” she said.
“And what way is that?”
She waved a hand at the wall. Harry stared at it blankly. What is she on about? Then he saw a small, green snake nestled in the corner of the nearest portrait — a lush, green valley filled with a dozen multi-coloured flowers.
Dots connected inside his head. “You use them as spies. That’s how you stay so on top of things.”
She flipped her hair behind her ear. “I’d like to think there’s more than one reason I stay on top of things, but it helps.” She smiled. “It also saves me skulking around the castle. Why chase rule breakers when the snakes can do it for you? They can always come find you wherever you’re making better use of your time.”
“You did this on purpose,” he said, scowling. “You could have told me this at any time, but you waited until now.”
Her eyes sparkled. “I thought that after introducing you to some of the passages, you may have taken the hint.”
“I’m not sure if anyone’s ever told you this, but you’re brighter than most people. You can’t always expect them to keep up.” Harry waited, but no sadness came. I used to make those quips all the time around Hermione. I bet making one last year would have crushed me.
“Bright?” she asked, laughing. “I think there are plenty of people who would call me dark.” Her smile widened and she feigned a snarl. “After last year, some might even call me a paragon of darkness.”
A fist tightened inside his stomach. I did once. “Then they’re idiots,” he said, ignoring those thoughts. “Your intentions were good.”
“Oh? So what, are you calling me a paragon of light?”
Harry pondered. Once he’d seen the world in black and white, but now he was less sure. They had killed Abraxas — or Cerastes had done it for them. That would have sickened him once and been considered the ultimate act of evil. Now… It’s more complicated than that.
“I don’t think there are such things as paragons. I think everyone’s a bit of both.”
“I knew there was a reason I liked you.” An odd look lingered in her eyes, almost like they were smouldering. Harry had seen that often lately.
“I wanted to ask you something,” he said. She waited, tapping a foot against the hard stone floor. “Do you want to go to Slughorn’s party together?” A look of shock passed across her face. “Just as friends,” he hastened, hands raised.
The thought had come days ago. Why not? I trust her now and Slughorn’s just gonna have us together the whole time anyway.
“I’d love to.” She looks different, more relaxed, somehow. Her smile broadened. “It will be nice not taking someone to appease Slughorn, or feeling his looks on my back each time I don’t. I think I’ll enjoy this party more with a friend.”
October 31, 1943
Horace Slughorn’s Office
The crowd thinned as the night aged. Many had left by the time the hour grew late, leaving Harry and Emily alone at a table. Charlus and Dorea sat across the room, both leaning forward and talking in low whispers. Harry smiled watching them. There had been a look in Charlus’s eyes all night, a smouldering look that made Harry feel warm and hopeful.
Emily finished yet another glass of wine, replacing it with one she picked off a nearby serving tray. She sipped and sighed, smiling. “Having fun?” asked Harry, bemused how much she drank.
A pout crossed her lips. She really must be plastered, I never thought I’d see her pout. “You’d know how I felt if you drank more. It makes these gatherings much nicer, like I’ve told you all night.”
Harry eyed his own wine glass, still half-full. He had drank his share and felt a calm weight in his bones. “I think I’ve had enough,” he said. “I don’t have much experience with alcohol.”
Emily took another sip. “Nor do I.” He looked past her again, watching Dorea and Charlus. She followed his stare. “Cute. Potter’s a friend of yours, I’m guessing?”
“Yes.” His heart missed a beat. Fuck, I may have drank more than I realized.
Emily was nodding across the table. “That tracks. Your unexplained absences make more sense now.”
“They’re not all so I can meet up with him.”
“I never said they were, just that they make more sense.”
Harry shrugged. Quipping back and forth with her was difficult at the best of times. Trying it while drunk sounded like a torture he wanted no part of.
Something in the room changed. It took him a moment to realize what, then he noticed that a hush had fallen. Three men in dark robes moved through the crowd, badges gleaming on each of their chests.
“Mister Potter,” said the one in front, “come with us.”
Charlus looked from the men, to Dorea, and back again. “Who are you?” I think he’s drank too much, too, he has no tact left. Harry’s hand drifted towards his wand nevertheless.
“Representatives of the ICW,” said the same man. Charlus paled but Harry could not decide why. “Please, come with us.” Charlus stood on shaking legs and followed them from the room, leaving Dorea behind.
Whatever has him looking like that, it can’t be good. Harry stood but Emily followed, grabbing his arm and pulling him back down into his seat. “Oi!”
“You’d have a hard time explaining why you followed them. I’m sure Potter will be fine, anyway.”
A single piece eluded him, missing from the puzzle constructed in his mind. Everything would make sense if he could find that one, final piece.
“Are you all right?” asked Emily, resting a hand on his thigh, now sitting beside him.
A tingling sensation ran up his leg and he gently moved her hand away. “I’m fine.”
She looked annoyed at that. Why does she look annoyed? She should be happy that I’m fine, not annoyed. “Are you all right?”
Her hand gripped its place on his leg, lower now. “Less than you.” Her eyes widened.
She really is drunk, she didn’t mean to say that. “What do you mean?”
She schooled her features. “Just that tonight hasn’t gone to plan.” Something dark lurked behind her eyes. Harry shivered, jostling the hand still resting on his knee. I don’t like that look. I prefer the other one she’s had lately, the… His mind froze.
“Harry? Are you sure everything is all right?”
The smouldering one… the same look Charlus has any time he looks at Dorea. It was impossible. Is it? Is it really? She chased me last year and acted weird once we started spending more time together… Merlin’s sagging balls, she fancies me — Emily Riddle fancies me.
Her hand traced circles on his thigh, soft as summer. “Harry?”
More pieces fit together inside his mind’s eye. “Just that tonight hasn’t gone to plan…” The alcohol — she was trying to get me drunk… she was hoping something would happen.
He stood up so fast that his chair tumbled backwards. Emily pulled her hand back as though it had been burned. “Harry, what—“
“I need to go.” He knew he should say more, but he couldn’t. The very thought stilled his heart and froze the breath in his throat.
She called after him but he ignored her, disillusioning himself and slipping from the room. He waved his arm before his eyes but could see nothing. Perfect… finally.
Voices drifted down the corridor up ahead. Charlus and his three companions had not gone far. Harry silenced his footsteps and rushed behind them, rushing through a closing door just before they threw up a set of wards.
“What’s going on?” Charlus asked, rounding on them. “What’s happened?”
The three men exchanged looks. “This is never easy to hear,” said the man who’d spoken back in Slughorn’s office.
Charlus’s hands curled into fists. “What isn’t?”
“Your father is dead, boy. I’m sorry.”
Ah, it’s been a while since the last good cliffhanger, but I think this one counts.
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