CoP 48

Conjoining of Paragons

Chapter 48: This is War

By ACI100

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, Luq707, Raven, Regress, Thanos, and Yoshi89 for their incredible work on this story.

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December 2, 1943
The Chamber of Secrets
10:14 PM

Small serpents coiled tight around a golden band, biting at a black stone set in the ring’s centre. The etched snakes looked like living things in the light of a torch flickering just above them.

A much larger snake really did move behind them, but Harry paid Cerastes no heed. The ring gained only a passing glance.

Instead he watched Emily, memorizing every line of her face while she screwed it up in concentration and studied the ring. There was something entrancing about watching her work. It was among the only times imperfection showed. It made her feel more real, made this all feel possible and not like some twisted tale written in a child’s fantasy.

She should probably do it less often, though. She had spent hours locked away each day since returning from the graveyard. Harry let her work, but he worried.

The Resurrection Stone was far beyond his understanding. It was proving far beyond hers, too, but she had a better chance of stumbling along something useful than he ever would and his presence did her no favours.

I wonder if she even notices me now. Ostensibly he was on patrol, but he had set the snakes about their work and told them to find him down here if he was needed.

That was good advice. The more he thought, the more he realized how often Emily gave good advice. She really is brilliant. It was easier appreciating that now, knowing that she was no enemy of his.

That thought still felt strange, but in a different way. It was like his time opposing her was from a past life. It felt as distant as Ron’s red hair or Hermione’s buck-toothed smile. I could never have imagined so much would change.

Emily let out a frustrated breath and looked up from the ring. “You’re early.”

“I’m getting better at finding snakes.” He shrugged. “Really they find me nowadays. It saves time and makes telling them to patrol for me faster.” She hummed her agreement and glanced back down towards the ring. “No progress?”

“This is definitely the stone.” It was the same answer she had given every time he’d asked. “The magic is unlike anything I’ve ever felt. It’s not like a knot of enchantments, it’s like a single mass of intent that powers the stone.” She shook her head. “I’m still not really sure how to start.”

“You’ll think of something.” If anyone could, it was her. Desperation did funny things to people — he knew that better than most — and the look in her eyes that night she told him about her fears and her ambitions screamed of desperation so loudly that windows would have shattered had any been nearby.

She smiled and reached a hand behind his neck, pulling his head forward and touching her lips to his. The kiss was soft and swift, but his lips tingled when they pulled away from hers and that smouldering feeling mounted in his chest. “I’m glad you think so.”

“I’d help if I could, but—“

She kissed him again, briefer even than the one before. “I know,” she said. “It’s okay, I’ll figure something out. I have to.”

It was hard not smiling even while she talked so seriously. When had he become so soft and sappy? It had been scarcely more than half a year ago since he thought her something vile. Now all he wanted was to kiss her again. It’s mental.

He shook himself; thoughts like that would not save them. “We need to deal with Grindelwald’s agents.”

“Yes,” she said, tucking the ring away, “that was the purpose of this meeting, wasn’t it?” She sounded an awful lot like she might now regret the purpose. It nearly made him smile again. Mind out of the gutter.

“Yeah. The last thing we want is them spying.” There was an insistent edge in his voice. “It’s probably best if you don’t—“

“I’m not hiding the ring away.” It was the same argument they’d had half a dozen times. Harry had never won despite his best efforts. Emily could be the most stubborn girl he’d ever met when she wanted.

I wonder why she’s so set on this. She was the smartest person he knew — sans Dumbledore, rest the old man’s soul — and had to know what a risk it was carrying the ring so freely. Yet nothing he said would move her. She made it sound like he suggested cutting off her arm each time he raised the problem.

“Fine,” he said, knowing the argument was lost to him already. “Then let’s get rid of whoever he’s working with so they can’t try and steal it, or something.”

“And how do you propose we do that?”

Harry ran a hand through his hair. That was the tricky part, wasn’t it? “We could try framing them like you planned to do Malfoy. Not sure for what, but if we get them expelled—“

“They’ll just join the front lines fighting for Grindelwald and attack Hogwarts before too long.”

Harry bit his lip. He wanted to say that wasn’t their problem, but a part of him knew it was. If we want to beat Grindelwald, we can’t give him any advantage. But that meant…

“What are you suggesting?” His voice was faint and rasping, weak while he swallowed a hard lump in his throat.

“I think you know.”

Harry looked away from her, staring up at Slytherin’s statue and remembering a rain filled day in Knockturn Alley when falling droplets drummed against a roof sheltering them from the day’s worst.

“Don’t worry, I’ll leave you out of any future murders.”

She had said it in a tongue and cheek sort of way, but a part of him had believed her.

She probably meant it at the time. You did it to yourself. He had made his stance on deceptions and hidden truths clear following Slughorn’s Samhain party. Why does every good thing bring something bad with it?

“Emily… you’re suggesting murder.” There was no other way of saying it. “The murder of students.”

Her expression was unchanged. “What would you do? Send them back to Grindelwald?”

“Catch them. Send them to the ministry. Something — anything.”

“And what happens when the ministry falls? That will happen before Grindelwald ever reaches Hogwarts. What happens then, Harry? What happens when the ones we let walk free scurry back to their master?”

He looked down towards the stone floor and screwed up his face. His stomach tied itself in knots each time he considered murder, but her points were sound and logical. Why do I have to end up with a smart one? There’s no arguing with someone like her.

“There has to be another way.” He was rambling now, but he didn’t care. “These aren’t soldiers, Emily, they’re students. They’re—“

“Agents of war.” That brought him up short. “Don’t lecture me about them being students. They lost the right to that excuse the moment they supported an internationally wanted warlord whose end goal is domination. Would you treat them like students? This isn’t a game, Harry, this is war.”

Her eyes were blazing and her hands curled tightly into fists. Harry scooted inches back on the floor. Bloody hell. “This isn’t about some corridor squabble, this is about life and death. I’m not dying and you’re not, either. It’s either them or us. Welcome to war.”

There had to be a way. We can’t just kill anyone who gets in our way. That’s something he would do…

“No one ever lived after he decided ter kill ’em, no one except you, an’ he’d killed some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age — the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts…”

I don’t want to fight like him. There must be a way.

“The heiress has the right of it.” Not now you overgrown reptile. Harry nearly turned his head towards Cerastes, but stopped himself at the last moment. “This is not murder typical of some dark lord. This is vengeance.”

Cerastes understood his reservations. Not typical of some dark lord. The basilisk was trying to tell him this wasn’t a crime on the level of something Voldemort might do, but was it?

“They’re still kids,” he said.

“Kids who planned on sending you gift wrapped to Grindelwald.” Emily stared plainly towards him. “What would have happened then? Did they give you mercy? Have they acted like children?” Harry had no words.

“It is a threat you cannot let persist,” Cerastes insisted. “This Grindelwald is a dangerous enough foe in his own right. Allowing him advantages will cripple you. You will have lost before the fight begins.”

Harry screwed up his face again. The choice was painful, but it was out of his hands. It’s these people, or Emily’s worst fear. The desperation in her eyes that night in the chamber was clear in his mind and it pulled at his heartstrings so hard, it was sickening.

“Fine,” he choked out, still staring towards the floor. “But we can’t just go around killing everyone we think might be guilty. We have to be sure.” He met Emily’s eyes and held her stare. “No matter what.”

“No matter what,” she agreed, reaching out and squeezing his hand. “Leave the discovery to me. My talents fit the task well.”

December 4, 1943
An Abandoned Classroom
8:46 PM

Something invisible rippled out from where Emily stood and shattered Harry’s knight of stone, tossing Charlus back across the room. Fuck! His wand was moving before her first curse came towards him and he batted it away, but there was no opening to return fire. Her casting was rapid, each spell so forceful that shields would be useless.

The shattered stones swept themselves up and flew towards Emily, who broke her spell chain in order to defend. Charlus pelted her with curses while Harry conjured a flock of ravens and a line of flaming arrows.

The birds became a cloud of smoke and the arrows a single ball of fire, but Harry put everything into tearing control of the flames back from her. She was stronger than him — stronger than anyone he had duelled in terms of pure power — but she was distracted by Charlus and her control wavered.

Harry forced every ounce of will into the flames until they writhed and rose, forming a flaming that loomed over Emily while her and Charlus exchanged curses back and forth.

The knight held a fiery sword just inches from her head and the duel paused. “Yield,” said Emily, lowering her wand.

Harry took a deep breath and slashed his own, collapsing his construct with a sharp tug in the pit of his stomach.

“Bloody impressive spell, that,” said Charlus, wiping beads of sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “We might not have won without it.”

Emily pushed sweat-soaked hair back from her brow. “You would have. I was exerting more energy and concentrating harder than either of you, but it took too long. You should have beaten me faster.”

“You’re fucking strong,” said Charlus. “Shields against you are useless and breaking yours takes too long.”

“So don’t try and break it. There are other ways of attacking — especially when you outnumber me.” Her gaze turned towards Harry. “You were trying to engage me too often. You did better at the end using the cover he bought you.”

Harry mussed his own tangled mess of hair. “It’s weird fighting with someone. It should be easier, but it’s not.”

“It is,” said Charlus, “we’re just not used to it yet. It’ll take practice.”

Emily straightened her robes. “We’ll know when you’ve improved. I’m the best of our trio, but I shouldn’t be able to hold you two off for that long. Once you learn to work together, I have a feeling these duels won’t be competitive.”

“The hard part’s gonna be getting you practice working with us.”

Emily waved her hand. “That’s not important. I can duel Grindelwald, just not for long. I can hold his attention while you two form up and attack in tandem.” She scowled. “It’s not perfect, but it might be the best chance we have.”

Harry bit his tongue. It should be the two of us working together while Charlus kills him under the cloak. It was hard not staring a hole through his Gryffindor friend. Where is it? Does he have it, or did Henri? A horrible prospect startled him. Don’t let Grindelwald have it. Anything but that.

Harry had considered asking outright, but decided against it. This seemed a dangerous secret — well beyond anything he had told Charlus before. I’ll have to. We won’t beat Grindelwald this way.

“Again,” said Emily, stepping back and raising her wand. Harry exchanged a look with Charlus and tore free half the floor before warping the stone while his partner pelted Emily with curses.

December 7, 1943
The Alchemy Classroom
11:59 AM

Chairs scraped loudly while bags rustled and textbooks snapped shut. Emily yawned and reached for her own bag. Sleep had been scarce since discovering the Resurrection Stone. It will all be worth it. Nothing isn’t worth it. A shiver ran up her spine when remembering the last time she had thought that. Okay, maybe one thing wouldn’t be worth it.

“Miss Riddle.” Oh, Merlin, what does he want?

“Yes, Professor?”

Professor R.E Gress was wearing silken robes today. Each day was a new adventure with Gress. One could never tell if he would arrive in robes, a cloak, a lab coat, a muggle t-shirt, or just about anything else one could imagine.

The man’s saved by his brilliance. They’d call him mad if not for it. She thought he was absolutely off his rocker despite it.

“A word, if you will.” She dipped her head politely, but her heart was now beating. Bad timing. It took all her willpower not to glance over her shoulder towards her fellow yearmates. I was supposed to begin questioning them.

Gress said nothing until the final student left the room. “Your plan will fail.”

She blinked. It was like he had slapped her and the sound still rang in her ears while her thoughts tried to untangle and make sense of what he’d said. “What?”

“Your plan, Miss Riddle. You’re working with two very talented students, but it won’t be enough. Not against a man like Gellert Grindelwald.”

She forced herself not to gawk. How the hell does he know about our plans? Her heart beat harder now. Could he be a spy? She could scarcely imagine it, but one never knew for sure.

She extended mental fingers towards him — a light touch just meant to probe — but they were deflected. I might be able to break through if I put real effort into it, but not without detection. This man was infuriating.

“I don’t recommend trying that against Grindelwald, either.” The blasted man actually looked amused. How can he make jokes about Grindelwald and be amused? Doesn’t he realize we’re all dead unless someone can beat him?

“We don’t plan on winning a duel.” She forced her voice to remain level. “That’s only a contingency plan.”

He hummed. “I see.” She realized then that his voice was different. All signs of joviality were gone and it was a pitch lower than usual. Her eyes narrowed. Either he really is a spy, or I’ve misjudged him and his whole persona is one big act. Now he’s being deathly serious. “And you won’t tell me what your plan is?”

Not in your wildest dreams. “No.”

“Hmm. It will probably fail no matter what it is.”

It was like he had punched her in the stomach and left a gaping hole behind. Out of the hole blew despairing winds thick with the stench of death. It whispered to her, reached for her, and made her shiver.

No! Her hand twitched towards her bag and the unbreakable vial containing her still untouched Felix Felicis. “With all due respect, Professor, you can’t know that.”

“No?” Gress folded his arms. “Let me offer you some free advice, Miss Riddle. Any plan involving direct confrontation will fail. Any plan that involves the three of you surviving will fail. You can’t fight him, not without comprehending your own warped misunderstanding of magic and what real power looks like.”

Death’s whispers grew louder, but she pointedly ignored them. What does that mean? Was he an agent of Grindelwald’s? Was he threatening her? Or was it some kind of warning? Not that it’s much use if it is.

“I’ll… keep that in mind, Professor. Thank you.”

“Miss Riddle.” She stopped halfway to the door. “Do understand that I’m not hinting about magic pertaining to the damaging of one’s soul. I urge you not to try that again.”

She strode dazedly from the room, her hand gripping her wand so tightly that it grew hot against her palm. She would need to watch Gress; he might need to die if he was too thin-lipped about that last point.

Who is he and what does he know?

December 10, 1943
Berlin, Germany
7:00 PM

The wind rose outside, howling against the walls and making glass panes shudder in the windows. Logs snapped and crackled in the fire while Gellert stared outside and watched the thick flakes of snow framed against the dark sky they fell through.

He tipped his glass up towards his lips and let the dark wine slosh across his tongue. It was sweet for a moment, but then sharp and bitter.

Not enough wine. He turned the glass and watched the dark liquid churn. It seems that there can never be enough wine as of late. Deep blue eyes stared through forty-five long years and brimmed with excitement the way they had back when things were simpler.

Gellert’s hand shook and the wine sloshed up over the glass’s rim. A thin line reached across the linen tablecloth.

His face twisted into a grimace when he saw it. Like blood on snow. Why does everything remind me of blood on snow since that blasted day?

The blasted day when a young girl named Wylla Nurmen had been stoned to death back when he was but a child. That blasted day when everything had changed and his new life began.

The nearest clock chimed and Gellert turned away from the window and looked instead towards the door. Footsteps came from outside, but he had sensed the presence before he ever heard it.

The lock clicked with a flick of his hand. “Enter.” Rough black furs swaddled the brown-haired woman who stepped across the threshold. Pale snowflakes covered the thick hood of her cloak, trailing fingers of water that trickled down her overlarge glasses.

“Thank you for coming, Miss Trelawney. I know it was a sudden invitation.”

Cassandra Trelawney waved a gloved hand at him. “You knew I’d come. You always had a way with people; you knew I must be curious.”

Gellert made himself smile for the first time in weeks. “True.” It was easier telling people what they wanted to hear. Everyone is comfortable when they think all is as they expected it to be. Seers most of all.  “I am grateful nonetheless.”

She moved more slowly now than he remembered while she crossed the room and lowered herself gingerly into the chair across from his. It has been more than forty years and you never knew her young.

It was still strange watching someone who had taught him so much withered away by the passing of time. I have grown stronger while she has grown weaker. Any other time that would have thrilled him, but now it left a bitter taste while the memory of deep blue eyes mocked him.

“I knew you would summon me.”

Of course you did. This woman would have him believe there was nothing beyond her knowing. I would think her a fraud had I not seen her talents with my own eyes and had her methods not worked so well for me. His own gifts might never have been useful had she not returned his owl all those years ago and helped him down the shadowed road that was Divination.

“Naturally,” he said, still smiling. “You have always been helpful in understanding the mysteries of fate. There is no wiser mind to call upon in times like these.” Flattery went a long way with people like her.

Her chin rose and her posture straightened. She could almost look respectable if that was her usual posture. “Dark times,” she muttered. “Dark times indeed.”

This woman is mad. Did she truly remember him? Was there enough lucidity left in her to realize that the young, brilliant wizard she once owled was the cause of all that darkness? Did she realize how dangerous it was saying things like that in front of men like him?

Gellert took another long sip of wine and studied her over his glass. “Dark times indeed,” he echoed. She just stared back at him, her eyes too large behind those thick-lensed glasses. “I was hoping you might help me better understand them.”

Her lips pursed. “You know the gift does not come when I command. I cannot offer you things like prophecies.”

“I know full well, as you yourself have said. It is not a prophecy I want from you, it is an opinion.”

Gellert reached into the pocket of his robes and removed a glass vial filled with a silvery liquid that looked almost like smoke. Trelawney’s eyes watched the vial while he uncorked its top and turned towards his pensieve.

It’s a shame she must remember nothing when this is done. How many memory charms could a mind like hers handle? Here is hoping the boy dies soon and his prize becomes mine. Let there soon be no need for things like prophecy. Let everything be sure and stable. It is for the greater good.

Author’s Endnote:

And the stakes continue rising 🙂

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