Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 51: Aftershocks
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 13, 1943
The Second Floor
Each beat of his heart raced the footsteps closing swiftly behind him. His throat felt swollen shut, his tongue thick and clumsy. A tingly sort of numbness ran up his arm while his knees shook bad enough to make him stumble. Somewhere in his fog-filled mind, he worried he might drop his wand.
Not that it will matter. Those footsteps were getting close. I should run. I’ll be expelled if they catch me — worse. His body wouldn’t move no matter how hard he tried. It wouldn’t matter if he dropped his wand — it would be snapped sure enough and then he would be sent back to the Dursleys.
No, they’re not even alive yet. A shiver ran up his spine. Azkaban, that’s where I’ll go. The dementors’ awful cold mocked him with its memory, those rattling breaths echoing off the inside of his skull while he remembered the way his mother pled with Voldemort. I’m fucked.
Maybe it’s for the best. Hermione’s vacant eyes stared up at him from beside Sirius’s weathered husk of a corpse. Abraxas sprawled out on a pale-tiled floor, dead but bloodless. Wine-red flames swirled around Dumbledore until naught but ashes blew on a strong breeze thick with acrid smoke. Henri Potter’s grave shone more brightly than the mud-coated grass or bleak grey sky, but it was flanked by others.
Just a dream — that last one’s just a dream. Still it haunted him. Everyone around me just dies — how long until all of them are gone?
The footsteps halted just feet behind him. I should turn around and stun them. I might be able to run, or get Emily to Memory Charm them. His knees still shock so badly that, if he tried turning, he would probably wind up on his back and staring up at the shattered ceiling.
Magic pooled behind him and the muscles grew tense beneath his skin. Purple flames rolled past him and swallowed Dolohov’s corpse. It was gone in seconds, the ashes vanishing with it.
“We need to go.” That voice… Harry could have sobbed in relief. His shaking worsened then and his legs really did give way, but Emily wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Her sweet, piny scent washed over him. “Come on,” she whispered. “It’s going to be all right, but people are coming. We can’t be here when they arrive.”
Harry felt her Disillusionment Charm envelop them, but the sensation was distant, more like a memory or a dream. His steps were half-felt; it was like his body was numb or as though he was watching himself move until they plunged down a dark passageway whose blackness all but swallowed them.
Torches blazed into life and threw dim orange light down the narrow hall. Emily’s cheeks were flushed and there was sweat on her brow. Dark strands of hair were out of place and painted raven lines across the pale skin of her forehead. It was most unlike her.
Alertness returned. It was like someone plunged him into ice cold water. “What happened?” he asked. “Are you all right?”
Emily actually laughed. It was the lightest sound she had made in some time, the most carefree she had looked since before Dumbledore’s death. “You looked all but brain dead until you saw a few hairs out of place, and suddenly you’re the one concerned?”
Heat filled his cheeks and his hands began fidgeting. “Woke me up, I guess.”
Her laughter continued until she leant forward and pressed a quick kiss to his lips. It was like an electric shock that nearly melted him. That corridor came back to him while their lips touched and he nearly fell into her again. No! There are more important things.
“What happened?” he asked again. “You said something about how you planned on snagging Burke.”
She met his stare unflinchingly, but there was something soft in her dark-blue eyes. Sympathy, maybe? “Aiden Burke is dead. Grindelwald’s agents are gone.”
She kissed him again, even lighter this time. “I know,” she breathed. “I questioned him. Dolohov was the last one. The group was formed very recently. Burke hoped to recruit others over the holidays.”
Gone. It felt strange. It had been their purpose this past week and had given him something to think about. Something productive, anyway. “You’re sure?” he asked. “There’s no way he was lying.”
“Burke was very loose-tongued by the end and his Occlumency was nothing special. There were no lies.”
The cold certainty in her voice was chilling and made Harry think about his own night again. “Dolohov came after me. He followed me once I finished up practicing with Charlus. I felt him, but he never attacked — not until I led him to that corridor and called him out.” The words tumbled free without rhyme or reason, naught but desperate ravings. “He wanted me dead — had since we duelled in Merrythought’s class. It was the only reason he joined their little group.”
His knees grew weak beneath him and his shoulders shook again. “I didn’t mean to kill him. We were duelling and I knew his offence was best, so I forced him on the defensive and was pelting him with spells. I conjured lightning to break through his shield, but there wasn an explosion. I don’t know why, I didn’t mean for it to happen, it just…” he trailed off and looked away. Tears stung his eyes, but he knew not why.
“Magic is a form of matter,” Emily said softly. “A strange one that doesn’t play by conventional rules. It sometimes reacts unpredictably when coming into contact with things like lightning. You couldn’t have known what would happen.”
The numbness was gone now. In its place was panic that made his blood pump harder and his breaths come sharper. Everything still tingled, just in an entirely new way. “I still killed him. I didn’t mean to, it just… it just happened.”
Emily wrapped her arms around him while the shaking mounted and the tears blurred his vision. She’s probably happy I killed him. It’s just less work for her in the end.
Still it made him shiver, made him remember words spoken by a different Riddle in a different world.
“There are strange likenesses between us, Harry Potter. Even you must have noticed. Both half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look something alike…”
Jokes on you Riddle, we’re nothing alike. I’ll succeed where you failed; Emily and I really will beat death.
December 14, 1943
The Transfiguration Classroom
The Transfiguration exam was painful, but not for the reasons most people struggled. Dumbledore had been dead nearly a month now and classes had been cancelled. Fifth and seventh years taking OWLs and NEWTs in the subject had been tutored by their heads of house, but most found those instructions inadequate when faced with the exam. They had all been assured scoring would be generous in light of the current circumstances, but most in Harry’s year had not performed well.
Funny how I have the opposite problem. Every perfect transfiguration reminded him of Dumbledore. Every time he repeated something Dumbledore had taught him, his heartstrings twanged in an unpleasant way that made him feel breathless. I miss you, old man.
“Is there anything you’d like to do for extra credit, Mister Pavonis?” asked the greying wizard carrying out the exam. These were just the typical end of term tests, but in light of Dumbledore’s passing, Dippet had hired proctors from the Department of Magical Education to oversee the exams. It was supposed to simulate exactly what the OWLs would feel like.
Harry’s heart gave an especially violent lurch while he closed his eyes and drank in the magic around him, concentrating hard and thrusting his wand upwards.
Fire slashed vertically through the air before expanding out into the shape of his trusty flaming knight. I can almost make it appear instantly now. It only takes it a season for it to form once the fire is conjured.
“Beautiful,” the greying man breathed while scribbling away on a pad of parchment. Sweat streamed down his brow and through the deep lines of his face, but he seemed not to care at all. “My word, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Harry slashed his wand and the flames went out. That’s faster, too. No sputtering now. It all hurt so much. Damnit, old man, why couldn’t you be here to see it?
December 16, 1943
An Abandoned Classroom
A clap of thunder shook the room and lightning flashed so brightly that Charlus cursed and tumbled backwards. Harry’s heart pounded, but his eyes had been closed and braced for the blast. He threw them open again and fired a Disarming Charm that ripped the wand from Emily’s hand.
He took a deep breath, then let it out. No corpse this time; you did well. Emily had been imploring him the last few days to use the spell when practicing.
“You perform the way you practice. If you train yourself not to use the spell, you won’t use it.”
Harry had voiced his worries and reminded her just how dangerous conjuring lightning could be, but she had waved him off. “I trust you,” was all she’d said.
“Bloody hell,” said Charlus, still rubbing his eyes and moving his head back and forth. His ears must still have been ringing; Harry knew his were. “What the fuck was that?”
“Lightning,” he said simply. “I figured it out not that long ago. Figured I’d better get used to casting it.”
“Fuck me,” said Charlus, “I don’t even know how I’d block that.”
“Conjurations,” said Emily, catching her wand when harry tossed it back. “A straight blast of lightning should be blockable by stone and things like that. If you had a high enough level of control, though…” she let her words trail off.
“Well, I think that’s the fastest we’ve won,” muttered Charlus.
“Not really with teamwork, though,” said Harry. “I just wanted to see if that trick would work.”
Emily curled a strand of hair back over her ear. “I doubt it would work against Grindelwald, but you two are getting better at working together. I can feel it every practice. These duels won’t be competitive for long.”
“Especially not if Harry keeps pulling out shit like that,” Charlus said under his breath.
“How do you feel?” Emily asked when Charlus departed.
Harry ran a hand through his hair. “All right, actually. I was worried casting the spell might make me panic, or something.”
Emily studied him. She has the look of someone deciding whether or not to say something. “I’m glad it didn’t.” She decided not. Harry considered pressing, but decided against it.
“Me too,” he sighed. A shudder ran through him. “I still don’t like thinking about it. It makes me all cold and nauseous and my heart practically beats out of my chest.”
“That sounds like the beginnings of a panic attack. Best not to trigger that, if you can avoid it.”
“I just… I wish it hadn’t happened.”
“I know, but it’s probably for the best that it did.”
I’ll have to kill again if Grindelwald attacks. There’s no way around that. Harry crushed those fears and made himself stay calm. Thank Merlin for Occlumency. “I know, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Emily bit her lip. “Can I propose something else you aren’t going to like?”
Oh, Merlin. “What?”
“We should tell our friends what’s going on. Tell them about Grindelwald’s hunt for you and about the agents we dispatched.” She hesitated. “We should bring them in as agents of our own.”
“No.” His reply was sharp and short.
She crossed her arms. “Why not?”
“Is it really any more dangerous? Who knows what that group passed onto Grindelwald. I didn’t have time to ask Burke everything — especially not when I heard a floor collapse.” Harry blushed despite himself. “Grindelwald might target them already. Isn’t it safer if they know what they’re up against?”
Hermione’s vacant stare sliced through him, sharp as any blade. That didn’t work last time. “I don’t like it.”
“But you have to see it’s for the best? Grindelwald has an army. We have us, and Charlus. Grindelwald will use any means to get at you, and your friends are more vulnerable than ever if they don’t know what’s coming.”
Harry shut his eyes, but all he could see were Hermione, Sirius, his parents, and Dumbledore. It doesn’t matter — they all die anyway.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
“Do you really think it will help keep them alive?” His voice trembled and nearly broke halfway his throat. His throat wasn’t working properly.
Emily took a step forward and wrapped her arms around him. “I do,” she whispered while Harry gave her a hard squeeze back.
“I’ll think about it.” He hated himself for saying it, hated himself for considering the idea, but the pain of losing them was too stark. Is she even right? He didn’t know — he just knew he wanted her to be right more than he had ever wanted anything in all his life.
“Thank you,” she whispered back, pressing her lips to his while a single thought echoed over and over again inside his head.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
This was one of the hardest chapters I’ve written all year. It took far too much time and far too many drafts. I hope you guys enjoy it, but let me know if anything feels off. There’s a good chance it still needs work.
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