Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 53: A Chink In the Armour
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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 20, 1943
The Chamber of Secrets
A vast shadow writhed along ancient stone walls each time Cerastes shifted. Harry watched each and every movement. It was easier watching the shadow. Shadows had no fear of things like death or the coming of Grindelwald. They had no need to worry about trivial things like wars of ethics. They were just were; constant and unchanging, a force just like the wind or sun itself.
“You are quiet tonight,” Cerastes noted while slithering closer. “What’s bothering you now?”
“Some of the same things, some different.” There was always something. And when there isn’t, something new pops up. Life just pelted him with hurdle after hurdle. What happens when I trip? He regretted the question the moment his mind asked it. People die; people always die.
“That answer is unhelpful.”
Harry couldn’t help but snort. I’ve been feeling unhelpful a lot lately.”
“You dispatched all of the immediate threats.”
“For now, and at the cost of lives.” Why do they always die? “Just look at now. I’m down here sulking and Emily is hidden away somewhere, studying the Resurrection Stone.”
There was a long pause. “You don’t think she feels the same as you?”
That almost made him laugh. “I don’t think Emily has ever felt useless in her life.”
“You think wrongly. It was her goal to dispatch Grindelwald’s agents without drama and in a way that kept your hands clean. Your own involvement marks failure in her mind, and she feels worse about the stone.”
“About the stone? What do you mean she feels worse about the stone? What is there to feel bad about?”
“The fact it remains unsolved. While you practice twice as hard as she is, the heiress is locked away studying an ancient artifact without results.”
Bloody hell. “The stone’s one of the most important parts. She knows that; I’m just practicing in case that all goes wrong.”
“And yet she feels as though her time is waning. The pressure is setting in and it is weathering her away.”
“It is foolish, yes,” Cerastes agreed, “as foolish as your own concerns.”
“Your task was much harder than hers. The heiress was prepared and undaunted. You faced something you hoped never to face.” Harry bit down on his retort. Sappy nonsense if I’ve ever heard it. He hadn’t taken Cerastes for the type. “Which of you learned the truth about the Hallows you seek so greedily? Whose plan was your shoulders built atop?” Harry had no answer. “You are anything but unhelpful. Both of you must learn to see the truth in this.”
Harry let the snake’s words wash over him, but his eyes tracked the hulking shadow crawling up and down the wall. “That isn’t really what’s bothering me.”
“Then what is?”
Harry chewed his words. There was no elegant way of saying it. “I just wonder whether we’re doing the right thing.”
“In fighting Grindelwald?”
Harry waved a hand. “No, not that. I know that’s right — I know the sorts of things he’s up to. It’s other things. Dragging Emily into the fight, involving our friends. It’s all so selfish and dangerous.” His hands trembled. “What happens if they… if they—“
“That is why you do what you do, is it not? You strengthen your resistance in the hopes that fewer of you die.” Harry nodded. “Is that not your goal? Preserve the most life possible while opposing Grindelwald?” This time he swallowed hard before nodding. “Can you think of any better strategy that may help achieve this?” He shook his head. “Then you are doing what is right. There is no room for argument.”
This time he really did laugh; a shaky laugh an active higher than usual. “It’s not that simple.”
“Yes it is.” Cerastes’s hiss was unusually sharp. “You are acting in the best interest of those around you and furthering your own goals. That is the only measure that matters.”
Harry dug his fingers into the skin around his temples. Discomfort built in the corners of his haw, but he ignored it. “Don’t you get it? I only think this is the best way to keep them safe. I could be wrong.”
“It either is or it is not. Worrying will not change the answer. You are acting in the best way you know how. That is what matters.”
“But if I’ve chosen wrong, their deaths are on my hands.”
“Many more deaths will be on your hands if you do not choose at all.” That brought him up short like a sharp jab in the solar plexus. “What would be wrong is if you let indecision freeze you and stood by while Grindelwald ravaged your country and destroyed everything you cared about. That would be wrong.”
The words washed over him. The bloody snake is right. It was almost vexing at times — why couldn’t Cerastes just be wrong for once. Still the worry clung to him like a thick coat of grime. If only listening was as easy as realizing.
December 21, 1943
His feet slammed hard against solid ground and sent a sharp jolt shivering up his shins. His black cloak flapped in a softly whistling wind that teased locks of raven hair out of place. Harry paid the wind no heed. The grass here was brown and tipped with while wisps of frost, but the fact there was visible grass at all told the story. It feels like spring compared to Scotland.
Blue light slashed up from the grass and spun for half a heartbeat before fading. Harry drew his wand and found a similar-looking boy levelling his own. Both friends took startled steps back and lowered their weapons. A tense silence hung between them.
“So he invited you too, did he?” Was it his imagination, or did Charlus sound disappointed? Did I do something wrong?
Harry frowned. “Yeah, just said he wanted to talk about something urgent. I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Neither did I.” There was definitely a note of disappointment there.
“You all right?” Harry asked while they began up the lawn and towards the manor.
It looks more like a small castle. Dark pillars rose between high windows made from black stained glass and held up high, vaulted ceilings. Pointed spires thrust up from the roof, each topped by a stone raven staring out across the property. Bit creepy, that.
The ground was hard and seemed to push back against his feet each time he took a step. “I’m fine,” muttered Charlus, his own footsteps audible as they crunched brittle blades of grass.
Harry considered pressing but decided against it. Can’t blame him for being in a piss poor mode these days.
A house elf greeted them just inside the manor. “Lord Black and Miss Dorea be waiting in the dining hall, sirs.”
Torches blazed in raven-shaped brackets all around the dining hall. Heavy black shutters were pulled shut across towering rows of windows so that there was no other light but for those torches and a softly crackling fire in the room’s furthest corner.
Charlus bowed his head when they neared the long, oak table. “Lord Black.” Charlus sounded more relaxed now. Dorea. She was smiling up at him across the table and Harry doubted her attention had gone unnoticed.
Arcturus nodded back. It’s weird thinking of him as Lord Black. He looked exactly the way Harry remembered, yet so much had changed since then. “Lord Potter.”
Oh, Merlin. Harry kept forgetting Charlus was the Lord Potter now. It just doesn’t feel real.
“Pavonis,” Arcturus said with another nod.
“Lord Black,” he returned.
Gleaming dishes were arrayed in a fine line across the table, piled high with a dozen different things. Roast beef dripping with thick, salty gravy, sauted peppers whose scent was sweet as summer wine, rich beef Wellington whose scent made Harry’s mouth water. Can all house elves just cook this well?
The sound of clinking utensils dominated the meal until they started piling desserts onto their plates. Harry had been horribly full until a wonderful looking treacle tart appeared and now his stomach writhed in anticipation.
“You two don’t strike me as the small talk type.” Harry exchanged a brief look with Charlus, but said nothing. Arcturus nodded; it was always a curt sort of nod. “That’s about what I thought.” He put down his fork and leant back in his chair, studying them with cool, grey eyes. “Let’s get onto that — we all know that Grindelwald has to be stopped.”
Harry nearly dropped his fork. Somehow he hadn’t expected this. They had gone from recruiting children back at Hogwarts to talking about the war with one of the most powerful lords in the country.
Charlus wiped at his mouth with a napkin. “We’re trying.”
Arcturus ran his fingers along the table’s dark oak surface. “I know. You were in Hogsmeade when Grindelwald attacked. You two fought him.”
Harry gripped his own fork more tightly than ever. “We tried.”
Arcturus was unphased. “You did more than try. You’re alive — it’s a lot more than I can say for anyone else who’s fought him.”
“We can’t beat him in a fight.” Dorea will just say it I don’t. “Even working with Emily, I doubt it’s enough.”
“Ah, yes, Riddle. We can talk about her another day.” There was a dark sort of promise there that made hairs stand up on the back of Harry’s neck. “Grindelwald’s more important for now, and of course you can’t beat him in a duel. Not fighting fairly.”
Charlus shifted in his chair. “What do you mean fighting fairly?”
“You need to fight dirty, use tricks Grindelwald will have never seen before. That itself won’t be enough, but it’s a start until we find the chink in his armour.”
There was a sureness in the way Arcturus spoke. He never asked if we wanted to work with him, he just assumed we did and started going. Not that Harry was complaining. We need all the help we can get.
“Easier said than done,” muttered Charlus.
“It is,” Arcturus agreed, “but it’s a start. We have to identify a weakness.”
Harry decided upon a leap of faith. “Our plan for now was to start trying to take his pieces off the board. His agents, I mean.”
Arcturus stroked his chin. “That’s good,” he muttered. “Yes, that’s as good a place as any to start.” He leant forward now, a steely determination in his face. Grindelwald should really stop killing people’s fathers; all it does is make more dangerous enemies. “I think I might be able to help with that.”
December 25, 1943
The Chamber of Secrets
Harry stopped in the entrance when the stone doors ground open. What in Merlin’s name? Magical spheres of light bobbed through the room and bobbles hung from the brackets that had held torches just last night. Garland and tinsel snaked up Salazar Slytherin’s stony likeness and his waist-long beard looked wrought from gleaming marble.
Emily was waiting at the statue’s feet, sitting on a blanket woven from red fabric and stitched with intricate white patterns.
“Happy Yule,” she said when Harry came close.
“Are you all right?” he asked with a glance around the room. “I never took you for the festive type.”
Her lips curved down for the barest of heartbeats. Idiot; you might have just killed her good mood. “Christmas was the one holiday I enjoyed back at the orphanage. People tended to do nice things for orphans for Christmas. I always found it fascinating the way a single day changed people.”
His heartstrings gave a sharp twang. Good job bollocksing that one; way to put your foot in it. “I didn’t think of that.”
Her smile was back in place. “That’s all right. I just thought I’d get in the spirit.”
Harry was frowning now. “I should have gotten you something. If I would have realized—“
She placed a finger on his lips. “If you would have gone out in broad daylight shopping somewhere like Diagon Alley when we know Grindelwald is after you, you wouldn’t have lived long enough to give me that gift, and not because of Grindelwald.”
Harry smiled despite himself, but there was a layer of self-annoyance underneath. “I still should have come up with something, I should have—“
This time she kissed him. “Do us both a favour and stop rambling. It’s usually cute, but it might just kill the mood today.”
There was something about that moment. The teasing curve of her lips, the sparkling blue of her eyes, the way affection poured from every ounce of her. She’s beautiful.
Harry leant forward and slammed his lips against hers, but he didn’t let this kiss break so quickly. He ran his tongue along the smooth skin of her lips until they parted. It was an odd sensation. Warm and wet in a way that should have been unpleasant, but fires burned to life inside his chest and something feral roared from the pit of his stomach.
A shiver ran up his spine despite the cold when long fingers ran through his hair and pulled him in closer. He wrapped his own arm around her waist while he felt his lungs begin burning.
Something cold slid down the back of his neck and chimed against the floor, but he paid it no heed. All that mattered were her lips, her tongue, her face, her fingers in her hair. Grindelwald meant nothing against this — he could take the country; all Harry wanted was to—
Emily pulled away, her blue eyes wide like a sprawling sea. Harry made a high, embarrassing sound in the back of his throat and leant forward again, but Emily didn’t move.
“Why have you brought me here?”
Harry’s heart leapt into his throat and he jumped so high that he found himself standing. His wand was out in a blue while he spun to face…
“You!” High, smooth cheekbones sat below a pair of warm brown eyes and a perfect head of glossy, black hair.
This isn’t Voldemort; Riddle’s eyes were blue when he tried coming back.
Then Harry really looked at him and saw a strange distortion around the figure’s edges. There was something else, too, an indescribable feeling that made his blood sing. It came not from Riddle, but from…
His eyes bulged. “The stone…” his voice was weak and paper thin. “The Resurrection Stone… what-what the fuck just happened?”
I’ve had the cliffhanger pocketed for quite some time now. It feels good to finally pull it out 🙂
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