Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 54: Unsavoury Surprises
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.
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December 25, 1943
The Chamber of Secrets
Tension dripped from every ounce of air. The silence felt thicker than the stone walls enclosing them and the bright bobbles and floating balls of light looked suddenly out of place.
“What stone?” Tom Riddle demanded while glaring down the pair of them.
Not the Riddle I met in the chamber, though. That Riddle’s eyes had been blue whereas this man’s were brown. He looks older, too. Handsome still, but with subtle lines around his eyes his teenage son had lacked.
It’s Tom Riddle Sr. — Emily’s father.
Any remaining warmth from their shared moments vanished when Emily’s voice was heard. Harry nearly recoiled; never had he heard her sound so sharp or cold.
Riddle’s eyes glinted in a way that made Harry shiver. Had Voldemort’s eyes on the back of Quirrell’s head been brown instead of scarlet, they might have looked like these. Malice seeped from every inch of them.
“Why?” jeered Riddle. “Do you worry what might happen if I stay? Do you worry I might take from you the same way you took from me?”
Took from him? What had Emily ever taken from her father? She had grown up in an orphanage, far away from the parents who had abandoned her.
Something felt off, but he could not quite think of what it was. I’m missing something. These two had the air of people who had met before.
Emily drew her wand. Its tip glowed with eerie emerald light while she glared hatefully at her father. “I said be gone!”
Riddle’s face twisted into an ugly sneer. “I once asked you to leave more kindly than that. Look where we are now.”
Blue flames poured from the tip of Emily’s wand and engulfed her father’s form. They roared until the sound of them echoed all around the chamber, but when the spell was ended, Riddle stood unchanged and it was his daughter who took a small step back.
“You can’t hurt me now.” The sneer he had worn was gone, replaced by a smirk that reminded Harry of his daughter.
His is more vicious, though; probably what Emily would look like if I pissed her off and she had me beat. It unnerved him.
“It’s funny,” Riddle went on. “You spend so much time fearing death, but life is the last thing that can be taken from you. Your greatest fear is what gives me power over you.”
Riddle laughed. “What was it you dreamt up? An unbeatable army of the dead?” His laughter grew louder. “It won’t work, you know. Funny that the closest you’ll get is now.”
Harry drew his wand when he saw how badly Emily’s shook between her fingers, but he was at a loss. What do I do? Her fire spell had done nothing; what curse could he use that might work better?
Riddle’s eyes swivelled towards him for the first time. “Curse me, then,” he invited. “Support my daughter; endorse the killer that she is.”
His stomach churned, but he made his face stay schooled. It was among the hardest fights he ever fought.
“I’m a killer, too.” The words tore at him, but he bared their bite and said them anyway.
That glint was back in Riddle’s eyes. Dread seized hold of Harry, but he knew not why. “A killer maybe, but a kinslayer?”
It hit him all at once and sent him rearing back. Oh… fuck! That was what he had forgotten.
“You see? It was a name I was already using at Hogwarts, to my most intimate friends only, of course. You think I was going to use my filthy muggle father’s name forever? I, in whose veins runs the blood of Salazar Slytherin himself, through my mother’s side? I, keep the name of a foul, common muggle who abandoned me even before I was born, just because he found out his wife was a witch? No, Harry. I fashioned myself a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak, when I had become the greatest sorcerer in the world!”
How had he not seen it? Riddle — while several months younger than Emily was now — had hinted about the murder of his father.
And I never even considered it. So tied up he had been in diverting her path and stopping Abraxas Malfoy. This had never crossed his mind.
“You are no kin of mine!” The wand had stopped shaking in her grasp, but its tip still glowed a ghostly green. “You abandoned me, abhorred me, and cast me aside. Your murder was no kinslaying; it was justice.”
She lurched forward and snatched the ring from the chamber’s floor. Her father’s form vanished the moment her hand touched it, but still the memory remained and still Harry’s mind churned.
She murdered her father. How did it make him feel? Scared and angry. There had been killings — Burke, Macnair, and even Abraxas indirectly — but those had been different.
This… This was cold-blooded and she hid it from me. It made him sick just thinking about it.
“Harry? Where are you going?” He hadn’t noticed that his feet were carrying him away towards the chamber’s exit until the panic in her voice tugged at him.
His heart ached despite his churning stomach and the betrayed feeling rising up inside him. Despite it all he yearned for her; for her eyes, for her words, for her lips — for every last part of her — but his feet kept carrying him away.
What’s wrong with me? he thought when the chamber’s door had shut behind him. Why do I want to go and console a murderer? What did this all mean? For him, for her, for their plans?
All of it was inconceivable. There was no room for plans or calculations — all that mattered was the fear, the hurt, and the betrayal. All that mattered was the anguish that tore at every inch of him.
Cold drafts blew in through the open window and stirred two heads of raven hair. Charlus wore a thick pair of robes that bore the wind’s brunt well, but Harry’s were thin and offered little buffer.
Good. Each breeze raked icy nails up and down his body, but it was a welcome reprieve. All day he had burned with rage, with hurt, with longing he could not fulfil.
I can’t just go back. Not after what he had learned this morning. How can I just go back and pretend nothing happened? How can I just run back into the arms of a girl who killed her father?
Harry forced those thoughts down and raised his wand in time to redirect an incoming shower of spells. Fire swirled into the shape of his favourite knight, but Charlus raised his own wand and screwed up his face until a swirling rush of water took the shape of a griffon and pounced on Harry’s construct.
His eyebrows knit together. Someone’s been practicing. It nearly made him smile. Time to get creative, then.
He swept aside Charlus’s next two spells and fired and lashed a flaming whip towards him. It seared across his arm and drew a loud gasp. Harry pulled it back and thrust it forth again, but this time Charlus was faster. The spires of steam — born from the fight between water and fire — still swimming through the thick, smoky air became a watery shield that absorbed the whip’s next stroke and shattered it.
Harry pelted him with his curses while he thought. He must have been learning these tricks for a while and saving them until he was confident they would all work. How long had he been practicing? Probably since he first saw me conjure the flaming knight. It excited him; this would push him to new levels. If it’s a transfiguration match he wants, then so be it.
His conjuration was slower this time. The flames swirled uncertainly between them while he supplanted every ounce of will into them. The spell nearly failed when Charlus lashed out with a stream of water that Harry intercepted with a thick wall of stone. The diversion nearly broke his focus.
The flames broke apart into a dozen smaller constructs. Smaller scale versions of the one Harry often conjured. I did it. Sweat dripped down his brow and the cold air outside seemed no longer meaningful. It was like he was burning all over again. Bloody hell, that was hard.
Harry sent several charging around the room’s edge. Charlus had shattered his stony wall a dozen times only for it to be reconjured each time faster than he could take advantage. It meant his sight was unclear and Harry knew it.
Harry heard him curse when multiple flaming enemies closed in, but he had no doubts Charlus would deal with them. But not all of them.
He vanished the wall between them and sent his remaining constructs charging straight forward. Charlus’s head snapped ‘round and his wand faltered. The other knights took the chance and charged forward until their fiery swords stopped just inches from Charlus.
“Yield.” Harry vanished his constructs and sagged back against the wall. His skin tingled and the sweat was now rolling down his cheeks.
“I thought I had you,” Charlus muttered. “I was confident this time.”
“You nearly did,” admitted Harry. “You let me buy too much time; I had to think of something.”
“Did you ever think of something?” Charlus shook his head. “Have you ever done that before? The flaming army, I mean?”
I wouldn’t call twelve an army. If only he could conjure a whole army of them. Let Grindelwald try and fight that. “No. I’d only ever done a few. A dozen was exhausting and I almost lost control a couple times.”
“You still held on even while focusing on keeping the wall between us.” Charlus looked lost for words. “Do you have any idea how brilliant that is?”
“It doesn’t matter though, does it?”
“It might.” There was hope in his eyes for the first time in months. “Harry, we’ve come a long way and with different elements. You’re brilliant with fire and I’m getting better with water. If we learn to use them together…”
Harry pondered that. “It might be enough to handle the earth spell Grindelwald used in Hogsmeade. Maybe off-balance him a bit if we’re lucky.”
“Maybe more.” Charlus looked excited now. “Look how far we’ve come in a few months. If Grindelwald’s dumb enough to give us time…”
“We won’t have months. One month, remember? That’s coming up fast.”
“One month until he attacks, not until we fight him.” Charlus’s chest puffed out. “England is strong. Not strong enough to fight him off, but strong enough to stall him. Hogwarts will be the last place to fall.”
“That doesn’t mean we’ll have months.”
His friend’s chest deflated and a steely look came over him. “No, it doesn’t.” Charlus raised his wand again. “We better get back to it, then.”
December 31, 1943
The library had never been quieter. Wards enclosed him and his new corner, but they were almost needless. Harry had hardly seen a shadow in the hours since he’d set up here.
Except for one. Emily had often lurked around the library as of late. Looking for me. She probably wanted to corner him, but he wanted nothing more than to escape those confrontations. It felt like almost a year ago all over again, when he was trying to evade her the best he could.
The guilt of it twisted his stomach into tight and painful knots. Why? he wondered. She murdered her own father — that isn’t your fault. That thought still hurt him and there was anger there, but uncertainty was the strongest feeling of all. I have no idea what to do.
His wards buzzed and his head snapped up. How did she break through? These were stronger than the set breached by Aiden Burke’s crew and they were in an entirely different section of the library.
“You look like you’ve had a long day.”
Harry blinked — it was not Emily standing over him, but Professor Gress.
“Uh… a bit, Professor.” It was always odd seeing the eccentric Alchemy Professor. Today he was dressed in flowing white robes and a pointed green hat that had probably come from a holiday cracker opened at the feast.
“Me too.” Gress pulled out the chair across from him and took a seat. “It’s been a long couple of months.”
Harry fought against the narrowing of his eyes. Never had this madman acted so normal. It made him uneasy. “Yeah, it has.”
“Mmm, December seems to have treated you better than November. I’ve noticed the same about Miss Riddle. Lots of stress, but a brighter mood.”
Just her name made his stomach writhe with longing. Stop that. “Uh, I guess so.”
“So what’s changed?”
Harry had to wait a moment and ensure he’d heard correctly. What’s changed? Gress asked it so calmly and casually. It was like they were a pair of old friends who often spoke on things like this.
He’s not stupid. Emily had said before his gimmick was some grand kind of show, but part of him had doubted her. She was right — Gress isn’t who I thought he was.
“We had a row.” It was close enough to the truth. “I don’t really know what to do about it.”
“So you’ve been avoiding her?”
Harry straightened in his chair. “Yes, but how did you get through the wards? I spent a while setting those.”
Gress just smiled. “Most things can be accomplished with magic. Some just take a little bit of sacrifice.”
Harry frowned. “Sacrifice?”
“Mhm. This one was small; just my time studying over the years. Some things cost more, some things cost less.” He shrugged. “You might learn something more about it if you take my class next year.”
Now he’s speaking in riddles. There was meaning in those words, but it eluded him for now. I’m not in any state to put together puzzles.
“I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, sir.”
“Most people never are.” He actually sounded disappointed. “I wonder if you might not understand what Miss Riddle is trying to say.”
Harry’s spine stiffened. “It’s not that sort of row, sir. She’s… done something I’m not sure I can forgive.”
Why am I telling him? It was an amalgamation of the truth, but still more than Gress needed. It just feels good saying anything. Charlus was not the type to hear those sorts of things. He never liked Emily, even if he’ll work with her. He would probably hand her into the aurors and that was something Harry could not bear.
So what do I want to happen? It was the ultimate question, but one he had no answers for.
“How do you feel about Miss Riddle?”
The question took him aback. “What do you mean?”
“How does she make you feel? Are you fond of her, do you loathe her, are you unsure right now?”
Harry’s mouth tried to form that final answer, but his throat constricted and his eyes shut tight. I can’t make myself say it. There was no doubt how he felt; the persistent longing answered that question.
“I think that’s answer enough.” There was a smile in Gress’s voice, but it was nowhere to be seen when Harry opened his eyes. “She hasn’t hurt you, that’s clear enough. You’re made of better moral stuff than she is, so I bet it’s something she’s done outside of you that’s upset you.”
Gress got to his feet. “You love her, boy, just admit it to yourself.” Harry gaped like a fish. “You recovered awfully fast from visible depression when the two of you got all cuddly,” Gress said plainly. “I have eyes, Pavonis; it was yours that needed fixing, not mine.”
“So what?” he asked. “You’re talking in riddles again?”
“Am I?” The thought appeared to amuse him. “Let me make it plainer, then. It’s not just magic that’s all about sacrifice. Love is too. If you still love her after whatever she’s done, then you might have to make the sacrifice and live with it.” Gress shrugged. “That or go on being miserable — completely up to you, Hadrian.”
His footsteps were muffled by the sound of him humming something soft and tuneless while he retreated. The last thing he heard from Gress was a not-so-quiet mutter.
“Hadrian… Bah, what kind of name is Hadrian?”
Harry sat back in his chair as though he had been slapped, unsure whether he now felt better or worse.
Meanwhile, in Berlin…
Edward fidgeted nervously while Grindelwald rolled his wand across his palm. The night’s main meeting had gone well — their next major operation was planned and ready. Let’s just hope it goes off smoothly. It was among the largest risks they had taken. If it backfired…
No! He won’t let it; no one can stop him.
“There’s something you wanted, Edward?” Grindelwald had looked up again and was studying him with those cold blue eyes of his. They were the only ones still in the drawing room.
Edward let out a deep breath. “Have you considered my idea, my lord?”
“The one concerning Pavonis and your proposed variation in our approach regarding him?”
Edward swallowed hard. “Yes, my lord.”
Edward held his breath, but his master said no more. “What do you think?”
“I think that it accomplishes only half of what I want.” Edward’s heart sank. “It is the more important half, however, so I will allow it.”
Savage pleasure rose up inside him while his pulse began racing. “Thank you, my lord.” A vicious smirk spread across his face while he turned towards the door. I’m coming for you, Pavonis. You’ll pay for what you’ve done.
“Edward?” He turned around to again face Grindelwald. “Do ensure the boy comes to no harm. I will have him alive when we seize the castle if I must wait that long.”
He stuffed his hands in his pockets to conceal his clenched fists. Son of a bitch! His plan had just become a great deal harder, but he bowed his head in any case. “Of course, my lord.”
“Bastard,” he muttered when out the door. If stealing that blasted stone off Pavonis had not been hard enough, now the boy’s death would have to come under accidental circumstances.
The prospect daunted him, but he imagined his old friend’s face and let his resolve grow hard again. I’ll get him back for you, Abraxas. I swear it.
You didn’t think the road would suddenly just smooth right out, did you? 🙂
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