CoP 55

Conjoining of Paragons

Chapter 55: The Last Survivors

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

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January 2, 1944
The Library
8:46 PM

A great din of voices reached him from the distance and he set down his book on arcane curses. I lost track of time again. That had happened often lately — what with his addled mind, relative isolation, and obsessive preparations.

The sun had long since set outside, but an open window revealed low banks of snow that sparkled in the silvery glow of moonlight. A drift of that snow blew against that window while it rattled under the force of harsh winter winds.

Harry ensured he was disillusioned before he left the library and headed towards the herd of voices. He had still avoided Emily and hoped to keep it up. The guilt wracked him, but he ignored it the best he could. Between the lies he’d told for two long years, the murder of Dolohov, and now this, he had become excellent at suppressing his guilt.

Harder to ignore were the words of a once-thought madman that had shaken him so badly just three days ago.

“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. That or go on being miserable — completely up to you, Hadrian.”

What does he know? he made himself think to no avail. The words sounded hollow, even to him. Gress certainly knew something — Harry just wondered how applicable it was for his own situation.

Spotting his friends in the crowd was a lofty task. There was a mess of bodies and most of their faces were hidden behind thick hoods pulled up against the cold outside.

Peeves made it harder still, soaring above the crowd and dousing anyone in range with scolding hot chocolate that must have left some awful burns. The sight made Harry cringe. I’ll exercise the git if he pours hot chocolate over my head.

Dorea and Elena had escaped the wrath of Peeves and were still huddled low beneath their hoods when Harry found them.

“Harry!” beamed Elena. “We’ve missed you! How was your holiday?”

Dorea’s narrowed eyes told him his face had not been so schooled as he had hoped. “It was all right. Quiet, mostly. What about you two?”

Elena prattled on about her holiday while Dorea watched him intently from beneath her emerald hood. Why can she always see through me? It was maddening; sometimes he wondered whether she might find out more than she ought to.

“Elena,” she said gently after some time had passed, “remember what Professor Slughorn told us on the way in?”

Elena cut off in mid-sentence while a blush came over her. “Oh, right.” She faced Harry again. “Professor Slughorn wants to see you in his office.”

“Now?” There would be a feast in the Great Hall welcoming back the returning students.

These holidays had been the emptiest Harry could ever remember the castle. Everyone was enjoying what might have been their last chance of going home. Grindelwald’s self-imposed deadline was nearly past and no one knew what would happen when it came and went.

“He says you’ve been avoiding him,” Dorea recited. “He says that finding you has been impossible.”

Ah, so that’s how she knows something’s wrong. It’s probably why Elena has been so chatty too. His friends knew how he got when something was wrong and were aware how well he hid when he wanted.

“Right,” he muttered with a longing look towards the Great Hall’s entrance. “I’ll see you two later, I guess.”

The noise retreated when he plunged down into the Hogwarts dungeons. His stomach rumbled when he walked past the kitchens. Not that I can actually smell anything, but the thought’s there.

Harry waited several minutes in his office before Slughorn joined him. “Ah, Harry, m’boy!” A broad smile split his face until his fat chins trembled. “The man of the hour. You’ve been quite hard to pin down.”

Harry faked a smile the best he could. “Sorry, Professor. I get really invested in things sometimes and sort of forget myself.”

“Mm, forget yourself, you say?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I see.” Slughorn drummed his pudgy fingers atop the surface of his desk. “Is that why you’ve been so down lately?”

Harry nearly slammed his head against the desk. What the hell? First Gress of all people, then his friends, and now Slughorn? Is it some sort of open secret? Did everyone somehow know? Bloody ridiculous.

“I’m not sure what you mean, sir?”

Slughorn wagged a finger in his direction. “You can’t fool me, Harry.” The professor leant forward across the desk. “Neither can Emily. Peculiar that the pair of you have been so down, both at once.”

Damn him! Does he not realize how fucking creepy it is when he watches our relationship status every passing day? Slughorn had to be three decades their senior. This man has no shame.

“We had a row,” he said shortly.

“A row?” Slughorn’s moustache quivered. “I can’t imagine either of you being the type to shout your feelings back and forth.”

Harry shuffled in his seat. Damn him! “Not that sort of row, Professor.”

“Ah. A disagreement, then?”

“Something like that. It’s… not a small thing. I’m having a hard time getting over it.” There — will that satisfy him?

“Hmm? Have you considered talking to her?”

Harry sat back in his chair. “Not really.”

“Why not? That’s usually the best way of getting past disagreements.”

Says the single man whose romantic side is focused on a pair of teenagers. What was he supposed to say? Sorry, sir; I have a hard time talking with her after finding out she killed her father. The thought was ridiculous. I wonder if he’d still find a way to praise her.

“I’ve needed to work through things in my head a bit,” was what he decided on.

“And how has that gone for you?” The way he asked implied Slughorn already knew the answer, so Harry kept his mouth shut. “Harry, Harry, Harry. Sometimes I forget how young you are.”

His cheeks burned despite his best efforts. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you haven’t had time to learn what true love means.”

Harry about choked. “Professor, we’re teenagers.”

“Can you tell me the last couple months haven’t been the happiest you’ve had in a long while?”

Harry opened his mouth, then shut it. If we start the last couple months from after me getting over Dumbledore’s death… It was closer than it should have been given all the awfulness contained in them.

Slughorn let himself smile. “You hold a great weight, m’boy. You have ever since I met you.”

Harry frowned back at him. “A weight, Professor?”

“Oh yes, those secrets of yours.” Slughorn winked. “Don’t worry, I won’t pry, but I know they weigh you down. But when you and Emily began your more recent ways… why, I never saw you looking so light.”

The professor rested his elbows on the desk. “That is true love, when someone can make you feel that way during the height of madness and when everything is going wrong. It should be impossible, but love always finds a way.”

Now he sounds like Dumbledore. But… Harry had remarked on that himself — how light he felt in the height of everything when Emily was beside him. It did defy logic, and at times, he had felt guilty. Almost like he should be grieving or panicking, but doing either while she stood nearby had been all but impossible.

“You see?” Slughorn’s smile was all too knowing.

“It’s not that easy,” he found himself muttering.

Slughorn sighed dramatically. “Harry, love is never easy. It wouldn’t be worth it if it was easy. It’s all about hardship and sacrifice.” Sacrifice… there’s that fucking word again. “But just think — what wouldn’t be worth sacrificing for that feeling? What hardship wouldn’t be worth those bright flashes in the pits of darkness?”

Nothing. The whisper sent shivers up and down his spine. Hairs prickled along the back of his neck.

Harry forced his mind clear and shoved the worry down. The anger had all but subsided. The hurt remained, but it was secondary. Slughorn had hit the real problem straight on its ugly, rearing head.

He knows how I feel, but he’ll never know how much it scares me.

The next day…

The first day back in classes felt somehow wrong. Everything just kept moving the way it always had. The day paid no heed to Grindelwald’s looming threat or Harry’s crippling plights. Just a cog in the wheel. If that was true, why was it he always wound up at the centre of everything. Why can’t it be someone else for a change?

It was lucky they had only reviewed outstanding homework during their first class back in Ancient Runes. Focusing on symbols in a dozen different languages was impossible while his mind churned through pictures of Emily and Grindelwald and his heart ached with guilt.

The bell’s tolling was a gracious mercy. Harry nearly sighed while he scooped up his things and headed out the door. Maybe it’s a good thing Grindelwald will attack soon, he thought morbidly. I’m not sure I’d pass my OWLs if I was this distracted for the rest of the year.

Harry made a brisk pace through the quiet corridors. Runes was among the only classes on the sixth floor, so his path towards the marble staircase leading down into the Entrance Hall was mostly clear.

A hand gripped his arm and pulled him to a stop. “What?” he asked, frowning at Dorea whose face was stern.

“You’re not just going to ignore us all day.” Elena had stepped up behind her and watched with worried eyes while the two conversed.

“I’m not ignoring you, I’m—“

“Moping and refusing to tell us why.” She tugged on his sleeve. “Come on.”

He was all but dragged into the nearest abandoned classroom. Dorea stood with her back against the door as Elena paced nervously between the rows of aged and battered desks.

“What’s this all about?” he tried one last time. “What’s the—“

“How about you tell us?” The sharpness in Dorea’s voice brought him up short. Harry stood frozen for half a minute before she rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine, let me help. What’s happened with you and Riddle?”

Oh, for fuck sake! Elena looked entirely unsurprised — if a bit mortified at her friend’s lack of tact. Was it really that obvious? Does everyone know?

Harry hated it; it felt like he was a spectacle all over again. Just like the start of first year, and second year, and third year after the dementor knocked me out. There were few things he hated more.

“We had a disagreement,” he said stiffly. There was no point reusing the same excuse about a row. If it hadn’t fooled Slughorn, it would never fool these two.

A familiar pang went off inside his stomach. I wish I didn’t understand how to lie so well. Add it to the list of awful things this world had taught him.

Dorea stared him down like she was patronizing a child. “We’re aware of that. A toddler could have worked that out. What kind of argument was it?”

Trapped again. How many times would he be trapped with nothing to say? Dorea would go spare if she knew what Emily did? She had never liked her and had remained skeptical all the while.

Shouldn’t I tell her then? Gress and Slughorn had been blindly supportive, but did he need Dorea’s blunt and honest take?

He took a deep breath. “She did something I don’t agree with.”

The two girls exchanged looks. “That’s it?” Elena asked.

Harry swallowed and made himself go on. “Something I morally didn’t agree with. It… wasn’t good.”

The two girls exchanged looks again. “You’re talking about the missing students, aren’t you?” Harry’s stomach twisted into tight knots. I had a hand in that, too. “Dolohov, Macnair, and Burke.”

He said nothing.

“They were the ones attacking you, weren’t they?” Elena’s question threw him off guard. “There have been no attacks on you since they went missing.”

“Dealing with them that way would be like Riddle,” mused Dorea. “The same way she dealt with Abraxas.” Harry opened his mouth, but she raised a hand. “Yes, yes, he fell back and hit his head. I doubt it was an accident.”

“Are you calling her a murderer?” It took all his strength to stop his voice from shaking.

Dorea considered that. “I guess so.” It didn’t seem to bother her.

Elena curled her hands into fists. “If they were attacking you for Grindelwald, they deserved it.”

Her ferocity shocked him, but Dorea’s slow nod was more surprising still. “She’s right.” Dorea took a deep breath and looked his way. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice things like morals.” That fucking word again. “I think Riddle did the right thing.”

It almost made him laugh. I doubt you’d say that if you really knew what happened. “So do I,” said Elena. “I think she’s good for you.”

Dorea let out a long sigh. “I do too.” Harry actually pinched himself. This can’t be happening. Of all the times for Dorea to change her stance on Riddle?

“Don’t look at me like that,” she said with a blush. “You looked like death after Hogsmeade and we were worried sick.” Strained lines rippled across her face, but she went on anyway. “Until the two of you started… you know—”

“You’re happy with her.” There was surprising softness in Elena’s eyes. “You smile differently when she’s nearby and you look so relaxed.” Her own cheeks turned pink. “Mother always said I’d know I found the right man when I felt at ease, no matter what.”

No matter what… fucking hell. Emily had made him feel that way just weeks after the death of Dumbledore. She had made him feel that way not long after his murder of Dolohov. She had made him feel that way while fearing for their lives.

But she’s a kinslayer. Gress’s words came back to him, unbidden and unwanted.

“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. That or go on being miserable — completely up to you, Hadrian.”

I don’t think he was considering kinslaying when he said all that. The argument weakened each time he made it. It’s not the kinslaying that bothers me — her father abandoned her — it just scares me.

What did it say about him that he wanted so badly to forgive her? What has all this done to me?

January 6, 1944
The Alchemy Classroom
5:30 PM

“Stay behind, Miss Riddle,” Gress called as the bell chimed loudly through the castle and the others’ chairs scraped sharply back.

“I take it you and Pavonis are still at odds?” Gress asked when the room had emptied.

Sharp teeth tore at her chest, but she fought them off and kept her mind clear. “We’re not at odds, Professor.”

“He just still hasn’t shown you the light of day.” His bluntness galled her and her fingers curled tightly into fists.

Calm, she thought. The smallest things had set her off since Harry stormed out of the chamber on the morning of Yule. Everything felt dark and dreary; small inconveniences had become day ruining affairs on a frequent basis.

I finally understand. It had been unbelievable back in August when she learned there was one thing she could never sacrifice, but now it made sense. I’d do anything to undo Yule.

It was like she could feel the vile of liquid luck bubbling in her school bag when she thought that.

No! I promised no more manipulations. If she ever wanted anything to work, she had to sacrifice something. As Gress and Slughorn have made plain.

It was mind-boggling. Always she had turned her nose up while Dumbledore preached about the power of love. The old sod might have been right. Sacrificing the way she lived her life would have been scoffed at two years ago, but now… for Harry?

“Be patient,” said Gress. “It’s hurting him the same way it’s hurting you. The pain is just another sacrifice; it will all be worth it in the end.”

She almost rolled her eyes. “Do you think of everything in alchemical terms, Professor? Sacrificing X in order to get Y and so on?”

Gress scoffed. “Miss Riddle, I would never degrade Alchemy by pretending it was simple algebra.” When she continued staring, he shook his head. “It has little to do with Alchemy. I just understand how a mind like yours works. It… connects things in important moments. Sacrifice is a powerful concept and one you’ll remember each time you get impatient and consider rushing.”

Slowly she nodded. It did make some sense. “Why are you doing this?” she asked. “It’s not exactly becoming of a Hogwarts professor to involve themselves in things like this.”

Gress just snorted. “Do I look like I care what’s becoming of a Hogwarts Professor?” She actually smiled at him in that ridiculous lab coat he broke out every now and then. “I have trouble thinking about things on a small scale,” he said at last. “I don’t consider it involving myself in your affairs; I consider it addressing a larger problem.”

She pondered that while leaving Gress’s office. He wants something. Something that would be made easier by her and Harry being happy and together. What problem does he think it will solve?

Then it hit her and she nearly laughed aloud. He really does think of things like they’re Alchemy. Combining two elements in the hopes of triggering a reaction he desired. He hopes we’ll stop Grindelwald — or he hopes we’ll help him stop Grindelwald.

She really did chuckle. Shame he has no chance. Gress would not have a perfect cloak or an army of the dead. I hope his plotting doesn’t kill him; I’ve grown to like the madman.

Hours later…

Prefect rounds turned out to be painfully dull without Emily. Why does everything make me think of her? How had she become so entrenched in so many parts of his life?

Charlus, too, had been busy tonight, but Harry did not lament that the same way. Why not? Charlus isn’t a kinslayer. How far had he fallen since tumbling back through time?

A few gaggles of students remained awake in the common room, but Harry paid them no heed as he strode down the carved stone tunnel and towards his dormitory.

The other fifth-year boys were all asleep when he entered. None of them stirred while he crossed the dormitory and pulled back his curtains.

His steps froze and his heart missed a beat.

The wards around his bed were down.

Harry threw up a lesser set as he studied his things. There were no obvious signs of tampering, but his instincts were buzzing so he checked the wards on his trunk.

They’ve been altered. They weren’t gone like the ones around his bed, but they were different than how he had left them. Someone must have taken them down and then tried recasting them to cover that they’d been through my things.

They had done a poor job but had been better at covering their work inside his trunk. Nothing appeared to be missing and everything was exactly where it had been.

It’s like they were looking for something but couldn’t find it. It made no sense. Another plan of Grindelwald’s? But why? What could Harry have that he wanted? He knows I’m not a Potter now, so it can’t be the cloak. It made no sense, but still it boiled his blood.

Another threat inside the castle. Each time he thought he’d seized some sort of victory, the rug was pulled out from beneath his feet.

His hands clenched into tight and angry fists. I’m going to kill you, he thought while imagining Grindelwald’s smug face. I don’t know how, but I swear I will.

January 13, 1944
The Great Hall
8:27 AM

It was like the entire castle held its breath that morning. Each step towards the Great Hall felt like a step towards his death. One month had passed since the chilling words Grindelwald had carved into the Tower of London. The deadline had come and passed and there had been no surrender.

Get over it, he told himself. It’s not like Grindelwald’s going to be waiting in the Great Hall.

Never had a breakfast been so tense. Even the staff were throwing furtive glances back and forth any time he looked up and watched them. Harry caught his own bloodless knuckles gripping his fork so hard that his wrist was cramping up.

The owls were the only ones in the castle who appeared unbothered. They soared into the Great Hall the way they always did, framed in browns and greys against the pale blue sky that mocked the somber mood beneath it.

Someone screamed from the Hufflepuff table. Harry lurched up and sent plates toppling as he drew his wand and looked around the room. He hadn’t been the only one. Charlus had done likewise, and so had Gress up at the staff table.

No threat burst through the Great Hall’s doors, but the panicked din rose louder and louder the more people opened their copies of The Daily Prophet.

Dread coiled tight about his stomach as Harry stared down over Dorea’s shoulder towards the deadline that shocked him.

Oh, Merlin, everything has changed.


“We’re the last ones left,” Elena muttered from beside her friend. It sounded like she was in disbelief.

Harry felt sick and like the room spun around him. She’s right; the rest of Europe is his. But how? There was no news about a siege or any attacks on Russia. How had he just taken it?

Harry looked around the Great Hall and imagined foreign soldiers pouring through the doors without warning.

There would be so many of them. Grindelwald had the entire power of Europe behind him and was ready to throw it all against the continent’s last survivors.

We’re out of time.

Author’s Endnote:

And so the tension mounts…

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