Conjoining of Paragons
Chapter 8: An Unhelping Hand
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 Hope as well as my betas 3CP, Fezzik, Luq707, Raven0900, Regress, and Yoshi89 for their work on this story.
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September 18, 1942
An Abandoned Classroom
It was late at Hogwarts and the halls seemed quiet. Shadows emerged from patches of light cast by flickering torches and crawled slowly up the walls. Footsteps belonging to the few patrolling students and professors echoed loudly on the hard-stone floor and reverberated through the ancient walls. The loudest thing in the castle was Peeves, who was streaking down corridors, rattling suits of armour, and being a general menace.
Nobody would ever know that a war was raging inside one of the castle’s long-abandoned classrooms. They could not see the lights flashing so fast they might well have been seizure inducing. They could not hear the sounds of stray spells slamming against the desks and walls, nor could they hear the panting breaths of the two combatants or their feet sliding across the floor in hasty bids to avoid the others’ most potent bits of offence. If any were to approach this classroom, they would suddenly find themselves possessed by the strangest feeling of forgetfulness and the sudden urge to retrieve whatever object they had forgotten.
Yet spells were flying inside the classroom and bodies were moving..
The male figure avoided three jets of red light, spun on his heel, and swished his wand towards what remained of the desks piled into one of the room’s corners. They had been broken into splinters by a stray Reductor Curse earlier in the night, but all of the remaining pieces rose into the air and propelled themselves towards the man’s female counterpart. She raised her wand and with it rose a solid magical shield that deflected the debris, but she had taken her eyes off of her opponent.
The wall of force slammed so hard into the girl’s shield that she staggered as her defences fell. Duelling her opponent was always vexing. It wasn’t enough that he was more skillful; his spells also just so happened to be naturally more potent than hers.
A jet of water flowed from her opponent’s wand and sprayed the floor all around her. She twirled gracefully away from it and managed to come out virtually untouched, but the floor beneath her feet was a sheet of ice a moment later and the duel ended soon after.
Harry pushed back a sweaty mop of raven hair as soon as it did. His mouth hung ajar and his chest rose and fell in time with his deep, heaving breaths. Fatigued or not, there was an ear-to-ear grin plastered across his face.
Elena grumbled as she retrieved her wand. “I swear,” she said, “I beat you a couple of nights in a row when you’re distracted and you suddenly become twice the duellist you were? This is utter rubbish!”
Harry shrugged. “I realized duelling you while distracted wasn’t doing anything for me. I could make better use of that time, so I did.”
“The water,” she prompted, “I’m guessing you learned that one of these nights you were locked in the library?”
“Yup — thought it would take me longer to get that one. It’s a sixth-year conjuration, but I didn’t find it all that hard.”
“Harry, you don’t usually find most magic all that hard.”
He grimaced. “Ancient Runes would like urgent words with you.”
She laughed then, and the sound of it made him grin once more. “That doesn’t count and you know it.”
“Tell that to Slughorn. He’s been getting on my case about it in Potions lately. Polite and all that, but he’s worried about it. Wish I could blame him. Should never have taken his advice; there was no way I was ever gonna pass that class.”
“You can pass. Professor Anderson has always been good about students needing more help—”
“Elena, there’s needing more help, and then there’s being an entire year behind. They’re not the same thing.”
He and Ron had needed more help in some of their classes during his reality, but they had never failed them. Ancient Runes for him right now was like what every class must have felt like for Crabbe and Goyle — if Crabbe and Goyle had smashed their heads against the wall until they lost the few brain cells they had left.
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. With how fast you’re improving with a wand, I don’t see why you can’t improve that way in Runes.”
She didn’t get it. Nor did he, really, but he understood more than her. Ever since landing fifty years in the past, Harry had put a great deal more effort into learning new magic. He had swiftly realized that most of it really did come quite easily to him once he understood what it was he was trying to do. Transfiguration and Charms just… flowed. It was hard to describe, but he never found them difficult. Ancient Runes was quite the opposite. Trying to translate all those dead languages was like trying to look into Trelawney’s crystal ball. He saw nothing but useless vapour and mist that he had no hope of deciphering.
He twirled his wand absentmindedly as he thought. He wished he had known about this affinity for practical magic the first time around. Perhaps it would have saved Sirius or Hermione, and perhaps he would never have landed here in the first place.
It really was startling. His practice and learning had exponentially increased in the weeks following Professor Merrythought’s lesson on the Unforgivable Curses. Seeing the Killing Curse performed live and in person had stirred something deep inside Harry. It was like the end of his first year when he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he needed to go after the Philosopher’s Stone. He knew he needed to get better. He knew that being good for his age wasn’t going to cut it when faced with something like that.
Especially not with Emily Riddle lurking in the shadows at every moment of the day. He felt her eyes on him at meals sometimes, and other nights it was in the common room when her gaze found him. Those nights had been scarce until recently, for much of his time had been spent reading in the library, practicing in long-forgotten classrooms, or practicing in secret passages he had found — or remembered from the Marauder’s Map.
He had needed the distraction after that lesson. It had eventually turned into a powerful motivator, but the days following it had not been pleasant. Harry would never before have experienced such a dark and depressing mood had he not seen Hermione and Sirius have their souls sucked out right before his eyes. Seeing the Killing Curse in person had been worse than the dementors and their torment in his third year and it had left him in desperate need of distraction. Only in the past week or so had he begun to feel as though he was finally moving on from seeing bursts of green light every time he shut his eyes or tried to force his brain to rest.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I’d rather not fail the damn thing if I can avoid it, but I’m not sure I can at this point.” At least not in a way that he liked. Thoughts of being tutored by Riddle still haunted him — even more so after seeing the green light and hearing the rush of death in Merrythought’s classroom almost two weeks ago.
“Well, at least I’ll beat you in one thing this year.”
“Three,” said Harry. “I’m not exactly an arithmetic genius and the only reason I’m looking half as good in Potions as I am is because Black is my partner.”
“You seem to get along well with Dorea.”
“We don’t talk all that much. Just when giving each other updates and the odd time when she corrects me or asks me to do something. We talked a bit the first time we were paired up, not much since then.”
“Still, you could do worse for a partner.”
“Of course I could. Slughorn’s the professor; he was never going to pair me up with anyone who wasn’t going to boost my grade.”
“I still don’t get it,” she said quietly.
“Get why he’s so interested in you. Like… you’re really good at wanded magic and he realized that before the rest of us, but so what? So are a lot of people. He obviously thought you had a bright future and wanted to latch onto you, it just seems… excessive. He does this sort of thing with a lot of top students, but I’ve never seen him go this far for anyone.” She paused and began to chew on her lip. Harry had noticed that about Elena. She usually did that whenever there was something she wasn’t telling him.
“Except for Riddle,” he put together. “He’s just as fond of her as he is with me.” Elena nodded, though she did not meet his eyes. “Great company I’m keeping, then.” He cast his gaze about the room as he tried to decide what to say. “Elena… what exactly is up with Riddle?”
He could see the tension sneak into her then, see the way she began to twitch, and see the way her feet turned so her body was squared off to his. “What do you mean?” she asked. “There’s nothing—”
“Elena, you’re terrified of her. You have been ever since Diagon Alley. Why?”
“She’s just… just…”
“Has she ever done anything to you?” Elena shook her head. “But you’ve seen her do things? To other people, I mean.”
“Harry, I’d really rather not.”
“Why? What does it matter? She can’t hear us here. This is as safe a spot as we’ll find at Hogwarts. I just want to know what’s up with her. Everyone treats her like some sort of royalty.”
“She’s… different. She’s better than all of us, even you. I’ve… never seen anyone do things like Riddle. The things she can do… she has powers that I could never imagine.”
Hairs stood straight up on the back of Harry’s neck as his skin began to crawl.
Powers that Elena could never imagine…
“Dobby has heard Dumbledore’s powers rival those of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named at the height of his strength. But, sir… there are powers Dumbledore doesn’t… powers no decent wizard…”
Two descriptions of Riddle’s powers from two extremely different sources. Yet there was a common and troubling theme.
Harry focused his attention back towards Elena and opened his mouth to continue his questioning, but she had taken a hold of her wand once more and turned to face him. It appeared that losing five duels in a row was not enough for the night, and so the moment passed before he had his chance to ask any more of her.
September 21, 1942
The Slytherin Common Room
Harry’s mood continued to improve after winning the mock duels with Elena. He was more suspicious of Emily Riddle than ever and Ancient Runes was as troublesome as it had ever been, but elsewise all was well.
He had continued to work just as diligently on spells and the like as he had when his mood had been at rock bottom. The reminder of Riddle’s powers even at her age was troubling, but it jolted him down the path of improvement. He knew he could not be so hopelessly outmatched as he had been in his own time.
The Monday after his failed attempt at prying for information about Riddle saw him in the library for several hours after classes, then an abandoned classroom after that. He eventually returned to the common room, but by the time he did, curfew had been in effect for some time. Many of the younger years appeared to have retreated for the night. Elena herself was nowhere to be seen, though it was no surprise. She woke early and was usually unable to stay up late at night. Harry himself had little to do. No homework was due tomorrow seeing as it was only the first day of the week. Sleep did not sound like such a horrible idea until a snippet of conversation reached his ears as he tried to cross the common room, aiming for the tunnel sloping off of the main room and leading to the boys’ dormitories.
“I don’t know why you entertain Myrtle, Riddle. She’s insufferable and not worth the grime on your boots.”
It was a voice that Harry did not immediately recognize, but something about it sounded familiar. Not until he glanced over his shoulder towards the source of the sound did he know exactly why that was the case.
The boy who had spoken was tall and had a graceful sort of air about him. He had a slightly upturned nose, cold grey eyes, and shining blond hair that tumbled down his shoulders and fell in elegant curtains on either side of his face. He was unmistakably a Malfoy and Harry would be willing to bet a significant number of galleons that he was Lucius’s father.
Another boy with short brown hair stood beside him. He was shorter and more thick-set, but Harry’s attention passed right over him. Surprise had swelled within him at seeing someone who looked so similar to a person he had known, but his brain had caught up swiftly enough and alerted him to exactly what he was listening in on. Then his eyes got the memo and swept over the two seventh-year boys, landing on the group of students whose leader they were addressing.
Riddle was sitting in the midst of her group of followers. They were spread across several sofas clustered around the fireplace. She herself was sat dead centre on one of the closest to. Cassiopeia Black was sitting on one side of her and Felix Rosier sat on the other.
All in her group raised their heads at the two seven years’ approach, but Riddle did so almost lazily. “Can I help you, Abraxas?”
“I think in this case you can. I recall asking you a question.”
“Do you?” Riddle twirled a stray lock of hair around a long, pale finger. “May I ask you to repeat your question?”
Harry could see the muscles in the other boy’s jaw tense as he stood to Abraxas’s right. Harry thought he remembered the boy’s name was Nott, though he wasn’t sure.
“The Ravenclaw mudblood who hangs off of you any chance she gets,” said the boy Harry thought was Nott. “Why do you entertain her? You ought to have taught the bitch her place ages ago.”
Riddle tilted her head. “Are you concerned, Edward?”
“You’ve done your best to stay away from my sphere of influence these past few years. I can’t imagine why you are suddenly so interested in to whom I give my time and attention.”
“That isn’t an answer.”
“No, I don’t suppose it is.” She folded her hands in her lap as she looked directly towards the two boys for the first time. “I suppose I just thought the answer was really quite simple.”
“Did you?” asked Abraxas as his lip curled. “How about you elaborate for those of us who are not so renowned for our intellect?”
“Of course, my apologies for assuming.” She smiled, but even Harry could tell it was a poisonous smile. “You see, I have never quite managed to grasp why the composition of one’s blood should dictate how useful they could be to me.”
An absolute stillness gripped the common room and seemed to strangle the air from every inch and corner. Edward Nott looked as though every muscle was coiled so tightly he might snap at any moment. The reactions around the room seemed to vary. Harry did not miss the sneers, but nor did he notice how none of them were willing to show the expression so openly.
All but Abraxas, who displayed his before Riddle like a shining badge of honour. “I see.” Malfoy’s voice was low and smoother than the finest of silks. “Has it ever crossed your mind that such beliefs may reflect poorly on you?”
“I care not for reflections, but realities. People can think of me whatever they like. If their beliefs become problematic, I will be happy to dissuade them. Otherwise, their opinions don’t matter.” Riddle smiled up at Abraxas from her seat on the couch once again. “I would be happy to dissuade any beliefs you yourself might have if you would like? I wouldn’t want who I choose to use to impact how one as… important as yourself looks upon me.”
A shiver ran up Harry’s spine. Riddle was a predator stalking her prey. He wondered if Abraxas realized that. He looked much too calm for one who had basically just been challenged to a duel by one of the most brilliant magicians to ever live.
“I don’t think that will be necessary quite yet,” he said. “If I have objections, I think I will take them up elsewhere.”
“See that you do,” said Riddle. “It was a pleasure, as always, but I find these types of conversations dull and monotonous.”
“I will make sure to avoid the conversations in future dealings.” Abraxas moved away swiftly but with dignity. Harry was impressed that the boy did not fidget. Riddle’s stare on his back seemed too intense for him not to feel it. Harry shuddered at the thought of that stare on him and moved out of the main common room before that thought could become any more than that.
September 25, 1942
The Potions Classroom
The week aged with little drama, but the workload in classes was beginning to swell. This was fine for Harry in all of the wanded subjects, but Ancient Runes and even Arithmancy were beginning to become truly problematic. There was something to what Elena had said, he thought. If he had been willing to spend a few of the hours he was using for practice to improve on these subjects, he might well have found himself in a much more favourable standing. The problem was that Harry did not view either of them as being especially important when compared to gaining the tools he would need to deal with the potential rise of Voldemort.
Friday morning saw Harry sitting beside Dorea Black once more as they maneuvered their way through brewing antidotes — the most difficult task Slughorn had set them so far this year. They would be expected to brew them without partners next week as a test, so Harry was shadowing Dorea very closely and taking notes as the class stretched on. He thought of Ron and Hermione less and less as time trudged along, but he suspected his bushy-haired friend would have been unreasonably pleased by his sudden desire to be studious; even if a large part of that had more to do with Slughorn than it did the class itself.
The man himself showered both Harry and Dorea with praise when class neared its end and he inspected their potion. “Why, I’d struggle to brew anything this couldn’t cure,” he had said with a wink, awarding Slytherin House ten points and moving to the next students in line.
Harry had just finished packing his things as they all prepared to depart for lunch when Slughorn called for him. “Harry, m’boy, stay behind, will you?”
“Of course, sir,” said Harry. “Don’t bother,” he told Elena, seeing that she was going to offer to stay behind. “It probably won’t take long; I’ll catch up with you easily enough.”
“Can you believe the first month of the year is almost over?” Slughorn asked once the rest of the class had vacated the room. Harry could believe it, actually. The first two weeks had dragged, having been weighed down by great amounts of mental and emotional stress. The last two had passed by quickly, though, so he shook his head and did his best to smile nevertheless. “Being Head of Slytherin House does have its perks,” Slughorn went on. “We do get to read the reports of all our students at each month’s end.”
Harry felt droplets of sweat begin to form on his palms. This was going to be about Ancient Runes. He had failed another test this week; there was no way that wasn’t where Slughorn was going with this tangent. The worst part was that Harry couldn’t even think of any decent reply that might dissuade his professor’s worries.
“I’m sorry about Ancient Runes, sir.” He supposed the best way to deal with the elephant in the room was just to get it out of the way. “Arithmancy too, I guess, but I’ve been doing a bit better in that class lately.”
“I’m not upset with your performance, Harry. That’s only natural. Being a year behind — it was always going to happen.” He fixed him with a stern expression. “What I am disappointed with is that you didn’t come to me sooner. You know I have help lined up for you and I’d have set something up.”
Harry’s heart was beating so loudly that he thought the roar of it in his ears would give him a headache. “Sorry, sir.”
Slughorn sighed and waved a hand. “Not to worry, not to worry. You’re young and proud; I ought to have expected it.” The professor wiped sweat from his brow. Harry could not blame him. This room really did get stiflingly hot when the fumes of brewing potions and the heat of simmering cauldrons filled the air. “Do Friday evenings work for you?”
“To be tutored, m’boy. I spoke to Emily about it yesterday. She told me — kind and generous girl that she is — that she would make any time convenient for you work for her.”
Harry wondered how much Riddle suspected. Was it possible she knew he was wary of this and had taken away his out from the onset? He supposed it was, but that would imply she badly wanted these sessions to happen. She had been more than willing, but she had no reason to desire his presence. Surely he was being much too paranoid, even though his heart and gut seemed to disagree with a painful, wrenching passion.
“That… works for me, sir.” If he had more time to think, perhaps he could have come up with something, but he didn’t.
Something about his displeasure or apprehension must have shown on his face, for Slughorn clapped him on the shoulder and smiled at him merrily. “Nothing to worry about, m’boy. If anyone can get you back on track, it’s that girl. Besides,” he continued with a chuckle, “it’s not all bad news.”
“Of course not! You’ve been brilliant in Albus’s class and Charms as well. But your work in Defence Against the Dark Arts has been sublime.” He winked. “So sublime that I have plans for you. Trust me, Harry, you’ll go far in the field. I haven’t been wrong yet and I’m going to make sure this isn’t the first time. Just leave it with me, m’boy, and you’ll know soon.”
Harry was dismissed with a final wave. He left the classroom, uncertain whether he was more nervous about private lessons with Emily Riddle or about whatever the hell else Slughorn had in store for him.
I have pretty much decided by this point that CoP chapters are going to be quite short. This is on the shorter end of that spectrum and I do expect most of them to be longer than this, but I thought I would give you all a heads up out of the gate.
Also, I am going to tentatively put this story on a biweekly posting schedule for now. Perhaps that will be able to become weekly at some point or perhaps I will need to pull it back a bit. We shall have to wait and see.
Please read and review.
Thank you as always to my lovely Discord Editors Idefix and The Darkling for their corrections/contributions on this chapter.
A massive thank you is also extended to my Olympian-level patron, ShadowWolf, for his incredibly generous support on that platform!
PS: The next chapter will be posted in exactly two weeks. It will release for readers on FFN and AO3 on Wednesday, October 13th, 2021. It is available RIGHT NOW to anyone who joins my Discord server. Those who sign up to my Patreon page will gain immediate access to the next THREE CHAPTERS. Both of those links can be found on my profile. If you have trouble with either of them, a generic search of my pen name will bring up my website and direct links to both can be found via the home page.
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