The Sugar Quill
Author: J Forias (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Ties That Bind  Chapter: 1. Storm Clouds
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: Property in Harry Potter and all relating story elements remains with JKR.

Author's Note: I would like to thank my tireless beta, Birgit, for the wonderful enthusiasm she shows for my writing and for her patience, too!

The Ties That Bind

by J Forias

1. Storm Clouds


Perched against a hillside sat an old, disused church, abandoned and half-forgotten, with its wooden beams rotting quietly and the ancient stonework slowly eroding away. Heavy rain battered down on the roof, with the sky lit by an eerily bright summer storm.

Two figures appeared near the church: one older, one younger, but both seemed to carry an air of apprehension as they hurried to the doorway. Despite the rain, neither seemed overly keen to enter the church.

Reaching a sudden decision, the older man threw open the church doors and stepped inside. His eyes immediately tracked to a creature, sat regally in a chair before him. The man dropped to his knees and the boy, entering behind him, did the same.

“Welcome, Severus,” the creature greeted. He did not acknowledge the boy.

“My Lord, I am your servant.”

Severus Snape shifted uncomfortably. The crucifix and the altar visible behind the monster only heightened the feel that he was involved in some horrible form of demon worship.

“Yes, indeed. Why, may I ask, has it taken my servant so long to return to me?”

Snape found himself wondering, as he listened to the barrage above him, whether perhaps the old creaking beams would choose this moment to give way, crushing them all and ending it now. It would be something of a relief.

“I thought it prudent to wait a day until making contact. Every Auror in the country is on my trail and it was possible they could track us from my Apparition point of exit.”

The thing smiled. “And perhaps you wanted your debriefing alone?” Snape said nothing. “But yes… you always have been painstakingly careful, Severus. Which makes me wonder why you disobeyed my orders regarding Dumbledore’s murder.”

Snape hesitated, a slight tremor in his hands the only sign of his fear.

“Did you forget your orders?”

“No, my Lord.”

“Perhaps you were covering for young Malfoy here.” For the first time in the conversation, the creature turned to look at the boy. “Did you lose your nerve, little Draco?”

Snape answered for the boy.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Malfoy would have carried out his task. It is simply that I…” Snape paused, gathering his thoughts. “I have spent so many nights wishing that I could be the one. I have lived through ridicule and mockery every day at his hands. I have watched his hypocrisy; I have drowned in it. I thought I could control it, but in the end, I had to be the one.”

The creature gazed downward, red eyes piercing into Snape’s own. Finally, it nodded. “And so for this selfish desire, I lose a valuable asset, an agent within the Order and within Hogwarts. I am not pleased, Severus.”

Snape paled but kept his voice steady. “I accept whatever punishment you deem fit.”

“You are fortunate, Severus, that I am in a forgiving mood. I am overjoyed to hear of the old fool’s demise, and therefore, I will give you the opportunity to redeem yourself before I decide on any punishment.”

Snape’s face remained impassive. “You are most merciful, my lord.”

“Now, show me the fruits of your assigned task this year. Give me the information that I value most.” A smile lit up the monster’s face. “Tell me all about Harry Potter.”

The rain continued to batter down on the roof as Snape paused for just a moment. Then Snape smiled, too.

“Harry Potter is in love.”

~*~

Percy Weasley was in love. He knew this as soon as he opened his eyes in the morning, and he knew it as he closed his eyes at night. Sometimes he thought that it was all he knew. Everything else in his life seemed so full of doubt, so clogged with uncertainty, so disordered.

The view through Percy’s window was still bright; the sun warm and red as it began to dip down towards the horizon. A storm was supposed to be approaching from the north and the world seemed to know it. The air coming in through the open window held subtle precursors which could be smelt if one knew what to look for.

Percy smiled for a moment before returning to the work before him, scribbling rapidly at the parchment on his desk. He threw himself into it, every ounce of his concentration focused on his task. And then his concentration broke. A key was turning in the lock. She was back from her shift at St Mungo’s.

He tried to maintain his concentration as he heard her come in, bustling through the apartment like a warm breeze, but he failed completely as he sensed rather than heard her enter his workroom. Now it took concentration not to loll his head back and smile at her. It took concentration just to pretend to keep working. He could perfectly imagine her mischievous smile as she advanced and then she would… yes, her hands were on his shoulders, her fingertips dancing at the base of his neck. And now she was leaning down to kiss him on the cheek.

“I was trying to work, you realise,” Percy remonstrated peevishly.

“Of course you were, dear,” Penelope replied. She kissed him on the cheek again, quite unnecessarily, then withdrew a few inches and kept her arms around him. “How are you?”

Percy’s expression softened. He turned around to face Penelope. “Did you see Bill?” he asked.

Penelope nodded. “In passing.”

“How is he?”

“They don’t believe there’ll be any morphic transformations. Madam Pomfrey told the staff as much, but all the tests indicate the same.” Penelope hesitated before continuing. “However, the team of specialists he was transferred to can’t do anything about the scarring… it appears to be permanent.”

“Poor Bill. To think I envied him his…” Percy mentally rebuked himself, pulling himself together. “That’s dreadful,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“You should go see him. They’re sending him back to Hogwarts tomorrow morning.”

Percy scoffed. “And get another face full of parsnips. They’ve made their choice.”

“Percy…”

His expression shifted, becoming graver. “I was right, though,” he said, in a quiet sort of voice. “Dumbledore was the most powerful man I ever met. You could sense it.” Penelope nodded, and Percy continued. “But he was just a human being, just as frail and fallible as the rest. One can’t put one’s trust in individuals. One must look to authority and institution, to something stronger than individuals. I was right.”

Penelope stared at Percy. “You don’t believe in heroes.”

Percy bolted upright, knocking her away. “Now, honestly, Penelope! Have you been listening to this Potter nonsense as well? He’s just a boy. I’ve met him. I’ve slept in the same tent as him. I’ve seen him wander round in pyjamas two sizes too big for him. He’s just a boy.”

“People need hope…”

“Harry Potter does not represent hope,” Percy replied sharply. “The Ministry represents hope. We have to unite under a common banner, not sit idly by and put all our hope on a schoolboy.”

Penelope put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “No one’s saying we should do that.”

Percy was silent for a long time.

“They’ll die for him, you know…” His voice was barely above a whisper. “Dad, Bill, Ron… even little Ginny.”

“You’d die for me, wouldn’t you?”

The question shocked Percy. “Yes… of course… but, you have to realise… the fact of the matter is… that’s completely different…”

Penelope leant up to kiss his neck. He knew it was as high as she could reach.

“Well then, maybe individuals matter after all.”

Percy sighed, letting his shoulders relax. He reached out and put his arms around her, lowering his head so that his forehead rested on her crown.

“Maybe.”

~*~

“How can you be certain?”

Snape narrowed his eyes. “I spent enough time watching his father drooling over that Evans Mudblood,” he sneered. “I know the signs. I took great joy in keeping him from the Weasley brat. A few minutes more, every detention. His desire to get away was written all over his face.”

Voldemort turned to the boy. “What about you, Malfoy? You have been together with Potter for the school year. Have you managed to garner any information of use on this matter?”

Malfoy clearly wanted to say that he didn’t give two hoots about Potter’s love life, but he wisely attempted to contribute. “Well… er… I know that she likes him. I believe that she once wrote him a Valentine’s poem.”

“A poem,” the Dark Lord echoed sardonically. “Oh yes, that wraps everything up, doesn’t it.” His eyes flashed malevolently. “I don’t care whether she wrote him a book full of love sonnets. What I care about is how he feels for her. You must learn to know your enemy, young Malfoy. Sometimes it is not about hitting where you are strong, but hitting where he is weak.”

Malfoy gazed down at the floor.

“You are thinking of striking her in some way, my Lord?” Snape asked tentatively.

“You have told me that another of the Weasleys is Potter’s best friend?” Voldemort asked.

“Yes. And the whole family seems very close to him,” Snape provided. “It’s all rather sickening. Molly Weasley treats him like a son.”

“I wonder whether Potter feels the same way back.”

“I think there are indications that he does. The Weasley hovel appears to be his preferred home.”

The Dark Lord’s red eyes lit up. “Well, then, this shall be the second home I take away from young Mr Potter. How positively delightful.”

Snape smiled. “Will you require my assistance with this task?”

Voldemort paused thoughtfully. “No… not for this task. Send me Wormtail. He has certain experiences that will be most useful.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Well, Severus, your information is enough to dispel some of my wrath, but not quite enough of it, I think...”

Snape glanced backwards at the boy, expressionless, and then his eyes returned to his master.

“I am ready.”

“Crucio!”

~*~

The next day…

Harry Potter rested with his back against a tree, beautiful sunshine streaming down on him and the rest of Hogwarts. Leant with her head against his shoulder was Ginny Weasley. She was asleep.

He watched her breathing, slow and gentle. She looked child-like and angelic, and he was struck by a heavy blow of responsibility. He knew that whatever happened, he would have to protect her.

“Mate, that is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.”

Harry had to work hard not to jump. He hadn’t noticed Ron approach.

“Ron, be quiet… she’s sleeping…”

Ron ignored him. “I can’t believe you are gazing at my sister with that stupid, soppy expression on your ugly mug.”

“I’m warning you, Ron…”

“Look, there’s a little bit of drool forming in the corner of her mouth,” Ron continued, using his finger to point it out. “And she’s snoring for crying out loud.”

This couldn’t be denied as Ginny took that moment to give a long, particularly emphatic little snort.

Ron burst out laughing.

“Wha…” Ginny murmured, sleep-dazed. “Harry…” Then she sat bolt up-right, eyes wide. “What’s going on?”

“Ron woke you up.” Harry glared at Ron, trying to convey the message that Ron was going to find himself the recipient of the very next unpleasant curse that crossed Harry’s mind.

“I fell asleep?” she asked. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Harry. I didn’t mean to! I guess I’ve just been tired…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Harry knew she wasn’t sleeping well.

“You were snoring,” Ron revealed gleefully.

“I do not snore,” Ginny insisted. Then her face suddenly slackened. “Do I, Harry?”

“No,” Harry said loyally.

“You so do!”

Ginny responded by brandishing her wand at Ron, who raised his hands defensively. “OK, OK, you don’t snore. Geez, you’re irritable when you’ve just woken up.”

“And don’t forget it, brother,” Ginny responded, putting her wand away.

“You don’t have to worry,” Ron said. “Harry was gazing at your sleeping self in sickly rapture. Made me want to puke.”

A smile pulled at Ginny’s lips, as she turned to Harry. “You were?”

Harry started to blush and stared at the floor. “I was just… you know… checking that you were alright,” he mumbled.

Ginny smirked and leant towards him.

“Don’t even think about kissing!” Ron shouted. “Honestly, you’d think I wasn’t even here.”

Ginny sighed and turned away. “Yes, Ron, we know you are there. You’re making enough blooming noise.”

“There are some things a bloke just does not want to see.”

Harry intervened before they started arguing. “Where’s Hermione?”

“She’s still in library, looking things up. She promised she’d be out soon.”

Harry’s mood darkened. For just a moment, he had been able to lose himself in the banter, but the reminder that Hermione was right now searching for the mysterious R.A.B. brought a sense of responsibility crashing back down.

Ron seemed to notice, his eyes turning serious. Yet when he spoke, his voice was as jovial as usual. “You know what our Hermione is like; you need a ruddy crowbar to get her out of a library sometimes.”

Harry smiled, despite himself. “Yeah…”

“Sit down, Ron,” Ginny ordered, her eyes smiling. “You look like a goofy lamppost, standing up like that.”

Ron grinned, sitting down. “You know, you could try being nice to me.”

Ginny snorted. “What would be the point in that?”

Harry leant back, letting the Weasleys do the talking. He had so much to think about and so much to do, but for now, he would allow himself an escape. He’d allow himself to feel at home.

~*~

Bill Weasley was staring into a mirror, cocking his head from side to side.

“You know,” he said thoughtfully, “I do rather like this one, right under my eye. It adds character.”

Beside him, his brother laughed, despite himself.

“It’s just the other fifty odd which are a bit of a pain.”

“Come on, mate,” Charlie said. “Time for dinner.”

Bill turned around, his expression darkening. “Charlie, do you have a moment?”

“Sure.”

“I’m worried about Mum.”

Charlie said nothing.

“She’s so scared, and she never lets on, and this thing with Percy is killing her. And then I go and get myself looking like this.” Bill motioned at his face. “Every time she sees me she tenses, just a little. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s there.”

“You may be imagining it, Bill,” Charlie pointed out reasonably.

“What if I’d got myself killed? What if Ginny had? How would she cope?”

“Mum’s tough, Bill,” Charlie said with a smile.

“That’s what I believed as a kid, Charlie, but now… we should be looking out for her.”

Charlie was quiet for a moment. “How?”

Bill shook his head. “I don’t know. Cook dinner for her some night. Get her to put her feet up now and then. It’s not enough, but… I don’t know what else to do.”

“Sure, Bill, we can do that. But if we aren’t down for dinner soon, we’ll be the ones in the need of help…”

Bill laughed.

~*~

Lord Voldemort sat in the dark, thinking. He was in a dank, stone room; an adjunct to the chapel in which he had tortured Severus Snape, only two days before. He was glad that he hadn’t forced the Death Eater to endure it for too long. The man was useful, even now that his role as a spy was finished. And Severus’ hatred was also useful. Voldemort knew how to deal with hatred; how to bend it for his own ends.

He also understood a thing or two about love. He had observed in painstaking detail the effect it had on people; debilitating them, robbing them of logic, blurring their judgement. For it was love that made pain of the soul possible, pain so powerful that it could crush spirit more effectively than death. And it was love that would guarantee Voldemort his ultimate victory.

All Voldemort needed to do was focus that power, refine it for use on Potter. Severus’ information allowed him to do that, allowed Voldemort to find the precise subjects for use. For once Voldemort held the Weasleys at his mercy, Potter would do anything asked of him. Love was weakness, after all.

But how could he be sure of Potter’s feelings? It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Severus; he just preferred independent confirmation.

There was one way to be certain…

Voldemort closed his eyes and sought out the link. He and Potter were joined. Within his own mind he saw it as an endlessly twisting tendril of gold and green. To go from one mind to the other was just a matter of following where it led.

Slowly, Voldemort’s consciousness made the journey. It was one that Potter could only manage in sleep; the rest of the time his puny intellect got in the way of his instincts. Voldemort, however, had made a life’s study of the interrelation between mind, body and soul. This was sheer child’s play.

And so finally, with a mental flash, Voldemort found himself in Potter’s mind.

~*~

“Dumbledore!” Harry screamed out, desperate. “No… Dumbledore, don’t leave!”

The figure turned. “Harry, I will always be with you…” It threw down a rope ladder. “But you must follow me… quickly now, death is your only escape…”

Harry obeyed, unthinking, his hands hauling his body up as he climbed. Then he screamed again. His hands were full of snakes and he was falling. He looked up at Dumbledore, who was swiftly disappearing.

“As you wish, Mr Potter. Choose life if you must.”

The dream changed. He was trapped in himself, with a presence intruding at the edges of his mind. Close enough to view and to prod but not close enough to intertwine. Harry tried to speak, but he couldn’t.

Suddenly a word tore itself into Harry’s mind, injected straight into his gut and his instincts.

Weasley.

Unbidden, Harry was immersed in images, in memories. He saw Ron standing on a chessboard, a stupidly brave fix to his jaw. He saw Mrs Weasley hold her arms out in embrace. Then he saw the twins beaming broadly as they handed him a piece of parchment… and finally, he saw Ginny, her flaming red hair spread out on the grass beneath her, as she grinned wickedly up at him.

Harry was struck by an alien swell of repulsion, which only grew stronger. Suddenly he was outside, looking in, his essence burning as he stared at the images. Around each one was tied a single golden thread. Harry was dragged, unwilling, to where the threads led: a shimmering golden core that Harry seemed to recognise.

“To the heart… they lead to the heart…”

The thought was not his own. It was callous and biting and Harry longed to lunge against it. But he could not.

And then, with a mental gasp of relief, Harry was alone again, and his dreams continued…

//
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