The Sugar Quill
Author: Harpinred (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Ties That Bind  Chapter: Chapter 2: Of Life and Loss
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Chapter 2 - Of Life and Loss

Many thanks go out to B. Bennett and Imogen for all of their wonderful help.

Thanks also to Paula for being my guinea pig.

 

October 2nd

Darkness had fallen at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the Gryffindor common room was lit by a cheery fire in the grate as well as several magical candles floating at various spots around the room. Studying seemed to be the order of the evening as many of the professors had wasted little time in piling on homework for the new term.

Harry Potter, Ginny Weasley and Hermione Granger all sat around a table, plowing though the multitude of assignments that they had been given.

Dropping his quill, Harry sighed in disgust and put his head on the table.

"I can't believe we got this much work." His voice was muffled.

Hermione, who Harry knew happened to love doing homework, didn't let that comment pass her by. "Harry, you know we take our OWLS this year! The teachers are only trying to prepare us for them."

Harry leaned his head to the side so he could raise an eyebrow at her.
"And so they decide to bury us alive? Our first Quidditch match is tomorrow and we barely got in more than an hour of practice before we had to stop because of all the schoolwork we got."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "You sound just like Ron, honestly!"

She looked around the common room. "And speaking of Ron, where exactly did he get to? He was supposed to help us with this Transfiguration project."

Ginny put her quill down as well. "He's trying on his new Quidditch robes."

She rolled her shoulders to work out the kinks. "If I know my brother, he's probably still standing in front of the mirror admiring himself."

"I heard that!"

The three turned around as Ron Weasley came though the stairway from the boys' dormitory. Ron did indeed have his new Quidditch robes on and Harry thought he looked great in them. He grinned as he noticed that Hermione seemed to think so too.

 

"Ron!" She exclaimed, standing. "I think you look smashing in them." Harry watched as she moved closer to Ron and straightened the ties on the open robe that went over his jumper. She looked up, and they seemed to stare at each other for a long moment and then they both blushed. Hermione turned and nudged Ron forward. "Don't the robes fit him well?"

Ginny looked at Harry and smirked. "Nice save."

 

Harry was taken aback by her comment but quickly stifled a snigger and turned towards Ron. "Er, yeah, they do fit him well." Looking down he grinned. "And they're even long enough."

Ron gave a long-suffering sigh and Harry grinned. "Ron, I'm just kidding. Honestly, the longer you are the more of the goal post you'll be able to block."

"And besides that", said Ginny casting a not so subtle glance to Hermione. "Some girls like tall boys."

Ron and Hermione blushed again and Harry looked at Ginny in surprise. If he didn't miss his guess, she was matchmaking. He didn't know whether to feel sorry for Ron or to cheer her on.

Ginny caught Harry giving her an appraising look and turned bright pink but

she managed to smile up at him for a moment.

The four turned as Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan came into the common room. The two were in deep conversation and the expressions on their faces were very troubled. "Four families in the past two weeks." Dean shook his head and ran a hand though already rumpled hair.

"What's going on, Seamus?" asked Harry.

Seamus looked over and his glance skipped to Hermione. He hesitated for a moment. "You Know Who has just started to go after certain people again."

Ron caught Seamus's glance at Hermione. "What do you mean 'certain people'?"

Seamus hesitated again. "They're going after Muggle families that have witches or wizards at Hogwarts. I got an owl from my uncle in Belfast and he told me that two families close to him had been killed. Another two in the Hampshire area were killed last night."

Ron paled and moved closer to Hermione, who had gone totally white. "Do they know who?" she asked in a small voice.

Seamus shook his head. No, but I do know that two Ravenclaw students were pulled from class this morning and they never returned. I also overheard a Hufflepuff mentioning that all the available Aurors were being sent out to help protect other wizarding families in the areas as much as possible."

Harry was confused. "Why are the attacks so specific?"

"He did the same thing the last time," answered Ron. "Dad told us about how horrible things got back then. You Know Who was determined to wipe out any witches or wizards who had Muggles in their families."

Dean nodded. "Yeah, my dad told me the same stories. Said that theDark Lord was determined to get rid of any witch or wizard who could 'taint' the magical population with Muggle blood. Bunch of bloody rubbish if you ask me but according to Dad, any Muggle family that had a witch or wizard in it was in serious danger from You Know Who.

Ginny moved over to Hermione and put her hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure the Ministry is keeping watch over your parents, Hermione."

Hermione nodded, but Harry noticed that she didn't seem convinced. "Why don't we get this transfiguration project started then?" he asked. "I don't know about you but I'd rather not turn my tea kettle into a hippopotamus again."

Hermione smiled at this and Ron and Ginny shepherded her back to the table. A short while later, Harry, Ron and Hermione were working on their project while Ginny worked on fourth year charms. There was a tense silence around the table for several minutes. Abruptly, Hermione threw down her quill and stood up. "I'm going to owl Mum and Dad," and she dashed off to the girls dormitory.

The three friends looked at each other with concern and Ginny pushed back her chair. "I'm going to go up and make sure she's okay." She started to stand up but Ron put a hand out to stop her.

"Tell her that one of us will walk her to the Owl Barn. I don't want her going anywhere without Harry or me." Ron looked over at Harry and he nodded.

Ron looked back at Ginny. "That goes for you too, Ginny. It's a good idea if we all stick together for at least the near future."

 

Ginny sighed in apparent exasperation. "As if I've been able to even go to the ruddy loo without an armed escort for the last three weeks!"

Ron looked at his sister, shocked. "Ginny!"

Ginny crossed her arms defensively. "Well it's true."

"Ginny," said Harry softly. "We all need to be careful. Everybody knows that Voldemort's going to keep coming after me and he obviously has no problems going though any of you to get to me." Feeling very tired all of a sudden, he rubbed the scar on his forehead.

Feeling contrite, Ginny put her hand on Harry's arm. "Oh Harry, I didn't mean to sound like such a prat! We don't blame you for any of this!"

Ron jostled Harry. "And you could get over yourself any time now!" He looked toward the girl's dorm and frowned. "It's obvious that you're not the only target any more."

Following his glance, Ginny stood up. "I'm going. I'll make sure that she knows one of you is to be her escort to the Owl Barn."

"Thanks Ginny," said Ron softly. "I know she's probably worrying herself sick."

Smiling at her brother, Ginny pulled at his arm until he leaned over. He looked completely surprised when she planted a smacking kiss on his cheek. "You know, for a brother, you're not too bad." She twinkled mischievously up at him. "Although I have to say on some things, you're pretty slow on the uptake."

"Whaddyoumean?"

He didn't get his answer though as Ginny turned on her heel and marched to the girls dormitory.

Turning to Harry, Ron shook his head in consternation. "Girls!"

Harry laughed. "Can't understand them, can't suffocate them in their sleep?"

Ron laughed but then flopped back down on his chair. Grabbing a quill, he looked down at his homework. Several minutes went by before he glanced back over at Harry with a somewhat sheepish expression. "I'm not that dense. I do actually know what she's getting at."

Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You do?"

Ron blushed and threw his quill at Harry. "I…well, yeah." Seeming to find the floor moldings quite fascinating all of a sudden, he tugged the neck of his jumper. "I reckon I like Hermione." Moving his glance back to Harry he continued on haltingly. "I don't know how it happened, really," he said in a confused voice. "She was always just bossy, brainy Hermione and then all of a

sudden everything changed. I don't know why." Ron looked at Harry with an almost imploring expression on his face. "Is that weird?"

Harry shook his head, grinning.

Ron heaved a huge sigh of relief. "I don't think it's weird," Harry replied . "What I do think is that it's about time you recognized what's been in front of your face for the past year!"

"The past year?" Ron practically yelled. "We've always just been friends." Ron looked mulish. "This is a recent development."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Uh huh, sure."

Hermione and Ginny walked back into the common room and Ron turned as red as his hair. Giving Harry an almost panicked look, he leaned over. "Don't say anything to Hermione!" he whispered.

Harry just put his hands out in a defensive pose. "I'm not about to put myself between the two of you." he whispered back. "I'm not sure I'd survive!"

Ron shot Harry a dirty look but walked over to the girls. "I'll walk you to the Owl Barn, Hermione. Let Harry finish up the Transfiguration project." Looking

back over at Harry, he grinned evilly. "He obviously doesn't have enough to occupy his time."

Harry stuck his tongue out at Ron but felt very pleased as he watched the pair walk out of the room together. He looked at Ginny. "So, how's she doing?"

Ginny's expression was pensive. "She's worried sick, just like Ron said she'd be," she said in a quiet voice. Playing with her quill for a moment, she continued. "I've never seen her so frightened before. It's scaring me too."

Harry sat down next to her. "Ginny, you heard what Ron and Dean said. The Aurors are watching those families really carefully."

Ginny nodded, but then cocked her head to the side. "I saw you and Ron whispering about something before he and Hermione went off. Did you hear anything else from Dean or Seamus?"

Harry considered how to answer that for a second but then he smiled as he realized that Ron hadn't specifically asked him not to say anything to Ginny. "No actually, we were discussing a certain friend of ours that seems to have caught Ron's attention lately."

Ginny's mouth formed a small O of surprise. "He actually said something about it?"

Harry's grin got wider and he nodded his head. "We have progress."

Ginny laughed at his enthusiastic tone. "Well, at least that's some good news for the day." Looking down at the pile of homework that had yet to be completed, she sighed. "I'd better get back to this or I'll never be done by tomorrow."

Harry winced in agreement. "And it seems that I just got stuck with finishing up our Transfiguration project so I'd better get at it as well."

She seemed to suddenly realize how close he was to her and blushed. Feeling oddly flustered himself all of a sudden, he scooted his chair over a bit and looked down at his homework.

***

Finishing the first half of her Charms assignment, Ginny sat back in her chair and stretched. She looked over at Harry who was totally engrossed in his homework and a tiny smile graced her lips. She was quite proud of herself actually. This was the first time in recent memory where she hadn't acted like a total idiot around Harry. She no longer harbored the hope that he would one day declare his undying love to her but it was nice to realize that he had included her in his circle of friends.

Once again focusing on the Charms assignment in front of her, Ginny decided that sometimes the good definitely came with the bad.

************

It was a beautiful night in Kent, thought Tessa O'Riley. The air was cold but not too damp and the full moon shown down in all her silver glory.

Consistently scanning her surrounding area, the Auror was pleased to note that all seemed peaceful. For the moment anyway. Death Eater activity had been alarmingly high of late and any Auror assigned to a grid with Muggle -wizarding families were put on high protection priority. Tessa had two such families in her particular geographical grid and felt better about the fact that she could call for backup at the first sign of trouble.

Cornelius Fudge might be content to keep his head buried in the sand, but the covert departments of the Ministry that included the Aurors, knew just how dire the situation was. Muggle families that had magical children attending Hogwarts were being targeted and destroyed. Two such families had been murdered in their own homes just last night in Hampshire.

Tessa gritted her teeth at the thought of it. She had lost a good friend when Tom Crowley had tried to fight off the Death Eaters to save one of the families. He had died and now she would never again be amused and entertained by the hardworking but eternally cheerful Auror. Added to her worries was the fact that one of the Muggles in her grid was also her friend.

Tessa had been assigned to this particular surveillance grid for seven years now. Not long after Miss Hermione Granger had shown an amazing amount of magical potential, to be precise. Since Aurors always worked undercover when dealing with Muggles, Tessa had introduced herself to Lindsay and George Granger as a new neighbor and she and Lin had hit it off from the start. Tessa had never had a Muggle friend before but as the years passed, she and Lin had become very close. She had also been able to watch Hermione grow from a precocious seven year old to the poised and studious young woman she was today.

Lin had mentioned a few weeks ago that she suspected Hermione fancied someone at Hogwarts and it looked like the boy just might like her back. Tessa smiled and shook her head as she remembered herself at fourteen. She too had been smitten with a boy. He was three years older than she and not at all interested in the adoration of a younger girl. She, however, had been undeterred. She had been his shadow, his sometimes confidant and more often then not, his annoyance. But from the moment she had set eyes on him at the sorting feast, she had felt something shift and settle in her heart and she had known. She would love this boy, this man, until the day she died.

It galled her to no end that she still did.

A sudden noise to her left brought her out of her musings. She narrowed her eyes and concentrated. Yes, she could feel something pressing up against the wards she had placed at the Whitney house. Moving swiftly, strands of her dark red hair whipped around the edge of her hood and the mask of the Auror was firmly secured over her face. She cautiously approached the back end of the house. Scanning the area, she saw and felt nothing at first but then she sensed the pressure again and moved her gaze lower. "A cat?"

There, by the back door was a small black and white cat, doing its level best to push though her wards to get up to the stoop. Letting her breath out in relief, she approached what was obviously someone's familiar. "Lost our way, did we darling?"

The cat looked up at Tessa and meowed in seeming agreement.

Padding over lightly to where Tessa stood, the cat looked up expectantly. Grinning at the imperious, feline attitude Tessa picked it up. Looking at the tag that was jingling on the collar, Tessa discovered that the cat was named Della and that she was several blocks from home. "Well, you did have itchy feet tonight, didn't you?" Meowing again, Della purred loudly and snuggled into Tessa's arms. Tessa looked down at her new companion in amused consternation. "Now what do I do with you? I can't leave the grid for several hours yet."

Della gave her a look that clearly stated the dilemma was not her problem and lightly batted at one of the ties to Tessa's mask. Looking down, her heart softened at the feline antics. "Oh, you are cute, aren't you? Hmm, let me see." Tessa brought out her wand and cast a decreasing spell on Della. A few seconds later, she perched the much smaller and lighter cat on her shoulder.

"There, a travel sized cat."

Della seemed to like the new position quite a bit as it afforded her a good view and her own personal transportation. She purred in content and politely hooked her claws though Tessa's robes and settled in on a warm shoulder .

Moving closer to the Whitney house, Tessa confirmed that everything was quiet and that her wards had maintained their integrity. Cats were such magical creatures that it was never wise to assume they couldn't get past well-constructed defenses. Satisfied that all was well on this end of her grid, Tessa headed back towards the Grangers. As she approached the house a cold tingle of awareness slid down her back. She paused, reaching out for a moment and snapped her probe back in horror as she realized that her wards had been breached. They still surrounded the house but from the feel of it, a powerful Inconspicuata spell had been placed over it. Realizing the implications, she closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath. 'Damn them!'

Running to the next yard over, she cast a summoning beacon and shot it from her wand tip. The magical flare was inconspicuous to Muggles but she didn't want anybody in the Granger house to know that she was on to them. The Inconspicuata was the only thing that had Tessa hoping that Lin and George were still alive. Moving swiftly and silently, she made her way back to the bespelled house. Looking for a weakness in the muffling spell, she quietly but frantically searched. A few minutes later, she found what she was looking for - a magical seam. The Inconspicuata was a difficult spell, but it had been cast in a hurry and their sloppiness was in her favor. Using her wand, she delicately separated the seam until it was large enough for her to slide though. Passing though her own wards, she went to a back bedroom window and quietly entered the house.

Noises could be heard from the front parlor and Tessa quickly glanced out the window. No help had arrived yet. She was loath to act alone against a group of Death Eaters but backup should have arrived by now. A muffled scream that was accompanied by a loud and ominous thump made the decision for her.

Pulse pounding, she moved towards the front of the house. Flattening herself against the wall of the front hallway, she looked into the large mirror on the opposite wall and stifled a gasp at the nightmarish scene reflected. There were five Death Eaters in the room and they surrounded two bodies lying prone on the floor. With an anguished twist to her heart, Tessa realized that Lindsay and George were already dead. Closing her eyes tightly, she fought back the grief that threatened to overwhelm her and summoned the focus and discipline that years of Auror training had pounded into her. 'Think, girl!' She told herself furiously. 'You have the advantage of surprise, what do you do?' The answer came to her immediately. The Unforgivable Curses could only be directed one specific individual at a time so they wouldn't work for her. She raised her wand and quickly started the incantation that would allow her to throw a blade like beam from it. The Death Eaters deserved a far less gentle demise than decapitation, but without backup, it was the most efficient thing she could think of at the moment.

Taking a deep breath, she moved forward into the room and shouted the last word of the spell. "Rapierato!" As intended the five Death Eaters turned towards her and she started a deadly arc with her wand. Screams that were abruptly cut off echoed in the room as three of the masked intruders fell under her spell. Abruptly, her wand started vibrating violently and the beam that it was emitting was altered and somehow harnessed. Looking over at the remaining Death Eaters, she cried out in horror as she saw that one of them had removed his mask to reveal, the red, glowing eyes of a snake.

"You!"

Lord Voldemort eyed the Auror with amused contempt. "Well", he hissed malevolently. "It looks as if a little Auror has come to the rescue." Glancing over at the bodies of the Grangers, he smiled tauntingly. "It's such a shame that

you were just a few minutes too late to save them." Moving closer to her, he raised his hand and helplessly, Tessa watched as the hand holding her wand followed his motions. "Why don't we see if you would like a taste of your own spell work? I'll add my own personal touch of course as I wouldn't want to kill you quite so quickly as you did my men." Pausing for a second, Voldemort made a slashing movement with his wand and Tessa felt her mask dropping to the floor. "Do you know her?" Voldemort hissed to his remaining companion.

"Tessa O'Riley, if I'm not mistaken," came the reply.

She knew that voice.

"Lucius Malfoy, you bloody son of a-

Her sentence was cut off as she felt her hand being forced to point her wand against herself. The poisoned beam cut though the length of her right thigh and she screamed in agony. Her leg gave out beneath her and she hit the floor. Everything in her fought against the pain and tried to fight against his control over her. Vaguely, she heard a muffled shout and running footsteps and as abruptly as it had been taken from her, she regained control of her hand. Tessa managed to raise her head though a fog of pain and saw that Voldemort had stood up and started to back away. Vaguely, she noticed the odd shaped silver amulet hanging from his robes. Feeling hands tighten cruelly on her shoulders, she realized that Lucias was kneeling over her. Tightening his grip on her painfully he spat down on her contemptuously. "We'll meet again, Tessa O'Riley."

A sudden growl emitted from the folds of Tessa's cloak and Della who had hidden herself in a fold of Tessa's hood, leapt onto Lucias's chest. The cat was diminutive in size but her claws were needle sharp and she swiped them over the unprotected flesh of Lucias's neck, drawing a great deal of blood. He yelled in pain and ripped the cat off of him and threw her across the room. Landing on her feet she hissed at him and started to stalk towards him fearlessly.

A moment later, Tessa heard a pop followed quickly by another and realized that Lucias and the Dark Lord must have disapperated to safety. The pain was starting to overwhelm her and she felt the dark magic starting to creep though her system like a poison. Her vision became hazy and a light, almost buoyant sensation began to take over her body. 'So this is what dying feels like,' she thought absently. What seemed like an eternity later, she vaguely felt hands on her face and an urgent voice that she thought sounded like her supervisor demanded that she stay with them. She tried to open her eyes but her consciousness was starting to fade. In her minds eye she clearly saw the face and dark, burning eyes of the man she had loved so hopelessly.

'Sevrus,' she thought weakly. 'Damn you.'

It was her last thought before she felt the darkness take her.

A/N Thanks go to Imogen and B. for their great grammatical, content and emotional support! Thanks also go to Yolanda for her expert Quidditch knowledge. You guys ROX!

 

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