It was by far the oddest way Harry had ever travelled, and considering his experiences that was saying quite a lot. He couldn't help but flinch as the flames engulfed them. For a moment he wondered if they would all spring from ashes as babies. But instead of being incinerated, Harry felt a unique warmth wash over him, a bit like stepping into intense sunlight, making his skin prickle. A moment later, he found himself in the familiar kitchen of Grimmauld Place. It was dingy as ever, the remnants of a meal scattered on the large table.
"Thank you, Fawkes," Dumbledore said. Fawkes trilled in response. Harry was rather irritated at such a pleasant exchange going on while his own heart was pounding against his ribs. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. It was Lupin.
"Are you alright, Harry?"
"Yeah," Harry replied hollowly. "Yeah, fine."
"Nasty intruders back again, in and out, in and out, Kreacher wonders how they dare..."
Harry looked round to see Sirius enter the room as the old house-elf shuffled out.
"What's going on, Dumbledore, I haven't h—Harry!" Sirius stopped dead for a moment then hurried forward. "Harry, what's going on? What are you doing here? Was it another vision? Did you see—?"
"This is nothing to do with Harry's scar, Sirius," Dumbledore interjected. "But I am afraid the matter concerns Harry."
"What do you mean? What's happening?" Suddenly Sirius' eyes narrowed in on Snape. "What's he doing here?"
"Come now, Black, you should know by now I'm always involved." Snape crossed his arms with the air of a man preparing to stand his ground.
"Yeah, well, this is still my house so why don't you—."
"Sirius, not now!" This time it was Lupin who interrupted. He started to steer Harry out of the kitchen. "There are some things going on and, as Harry's godfather, you need to hear them. It might take a while so we should get comfortable. And make sure Kreacher's occupied."
Sirius gave him a doubtful look but shouted for the house-elf. When he appeared, Sirius said, "Kreacher, go clean my mother's room. I'm sure you'll find plenty of things to blubber over. You will not listen in, understand?"
"Of course, Master. Kreacher lives to obey Master's commands."
With a final venomous glare, Kreacher Disapparated with a crack. The others retreated to the sitting room. Dumbledore made himself comfortable in a chair near the ornate fireplace. Lupin guided Harry to the opposite chair and stood beside him, one arm resting on the mantlepiece. Snape took a chair nearby. Sirius stood near Harry.
"So, is someone please going to tell me what the hell's going on? Harry?"
"Um..." Harry gulped. Did he really have to start? To his utter relief, Lupin spoke first.
"Sirius, a lot of things have come to light recently. I only just found out about it all myself. But we're going to have to make some decisions, and as Harry's guardian you should have a say." Lupin shot Dumbledore a look as he said this.
Snape rolled his eyes. "What Lupin is trying not to say is that there are two matters we need to discuss. The first I discovered through the course of Potter's Occlumency lessons. But that is less pressing. Right now, we just discovered that Potter has been serving detentions with Umbridge."
Sirius scowled and called Umbridge a nasty name. "What for?"
"I've been telling people Voldemort's back. She doesn't like it," Harry said.
"Good. Someone should be spreading the word. And she's been trying to shut you up?" Sirius turned to Dumbledore. "Can't you overrule her or something?"
"Perhaps," said Dumbledore. "But I'm afraid it's more serious than that. Have you ever heard of a quill that writes with blood?"
"A Blood Quill? Yes."
"You know about it?" Lupin asked, surprised.
Sirius scoffed. "You know my family was up to their eyeballs in the Dark Arts. I heard about a lot of things that would make any decent person sick. But what does...?" Harry could see the exact moment Sirius connected the dots because his face changed from bewilderment to shock to outrage faster than Harry had ever seen.
"A BLOOD QUILL?" He bellowed. He rounded on Harry. "She's been using a Blood Quill on you?!"
"Y-yes..." Harry said.
"Here, Sirius," Lupin said darkly, lifting Harry's hand.
Sirius stared at it a moment, then turned on Dumbledore, taking several strides toward him. "You didn't stop this?!"
"I did not know," Dumbledore said wearily. "Remus discovered that Harry was hurt today. Severus was able to heal it but, as you can see, the scars remain. It seems Harry has been enduring these detentions for months."
"WHAT!" Sirius turned back to Harry. "Harry, why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't tell anybody. I guess maybe I should have, but I—"
Sirius fixed him with an odd look. He seemed almost hurt. "Why didn't you tell me, Harry?"
"They've been intercepting owls, I couldn't—"
"Why the hell didn't you use the mirror?"
"The...mirror? What mirror?"
Sirius stared at him. "You never even opened it."
Harry stared back. "I...what do you mean?"
"The package, Harry!" Sirius sounded angry now. "The package I gave you before you left! Did you even look at it?!"
Suddenly, Harry remembered. The package he hadn't bothered to open because he didn't want to summon Sirius to the castle. Because he hadn't wanted his godfather to put himself in danger.
In the time it took Harry to remember this, Sirius had turned away. "I don't believe this. Harry..." He raked his fingers through his long, dank hair. "I don't believe you! I told you to use it if you needed me! I told you! I gave you a package and you don't even care enough to open it! Do you even listen when I talk to you?!"
Harry recoiled, watching as his godfather now furiously paced back and forth. Lupin stood upright from where he was leaning on the mantelpiece, watching the exchange as though he couldn't believe it was happening.
"Harry, most people open packages people give them!" Sirius snarled. "And you couldn't be bothered?! You didn't care?! I don't need to be here, Harry! The only reason I came back at all was to help you! And you can't open a damn package!" Sirius was shouting now. Harry stared at his shoes, completely blindsided. Sirius had never shouted at him like this. Like Uncle Vernon...
"I don't know why I bother, you know that! I don't know why I'm trying to—
"And there it is!" Harry looked round in surprise at the speaker, Snape, who was sitting upright, arms folded, gazing at Sirius with utmost contempt. "Of course! It's all about you, isn't it, just like always."
Sirius paused in his tirade, apparently not expecting such an interruption. "Piss off, Snivellus, this doesn't concern yo—."
"Doesn't it?" Snape hissed. "We wouldn't be here now if you had done your job and been the Secret Keeper like you were supposed to! But no! That would mean responsibility! That would mean you'd have to go into hiding, no more charging into whatever you felt like! You knew there was a spy, and you didn't think it would be dangerous to switch? You thought Pettigrew, who can barely hold his wand with both hands, was a good choice to guard the lives of your friends?!"
"Severus, that's enough!" Dumbledore said sharply. Harry's eyes darted between Sirius' livid face to Snape's, feeling helpless. He sat forward a little, wondering if he would have to separate them once more.
But Snape was too far gone to even notice. "Everyone's been taking care of your godson but you, Black! Even I've had to pick up your slack, and I hate the lot of you! You handed off the Potters to be slaughtered and now you can't even keep track of the son you orphaned!"
Sirius' face contorted and Harry somehow knew what would happen. As Sirius drew his wand so fast it was a blur, Harry lunged sideways.
Pain! White-hot, blinding pain lit up every nerve. Harry shrieked, but it only lasted a moment before it ended. Harry slumped, trembling, and realized he was being supported. Snape, who had half-risen from his chair, had caught Harry as he sprawled across him. Lupin was kneeling beside them, gripping Harry fiercely. Harry looked up. Dumbledore had his wand out and directed at Harry; he evidently had ended the curse. Sirius was staring, face stark white. As Harry looked at him, his wand slipped from trembling fingers and clattered to the floor.
"H-Harry...oh my god..." Sirius started forward, but suddenly Lupin was on his feet, pulling Harry with him.
"Get back!" he snarled. "You get back, and you stay back!"
Sirius halted, shaking his head. "R-Remus...H-Harry..."
Lupin spoke through clenched teeth. "I should snap your wand right now!"
"Remus!" Dumbledore also looked angry. He put away his own wand. "Severus," he spoke coldly to Snape, "you will return to the castle. You've been quite enough help for today."
Snape nodded, his usual cold mask in place, though his lips were pressed tightly together. Without a word, he left the room. Harry watched him go. Then the arm around Harry's shoulders was ushering him forward. Sirius made a sharp noise, perhaps of protest, but Lupin shot him a look of such rage that he drew back. Harry's last view was his godfather crumpling in on himself, his face in his hands.
Lupin took Harry back to the fireplace, and reached for the Floo Powder.
"We should take Fawkes, Lupin."
Harry turned and saw Snape, standing beside the phoenix that Harry had completely forgotten. Lupin came forward and grasped the tail with a shaking hand. He seemed to be barely keeping calm. Harry followed suit, side-eying the Potions Master, who was resolutely staring at Fawkes' tail. Again, Fawkes spread his wings and they were lifted into the air. Warm flames engulfed them and then they were in Dumbledore's office once more.
Harry let go and took a few steps back before hands grasping his shoulders stopped him.
"Harry, are you hurt?" Lupin asked anxiously, looking him up and down.
Harry shook his head. "I don't think so." The truth was he still felt shaky and sore. But that was nothing compared to everything else. Harry could barely process what had happened. First his scars brought to light, and Snape and Lupin and Sirius...Sirius, his godfather...Sirius who had hurt him...but he didn't mean to...of course, he didn't mean to...he couldn't...
"Harry?" Harry's thoughts must have shown on his face because Lupin looked, if anything, more worried.
"I'm...um...I'm not hurt, I'm just...that was a lot."
Lupin stared at him a heartbeat longer and then abruptly pulled Harry forward, enveloping him in an embrace. "That scared me," he murmured.
To Harry's alarm, he felt warmth prickle his eyelids. But he couldn't help it. Sirius...Harry squeezed his eyes shut, suddenly grateful for the strong arms surrounding him, holding him together. He leaned into Lupin.
"What about Sirius?" he asked apprehensively.
"Forget Sirius," Lupin snarled.
So much for getting help from his guardian. Harry never had possessed that sort of luck. "What do we now?" He wondered if he sounded as lost as he felt.
"We'll think of something," Lupin assured him. He released Harry and regarded him seriously. "And I'm not leaving until we do."
"If you're going to stay, Lupin," Snape, who was still lingering, spoke, "then you'll need a room. I doubt even Umbridge would miss the fact that we suddenly have an unannounced guest."
"I don't care what she does or doesn't notice," Lupin snapped. "Frankly, I wouldn't object at all if she gave me an excuse."
"Tantalizing as the thought is, I doubt it would turn out well for any of us. Or for Harry," Snape said pointedly. "So we'll need somewhere that's less conspicuous."
"What about the Room of Requirement?" Harry suggested.
Snape and Lupin fixed him with puzzled looks. "The what?" Lupin asked.
Harry abruptly realized that he had just blurted out one of his friends' closely guarded secrets, not to mention the cover for the D.A. He could have hexed himself. Well, it was too late now.
"It's a special room here. It appears whenever you really need it and it can turn into anything you want."
"I take it you've frequently made use of this," Snape said shrewdly.
"Some," Harrys confessed, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Well, give me a moment to put on my surprise face."
"Never mind," Lupin said impatiently. "Harry, do you think we could make use of this?"
"Probably. I mean, it turns into whatever you want."
"Although," Snape added, "we should probably wait until the Headmaster returns. Unless...wait."
Snape strode to the fireplace, seized a handful of Floo Powder, and threw it into their flames.
"Minerva!" he called. "If you could come to the Headmaster's office, I need to discuss something with you. Lupin's here."
He stood back. A revolving shape appeared in the flames, and then Professor McGonagall stepped out. With a stately flourish of her wand, she banished the soot on her robes. Her eyes then swept the room, taking in Lupin, Snape, and Harry.
"Severus? What is it? Has something happened? Where's Albus?"
"Lupin came here to see Harry," Snape said without preamble. "And he found out that Umbridge has been using what we can call extreme measures in Potter's detentions. As Potter's acting guardian, Lupin is going to stay until the matter is resolved. The question of where he will stay needs to be dealt with. The Headmaster is at Grimmauld Place dealing with Black. We informed him and it...went poorly."
Professor McGonagall paused a moment, taking in all this information before her gaze turned steely. "What extreme measures?"
Harry, who was becoming resigned to his fate, extended his hand. "She makes me write lines with a Blood Quill."
"A what?" McGonagall seized Harry's hand, staring at the words in open shock, gently feeling his hand as though he might have broken bones.
"A quill that writes with the user's blood," Snape supplied. "And leaves scars, as you can see."
"Potter, how long has she been doing this?" McGonagall demanded.
"Since always, professor. All our detentions."
McGonagall's grip on Harry's hand tightened convulsively and a look of such anger crossed her face that Harry wondered with alarm if he was in for another explosion. But then she stepped back. Harry had never seen a person's eyes turn so frigid.
"I see," she said. "I take it Sirius won't be making the decisions?"
"No," Lupin said contemptuously. "I will."
If Professor McGonagall was surprised, she didn't show it. Instead, she nodded. "Then in that case you will stay with me. My rooms are near Gryffindor Tower and I have guest quarters. Severus, did you heal this?" Professor McGonagall indicated Harry's hand.
"Yes. It was rather worse for wear before."
"We'll stop by the hospital wing first. Don't look at me like that, Potter," she added sternly. "I want Poppy to make sure there are no ill effects before we do anything else."
The group left Dumbledore's office and made their way to Madam Pomfrey's domain. Harry was glad that everyone else was at Hogsmeade since their group made quite a spectacle, with Professor McGonagall marching in the lead, followed by a former DADA professor and a prowling Snape shepherding Harry. Madam Pomfrey was quick to bustle Harry into a bed, with the long-suffering air only a healer can have. When told the reason they were there, however, she become more serious than Harry had ever seen her. With a wave of her wand, she summoned a piece fo parchment and a quill. Both hovered by Harry's bed, reminding him unpleasantly of Rita Skeeter.
"Do you want a copy of the document, Minerva?"
"Yes," Professor McGonagall replied.
Madam Pomfrey began examining Harry's hand, prodding at the scars, flexing each of his fingers, and testing reflexes. As she worked, Snape added what he had done to heal the injury, which Madam Pomfrey dictated to the quill.
"Well," Madam Pomfrey released Harry hand at last. "I don't believe there should be long-term effects. Still a bit tender, I see. I'm going to give you some Murtlap Essence to apply. And, Potter, if the pain gets worse, you're to tell someone immediately."
Harry nodded, watching the quill as it added a sketch of his hand to the parchment.
"Minerva," Madam Pomfrey turned to Professor McGonagall. "What are we going to do about that...that..." She seemed unable to think of an appropriate insult.
"Leave her to me," Professor McGonagall said coldly.
Leaving the hospital wing, the group found themselves sitting in Professor McGonagall's study while she locked the door.
"Now, Potter, let's have the whole story."
Once again, Harry found himself telling everything that had happened. Professor McGonagall listened without interruption, for which Harry was profoundly grateful. When he finished, she sat silently for several moments.
"I think I'm safe in saying, Potter, that you weren't comfortable bringing this to me before."
"I...thought you'd get in trouble like Trelawney. And I just..."
"I'm grateful for your concern, Potter, but...it concerns me more that you feel you can't talk to me. I need to know what's happening in my House. I need to know when you're in over your head."
Lupin squeezed Harry's arm and nodded gently.
"I understand, professor," Harry said softly.
"Twenty points to Gryffindor, Potter."
"Twenty points?" Harry looked up bewildered.
"The last time we talked about your detentions I took five points. I thought I needed to impress upon you the need to control yourself. I realize now I was unbelievably wrong."
"Oh." Harry truthfully had forgotten about that. So much had happened since... "Thank you, professor."
Professor McGonagall sniffed. "Now, Remus, about my earlier offer?"
"Thank you, Minerva. I'd like to stay close for now. I hope I'm not putting you out."
"Nonsense." Professor McGonagall waved a dismissive hand. "As I am Potter's Head of House and you are his acting guardian, we'll need to decide together what should be done. Speaking of which, is there a reason Potter's godfather is not with us?"
"He cursed Harry," Lupin said, apparently in no mood to soften Sirius actions. Harry curled into himself a little and Lupin's hand moved from his arm to his shoulder, thumb moving in soothing strokes.
Professor McGonagall looked shocked. "He...what?"
Snape interjected. "He was aiming for me, Minerva. Potter was, regrettably, caught in the crossfire."
Professor McGongall fixed Snape with a hard look. "I see." She stood suddenly. "Remus, I'm going to fetch you some things to get settled. Excuse me."
She swept out. Harry was left with Lupin and Snape, the latter of whom had moved to the window.
"Harry," Lupin said, "how are you feeling?"
"Um...I...don't know. Tired."
"You're welcome to stay with me for the night if you'd like. I'd like your company and I know you're tired of telling everyone this story."
Harry thought. He wasn't sure he wanted to be alone, and having to be in his dorm...
"Would that be okay?"
"Of course, Harry. Of course it is."
"Then...yeah, I'd like that."
At that moment, Professor McGonagall swept back into the room. Harry turned and his jaw dropped. In her hands was—
"Yes, Potter." Professor McGonagall smiled warmly. "It's been too long since you had a chance to practice. We can't have Gryffindor's best Seeker lose his form."
"Our Defense professor," McGonagall spat the title with venom, "is away for the weekend. Ministry business no doubt. And I, for one, am no longer willing to indulge her narcissism. This is yours." She held out the broomstick. "Would you like to fly?"
"Yes!" Harry answered wholeheartedly.
"Let's be off then."
Fifteen minutes later saw Harry kicking off the ground in the Quidditch Pitch under the watchful eyes of two professors and a self-declared uncle.