Blindly Forward

by ObsidianEmbrace

Story Notes: A gift for jogger because she loves Sirius as much as I do. This story is an addendum to my novella, Dead Men Don't Bleed, though it can stand alone. Sirius has been exonerated and has adopted Harry. All recognizable characters and settings belong to JK Rowling. Enjoy.

~HP~

September 1995

"I'm not saying she was right, Harry." Hermione's voice was strained as she tried to keep up.

"Just leave it, Hermione."

"But it was only the first day—"

"He knows, Hermione," Ron cut her off, probably sensing that Harry was seconds away from exploding. "Come on, let's just go to breakfast." Or maybe he just didn't want anything to get in the way of the bangers they could smell from down the corridor.

"I know he knows, Ron," Hermione snapped. "I'm only saying it seems like Umbridge is a person that Harry does not want to antagonize. She's beastly!"

"Hadn't noticed," Harry said, heavy with sarcasm. "Thanks for saying the detention was my fault though."

"That's not what I said! Of course Umbridge was being terribly unfair—"

"What's this about Professor Umbridge?"

The trio turned. Sirius, pulling on teaching robes, was coming out of his classroom.

"Nothing," Harry said just as Hermione answered, "Harry served detention with her yesterday."

Harry nearly groaned as his godfather's eyebrows soared. "It was only the first day."

"Thanks, Hermione," Harry muttered under his breath.

"Well, it isn't as though you did anything wrong," she defended herself. "And I told you that you should tell Sirius."

"Why did she assign a detention?" Sirius asked, his eyes only for Harry. Beginning to feel a bit flushed under the intent gaze, Harry shrugged.

"Harry, honestly," Hermione chided. She tossed her mane over her shoulder and explained, "Harry told her that You-Know-Who is really back and she insisted that he was lying."

"She gave you a detention for saying Voldemort has returned?" The quiet question was full of incredulity. When Harry mumbled an affirmative, Sirius sighed. To Ron and Hermione, he said, "Harry will be along in a moment."

"Umbridge was being unfair," Hermione said, insistence in her voice. "Harry didn't do anything wrong; he was even polite to her!"

Sirius quirked an eyebrow at her. "I'm sure he was," he said and while Hermione furrowed her brow in vague confusion, Sirius cupped the back of Harry's head, nudged him over the threshold and closed the door. "Now, what is this about?"

Tugging his cuff down over still-tender skin, Harry answered, "She asked me about Voldemort and—"

"Not that," Sirius interrupted, "though we'll get back to it in a moment." He perched on one of the desks in the back row and crossed his arms loosely over his chest. "Why didn't you tell me that she assigned a detention?"

Harry stared at his godfather, unsure exactly what he meant. "It was only a detention," he finally said, realizing a second later that he was rubbing his fingers over the spot where Umbridge's quill had carved his skin. He stuffed his sudden fists under his armpits.

"But I spoke to you at dinner yesterday evening," Sirius pressed, leaning forward. "Why didn't you mention it?"

"Dunno… It was only a detention…"

"For telling the truth?" Sirius cocked his head. "Doesn't that strike you as odd?"

"It isn't the first time I've been given an unfair detention."

Sirius' eyes narrowed. "What exactly did Umbridge say?"

Shifting, Harry tried to decide why this was so important. But he saw no specific reason, only Sirius' expectant brows. He blew out a breath. "She told me to admit I was lying about seeing Voldemort. And when I wouldn't, she assigned the detention."

"What did she ask you to do?"

Phantom pain twitched through Harry's hand. "Lines," he muttered, sliding his eyes to the room's high windows.

Sirius didn't respond immediately and Harry finally looked at him. Sirius' arms unfolded and he rested his knuckles against the desk. "There is something you're not telling me," he said.

"No, I—"

"Did you think I would be angry with Umbridge?"

Surprised by that question, Harry opened and closed his mouth before shaking his head. "No—"

"Well, you couldn't have thought I would be angry with you," Sirius pressed, his voice just as calm as when they'd begun. "So then why didn't you tell me?"

Harry didn't answer, mostly because he didn't know why.

Sirius sighed. "Clearly, there is something off about this woman. I want to know if she bothers you again."

Harry slid his eyes to the high window along the far wall when his godfather tried to capture his gaze. The second detention he had already been assigned probably fell under that category.

"Harry," Sirius' soft voice brought his gaze back. The grey eyes were crinkled with concern now. "What is it?"

Harry twisted the hem of his shirt, mangling the fabric as he answered, "Nothing… I have another after breakfast."

"What?"

"Well, she asked me to take it back at the end and I wouldn't," Harry explained quickly.

Sirius' lips set in a grim line before he muttered, "Well, that's enough of this rubbish—"

Harry's fingers tangled in Sirius' sleeve as he stood. "Wait…"

Sirius paused, his eyebrows high as Harry gaped at him like some sort of dying fish. "Erm," he finally began with brilliance, "what are you going to do?"

"I am going to give that woman a piece of my mind."

"You don't have to do that, Sirius—"

"Harry, she is completely out of line—"

"I know, but…" He had no argument though; at least not one that made any sense. He untangled his fingers from Sirius' sleeve. "You don't have to is all..."

Sirius half-squinted at him. "I don't?"

Harry's shoulders rose and fell in the silence. His stomach was beginning to twist into unpleasant knots. And his hand; it throbbed in time to his heartbeat.

"I am not going to allow her to harass you," Sirius said quietly. He locked a hand around his elbow, his eyes studying again. "And there's still something…" He dropped his arms abruptly and tipped Harry's chin up. "I've mentioned how like James you look, yes?"

Harry blinked at the non sequitur.

"Your expressions are his as well," Sirius murmured; he gave Harry's jaw the barest shake. "What are you trying so hard not to tell me?"

Harry wanted to look away, wanted to insist that Sirius was catching at shadows, but the grey eyes were too intense to ignore. "Look, it's nothing—"

"If it's nothing, then simply tell me."

Overwhelmed by the patience in his godfather's voice, Harry pulled away. "It's nothing, all right?"

But Sirius wouldn't stop frowning and Harry's hand wouldn't stop burning.

"Did she say something—"

"No!" Harry exploded. He took a step back and forced himself not to scratch at the tingling scars. "It was only a detention! It doesn't matter."

"Harry—"

"Can't you just leave it?" Harry croaked.

"No, I can't. Whatever she did, it clearly upset you."

Harry shook his head. It was just a little pain. A little pain in exchange for telling the truth. To make certain Cedric's death might mean something.

Harry jerked back as Sirius touched his shoulder. He swallowed hard and wished Sirius wouldn't look at him like that. With all that concern he didn't need. "Look, I have assignments—"

"Not on a Saturday morning, you don't," Sirius disagreed, still quietly. "And you are not leaving until you tell me what is going on."

But Harry couldn't, so he turned away; Sirius caught his wrist before he could reach the door. "Now just a moment, here…"

Harry spun and was about to tell his godfather to back off, but Sirius wasn't looking at him. His eyes were locked on Harry's hand. On the reddened, chafed skin.

Suddenly mortified, Harry tried to pull away, but Sirius wouldn't release him.

"What is this?" he asked, finally bringing his eyes up. "What happened?"

"Noth—"

"That's enough."

Harry stopped his protest immediately. Sirius' eyes were hard, his tone absolutely unyielding.

"Enough nonsense," he said quietly. "What happened?"

Harry's tongue was sandpaper but it was clear that Sirius wasn't going to let this go. "It was lines," he finally breathed.

"For your detention," Sirius repeated. "What has that—" He lifted the captured hand. "—to do with this?"

The words barely made it past Harry's lips. "The quill… it carved the lines in my hand…"

Sirius stared at him, and then his mouth opened and closed without a sound.

"A blood quill?" he finally managed through strangled chords. "You used a blood quill?"

"I…"

"Dear God…" Without warning, Harry was gathered in his godfather's arms, and Sirius was patting his back, muttering indecipherable words against his scalp. Unexpected relief drew the tension from Harry's spine and though he didn't mean to, he pressed his forehead into Sirius' shoulder.

"All right," Sirius murmured after long moments. "All right," he repeated, the words brittle and shaky as he pulled back to search Harry's face. "To the infirmary then. To allow Pomfrey a look at your hand."

He squeezed Harry's shoulder and though it was difficult for Harry to look at his godfather, he allowed himself to be led out of the classroom.

"It's going to be all right," Sirius told him as they walked the short distance to the infirmary. "You're all right."

Pomfrey was giving instructions to one of the new additions to her staff at the far end of the room. She looked up as they came in, frowned and beckoned the other healer to follow.

"Mr. Potter," she greeted with a hint of exasperation. "It is only the second day of term."

Standing close behind Harry, Sirius gripped his shoulders. "Harry was forced to use a blood quill," he said without preamble.

The matron sucked in a sharp breath.

Very softly, Sirius said, "Show her your hand."

Clamping his lips together, Harry obeyed. He stared at a spot of wall beyond her shoulder as she cradled his fingers.

"Oh…" Wide eyes snapped up as she demanded, "Who did this?"

Sirius' fingers tightened briefly. "Dolores Umbridge."

"Dolores? But… she was sent from the Ministry..." She set her lips and then with her most clipped tones, she said to the new healer, "Murtlap Essence, Cordan. And a standard pain reliever. Do you have a headache, Mr. Potter? Stomach ache?"

"No."

She squeezed the tips of his fingers gently. "Sirius, take him to the first bed, if you would."

Harry followed the pressure of Sirius' fingers; he hunched over and let his legs dangle from the high mattress instead of looking at anyone. Sirius kept a hand against his back as Pomfrey joined them.

"Cordan," she said as he returned with the requested potions, "Use the Floo to contact the headmaster, please. And then bring me the camera from my office. Quickly now."

Harry's head came up. "Camera?"

"For evidence?" Sirius asked quietly. Pomfrey handed Harry the pain relieving potion and nodded.

"I assume the headmaster will summon the M.L.E immediately. I cannot use the Murtlap until he has seen Harry's hand; another witness aside from you. Drink the potion, Mr. Potter. It will help."

When Harry didn't swallow the potion, Sirius pressed his fingers against one of his shoulder blades. "Harry."

Wishing he could go back to his dorm and forget any of this had ever happened, Harry drank the potion; he handed it back to Pomfrey without looking up.

"I'm sorry," she began, but Dumbledore came in then, with swift footsteps and Cordan hurrying to catch up.

"Poppy?" Dumbledore questioned sharply. "What is this about Dolores?"

"She forced Harry to use a blood quill in detention," Sirius spoke before the matron could. He wound his fingers around Harry's and lifted the injured hand for the headmaster's inspection.

Dumbledore's blue eyes narrowed and then they lifted to Harry's face. "Are you certain it was a blood quill, Harry?" he asked. "Absolutely certain?"

"I—"

"If you are accusing Harry of lying," Sirius cut in, "for even one moment, Albus—"

"I am not," Dumbledore interrupted. His sharp gaze switched back to Harry. "Tell me what happened, Harry."

Harry glanced at his godfather, who was glaring at the headmaster. The tension clung palpable between them, as it had during each interaction since Sirius had taken the matter of Harry's custody in his own hands six week ago—and had won.

With Sirius' curt nod, Harry explained the previous night's detention as quickly as he could.

When he'd finished, Sirius' jaw was taut. And even Dumbledore looked disturbed.

"She cannot remain on staff," Sirius said into the silence. "If she does, Harry and I are leaving."

Harry shifted at that pronouncement, but Sirius squeezed his shoulder and he stilled.

"Of course she cannot," Pomfrey said stoutly. "The authorities will deal with her. Blood quills are illegal."

"Yes," Dumbledore agreed. "I will take care of this. Poppy," he said, straightening his dark robes, "if I might use your Floo?"

Pomfrey nodded and once Dumbledore's snapping footsteps disappeared into her office, she asked Harry to be still again and snapped several photographs.

Cordan was hovering beside her, the salve in his hand.

"Not yet," Pomfrey told him quietly. "If Dumbledore finds someone quickly, it will be better to allow them to inspect the wound." She turned to Harry and in an oddly gentle voice, she asked, "Are you in pain?"

"No," Harry answered quietly; he wished they would go away.

"Poppy, would you give us a moment?"

Harry's gaze darted to his godfather, who, by all counts, was not a mind reader. Sirius smiled, which shouldn't have been as reassuring as it was.

"Certainly…" Pomfrey and her assistant drifted away, their heads bent low together. Sirius lifted himself up onto the mattress. He massaged Harry's shoulder until they were out of earshot.

"If it hurts," he finally said, "we'll put the salve on. Doesn't matter if the M.L.E chaps need to see it."

Harry shook his head.

"Does that mean it doesn't hurt?" Sirius asked. "Or that you don't want the salve even though it does?"

Harry's attempt to soothe his croaky throat failed. "Doesn't hurt."

Sirius pulled Harry's head to his shoulder. "We will sort it as soon as we can." He squeezed Harry's arm and they sat that way until Dumbledore, flanked by two wizards dressed in deep plum robes with silver embroidery at their chests. Neither looked particularly pleased to have been disturbed.

The taller of the two stepped forward first. He had an unfriendly face and hair the color of sand. "Harry Potter?" he demanded. "Basil Rankien."

Sirius slid off the bed and interjected himself between them. "Sirius Black," he introduced himself, offering a hand to the other man. "And yes, this is Harry Potter, my godson."

The wizard's eyes swept over Sirius. "You don't look much like those photos that were passed about," he said critically.

"It is difficult to look your best when you're being falsely accused of murder."

Rankien stared at him for a half a moment, and then a brief smile lit his pale eyes. "Right," he answered with a curt nod. "You are Harry's guardian?"

"I adopted him this past summer."

"Fine then. We need Harry to verify Professor Dumbledore's story and then we will be on our way."

"On your way?"

"Officially, I cannot tell you our plans in regards to a specific accusation," Rankien said, "but if you're asking a question regarding general procedures…?"

He let the question hang, and with a grim smile, Sirius asked, "Generally speaking, if a person is accused of forcing a child to use a blood quill…"

"A search might be conducted by someone from the M.L.E.," Rankien finished. "If a blood quill were indeed found, that person might be escorted to the Ministry where they would likely face a trial."

Sirius nodded tightly. He turned to Harry and simply wanting this over now, Harry extended his hand.

"How did you obtain these marks, Mr. Potter?" Rankien asked, while his partner poised a quill over a small parchment pad.

So Harry went through the story again, and when he'd finished and his elbows were tucked tight against his ribs, the note-taking officer asked Pomfrey several questions. He took his own set of photographs and then the two wizards, with Dumbledore following this time, left the infirmary.

Pomfrey offered the salve as soon as they were gone. She spread it without fuss and handed the jar to Sirius. "He may need another application this evening."

"Thank you, Poppy…"

She smiled at them and with an uncharacteristic pat for Harry's shoulder, she ushered her assistant back to the office.

"We've missed breakfast," Sirius said as he found Harry's gaze. "We'll eat in my quarters."

"But you're supposed to see Remus today—"

"Remus will keep," Sirius said. "This is more important. And you need to eat."

"That's all right—"

"You are not skipping breakfast. Let's go."

When Harry didn't immediately move, Sirius jerked his head toward the door. So Harry slid from his perch.

"Umbridge won't come near you again," Sirius said as they walked through the corridors. "I will make certain of that."

Harry nodded. He could feel Sirius' eyes on him.

Two corridors later, as they came to Sirius' new quarters, his godfather said quietly, "You should have told me."

Harry wanted to nod, since he knew very well Sirius didn't hold silence in high regard. He hadn't allowed him to be silent about the nightmares that sometimes plagued him. Or about the Dursleys.

Sirius had turned himself in for a trial so that he wouldn't have to go back there.

Harry heard himself mumbling, "I know."

"Why didn't you then?"

And still, Harry had no answer. Sirius put a hand on his wrist; Harry stopped walking and faced his godfather. Sirius' features were pinched, his grey eyes hard.

"What is it going to take?" he asked quietly as he gripped the wrist. "For you to realize that you are not alone?"

Harry blinked rapidly. "I know," he tried to say, but his throat wouldn't allow anything else.

Sirius' voice shook. "She had no right to hurt you, do you understand me?"

Harry bit hard on his cheek and nodded clumsily.

"And if someone ever hurts you again, I want to know about it. Is that clear?"

Harry's breath hitched, breaking the whispered, "Yes sir."

Sirius' chest rose and fell. And just as Harry was certain he'd be released, Sirius said in a gravelly voice, "Come here." Fighting the sting taking over his throat and sinuses, Harry went forward blindly, but Sirius' arms were there so it didn't matter.

He refused to cry, so he clamped his jaw tight and just wrapped his arms around his godfather. And when he couldn't stand the silence any longer he mumbled, "I'm sorry."

"I don't need an apology," Sirius muttered against his hair. "I just want you to understand what this—" His arms tightened. "—means. You and me."

Harry fumbled another apology, hoping it might help. He had never cared when his aunt and uncle were cross with him, but this was different. The weight in his chest felt like it might swallow him.

Sirius breathed deeply. "I know, Harry. You don't have to take care of everything on your own. That's what I'm here for." And although it was impossible, he hugged Harry tighter. "I promise I won't disappoint you."

Fin