It was not until after Harry's third day of detention that the words on his hand began to seem permanent. "I must not tell lies". It didn't even make sense for the last set of detentions, but apparently Umbridge was more intent on beating that message into him than giving logical detentions.
The red welt had solidified into a readable phrase as Harry went in for his fourth detention with Umbridge. As he wrote with the quill, he thought about how he should have told Severus. With the cutting bite of each letter, Harry thought about how this wouldn't be happening if he had told Severus. After all, there was no way his guardian would stand for something such as this.
But, alas, he hadn't told him. Severus knew that Harry had been assigned a week of detentions, but he didn't know that they were anything more than simple lines.
"Dismissed, Mr. Potter," Umbridge said curtly after quite some time had gone by.
Harry clenched his jaw in order to avoid saying anything that his hand might regret.
"I must ask, are you learning anything?" she inquired politely.
"I am learning a lot, Professor," Harry said, not bothering to hide his contempt.
Professor Umbridge smiled. "Good."
Harry left her office, slamming the door behind him. He was learning a lot about how evil one person could be. Harry trudged down the corridor, noting that it was almost curfew. The very thought of curfew made Harry prickle at the injustice.
"Harry," a familiar voice said from behind as Harry passed a set of stairs.
"Hi, Severus," Harry replied dully.
Severus's brow furrowed. "Are you alright?" he asked.
Harry nodded, straightening. It wouldn't do to make Severus more suspicious. "Yeah. I'm just heading back from detention."
Severus walked with him down the hallway. "If you are not too tired, would you like to come down to my office and talk? I have not seen you at all this week."Surreptitiously, Harry pulled his sleeve down over his hand. "Um..." he considered for a moment. He was tired and he was concerned that Snape might see his hand, but he truly hadn't talked to his guardian in what seemed like forever. Harry hadn't even had a chance to ask about the reason behind his leaving the school the other night. "Okay. But it's almost curfew."
"Let her try to give you a detention for coming to see me," Snape said with a venom that Harry wasn't expecting.
Severus gave Harry a sidelong glance as he led the way to the office. Harry was attempting to act naturally. After all, if Severus found out now about the detentions, it would be far worse than if Harry had told him at the beginning. Harry would have to explain that he didn't want to look weak, running to his guardian because of a mean teacher. That would almost be worse than the punishment itself.
"Sit," Severus offered when they reached the office.
Harry sat, folding his hands carefully in his lap. He could feel the sticky blood on his hand and ignored it.
Snape took his seat across from Harry and considered him. "Still lines with Professor Umbridge?"
Harry nodded mutely. He changed the subject rather quickly. "So, where'd you go the night that I got all those detentions?"
"I went to visit Mrs. Malfoy in regards to joining the Order," Severus replied.
"Really?" Harry said, perking up at the news. "What'd she say?"
"She is going to take a more understated role. We are not to let it be known that she has joined for her own safety, you understand."
Harry nodded. "But I can tell my friends, right? I mean, Draco ought to know."
"Naturally. They have proven that they can keep a secret," Severus said.
"Alright," Harry agreed. "So the Order is growing, then?"
"For now," Severus replied darkly.
"Oh," Harry said, letting the matter drop. He searched for another topic. "Have you, uh... Has your mark...?"
"No," Severus replied. "And your scar?"
Harry shook his head. "Not really. Sometimes if I wake up from a bad dream... It's not very bad, though."
Severus's brow furrowed. "And your occlumency?"
"I'm working on it," Harry lied. He tried to tactfully ask for some more cream, for he had almost used all of his little tin, which he really should have been saving for his scar. "Hey, do you have any cream that's good for cuts? I cut myself in Care of Magical Creatures the other day..."
"Certainly," Snape said, standing up and taking a tin down off the shelf. "Though I must wonder why you simply didn't go to the hospital wing."
Harry shrugged, deliberately taking the tin with his right hand. "I didn't think it was that bad and they always ask so many questions."
"Hm," Severus said, sitting back down.
Harry pocketed the tin and when he looked back up, Severus was staring at him intently.
"You're hiding something from me," he accused.
Harry quickly occluded his mind, but he knew it wouldn't hold up, if pressed. He was far too out of practice. "What makes you think that?"
Severus raised a brow. "You don't deny it, then?"
Harry hesitated and in the blink of an eye, Severus had scooped up a root from the corner of his desk and tossed it to Harry. With one hand still in his pocket, Harry was forced to catch it with his left. He sighed inwardly.
"Let me see your hand," Severus demanded.
Reluctantly, Harry dropped the root and allowed Severus to take his hand. "How'd you know?" he grumbled.
"I pride myself on being observant. You have been babying your hand all evening," Severus pointed out, pulling Harry's hand towards him. He studied it for a moment. "Wha-"
"Let me come over there," Harry said, resigned. He came around the back of the desk and set his hand on the wood for Severus to read.
"'I must not tell lies'," he breathed in mild horror. "How did you get this?" Severus demanded as Harry returned to his seat.
Harry bit his lip. "Yeah, about that..."
"Harry," Severus said in a tone not to be trifled with.
Harry relented. "Umbridge's detention," he admitted, adding hurriedly, "I didn't lie! It was lines, just..."
"With a Blood Quill," Severus muttered, face hardening into a threatening mask of anger.
"You're familiar with it?"
"Of course," he replied. "It is a Dark object; one that has no place in a school and should NEVER be used on children in such a fashion."
Harry nodded mutely. He had rarely seen Snape this angry. Perhaps the night in the Shrieking Shack when Sirius had shown up would be a match to the anger he displayed now. Fury reverberated in every move of his, every word, every expression. Usually comfortable around Snape, Harry flinched inadvertently.
"Come, Harry," Severus said stiffly. "I have a few words for Professor Umbridge."
He strode past Harry, heading for the door.
"Severus, wait!" Harry said, scrambling after him. "She'll think I came running to you, complaining."
"I do not care what she thinks," Severus snapped.
"But she's really close with the Minister; I don't want you to get in trouble!" Harry said, trotting to keep up with Severus's long strides.
"So be it," Severus said. "I will not have such things used on my son, or anyone else for that matter."
Harry gave up trying to argue. After all, he had to admit that he would like to see Umbridge fired. If his guardian hadn't been putting himself on the line, Harry would be happy to see Umbridge chewed out, but not at the cost of Severus. Nevertheless, there was nothing to do but follow as Severus strode purposefully to Umbridge's office. He banged loudly on the door."Come in," she called.
Severus did so with a venom, stalking straight to her desk. Umbridge blinked at him as he whipped out his wand. Severus grabbed her by the collar and slammed her against the wall with ease.
"Severus," Harry warned quietly."Get your hands off me!" Umbridge cried indignantly. "What is the meaning of this?" Her gaze flickered to Harry.
"Severus!" Harry hissed.
Severus let her drop unceremoniously. Umbridge straightened her cardigan with fury. "How dar-
"HOW DARE I?" Severus demanded in a low growl. "I am not a soulless brute who would use a dark artifact to torture students. No, Dolores, how dare you?"
With every word, Severus's wand crept closer to her throat. Umbridge paled, and with good reason.
"Did the Potter boy tell you that?" she demanded, retaining her air of righteousness. "He's lying."
Severus hissed, "How ironic that you would accuse him of lying after making him carve the words 'I must not tell lies' into his own hand."
"He's just trying to get attention!" Umbridge insisted. "You have no evidence!"
"Accio Blood Quill," Severus said.
Nothing happened. Umbridge straightened smugly. "No evidence," she repeated.
Harry was too wrapped up in observing to say anything to defend himself. Severus took a step back with what looked like great effort.
"I swear that should I ever find a scrap of evidence, you will lose everything," Severus replied in a deadly quiet voice.
Umbridge barely faltered. "I could say the same to you," she shot back. Glancing at Harry, she continued, "Just as I thought, running to his guardian at the slightest hint of trouble."
"Don't bother denying it, Potter," Umbridge replied. "We all know you're just out for attention and sympathy."
Severus stepped in front of Harry. "You will not talk to my son that way."
"Is he really your son, Severus?" Umbridge challenged.
"Of course he is," Severus snapped.
Umbridge gave him a knowing smile. "In paperwork only, it seems," she said, crossing her arms. "And paperwork can be undone."
Harry swore Severus got a shade paler as some emotion flickered over his face. "There would be no grounds on which that could happen," he replied in a voice that others might take as confident. Harry knew better.
Umbridge gave a gay giggle. "No? Nothing like, say, the writing on Potter's hand? No one would doubt that you employ Dark artifacts. Is that really how you ought to be teaching your son a lesson?"
Severus took a step forward. "You will not lay another hand on my son. I do not care what kind of influence you think you have, it shall not stop me from cursing you into oblivion, am I clear?"
"Crystal," Umbridge replied curtly. "Death threats from fellow professors..." She shook her head. "Hogwarts is just falling apart, isn't it?"
"Blackmailing by Ministry officials, the Ministry had been corrupted, hasn't it?" Severus shot back.
They glared at each other for a long moment.
"Perhaps it's time I do something about Hogwarts," Umbridge said with relish.
"Perhaps it's time you try," Severus challenged.
Umbridge stared at him for a moment before recovering her persona. "Yes, well, I think it would be best if you leave now. It is after curfew, Mr. Potter. As I recall, you still owe three days of detention, do you wish to make it more?"
Harry opened his mouth to snap at her, but Snape cut him off. "Try and give him a detention," he growled in a barely audible and nonetheless threatening voice, "I beg you. Try."
"In the interest of not incurring anymore death threats, I will excuse you, Mr. Potter, from your last detentions. In exchange, I expect a four foot essay on the danger and menace that Death Eaters pose to society on my desk by Friday. Understood?" Though she was speaking to Harry, Umbridge's eyes never left Snape's. He didn't waver.
"Understood," Harry spat.
"Good. Now leave, if you will."
"Gladly," Harry replied. Severus was still glaring. Harry grabbed his arm. "Come on, Severus."
Severus spun on his heel, his cloak billowing for dramatic effect. With a flick of his wand, the door slammed behind him. Harry said nothing as they parted at the stairs. There was nothing to say.