Story Notes: This is the first story in the Unforgiveables trilogy. The entire trilogy is complete. This story begins during Order of the Phoenix after Harry tries to communicate to Snape that he thinks Sirius is in danger. Rated for violence and character deaths. All recognizable characters and settings belong to J.K. Rowling.
Drop a pebble in the water, just a splash, and it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center, flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling where the end is going to be.
("Drop a Pebble in the Water" by James W. Foley)
Chapter 1: A Single Pebble
Severus paused on the second to last step at Umbridge's shrill cry.
The pitch and volume of the scream changed very little as Severus turned and went back up the stairs. He could see the little toad's profile, her head bent low as she watched Potter with hungry eyes. All the other eyes in the room were on Potter—even as he was tortured, they couldn't get enough of him. Not even the Slytherins. Snape twitched his fingers and Umbridge's pathetic little wand flew from her stubby fingers and into his own.
Potter went mercifully silent.
Umbridge's fat lips formed a vaguely amusing, and thoroughly shocked 'O' as she spun to face Severus. Before he would be forced to endure her girlish hemming, he explained through still lips, "As I hardly believe you wish passersby to hear such caterwauling, it would be wise to cast a Silencing Spell the next time you wish to punish students." He returned her wand silently.
The woman had gone pale as she took her wand with trembling fingers. But then she drew herself up as much as her short frame would allow, informing him haughtily, "This is official-"
Severus looked down his long nose at the tiny, blathering woman. "Your preferred methods of discipline are none of my concern, Madame. You need not explain them." His lip curled. "Especially those which seem to be so effective in quieting unruly brats," he added with a tight sneer, flicking a black glance at the trembling child on the floor. There was the titillation of subdued laughter from the gathered Slytherins.
Severus glared at them. "It is nearly dinner," he informed them, raising his eyebrow in a command when none of them made any move to release their captives. "You are dismissed," he snapped and with a flourish of movement, his students dispersed, dropping gripped fingers from Gryffindor flesh. Predictably, the boy's mates moved with poorly concealed concern toward his now-unmoving form.
Dark eyes narrowed to encourage the slower moving Crabbe and Goyle to quicken their steps. Young Malfoy gave his grunts pointed shoves and the two husky boys lumbered off at a measurably faster pace.
Malfoy lingered as he rounded the doorframe, his pale fingers curling around the edge as he peered around the room at his wary peers. Severus' mouth sharpened into a disapproving line. Malfoy blinked at him and hastened his exit.
"What's wrong with him?" Granger demanded, her eyes snapping up to Umbridge. Umbridge paid no attention to the girl. She was smiling excitedly up at Severus.
"Well, Professor Snape, as you seem to understand-"
"Yes, I do," Severus reassured her, and then with a concealed twitch of his hand, the woman slumped to the floor.
"Professor?" Granger queried as her fellows allowed their mouths to fall open in utter astonishment.
"Pick him up," the Potions Master snapped to the slack-jawed redhead, ignoring the wild-haired know-it-all. Longbottom moved to assist. Their movements were clumsy. With a muted growl as he lost what little patience he'd entered the room with, Severus flicked his wrists as if the boys were pests. They sidled away reluctantly, and then Severus used his wand to levitate the boy. Potter's head slumped to the side, his black hair covering his closed eyes.
With a jolt of vindictive pleasure as he remembered a night under a full moon two years ago, Severus guided the arrogant brat toward the door. He could feel the indignant stares of his little cohorts as they followed. Not one was brave enough to protest.
Turning slightly as the Weasley girl crossed the threshold, Severus silently chanted a string of locking spells, which Merlin himself would be unable to counter. Satisfied that the unconscious pinked witch would have no choice but to wait for Albus to release her, Severus followed Potter's bobbing body down the stairs and into the corridor.
He glared at gawking students as they stopped to stare at the procession. As soon as they reached the Great Hall, Severus turned sharply to Potter's less-than merry band of imitation Marauders. "I do not require your company," he snapped. Longbottom flinched satisfactorily as he danced a few steps backward. The others remained where they were.
"But we can explain what happened to Madame Pomfrey," Granger said quickly. Severus narrowed his eyes.
"He was subjected to the Cruciatus Curse," he reminded the irritating girl. "What else do you plan to explain?" he inquired snidely. When Granger could come up with no other relevant information, Severus ordered all of them to get into the Great Hall. "Now," he commanded. "Or it will be twenty points each." He was, after all, feeling rather generous with Potter floating along like a puppet in front of him.
All of the children began moving at those words, each of them looking very sour. Severus gave them no more thought as he pivoted, and continued on his way to the Hospital Wing, with Potter slumped over the entire way. The position looked entirely uncomfortable. Unfortunate that the brat wasn't awake to feel it.
Poppy looked up from straightening the corner of one of the beds as Potter floated into the room. "Severus?" she asked sharply.
"Umbridge subjected him to the Cruciatus Curse," he explained without preamble, his voice devoid of emotion.
Poppy gasped as she rushed toward him. "Set him down," she directed.
"My pleasure," Severus assured her with a smirk. He ended the spell and Potter landed with a thump on the closest bed. Poppy glared at him.
"Severus," she admonished quickly before she began fussing over the boy, rearranging his limbs so that he looked very like a corpse. Severus smiled. "How did he become unconscious?" Poppy asked, not noticing the state of his lips.
"I have no idea," Severus told her irritably. "He lost consciousness when I took Umbridge's wand and ended the Curse."
Poppy stared at him in confusion. "How long was he under the Curse?" she asked briskly as she came back to herself and began waving her wand over Potter's thin frame.
"A few minutes at most."
"That shouldn't have caused him to pass out," Poppy murmured to herself.
"Potter is weaker than you realize," Severus told the Mediwitch dryly. Poppy gave him a disapproving look before returning her attention to her patient.
"Contact Albus, please," she said distractedly as she continued to wave her wand over Potter. Growling quietly in annoyance, Severus did as she asked, tapping the amulet around his neck three times. He didn't have to wait long until Albus appeared in the Infirmary, grasping the tail feathers of his phoenix. His face immediately fell when he saw Potter, lying pale and pathetic on the crisp bed.
"What happened?" he demanded, moving toward the boy.
"Cruciatus," Severus said tersely. Albus looked up sharply. "Courtesy of the High Inquisitor." Albus exhaled a long breath. He took the golden boy's bony hand in his own. Severus' lips turned down as he watched Albus gently caressing the limp appendage.
"It shouldn't have affected him this way," Poppy said, her face twisted in concentration. "Severus says he was only subjected to the Curse for a few minutes. And I can't find anything else wrong with him."
"Perhaps he decided to take a vacation from his adoring fans," Severus suggested mockingly. He raised his eyebrow at the elder pair as they stared at him reprovingly. "Reviving Potion may assist him back to reality," he added, more helpfully as he actually was eager to solve Potter's little problem so that he could return to his quarters and enjoy what little remained of his evening. So like Potter, to think nothing of inconveniencing others.
Poppy retrieved a vial from his storage cupboard, spelling its contents directly into Potter's system. The Reviving Potion had no effect. Severus frowned. There was no reason why the potion should not work. He eyed Poppy and Albus, both of whom were staring in vivid concentration down at the infuriating boy—couldn't even react normally to a simple curse.
"There's nothing else wrong with him?"
"Legilimency?" she asked even as she shook her head and since Severus had already surmised Albus' plan, he was watching the old man with wary consideration, but Albus didn't even look at him. Obviously, he meant to be the one to enter Potter's mind. Poppy nodded briskly and moved away from the bed, allowing Albus to come toward the boy's head.
Albus whispered the appropriate incantation and then the old man was lost for more than a few minutes, as they stretched far too long into the next hour. Finally, with a gasp, Albus broke free from the chains of Potter's mind. He stumbled a bit, and Poppy took his arms to settle him in a chair. Albus' face was filmed with a fine sheen of perspiration.
"Harry's there, but he's trapped in his mind," he said after several deep breaths. Poppy and Snape stared at him. "I can feel him, but I can't draw him out. His conscious mind is barricaded."
Severus made a noise of derision at the news. A Gryffindor who couldn't stand a few moments of pain. Barricaded himself, he wanted to sneer scornfully, but Albus was giving him a hard look, so he restrained himself.
"Severus," Albus said, his face softening a little, "Perhaps you will have more success."
Severus frowned. "You are as skilled a Legilimens as I."
"You are more familiar with the finer attributes of Harry's mind, Severus," Albus pointed out calmly.
"I am familiar with his Muggle relatives and their rather unorthodox treatment of your precious Potter. I have no experience in releasing arrogant brats from self-inflicted barricades."
Albus sighed. "We can't simply leave Harry in this state, Severus," he reminded the younger man, piercing him bitterly, as he always did with the importance of his enemy's son.
"Fine," Severus bit out, sweeping closer to Potter, and giving Albus no chance to gloat about his win. With a harsh, "Legilimens," Severus entered Potter's mind. But it was only moments later, completely exhausted, that he pulled out again.
Unsuccessful. The word grated against his conscious mind. And the disappointment radiating from Albus' blue eyes was almost too much to bear. Severus set his jaw as Albus sighed deeply before he excused himself to have a word with Umbridge, who was still locked in her office.
Severus was still stewing in his failure when the Headmaster returned. He looked very displeased.
"We will simply have to try again," Poppy said determinedly at the news that Umbridge had been no help.
"Perhaps we need someone who Harry is comfortable with," Albus mused thoughtfully. "Someone he trusts… Sirius, perhaps."
Severus snorted derisively. Black had no training in Legilimency. It was ludicrous, but Albus was already nodding. "The two of you together should-"
"Are you mad?" Severus spun back around to face Albus.
"We have tried both you and I, Severus. Even Dolores doesn't know what she did to him," Albus answered, sounding even less enthused by the prospect than Severus was.
"I won't do it," Severus said stubbornly. "Black? You can't ask this of me."
"You agreed to do all that I asked, Severus."
Severus jaw trembled. How dare he fight that way—with that promise? But he didn't allow himself to speak, knowing he was close to losing control. He simply turned away again and went to wait near Poppy's office. He could hear the Mediwitch and Albus exchanging words briefly before Albus ordered Fawkes away. Only moments later, Severus heard the magical bird flashing back into the room. A sharp gasp broke the otherwise silent air and Severus flinched at the next sound.
His adversary's voice.
"Harry," Black breathed, his tone nauseatingly timid. "What happened?" he asked; Severus tuned out Albus' response. He spent the intervening minutes Occluding his mind; he would not allow Black any glimpses into his mind. Even Potter had managed to see too much. And Severus was well aware of how much delight the Animagus would find in the miseries of his childhood.
Severus spun around smoothly at the quiet summons. He would not appear weak in front of Black. Black was staring at him, his face at least a shade paler than it normally was and he almost looked like he had recently emptied the contents of his stomach. Somehow, it was not at all comforting that Black was at least as distressed as he about what they were about to do.
"Sirius, if you would move a little so that Severus may stand next to Harry's head," Albus directed the other man. Black hesitated, giving Severus a warning look. Severus shook his head in derision.
"I have no plans to harm your precious godson," he spat. Black glared at him, and he moved only enough for Severus to barely fit in the space between him and the stone wall, though Severus noticed, with a twisted smile, that there was enough room so that their arms did not touch.
"Are you ready, Sirius?" Albus inquired. Black nodded jerkily and without any more warning than that, Severus pointed his wand at his enemy's head and chanted the spell that would allow him to piggy-back Black's consciousness onto his own and then with a quick spell, Severus entered Potter's mind once more.
"Sirius?" Harry gasped croakily as he found his godfather sitting on the edge of one of the Infirmary beds. What the hell were they doing here? Sirius grasped his arm as he struggled rather wildly to sit up.
"Easy there," he chided but even as he said it, he was guiding Harry gently upward, and then he found himself wrapped in a crushing hug so tight, he couldn't breathe.
"I thought you were dead," Harry mumbled against his shoulder.
"I'm all right."
Harry pulled back, his green eyes studying his face, as though he was trying to make certain of that. "But I saw Voldemort. And you were with him," he protested. Sirius frowned at him.
He held Harry's gaze for a long moment and finally sighed. "Voldemort has been sending you visions. He's been attempting to lure you to the Ministry of Magic. I was never with him."
"Visions?" Harry repeated with wide eyes. "Why?" he asked, his stomach turning at the idea that Voldemort had manipulated him so easily. Sirius sighed. Harry listened intently as his godfather explained about the Prophecy that Voldemort coveted. And Harry was more than a little disturbed that Sirius had no idea what was in the prophecy. But of course, Dumbledore knew. Harry scowled at that.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Harry asked, his eyes narrowing in anger at his godfather when he'd finished his explanation. Sirius sighed again as he brushed his hair back from his face.
"Dumbledore thought it best that you didn't know," he answered with a grimace. Harry stared at him.
"I was about to go to the Department of Mysteries to rescue you." He exploded out a breath with the words. Sirius' eyes widened in alarm.
"You were what?" he demanded softly as he leaned forward. "Harry," he breathed, but he seemed not to be able to figure out the rest of what he wanted to say as he stared at his godson with horror, and Harry somehow found the need to defend himself.
"Well, I thought he was going to kill you, and I couldn't just stay here and let-"
"Typical Gryffindor," a dark voice drawled and Harry looked up to find Snape towering over his bed, his menacing eyes peering down at him. "Charging in recklessly with absolutely no information-"
"I didn't have any information, because no one's talking to me," Harry snapped up at the Potions master. "What the hell was I suppose to do, just let Voldemort kill Sirius?"
"Five points for interrupting me, Potter and five more for your language," Snape told him smoothly, paying no attention to Harry's question, or Sirius' sudden frown.
"Was there something you needed?" Sirius asked Snape pointedly. Snape spared him only the smallest glance, before turning his attention back to Harry.
"Hold out your hand," he ordered. Harry blinked up at him, understanding immediately what Snape wanted to see.
"Why?" he asked, feigning ignorance. Snape narrowed his eyes and reached forward as though to snatch what he wanted. Sirius moved swiftly, making a solid wall between his godson and his antagonist.
"Don't touch him," he growled, his voice almost as dark as Snape's always managed to be. Snape narrowed his eyes; they glittered with hate.
"Such concern for your godson," he spat sarcastically. "So much, in fact, that you must know how much time he has spent in detention with Umbridge."
Sirius glared at Snape. "What the hell do a few detentions have to do with Harry's hand?" he demanded. Snape leered at him, his eyes suddenly filled with morbid vindication.
"Show him your hand, Potter," he ordered mercilessly. Harry tucked his scarred hand beneath the crisp bedclothes.
"Nothing's wrong with my hand," he insisted, his chin lifting a little as he stared in challenge at his professor. He wasn't going to let Snape have the satisfaction, and besides, he'd dealt with Umbridge on his own all along. He didn't need to worry Sirius over it. But it only took a few seconds for Sirius to turn away from Snape and find all he needed to know as he took in his godson's defiant stance…and the boy's concealed hand.
"Harry," he said softly, his grey eyes filled with worry, "let me see your hand." Harry's traitorous hand twitched under the sheet. Sirius' eyes were drawn to the lump and then with a gentle movement, he drew it from its concealment. He gasped as he read the raw, reddened words. "What did she do to you?" he whispered. Harry shifted in discomfort at the pitying sadness in his godfather's words. He tugged a little on his hand but Sirius wouldn't let go.
"It was just lines," Harry told him, tugging a bit more firmly but it was no use. "I'm all right," he tried to tell his godfather, but Sirius was staring at him, his eyes huge.
"Lines?" he echoed; his other hand closed over Harry's. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked hoarsely.
Harry wished Sirius would let go. He didn't need to be coddled. "There was nothing you could have done," he tried to explain.
Sirius shook his head, but before he could disagree, Snape was interrupting again to observe snidely, "You could have attempted to learn to control your impulses, Potter, and then Umbridge would not have felt it necessary to give you quite as many lessons on the subject."
Sirius jerked around, and finally Harry's hand was free again. He wasted no time in folding his arms over his chest so that the words were buried under his armpits.
"You knew about this?" Sirius demanded, his hands balling into furious fists at his sides. Snape's upper lip curled into a disdainful sneer.
"As much as I enjoy the idea of your best friend's spawn getting what he deserves, I would have had no choice but to report any such treatment of the golden boy to Albus," he practically snarled, as if he wished he could somehow make certain that Harry spent many more hours in Umbridge's office.
Sirius' knuckles turned white as he stared at Snape coldly. "What do you want, Snape?" he asked for the second time.
"You can inform Poppy that there is no potion to repair the scars on Potter's hand," Snape said through thinned lips. And then not waiting for a response, he jerked a medallion on a small chain out of his pocket and thrust it at Sirius, so that his clenched fingers were only centimeters from the other man's face. "Use this to contact me," he ordered. "Even one as imbecilic as Potter, should be unable to lose it if it is around his neck."
Harry bristled at the insult, but he deflated instantly as he realized he had no idea why Sirius should need to contact Snape. He watched as Sirius held out his hand for the necklace. Snape uncurled his pale fingers; the chain chinked delicately as it landed in Sirius' palm.
"What is that for?" Harry asked, his voice filled with an anxiety he hated. "Why do I need to be able to contact you?"
He didn't like the way Snape looked at him; he looked almost pleased. "Your godfather hasn't told you?" he inquired with a smirk.
"Told me what?" Harry asked, with eyes narrowed in suspicion. Snape leered at him.
"That your life is in my hands."