Severus could feel his stomach tighten as he and Atwater made their way down towards the boathouse that evening. The lights were already out and they had just managed to avoid bumping into Professor Binns out on patrol as he floated from one classroom to another.
They hurried down the stairs that lead to their destination, ears peeled for any sign of alarm. The night was a quiet one with barely a sound to be heard around the chilly castle grounds.
Once they were at the boathouse Atwater placed his ear to the large oak door and then eased it open with the palm of his hand. Garrick and Hollace were already inside waiting, Garrick was sat on the edge of one of the boats tied to the old wooden dock and Hollace was busy waving one of the oars about her head like an axe.
Garrick's head shot up and he grinned devilishly when he saw who it was. "Evening." He greeted them and pushed himself off the boat. He took Severus by the hand and shook it then went to do the same to Atwater but he was already pointing to the two large wooden buckets that were sat next to the boat where he had resided.
"What are those?' He asked without bothering to hide his interest.
Garrick looked pleased with his question and smiled again, flicking his eyes to Hollace who threw the oar into the lake and joined them by the boat.
"He wont say." She grumbled looking frustrated. She pulled her frizzy black hair behind her head and wrestled it into a hair tie.
"Patience, patience.' Garrick went back to leaning on the boat, he gave one of the buckets a light kick, it had a lid on it but Severus could hear a slopping noise from within, thick and sickly sounding.
They all turned when another creak of the door to the boathouse announced the arrival of the remaining two of their party. Mulciber slid inside followed by Avery who rubbed his hands over his arms and pulled his cloak around his... pyjamas.
"Why have you come dressed ready for bed?" Hollace cackled.
Avery blushed and turned his face away from her. "I forgot."
Mulciber shook his head in dismay. "I came into the dorm and found him tucked up under the sheets."
"What's that?" Avery asked quickly pointing to the bucket, trying to cut short their sniggers.
"Not yet." Garrick said quietly. He ran a hand over his short hair casting a look towards the open window. "Now we're all here it's time to send a message." He motioned for them to follow and picked up the two heavy looking buckets with surprising ease and headed for the door.
They all followed flipping up the hoods on their cloaks, six black figures ghosting across the grass towards the castle.
"Why're we heading back into the castle, we just came from there." Avery hissed through the light mist that had crept onto the surface of the grass.
"I had us meet out here because it's discreet and I had to pay a visit to Hagrid's cabin first to swipe these." Garrick replied giving the buckets a shake. "Now be quiet and stay alert."
Avery muttered something under his breath but then fell silent as they followed their leader back into the dimly lit castle corridors. Keeping their ears on the distance for the sound of footsteps
as they crept up towards the 7th floor.
The staircase was silent except for the sound of slumbering portraits. They pushed through the door that lead towards Gryffindor Tower and came to a halt in front of the vacant portrait of the Fat Lady.
"Perfect." Garrick said noting the Lady's absence. "That makes things easier." He placed the two buckets on the floor with a "thunk" and turned to face his following group.
"Time to get your hands dirty." He leaned over the buckets and removed the lids. Both were filled with thick red liquid. The smell was awful and filled Severus' nose.
"What the hell is that?" Mulciber choked covering his face with his robe sleeve.
"That's what you took from Hagrid's?" Hollace prodded the bucket and watched the blood slop.
"He's using it to lure the Bugbear in the forest."
"What do you want us to do with that?" Severus asked taking a step back from the buckets, his nose turned up in disgust.
"As I said, I want you to send our friends in Gryffindor a little message. Think of it as a test if you will." His eyes suddenly lit up with malice as he turned to face the portrait again. He looked up to the scarlet flags that hung either side of the entrance and scowled. "Blood traitors every last one of em. They want our Magical heritage watered down with filthy blood then that's what they can have."
He turned once more and held his arms out towards the buckets again. "We can't let them mock our history and let it go unpunished can we?" He then swept his hand towards the portrait and grinned.
Severus heard an intake of breath from Avery who was stood next to him. Mulciber let out a disbelieving laugh and Hollace shifted nervously on her feet. Atwater on the other hand took a step forward and faced Garrick.
"That's it? That what all this sneaking around has been about?" He frowned at him and surveyed Garrick with a critical eye.
"What's your problem Elwood? This is going to let them know what we think of their Muggle loving nonsense." He was frustrated that Atwater looked far from impressed with his plan.
"By throwing some blood about? We want to be Death Eaters not petty vandals. What has this got to do with anything?" It was Atwater's turn to sound frustrated. He looked disappointed. "You want to send a message? How about what they did to that Muggle in the paper. They left him unrecognisable with the Dark Mark carved into his skin. That's a message."
Garrick didn't reply he just stared at him, he blinked and then went to argue back but Hollace piped up.
"Well we cant really go round murdering the first person we see? We'd be caught straight away."
"Yeah slow down Atwater. This could be pretty impressive. Imagine the look on their faces when they leave for breakfast in the morning. Everyone would be talking about it." Mulciber looked rather excited now and wrung his hands together.
Garrick who was still frowning at Atwater finally turned to Mulciber and smiled. "Exactly. This proves to me that you're ready to take orders and take risks. You want in then you need to learn to tow the line."
Severus surveyed the entrance, he could picture Sirius and James coming out in the morning to be greeted by the sight of their attack. A fire burned inside his chest, he imagined their shock and indignation and could feel an unseen force tug at the corners of his mouth... then he saw Lily and felt a cold chill run down his spine. He pictured her face, imagined what she would do, how she would feel..."
"We'd be legends in the common room." Avery said looking eager.
"We cant tell anyone stupid." Hollace growled, rolling her eyes.
"So come on then." Garrick said taking a step back and looking over the group. "The Death Eaters wont accept cowards."
Mulciber mumbled something but didn't step forward. Avery shifted uncomfortably from side to side and Hollace despite all her willingness earlier now glanced nervously at the buckets, casting a look over her shoulder. Severus hadn't heard him as he couldn't seem to remove the image of Lily's face from his mind.
Atwater remained at the front of the group and noted that they were all looking at him. He looked at the wall, then at Garrick and then at the group again. He let out a long defeated sigh and then a grin melted onto his lips, his eyes devoured the torch light from the walls and shone mischievously. "Well I didn't say it wouldn't be fun." And with that he took the first bucket closest to him, swung it round and launched it at the wall.
It smashed against the bricks as the bucket splintered and broke apart. The blood showered the portrait and the wall like a tidal wave, blanketing the surface, covering it like a massacre.
Hollace cackled with laughter and Mulciber clapped his hands together.
"Quiet." Garrick exclaimed but it was only half hearted and he smiled broadly.
Severus took a sharp intake of breath as he surveyed the common room entrance. The blood ran thickly down the wall, pooling onto the stone floor below the portrait.
"Now that's a message." Hollace beamed and then had to dodged to the side as the other bucket came flying past her, leaving Avery's hands and landing onto the wall above the portrait.
"That's it Al!" Cried Mulciber, thumping him on the shoulder.
Hollace laughed again then took her wand and waved it towards the wall. The blood on its surface moved at her command and she let it spiral like a snake on the clean surface that had not yet been defiled. The word formed quickly in uneven lines, bold and ugly. "TRAITORS" curved around the impact point high above the entrance.
"Nice." Mulciber crowed and took out his wand, following suit and brandishing another word on the opposite side. "SCUM."
Garrick couldn't resist any longer and joined them, waving his wand high above the portrait. The words bolder and larger than the rest. "MUDBLOODS MUST DIE"
Severus felt his stomach lurch as he read the words.
"Come on Sev!" Avery cheered him on motioning to the wall.
"Yeah come on Severus, show us what you're made of." Garrick stood proudly in front of the defiled entrance, his arms outstretched towards it expectantly.
Severus took a step back. He could see Lily's face in his mind, hear her uttering the words to herself as she read them. Shame and self loathing rising to the surface of his chest.
"Don't chicken out now." Hollace grinned. "Get it? Chicken?'
Severus took another step back, he could feel his nerve escape his grasp.
"The Dark Lord doesn't have time for cowards Snape." Garrick took a step towards him sensing the boy's hesitation.
Severus was about to turn when he felt a hand grasp his arm under his robe. He looked next to himself to find Atwater staring back at him. "Just write anything." He said it in a low voice so that it couldn't be heard over the laughter from Hollace and Mulciber who were still painting the wall and covering the flags. "He wont care what it is." He squeezed his arm softly and then lightly pushed his back.
Severus took a step towards the portrait and slowly felt for his wand in his robe pocket. He lifted into the air swallowing hard. He murmured the spell and let the blood move on the surface of the wall. He glanced at the word "MUDBLOOD" and resisted the urge to cover it, he could feel Garrick's eyes on the back on his head.
He moved his wand and began to write the first letter. His mind went blank and nothing came to him. All he could see was Lily Evans. He drew a straight line... now what? He doubted a nice picture of a broom stick would suffice.
"RUN! SOMEONE'S COMING!" Atwater barked.
The sound of footsteps could be heard approaching from somewhere in the distance.
Atwater threw his hood back over his head and with a cry of excited laughter took off back down the staircase like a Raven taking flight.
The rest of the group hollered with gleeful abandon as they all ran. Severus felt his heart skip as he followed suit careening down the steps. They reached the main hall and caught glimpse of Professor Goldstein the newly appointed Dark Arts teacher appearing from the 1st floor corridor. He caught sight of the hooded group and took off after them, his long grey hair trailing behind him, his wand held aloft.
"Stop!" He yelled.
They all ran for the open entrance door hoping to lose him in the darkness of the grounds. Somewhere in the distance he heard Mulciber laugh heartily. "Old Goldstein's going to get you Avery, he's gonna curse you." He laughed again. They knew they were safe, too far away to be caught.
Severus felt his nerves lift as his feet hit the damp grass and then suddenly his legs stopped obeying him as they locked on the spot and he came crashing down. Professor Goldstein was far off but not far enough that he couldn't aim a decent spell or two. He wasn't the new Dark Arts teacher for nothing it would appear.
"Help!" Severus cried to the retreating figures of his housemates. He tried to stand but toppled over again.
Garrick spun round noting his fallen companion. He hesitated then shouted. "Sorry Severus. Keep your mouth shut and you'll be rewarded." He turned around and took off again cackling like a banshee.
Severus glanced frantically around him catching sight of Hollace laughing as she galloped towards the Quidditch pitch. Avery glanced behind him but didn't slow and Mulciber had vanished. Severus swore loudly and rolled onto his back. He'd dropped his wand and felt desperately around for it. His eyes fell on the approaching figure of Professor Goldstein dragging his dodgy leg behind him as he hobbled down the castle steps.
He was going to be caught, expelled. He'd be frog marched through the courtyard and out the gate. He could see them all now, Jame and Sirius cheering his departure, Lily would know what he'd done, she would be lost to him all over again.
Then suddenly his legs were free. Someone had shoved his wand into his hand and pulled at his cloak hood trying to drag him to his feet.
"Come on." Atwater hissed as Severus stumbled to his feet and they both took off at full speed back towards the direction of the boathouse. The night enveloped them as they sped up, far from the castle, far from apprehension. They clattered down the stairs once again and slammed into the boathouse door. Atwater fell to his knees breathing heavily and Severus crashed into a heavy trunk containing fishing rods and netting.
He rushed back to the door and slammed it shut. Silence filled the space as they listened for any sign of a pursuer. Nothing arrived and the pairs breathing slowed as their panicked lungs recovered.
Atwater slumped onto his back and Severus join him at his side.
"That..." Atwater muttered, looking over at Severus next to him. "... was fun."