My Terrible Secret

The pain never truly disappeared. It bid its time, prowling beneath the surface of consciousness, waiting to be unleashed. And when that time came... fire. That's the only way to describe it. A black flame that chewed at my nerves, pounded at my head until it split, wound the tension around my body like razor wire. It came unexpectedly, suddenly spiking in the wake of a simmering tension and exploding the pitch world behind my eyes with the sharp fireworks of pain. And He called me... I felt I would implode with anxiety unless I knelt at his feet, reverently murmuring his name.

The Dark Mark burned in the night, burned with the fury of the Dark Lord. The one I call my master.

I gasped as I jerked awake, the pain evaporating the sleep from my brain. I sat up quickly, clutching at the disfigurement on my left forearm, willing the pain to stop. But the problem was, the will would not abate until it was satisfied, and it would remain insatiable until I returned to the presence of my master.

And I couldn't dissaparate from this damned school. That complicated things a bit.

Sighing, I rolled out of my cool bed sheets and pulled on my dark hooded robes, cursing the heat from the sultry late-May morning and trying valiantly to ignore the pain rocketing up my arm and that itch in the back of my brain. I was failing. But I couldn't let that stop me now... I had a job to do, and I couldn't let the others down. No... I couldn't let the others down...

Shaking a bit of shaggy brown hair out of my eyes, I fumbled across the dormitory until I reached a certain trunk... the trunk. I reached it and lifted its lid, cringing away from the inevitable squeak from the lid that always came when I especially needed silence. It came, and I jerked still, like how a possum or a rat would freeze when caught unaware. But no one stirred, and I silently thanked Sirius for his loud snores that had, over the years, trained the others to sleep like rocks (even Remus with his wolf-like hearing). And which covered up my little, ah, adventure, of course.

I finished opening the trunk, fished around for the old piece of parchment and certain cloak, and upon putting everything back as I had found it, set off from Gryffindor tower.

Between checking the Map for signs of life besides my own as I snuck down to the Slytherin dungeons, and trying for the life of me to be quiet, I once again asked myself why I was going through all this trouble, why I had turned towards the darkness. Then I remembered with a thrill up my spine that the Dark Lord knows all who doubt his greatness. The Dark Lord always knows. I would be punished for these thoughts later, so I pushed them from my mind.

They were waiting for me at the entrance to the Slytherin common room, three of them. Severus was leaning up against the wall, head bowed so that his dark hair created a curtain around his face, but I didn't need to see his face in order to know what he was feeling. It was the same as I: pain. Regulus Black, the 6th year that he was, had stationed himself in the doorway to the common room, leaning in the jamb with his arms crossed and a handsomely haughty look on his face. He did look so like his older brother; I couldn't look long at those piercingly familiar yet distorted eyes when they passed over me. I read defiance in them, but I really knew he was just a kid, just scared, like me. The third beckoned me from the shadows of a statue, and I unresistingly met her there: Bellatrix Black.

Her hooded and half-shadowed eyes bore into mine, and she looked as though graduation had come early.

"Are you ready?" she asked, motioning to the cloak. I nodded and held it up, but for some reason couldn't bring myself to hand over the map. I discreetly shoved it deeper into my pockets.

"Good," her voice was husky, and she stroked the material of the cloak gently.

"Finally," said Severus, pushing off from against the wall and coming over to examine the cloak. "You must thank Potter for the use of his cloak, Peter," he said sardonically, though with the hint of eagerness glinting in his eyes that was always present before becoming invisible. Funny how a man who generally was considered invisible by the majority of our school desperately wanted to physically become so. I couldn't stand being under that cloak, never could.

I grinned. "Yeah, well, hopefully he'll never find out about this little stunt. I don't think he'd appreciate it all that much."

Bellatrix growled with impatience. "Enough talk, c'mon. It's three o'clock, no sane teacher would still be in the workroom at this hour."

Regulus snorted as he emerged from his post and draped and arm casually over my shoulders as we walked. "Have you met the teachers at this school, Bella? Honestly, that McGonagal woman..."

"Hush," said Severus as he glanced around the corner. "We have the cloak as a last resort; let's not have to use it lest Potter or the Mudblood find us," he scowled and bit out his last few words, then strode purposefully down the adjoining hall.

Regulus, Bellatrix, and I exchanged furtive looks as we followed Severus through the darkness.

We soon reached a split in the corridor and hesitated: the stairs to our right led up past the library and towards the teacher workroom, and the tapestry to our left revealed a shortcut to the great hall (usually, sometimes it led to Divination, and none of the students were ever sure which one it would be). I glanced at the others and shrugged, choosing the most direct way to our destination and placing a foot on the lowest stair.

The others decided to follow me and I'd only made it up about three more stairs before a low voice cut into the night, startling me so badly that I missed the step I had been about to take and fell on my face with a loud whooof when all the air was forced out of me.

"What could three Slytherins and a Gryffindor being doing out, alone, in the early morning, I wonder," said the voice idly from behind us. "Surely not up to any, ah, Dark Deeds?"

We all stared widely around looking for the source of the voice, and I imagine our facial expressions, when viewed in hindsight, would be quite comical when we realized that the voice came only from a paining; but at the time I was in extreme pain, my nerves were taught with the anxiety of getting caught, I was trying to regain my breath, and the surprise was not appreciated.

I could hear the others shuffling over to the painting, and I grimly picked myself up and dusted off the cloak before adding myself to the group of Slytherins staring quizzically at the painting next to the tapestry.

The object of our curiosity was obviously not in his proper painting, for it was of a wriggling serpent, which didn't seem to mind the intruder at all and even wrapped itself around the aristocratic man. The man was tall, dark-haired, and looked vaguely familiar, and my suspicions were confirmed when Bellatrix and Regulus grinned at the old man.

"Now, great-great-Grandpa, why would you suggest something like that?" asked Regulus, giving the paining a rakish smile.

"Really Uncle, you're too kind," cooed Bellatrix, and I covered up an amused grin as best I could when I saw Severus roll his eyes at her.

The man in the paining stroked his goatee. "Perish the thought."

He began to speak again, but Severus interrupted him. "Please, Sir, if you could excuse us? We're on a bit of a tight schedule..." I don't think Severus noticed that he clutched his left forearm as he spoke, but Phineas definitely did.

Phineas Nigellus' eyes narrowed at the interruption, but he allowed it. "And you're a Snape?"

Severus nodded, a blush creeping to his cheeks.

Regulus' great-great-grandfather stared a Severus, then shook himself and nodded. "Of course, you must be in a hurry."

"Thank you," said Severus, once again heading for the stairs.

"Oh, I wouldn't go that way if I were you," said Phineas, sounding bored, and Severus tensed and froze mid-step.

"And why not?" he asked, without turning around. I could almost hear him grating his teeth in impatience.

"Oh, because he's 'patrolling' the library at the moment (probably out abusing his powers on an early morning stroll, trying to ease his long-suffering mind from whatever hormonal teenagers are always blabbering on about in this day and age. It's probably as self-pitying as it was back when I was in school). Anyhow, I ought to know; I was just there."

"He?" I asked, and all four pairs of eyes turned onto me.

"Potter," spat Bellatrix, and she lifted up the tapestry, holding it for us to go through.

"Oh," I said, hurriedly ducking under the tapestry. It would not do to get caught, especially by him. I only hoped he didn't notice that I was absent from the dormitory...

"But I wouldn't go that way either," added Phinneas. "She's near the Great Hall and heading down here, checking to make sure Peeves hasn't strung up some poor defenseless first-years all about the castle."

Regulus fingered his wand. "Normally I'd say let's head off Potter so I could give him a hex for my traitor of a brother, but for time's sake I choose the Mudblood."

I inwardly cringed at the name 'traitor' as I added, "Yes, and she isn't as good at dueling as Jam -- Potter is, if it comes to that."

Severus stalked under the tapestry and jerked open the door behind it. "I don't much care which way we go, let's just go!" he said. The remaining three of us shrugged, bade the former Headmaster goodnight, and slipped behind the gloom of the tapestry.

We made it to the Great Hall without much incident (thankfully without a detour to Divination), and it was there that we decided to use the cloak, just in case. It was annoying, trying to walk with all four of us under the cloak, and one of us rather tall at that, that I almost decided to turn into a rat and perch on someone's shoulder to save space.

Our destination, the teacher's workroom (the only unmonitored floo in the whole school we could potentially get to), was only one hall away when Peeves came zooming down the corridor, Lily Evans on his tale.

The redhead seemed especially tired and upset tonight after one of Peeve's antics; she was wearing her nightdress and it looked as though Peeves had woken her up. While we snuck by I inadvertently shrank away from her as her voice broke the silence of the hall, knowing full well what her temper was capable of. Thankfully, though, she was making at least a small effort to let the rest of the school continue sleeping, and held her voice at a screeching whisper.

"Peeves, I swear, if I ever catch you anywhere near the first-year dormitory ever again I will personally – "

Peeves blew a raspberry and cut her off, chuckling at her enraged face. "It wasn't Peeves, I would never mess with ickle firsties! Must have been the other four boys," he said, obviously lying. He turned over so that he was lying on his back in the air, floating inches from her face. "Bloody maniac troublemakers, that lot," he said in an uncanny impression of Lily.

My mouth popped open indignantly at his words. He's trying to pin something on us?

We could hear her frustrated retort ("They may be troublemakers but they aren't psychopaths!") even as we rounded the corner, and by that point the Slytherins had tears streaming down their cheeks they were laughing so hard.

"Man alive. Bella, I haven't laughed so hard since Severus and I snuck into the Quiddich locker rooms after Gryffindor's last game against Ravenclaw and transfigured Potter into a kneazle while he was in the bath," said Regulus, clutching at his side and trying to get a breath.

"Regulus!" Severus hissed, glaring daggers at him. "We agreed not to say anything..." he jerked his head in my direction, but I pretended I didn't hear either remark and instead busied myself with pressing my ear against the workroom door, listening for the sounds of any teachers.

So, it was a Slytherin who had done that to James, I thought. And we had all thought it was the head of Ravenclaw's team. I shook my head, feeling vengeful. So they thought they could mess with my friends and get away with it? They thought they could turn my friends into little treasure-seeking fiends? Wait... but... they were my friends too... weren't they?

Severus, who put a hand to my chest and a finger to his lips, signaling me to wait a few moments before we continued, tore me from my conflicting thoughts. So, we waited. Once it seemed as though Lily and Peeves had moved on, Regulus quietly opened the workroom door as I transformed, and I slipped through the crack to make sure no teacher was still in there. Unfortunately, one was: Professor Flitwick, who had apparently dozed off while grading papers. I headed back into the hall to share this information with my group, and squeaked in terror as I heard someone approaching the hall. Regulus scooped me up and tucked me into his pocket just as that someone turned down our corridor. I could feel the confident young man's heart skip a beat as we waited...

But it was only Peeves.

"She said if she ever caught me there again, well, I just won't let her catch me, will I?" he muttered to no one in particular as he bounced down the hall.

I felt Regulus relax and a cool breath of air as Severus whipped the cloak off of us. I didn't know why he took the cloak off but I was in no position to protest; I dropped from Regulus' pocket and onto the floor, transforming back into myself as I fell and landing heavily on my feet.

"Peeves," said Severus softly, making the little poltergeist stop short when he noticed us. He opened his mouth to call for Evans but all four of us had our wands on him so fast he only blinked. It was safe so assume that the others knew some Dark spell or other that could harm even a poltergeist, and I'm sure Peeves didn't doubt it even though I happened to be bluffing.

"Peeves," Severus repeated, making sure he had his attention.

"Yes, ickle Slytherin?" he asked, floating up above our heads and making grotesque faces.

"We need a favor," said Bellatrix darkly, though suggestively, "and I'm sure that the Bloody Baron would not like to hear that you refused to do someone of our noble house a favor."

And which noble house are you referring to, Bella? The most "noble and ancient house of Black", or the noble house of Slytherin, I thought darkly. Once again I shook my head, trying to banish these random and bitter thoughts into oblivion.

Peeves gulped, then straightened himself out and said in his most sincere tone (which didn't sound sincere at all), "It would be my pleasure."

Bellatrix grinned, only her grin was twisted and it terrified me more than her stormy eyes did when she was angry. "We just need you to... be yourself."

And with that, she tossed the cloak back over us all.

Five minutes after Peeves had disappeared inside the workroom to somehow get Flitwick out and we still hadn't heard a sound from either of them, I was worried, but not as much as Regulus was.

"Are you sure that was necessary?" he asked his cousin for the twentieth time. "Sending in a deranged Poltergeist to – "

"Oh Regulus, shut up and trust me would you?"

Regulus glared at Bellatrix and pulled out his wand. The pain and anxiety was definitely taking hold now. I could almost feel the Dark Lord's impatience that we arrive quickly, and I'm sure that he could as well. It was making him rash, and Regulus tended to have poor judgment when he wasn't thinking clearly.

"Want to say that again?" he asked, voice deadly.

"Sure," breathed Bellatix, snatching his wrist and pushing it away from her. "I said you're bothering me, so shut your fat trap already – "

"Oh will both of you fools bloody well be quiet?" asked Severus exasperatedly. "As lovely as it is to listen to pointless family bickering, I do not enjoy doing it while crammed right next to you under this sodding cloak."

"And besides," I added quietly, almost afraid to say it, "Flitwick could come out any time now – "

It was almost on cue. Needless to say, when Professor Flitwick burst out of the room surrounded a cloud of papers, being repeatedly whacked over the head with a fireplace prodder by a cackling and maniacal poltergeist, our fears faded away.

"See?" said Bellatrix with pride in her voice. "I told you."

Regulus shoved her out of the way and was the first into the workroom. "Let's just hope that Peeves bloody well keeps the teachers away while we're gone, or there'll be hell to pay," he said, taking a fist-full of Floo Powder out of a container on the hearth and tossing it into the flames. They sprang up green and vibrant among the smoldering embers, and all four of us crowded into the grate, hoods lowered over our faces.

"Malfoy manor!" said Bellatrix clearly, and I squeezed my eyes shut.

Everything instantly began spinning, the Dark Mark willing us where it may. It wasn't long before I was nauseous and thinking longingly of the solid ground beyond the fireplace. The three pressing bodies around me weren't making the ride any better by any means, and when I lost my balance, there was nothing to stop all four of us from tumbling through the grate.

We landed in a large pile, and I was unfortunately at the bottom. As the others stood up and dusted off, I glanced around the room, hoping against hope we had come out into the right place. My stomach sank as I noticed the pink wallpaper, lacey curtains, and kittens painted onto large ornamental plates that decorated the room. We definitely weren't in the right place. "Er... nice sitting room," I said, trying salvage the situation.

Regulus, whose gaping mouth I could see even through the shadow caused by his hood, didn't seem to realize we weren't in the right place.

"I knew he like ten-pin bowling, but this..." he said, gesturing wildly about the room. "Lucius has officially lost his mind. Are they expecting a child or something?"

"No!" said Bellatrix, looking murderous. "We're not at Malfoy manor, you prat," said she, taking obvious pains not to hit Regulus upside the head.

I smiled as I picked my self up off of the ground for the second time that night and cast a cleaning charm on the soot-covered floor . "Visit much?"

He glared at me and then at Severus, who was pushing him roughly back towards the fireplace.

Eventually we arrived at the Malfoy manor, muttering about all the trouble Regulus had put us through because he couldn't apparate yet. I'll never forget what we were made to do that night as punishment for our tardiness, and really, the punishment was much worse than the crime.

As I lay back in my bed in Gryffindor tower that night, and struggled to get some sleep before dawn, I couldn't get the image of the green constellation out of my mind. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw green sparks that contorted into a snake climbing out of a human skull, and I mouthed the incantation to myself as I remembered saying it: Morsmordre. I shivered and rolled over, trying to block out what I had done, but I couldn't. The Dark Lord's power was complete over me, and it frightened me no end.

I suppose that the facial expressions of my fellow Gryffindors summed up my feelings on the matter: horror, shock, sadness, anger... everyone reacted differently to the headline of that morning's Daily Prophet. MASS RAID IN LONDON, 8 MUGGLES DEAD, 4 WIZARDS DEAD, 1 MISSING...

Though I couldn't erase the guilt I received for my part in the raid, I also couldn't rid myself of the small glimmer of pride I gained from it. That early morning in May forever changed my life. I had done something that even my talented and ambitious friends had never done: killed someone. It was a twisted talisman, but I held on to it, and in the end it kept me strong. It gave me a cool-burning confidence that was never suffocated. It was my terrible secret.