~ Chapter Nineteen ~
Ciaran sighed. Everything had finally been completed. The Cabinet was in perfect working order as they had planned it to be. There was really nothing left for any of them to do but wait. The previous day, he'd sent a letter to his grandfather informing him of such. Now they would just need to play the waiting game. It wasn't something anyone looked forward to what with the quickening change in the Headmaster.
If Ciaran and Draco had noticed the Professor acting oddly before it was obvious to everyone within Hogwarts now. The muttering had become more frequent as had the pacing through corridors. One was lucky if they didn't get struck by the old man walking hurriedly down a corridor. He was becoming unhinged. Yet no one did anything about it.
The Professors had noticed but continued to turn their backs when pointed out by one of the students. They didn't speak up. They didn't interfere. They left each and every student to fend for themselves.
Draco had wanted to complain to his father and allow the Board of Governors in to remove him but at the moment Dumbledore's attitude granted them more leeway into their plan. With Dumbledore in crazy land and the Professors ignoring people's complaints about the Headmaster there was nothing stopping them from moving forward. No one would be paying any attention to them.
"Ciaran, are you certain this will work?" Draco queried.
Another sigh; Draco simply wasn't positive when it came to situations which included the Dark Lord. He was rather nervous about failing this task. Ciaran however wouldn't allow that to happen. Draco would be praised for this regardless of how many times Ciaran would need to point out everything he'd accomplished. He would make sure of it. He would make sure everyone knew what Draco was capable of when given opportunity.
"Yes Draco. I'm certain the cabinet is working properly. We've tested it so many times and each test was a success. The last twenty tests were accurate and perfect. There is no way this could fail."
Ciaran's certainty did help lift Draco's spirit. Yet there were always times when Ciaran simply couldn't bring Draco to believe in their plan not like Draco could turn Ciaran around. It was solid and working that was all they truly needed. Draco would believe that when his grandfather decided to enact the plan.
Though many despised this waiting game, Ciaran had to be on top of that list. This past year, though back at Hogwarts, he'd spent most of the time between defending himself against the Gryffindors and hiding out in dank chambers that really should have been cleaned better than it had been. Certainly, it wasn't the year he had been expecting. He'd expected to blend in and hide in the background simply working on making sure his grades were at their best. It hadn't happened.
Yet he still retained memories of games played in the Slytherin common room with the others. Private moments shared with Draco whilst their relationship began to strengthen and move forward. Then there were the moments he spent with his father working on Potions or with Charlie whilst the practice duelling. Moments such as this would never have happened if he'd planned to lead a quiet life this year. For that he was most thankful.
"We should leave soon. I'm sure father will notice our disappearance before too long and if he's seen searching for us then others will begin to notice as well." Ciaran gestured towards the door.
Draco stood and moved away from the cabinet. He was quite frankly relieved. Never before had he been placed in such a position concerning the Dark Lord. Without Ciaran behind him on this project he probably would have become rather unstable by this time of the year. That didn't mean however that he was comfortable with this entire project either. He was grateful but also glad that it was coming to a close.
Climbing through the pipes was also becoming rather tedious. Though previously cleaned it only took a matter of weeks for the damp to return. The mould and slime followed soon after that. Ciaran and Draco had to cast quick spells to clean themselves before exiting the girl's bathroom and making their way out towards an area that wasn't too crowded. Once there they were out of danger for anyone who decided they were worth following.
In recent months Granger and Weasley had been the two main offenders. They had been easy enough to avoid whilst getting into the chamber it was when they exited that they seemed to have a problem. Ciaran wasn't certain how they were doing it but suspected they had extra help with the portraits under Dumbledore's control.
Winding down corridors however it was much too easy to simply loose them within the depths of the Slytherin domain. The dungeons were nearly impossible to navigate unless you knew exactly where to go. Anyone other than a Slytherin had no hope.
Ciaran and Draco swiftly entered the Slytherin common room and proceeded to lounge on the couches. When Severus entered it appeared as if they'd been there for the longest time possible.
"Is your task complete?"
The shock, though not evident on their faces, was easily determined by Severus. Yet Ciaran couldn't help but ask,
"How did you know?"
"One can't out Slytherin an elder Slytherin. We easily take you out with experience." Severus replied, brow raised.
Ciaran sighed in exasperation and collapsed onto the couch, his head resting on Draco's legs.
"Now that is out of your system, could I have an answer?"
"Everything is ready. We're simply waiting for grandfather to make a move."
"Is everything finished being packed?"
Ciaran and Draco nodded. Their personal belongings had been packed for quite some time now however it was the Slytherin library beneath the school that had taken precedent after they had returned for the holidays. With so much knowledge beneath the school, Marvolo couldn't afford to leave it in case Dumbledore eventually figured out a way around the Parseltongue password.
"Everything should be packed. If we've missed anything it's because we don't know where it is located and not because we've skipped over it." Ciaran replied.
"We've been bringing up tons of the cases as well and storing them here. The chamber is clear of everything excluding the cabinet." Draco continued.
"We are fully prepared then." Severus nodded.
Severus was rather thankful for this. With so many children to prepare for departure having everyone coming to him with their problems was becoming rather daunting especially when he had to keep them from being spotted by other Professors. He simply wanted all of this to be done with so they could move on to whatever the Dark Lord had planned next.
"What is happening with Charlie?"
The question snapped Severus out of his thoughts.
"What do you mean?" he asked Ciaran.
His son appeared to be very restless with this question. Charlie was of course a rather huge part of their lives currently what with his relationship blossoming. Not to mention the detrimental relationship Charlie had with his son.
"Will Charlie be returning with us?" Ciaran questioned.
"Yes, it has been decided that Charlie will be leaving with us. The Dark Lord doesn't want anyone loyal remaining within Hogwarts once we leave. Eventually we will be able to return but until then all supporters must evacuate the school when the time comes."
Ciaran already knew this but he hadn't been certain Charlie was included in the supporters' category. After all he hadn't been with them long and he had family on the other side. Charlie could always swap sides if things ever looked like they weren't working. No one else had that type of opportunity. Ciaran had made sure he couldn't return by "killing" Harry and Severus knew he would never abandon his son. However neither regretted what they had done.
"Stop overthinking things Ciaran." His father instructed. "Worry won't get us anywhere at this point. Simply keep focused on what you have to do and everything will be fine."
Ciaran nodded, sitting up but still leaning against Draco. At this point no one could really afford to fall apart least of all him. He was still needed to open the cabinet doors and allow the Death Eaters inside. That and he was fairly sure that his grandfather would be amongst the number attending the raid. If he flaked out now his grandfather would be fairly displeased and he couldn't do that to his family.
"Try to keep a low profile til we're given the go-ahead." Severus instructed before sweeping out.
Ciaran wanted to spend more time with his father but at the moment with everything it simply wasn't possible. Perhaps when they were finally all away from here but until then…
"Don't worry Ciaran everything is alright."
A startled laugh left him.
"Just a few minutes ago I was the one telling you that."
Draco smirked. "We simply calm each other at different times."
Ciaran snuggled against Draco and allowed the surrounding noises to calm him. Yes, soon everything would be alright. Everything would be perfect.
Dumbledore wandered the halls. Words muttering out of his mouth no one had the hope of understanding whilst thoughts rolled through his head. No one needed to understand them anyway. As long as he understood what he needed to do that was all that counted. That was all he needed.
He needed that child to work with him. Ciaran Snape. Yes that child, he needed that child to work with him. Yet he wouldn't and for the life of him he couldn't understand why the child wanted nothing to do with him. Dumbledore was harmless. Dumbledore didn't mean the child and lasting physical harm; maybe emotional harm. But Dumbledore hadn't planned for it that way. Dumbledore hadn't planned for quite a number of things.
Dumbledore was thinking in third person.
Growling, he shook his head clearing it of thought for a few moments. It didn't last long.
Ciaran… he needed that child more than he knew. He needed… He needed…
"Headmaster, are you alright?"
He looked up. The question had come from Miss Granger and Mr Weasley. He couldn't quite tell which one had spoken. His vision blurred making them appear as if they were one person. Yet that wasn't right. He knew they were individual. There were two of them. What was happening?
"I'm perfectly alright." He insisted. "I've merely been thinking."
Granger and Weasley traded looks that melted into each other. Dumbledore couldn't determine what that meant at all.
"Yes sir, we know, only…"
"You've been… thinking… for close to a month now and you haven't instructed anyone on what to do."
Dumbledore released a near hysteric laugh.
"Why would I need to give you instructions?"
Granger frowned; the expression seemed to make a grab for Weasley's face. That wasn't meant to happen. At least he didn't believe expressions went that way. Weren't they meant to look attractive? Or was that simply for people he found attractive? Granger wasn't attractive… Gellert on the other hand…
His attention returned to Granger.
"Professor you are the Headmaster and Leader of the Order of the Phoenix. You're meant to guide us on what is right and what is wrong. You have to lead us towards the light."
Weasley was nodding ferociously. Granger must have been accurate then. How did he lead though? He'd done it before obviously. He just couldn't quite remember how that was. Leading wasn't something he remembered a lot of recently. His thoughts were surrounded by Ciaran… he needed the child. That child was the key to it all he just couldn't remember how or why that was.
Could that be the reason he was wandering the halls? He needed to figure out why Ciaran Snape was important to the cause. Why was he the one he needed?
"Actually, sir Ciaran is the reason why we are here." Granger interrupted him again.
Obviously he'd begun voicing his thoughts aloud. He'd have to watch that people would begin to think that he was crazy. A leader shouldn't be crazy. Gellert had taught him that. A leader needed to lead, to keep the peace amongst the people. A leader shouldn't be crazy.
"What information do you have for me?"
He wasn't quite certain what he had sent them to obtain but anything on Ciaran Snape was a plus right now. Any information he could easily get his hands on regardless of the subject would be a plus in his eyes.
"Well sir, we have been trying for months to get close to him."
"Befriend him really…" Weasley interjected.
"However the other Slytherins keep him away from us as much as possible. Then we tried to simply follow him around to catch him at whatever he was doing." Hermione scowled.
"That didn't work either."
Dumbledore frowned. He'd had people following Ciaran and they still hadn't come up with any new information on the child. He didn't know what he could do to change that. Ciaran was an integral part of his plan and he needed him he just didn't understand why that was. How was it that he couldn't remember even that? A change of plan was necessary.
"Leave Ciaran to me now, I'll take care of that. You should focus more on finding information on what they are doing in their spare time so that I can be prepared for it in case that they are attempting something under my nose that is rather illegal."
Granger and Weasley didn't appear to take his words very well. There was likely something they weren't informing him on the matter but whatever it was he could care less. He wasn't going to sit around and wait for them to tell him. Neither would he press the matter. If he did that could lead to matters he currently couldn't deal with especially if they informed the Ministry or the Board of Governors.
"If that is all?" Dumbledore questioned glancing at them.
The two students cast concerned looks at each other before turning and heading back down the corridor. Dumbledore didn't offer them any parting words. There were far more important items to think about than two students who couldn't even follow orders properly. He was certain that the Order would have done a better job at it than them but unfortunately they weren't permitted to enter the premises.
When was the last time he'd even spoken to the Order? He couldn't quite remember; a rather daunting thought in itself. Yet it didn't seem to matter. He knew it should. It should matter quite a deal to him but something was taking over his mind and he couldn't control it.
Was this a natural thought process, he wondered. There were times when he realized that something was amiss. Almost as if something within in his mind was becoming poisonous and dangerous. He slipped in and out of these moments and couldn't control them at all. Something was the cause… something was wrong. Then he looked at his hand.
The blackened thing was grotesque and always in the way. According to Severus, when he first sealed it away, the thing poured poison throughout his body. The curse was poisonous and deadly. It was also the reason he was currently dying. There was no hope for him. He couldn't avoid it like he had times before. This would be his end.
Growling, he strode off. His time was limited so while he was relatively in control of his thoughts he had things he needed to be doing. Questions that needed to be answered… People that needed to be spoken to…
It was an easy thing to spot. Slytherins noticed it first not that it was rather difficult. Ravenclaws followed them with the genius and all. Then there were the Hufflepuffs since half the school already had taken to seeing what most couldn't. The Gryffindors were left to fend for themselves. Another prank had been played.
This prank had been played specifically on the professors. Whenever a student brushed up against a professor they would change locations. It made teaching impossible but that was one of the better side effects. The spell didn't swap anyone that was in a compromising position which many were thankful for. All it did was take one professor and swap them for another regardless of whether they were teaching or patrolling the corridors.
It was a simple prank and one that easily caused chaos without trying. The Slytherins loved it. Ciaran and Draco both thought it to be rather genius especially since it included everyone to appear unbiased. Severus wasn't too pleased. Yet it gave everyone a reason to laugh in this time of strife so that was at least something.
Yet the most important thing many Slytherins had noticed was the lack of tailing Granger and Weasley had been doing. They hadn't been spotted near Ciaran for at least three days regardless of how much they continued to stare. According to other Gryffindors they appeared to be rather put out as if they hadn't been given something they believed they deserved. Yet it appeared as if Dumbledore had taken their place.
It wasn't something to be concerned over though. Dumbledore had gradually been losing his sanity. Ciaran's father had told them the details of the man's arm. Certainly they agreed it wasn't a pleasant way to go however he was there enemy and any advantage was a godsend. What unsettled them was the constant rabble that continued to spew out of the man's mouth.
All of it centred on Ciaran.
Plans continued to spew out of the man's mouth without any thought as to who was around. Slytherins would listen if they walked by close enough and relay the information back to Ciaran and Draco. What they heard honestly disturbed them and would have been his life had he remained Harry Potter.
Severus was not pleased with the plans Ciaran spoke of. He could barely cope with learning what had been in store for Harry Potter. Now that he knew his son was in the firing line he couldn't come to terms with any of it. The plans laid out left him in a rage.
What had the man been thinking? Ciaran wasn't a tool used for the defeat of the Dark Lord. He certainly wouldn't spend an entire year going around and killing off anything to do with the Dark Lord. Hunting wasn't going to be on his list of approved summer activities especially if it had anything to do with the likes of Granger and Weasley.
Draco was equally enraged but neither could do anything about it at that point. All anyone could do was watch the man for attempted brainwashing attacks. Ciaran would need to also be watched at all times. Either way they needed to wait for Marvolo to give the signal. They needed to wait… and it was slowly killing them.
Marvolo was anxious. The reports he'd been receiving from people within Hogwarts was far from what he'd expected. Severus and the Slytherins were all fine. They were proceeding with what they had intended to and had done so quite well. The pranks were just an added bonus. However Dumbledore's shift in attitude had him concerned.
In all his years the old man had never had such a sever reaction. Even with the curse eating away at him his mind shouldn't have degraded this swiftly. He should have died long before anything of this sort should have occurred. Something drastic must have changed between the months to allow for this to happen.
He'd attempted to use the stone. That much, at least, was obvious. Could he have actually continued to use the stone even while the curse ate away at him? The drive to even consider such a thing would have to be enormous which begged the question…
Who was it that led the great Albus Dumbledore to ignore any inclination to save his life?
They would have had to be someone dead long before he had started Hogwarts. The very mention of this person wouldn't have happened for a while either. The likelihood of this person being family was also high as Gellert was really the only person ever to have a relationship with the man.
Dumbledore was driven by guilt. It made sense. Aberforth, Dumbledore's brother, rarely spoke about family or contacted the man. He sneered when Albus was even mentioned on the few times Marvolo had witnessed the man. Obviously he blamed his brother for whatever had happened which meant he had an emotional link to this person as well. That led this person to being a family member more than likely immediate family.
Since the father had been out of the picture at the time and his mother was never mentioned, it had to be a sibling. Likely a sister considering it would mean more to the family to have a daughter someone that both brothers would easily fight to protect.
Marvolo smirked. Leverage was excellent though he wasn't certain he could use it. A little more research would need to happen beforehand but it was something. No one would attempt to use his family against him without retribution.
The morning of their last month at Hogwarts led many to be on edge. Everything was falling apart though they attempted to keep it all normal.
Professors continued to be part of every prank within Hogwarts some more so than others. Severus appeared to be one of the few that were targeted less than everyone else. Even some of the more troublesome students were pranked more often than their potions professor.
Then there was Dumbledore. His rants were beginning to gain in frequency. A few of the professors had to save a few of the students from his rants when he cornered them and began to speak. They still wouldn't do anything about removing the man and that was what worried them the most. Dumbledore was so far gone he couldn't even remember that he was the Headmaster. All reason had left him.
That morning Ciaran was seated next to Draco attempting to keep as far from Dumbledore as possible when the mail came. Relief flooded him as his grandfather's owl soared directly at them.
His grandfather's words were written in Parseltongue little surprise. Any message he'd been receiving recently had been.
The raid will occur tomorrow evening an hour before dinner. Be prepared.
Ciaran's smile lit the room. He needed to warn everyone.
So we're finally coming towards the end of this fic. It still has a few chapters to go but after nearly three years of writing this I'm relieved. Hope you enjoy.