Professor Snape sat and scowled at the boy standing on the other side of the table. "You know why you are here Crabbe?"
"Is it about that, sir?" said Crabbe, pointing at the clock on the table.
"You know what it is?"
"A clock, sir."
"'A clock, sir.' Do not play games with me, Crabbe. It is a Portkey. You brought it into school. Do not deny it."
"Yes, sir. But it doesn't work."
"Lucky for you. Have you any idea how dangerous an unauthorized Portkey can be? They have been a favoured method of kidnap and worse for centuries. … I suppose you got if off some peddler in Diagon Alley?"
"No, sir. … I … I found it in an old cupboard."
"And you brought it into school, against school rules."
Crabbe stood silent and red faced.
"It is confiscated. I shall examine its nature. If it is harmless I shall return it directly to your father and tell him exactly how I came by it." Crabbe opened his mouth to say something, but a glare from the professor silenced him. "If it is dark magic, which I rather think it is, then I will - at the very least - have to inform the Headmaster. Now get out."
Professor Snape used the visitors' entrance and headed straight for the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. "Arthur, I have something to show you."
"Severus! We don't often see you here in the Ministry. It must be serious. How can I help?"
"Take a look at this. I think it is safe to touch, but you might wear anti-jinx gloves if you're feeling cautious."
"Um. Looks like a Muggle clock. You have to turn this key-thing at the back to make it work."
"Yes, yes, I know about clockwork. But this is also a Portkey. I'd like your opinion on it. I confiscated it from a boy in my house."
Arthur Weasley examined the small clock more closely. "The Muggles have a saying, Severus: 'close, but not a cigar.' … I think that's right?"
"What in Merlin's name do you mean?"
"This is no ordinary Portkey. In fact, I'm not sure whether it's strictly a Portkey at all. However, it is something very magical disguised as a non-magical household item. May I ask who brought it into Hogwarts?"
"That is between him and me."
Arthur shrugged. "Well, it could be dark magic. Do you want me to impound it?"
"If your lot get their hands on it I'll never see it again. I'll deal with it myself."
"I don't doubt your abilities, Severus, but I do strongly recommend that you keep it locked up out of sight and handle it as little as possible."
"Thank you for the warning, Arthur, but there is another Muggle saying: 'don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs'."
Professor Lupin was preparing for a class when Professor Snape appeared in the doorway. "Ah, Severus, come in. You have a new potion for me to try? It's good of you to work so hard on my accord."
Snape put down the little flask he was holding. "Do try to take it at the right time, Remus, otherwise all my effort is for nothing. … As the Defence-Against-The-Dark-Arts expert you might want to look at this." He held out the clock he had taken from Crabbe.
Lupin gingerly took it and placed it on his desk. He took up a magnifying glass and studied the clock carefully. "Where did you get this? I've seen nothing quite like it before."
"I've been showing it around; nobody seems to know exactly what it is. It is some form of Portkey – not active of course – but not of the usual kind, and there is something else to it as well."
"You must think it has some dark magic in it. … Have you asked Mad-Eye Moody?"
"I showed it to him over the Floo network. He said I should 'put it in a dark cupboard and forget about it'!"
"Is that such bad idea? It could be deadly. You don't jump down a dragon's throat to see what she had for lunch."
Dumbledore welcomed Professor Snape into the Headmaster's office. "You have a little diversion for me, I think you said, Severus. That may be no bad thing in these troubled times."
"Thank you, Headmaster. I must confess that the mystery of this little object has been bothering me. I even took it to Borgin and Burkes for an opinion, but they could tell me nothing I didn't know."
"Could the object itself have induced an obsession in you? It wouldn't be the first magical thing to do that."
Snape looked aghast, shocked that this had not occurred to him. He gulped. "It could. I do have an urge to wind it up and see what happens; every day that urge becomes stronger."
"May I examine it? … Thank you. … You are right, I am sure, that it is activated when it is wound up. … There are many spells wrapped around this little thing. Fascinating."
Dumbledore opened a cupboard and produced a mirror which he placed upright on his desk. "This is a True Mirror: it shows the true form of any object reflected in it. Let us see what it reveals." He placed the 'clock' in front of the mirror. "Well, well. … Severus, what do you see in the mirror?"
Professor Severus peered into the mirror and manoeuvred to see a clear reflection of the clock. "There's a portrait where the dial was. Who is it?"
"That young man's face looks familiar, but I can't put a name to him. I shall recall it, bye and bye. My guess is that this strange Portkey is set to a person - that man - rather than a place. Use it and it will take you to him, wherever he may be. But will it bring you back again? Most Portkeys of that rare type do not. Alas, there is only one certain way to find out – a very risky one. I beg you, Severus, do not try it. Return this thing to its owner and warn them not to use it."
"It is unlike you, Headmaster, to counsel caution."
Professor Dumbledore stroked his beard and stared over his glasses at Professor Snape. "I can see, Severus, that this device has you trapped: you cannot now surrender it of your own free will; and left with it you would use it, sooner or later."
"So what do you intend to do? Take it from me?"
"Its hold on you is very strong. You must fight it; no one has greater skills in mind control. Fight it Severus, you must!"
"There are potions that can help. What bothers me most is that I had not even realised I was under a compulsion. There is a lot of cunning magic in this thing."
"Indeed there is. You confiscated it, I gather. From whom?"
"Vincent Crabbe. His father was – is - a Death Eater."
"In which case you are better placed to sound him out than I. But start with young Crabbe. I suspect that one effect of this devious bundle of mischief is that those in its thrall can be less than fulsome with the truth."
"So I'm to administer Veritaserum to one of our students?"
"Of course not. Just interview him again, he has had time to recover from its influence."
"So Crabbe, don't be nervous, you're not in trouble, at least not this time. It is important that I fully understand that clock-like Portkey I had to take from you. Do you understand?"
"Good. Now what can you tell me about it?"
"Nothing, sir. I just found it, that's all."
"In an old cupboard you said, I think?"
"And it belongs to your father, I presume?"
"The clock, sir, or the cupboard?"
The professor exercised great self-control. "Let us concentrate on the 'clock' shall we?"
"It was in a cupboard here, sir, in school. Nothing to do with my father, I think. Sir."
The professor again exercised great self-control. "You found the 'clock' in a school cupboard and just took it. It did not occur to you that it was not yours to take?"
"It was in the Room of Requirements, sir. …"
"Take me there."
Back in Dumbledore's office, Professor Snape described to the Headmaster what he had seen. "It's a huge room and full of great piles of junk, mostly dilapidated furniture. Crabbe couldn't find that cupboard again and swears it must have been moved."
"What was he doing there, and how did he happen to find that Portkey?"
"He says he went in with young Malfoy and that the cupboard door just happened to swing open as he went past."
"Hm. … I think the 'clock' found him, rather than the other way round. Then it found you, a rather bigger catch. … And I think it most likely that the young man pictured on the 'clock' is the student who placed it in this Room of Requirements."
"Yes, but who made it? No mere student could have fashioned such a device. And why is it active now?"
"During my time at Hogwarts there have been a few - a very few - exceptionally talented students. Do you remember a strange Ravenclaw called Howl? Useless with a wand; could hardly get a broomstick off the ground; yet he was extraordinarily able: even without a wand he could do things way beyond his fellow students. You must remember him, he would have been in your potions class: a bit of a dandy and very popular with the girls."
"My star pupil, that popinjay? You think that was him in the 'clock' portrait? Perhaps if I saw it again. … He disappeared suddenly, didn't he, and was never seen again?"
"Yes, before my very eyes. I was teaching apparition, he disapparated to no one knows where and didn't return. I notified the Ministry, of course, but no trace of him was ever found; nor could they find where he came from: it was as though he had never existed."
Professor Snape produced a cloth bag from within his cloak. "I have the Portkey here in this keep-safe bag. Let me take another look in your True Mirror."
He stared into the True Mirror for some time. "Yes, it is him. The hair is different, that's why I didn't recognize him." He straightened up. "So. What now?"
"We have to ask ourselves," said Dumbledore, "we have to ask: why did young Howl create this Portkey, and why is he using it now?"
"The boy has got himself in trouble and wants us to sort it out for him! I would like to use the Portkey and go and tell him exactly what I think of him using magic on me; I'll burn his ears off, the pest."
"Perhaps you should go, Severus, it is one way to cure your obsession." Dumbledore grinned sardonically through his whiskers. "Consider though, that young Howl might really need your expert help: go and pack a bag of useful potions and come back in one hour. While you are doing that I will conjure up a Portkey to bring you back: apparating would be far too risky."
When Professor Snape returned he found Professor Flitwick talking with the Headmaster. "Ah, Severus, I've been putting Filius in the picture; he knew Howl better than any of us."
"I was his Head of House, Severus, and he was my star pupil too: his power and skill at charms was remarkable. I am going with you - unless you have had second thoughts?"
Snape towered over his diminutive colleague. "You do realise that until today the Headmaster – and everyone else – was totally against my using the Portkey?"
"That was before we knew that it was Howl. Howl! If he wants help from Hogwarts then he must be desperate."
Dumbledore held out two wristwatches: "Well if you two are determined there is no point in delay. Here is a Portkey for each of you, put them on. Pull out the little knob and it will bring you back here no matter where you are."
The two Professors put on the Portkey-watches, and linked arms. Flitwick wound Howl's 'clock' while Snape held his bag of potions in one hand and his wand in the other. Suddenly and silently they were gone, with barely a flicker. Professor Dumbledore sat himself down behind his large desk and waited, alert in anticipation for whoever or whatever might appear in front of him.
He did not have long to wait: a huge blue monster materialised in front of him, Snape, so it seemed, held in its clutches. Dumbledore rose, wand in hand, to stun the great creature, but Snape's call stopped him: "Quick Dumbledore, Howl is in trouble, this transfiguration is killing him! Get Madam Pomfrey!" And Snape, who was supporting the unconscious beast, eased it gently down. It was like an enormous bird, and it began shedding quantities of blue feathers, carpeting the floor.
Within a few minutes both Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall were bending over a half-man half-bird and exchanging hurried words with each other. Professor Snape stood anxiously behind them, watching their every action and handing out potions from his bag when they were asked for. The feathers gradually disappeared and the bird-beast shrank, finally morphing into a young man.
Dumbledore, who had kept out of his staff's way, now came forward to peer closely at the man's face. "Well, it certainly appears to be Howl. Do you have a diagnosis Poppy?"
"Exhaustion, Headmaster: a rest and a tonic and he'll be fit as a fiddle. It was a close thing, though. Severus got to him just in time: the transfiguration would soon have been irreversible, and he would not have survived long. Not a nice way to die. We can take him to the infirmary now for treatment. He should come round soon."
"No Poppy, stay here," Dumbledore insisted, "You may be required at any moment. Filius has yet to return and he too may need your care."
"I don't think he is in any danger," said Snape. "There are others living there – a deeply magical place – and Flitwick wanted to talk with them. We just have to wait."
"Shush everybody!" interrupted Madam Pomfrey, "He's coming round." A dazed Howl was helped into a chair, and a house-elf who had been standing patiently out of the way came forwards with a mug of hot chocolate on a tray. Madam Pomfrey helped Howl to drink. By the time the mug was empty Howl was much revived, and tried to stand. "Just rest a little more, young man," said Madam Pomfrey, "Wait until your strength returns."
"May I talk to him, Poppy?" asked Dumbledore. "It is Howl isn't it? I have many questions, but Professor Snape here deserves an immediate answer to one in particular: why did you create that devious Portkey which has been troubling him so much? Could you not have found a simpler method of asking for our help?"
Howl struggled to his feet and made a deep, formal bow, "Professor, I am ever in your debt and Professor Snape is indeed due a thousand apologies. That Portkey was an adolescent project which I left behind when I quit the school. When I needed help there wasn't any other way I could contact you. I live much further away than you might think."
Snape frowned. "That Portkey of yours started up two weeks ago at least. You knew you had a serious problem then, and yet you still carried on with transfiguration? One day later and you would have been beyond all help."
"It was not for myself I called for help. Your arrival indeed saved me, but it was for Sophie's sake that I tried to summons you. She is under a witch's curse which I have not been able to lift. Perhaps Professor Flitwick can help." He suddenly collapsed onto the chair with a howl of misery: "How can I possibly get back to her? My Portkey was set to me, and I'm here!"
That silenced everyone for a moment. Dumbledore spoke first: "Is there any way we can send Professor Flitwick a message? It is remarkable what our owls can do."
"I don't know," wailed Howl, "My castle is difficult to get to from here."
"Our first priority," said Madam Pomfrey, "is to get you well. You are in no state to think straight right now. You need several hours deep sleep and more of Professor Snape's restorative potions."
"Quite right, Poppy," said Dumbledore. "A night's bed rest for you, Howl, even if we have to drug you."
Howl resisted, but was too weak to prevent Dumbledore from putting him into a deep sleep. A bed was conjured up and Howl was left under warm covers sound asleep in a darkened corner.
Madam Pomfey had other patients to attend to and returned to the infirmary. After an owl had been dispatched with a message for Professor Flitwick, Dumbledore and Snape took to comfortable chairs to wait as patiently as they could for his return.
They did not have very long to wait: Flitwick was suddenly in the room. "Dumbledore, is Howl, OK?"
"He is Filius. Did my owl reach you?"
"No, but I am here now, and I have much to tell you."
Snape was not pleased: "I see you have that Portkey thing of Howl's with you. Has it not occurred to you, Filius, that it is keyed to Howl's person. How can Howl get back to that far-off home of his?"
Flitwick merely smiled, "Going to put me in detention, Severus?"
Professor Dumbledore intervened before things got worse: "Professor Flitwick, you look pleased with yourself. You have an answer for Professor Snape?"
"Yes, Headmaster. This Portkey has been reassigned to a strongly magical creature called Calcifer who lives with Howl. I'd never even heard of such a being, it is like something out of the pages of the Quibbler. Once I wound the Portkey most of the spells around it were broken. So between us Calcifer and I were able to re-assign it, and here it is! Ready for Howl."
Professor Snape, excused himself, explaining that handling Howl in bird-form had exhausted him, and that long-distance Portkey travel upset his digestion.
Professor Flitwick remained to talk with Dumbledore and tell him the little he had been able to learn about the exciting and strange world he had visited for such a short time. He was clearly eager to return. While he was trying to describe Calcifer, the fire-demon, they were interrupted by the sudden arrival of an owl, which flew straight to Flitwick and pecked at him until he took Dumbledore's note.
"I have been listening for sometime," said Howl from his bed. "Did you speak to Sophie or Markl, Professor."
"I saw Sophie. You don't need me to tell you that she cares a great deal for you. She was so upset by the sight of you in the form of a savage bird that I tried to calm her by modifying her memory. I was only partly successful – she is no ordinary muggle – but she is now asleep. Most likely she will remember it as just a dream."
"Professors," said Howl, "I am most grateful for your help. Please give Professor Snape my profound gratitude for rescuing me. I am anxious to get back to my castle as soon as possible. Madame Suliman is trying to find it."
"Howl, you are simply not well enough," said Dumbledore. "A few more hours sleep here – that is no ordinary bed – and another dose of Professor Snape's elixir and you will be quite yourself again." He waived down Howl's attempt's to argue. "And I have something new that was not around when you were at school. It is called a 'Time-Turner', using it you can have full night's sleep here and still go back to your castle now." As he said 'now', Dumbledore gave a slight twitch of his wand and Howl was asleep on his feet.
Hours later, Howl was woken by Dumbledore and Snape and given the final dose of Snape's restoration potion. He was led into an adjoining room and Dumbledore handed over the Portkey. "You know how to use this, Howl. It will take you back to Calcifer and that wonderful world you have made you own. Just two things before you wind it: first, last night you mentioned a 'Madame Suliman.' Could you tell us a little about her?"
"Please, Professor! I'm really anxious to get back. Suliman is perilous, and she is looking for me; my friends are in danger. I left Hogwarts to become her apprentice; I learnt amazing things from her, but I also learnt that she is ruthless and scheming. Come back with me, sir. You are the only one I know who could master her."
"Howl, you must fight your own battles. Your world is not mine, and I am needed here for a while longer: we have Voldermort to deal with, he has risen again. As for your sweetheart, Sophie – don't argue Howl, that is what she is – you, her and the fire demon between you will break the curse on her, I am certain.
"Now for the second thing: this is the 'Time-Turner' I promised. Place the chain around your neck and flip over the little hourglass eight times to take you back eight hours, no more. Then wind your clock-Portkey and go home with all our blessings and good wishes."
"Thank you, Headmaster, Thank you Professor Snape, my thanks to you all. Goodbye." And he turned the Time-Turner and vanished.
Dumbledore picked up the Time-Turner from where Howl had left it eight hours before. "He was a shallow, self-centred youngster, but I think he is a credit to the school now, don't you think, Severus."