All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

Portraits Out of Time

Albus Dumbledore watched twelve-year-old Harry Potter dash from his office, carrying Tom Riddle's diary, and smiled to himself. A deft Legilimens, Dumbledore had seen the lad's plan to liberate the mistreated House Elf, Dobby, and thoroughly approved. It would annoy Lucius Malfoy a good deal, as well, something else Albus approved of, despite himself.

He sighed. Time to return to business – a school to run, and other matters to investigate. Harry's experience the previous year had shown that Voldemort, far from being dead, was still an active, though reduced, force. Something, some subtle enchantment, was allowing the Dark Lord to cling to a semblance of life. Where there is life, there is hope, and Voldemort must have some plan for a return to power. Baulked in his quest for the Philosopher's Stone, he would look elsewhere, and Dumbledore must try to anticipate him. He couldn't risk the Dark Lord regaining his full strength before Harry was ready.

Albus felt a pang of guilt. He should have told Harry everything just now, but he'd lacked the courage. The boy had sat before him, quivering with excitement and triumph, victorious in a battle of both muscle and will, every inch the hero and entirely unconscious of it. Albus had simply been unable to darken the moment for the lad, a boy so thoroughly likeable that even the stern Minerva had warmed to him. He shook his head. Business!

But there were simply not enough hours in the day, were there? Albus reached into a desk drawer and drew out the small object on its fine chain. The thing was useful, but it was addictive, especially for an old man who knew his days must be numbered. He tossed the Time-Turner onto his desk, got up and began to pace. His mind was too cluttered; he needed sleep, but there were things he should be doing.

He didn't notice the sound at first – he was too preoccupied – until Fawkes gave a puzzled whistle. Albus cocked his head, looking at the phoenix, and then he heard the sound. It was like a rushing wind, but there were voices in it, voices of men, women and children. It grew steadily louder, and Albus strode over to his desk, reaching for his wand.

He never reached it. The desk suddenly retreated from him, as did the entire room. Just before it did so, he saw the Time-Turner spinning madly. Then he was sitting in a chair, looking out at his office through some kind of window or door. He rose and stepped forward, trying to re-enter the familiar room, only to be halted by a barrier that was as solid as it was invisible.

"Well, well, Albus, so nice of you to join us!" came a silky voice from one side. "But aren't you a little early?"

By peering round as best he could, Albus located the source of the voice.

"Phineas Nigellus, what in Merlin's name is going on?" he demanded.

"Why, Albus, are you not aware that you have joined our distinguished company?" Nigellus smirked. "Admittedly, it was not in a conventional manner; you simply vanished from the middle of your study, and your portrait appeared. But here you are, and as for how or why, well, you have time to ponder on that, Albus. In fact, you have nothing else but Time!"

Harry and Ron had gone to visit Hermione in the Infirmary. True, it would only be a few days before the Mandrakes were ready and the Petrified students restored, but both boys missed their friend more than either would admit. Ron's excuse was typical: "It's just such a treat to see Hermione without getting a lecture!"

After talking their way past Madame Pomfrey, they approached Hermione's bed and looked down at her. They didn't speak, just assured themselves that she was still there. Then they went over to a nearby bed where Ginny was resting after her ordeal. The colour was coming back into her cheeks now, especially since she began blushing furiously the instant Harry spoke to her. He'd been hoping his best friend's sister would be more easy around him, but it seemed that, having rescued her, he was now even more of an object of awe.

As Ron and Harry stood in awkward silence, they suddenly heard a sound, like voices in the wind, growing louder. Something hot seemed to rush past them, and when they turned, Hermione was gone!

There was the usual kerfuffle, made worse by the fact that several members of staff seemed to be missing. Eventually, Professors Sprout and Flitwick shooed the boys back off to Gryffindor Tower. "We'll find her, never fear!" they told Harry and Ron.

As they made their way off down a corridor, Ron was moody. He muttered, "'S'not fair! Hasn't she been through enough?" Harry refrained from pointing out that practically all Ron and Hermione did was argue when they were together, letting that go because he was just as worried, if less vocal about it. He was also horribly afraid that the Basilisk he had managed to kill had not been the only, or even the worst, inhabitant of the Chamber of Secrets.

A shockingly familiar voice brought him out of his brooding.

"Harry? Ron?" It was Hermione!

The boys stopped dead and looked around. "Over here!" Hermione called, her voice trembling.

They followed the sound to – a portrait. It showed a scene of the Library, with a study table and a chair, Hermione was sitting in the chair, looking out at them. Her face was puffy and her eyes were red, she had obviously been crying. As they gaped at her, she swallowed and said in a voice that was clearly meant to be brave, "So, I'm dead, then? It got me?"

It was Ron who answered, shaking his head fiercely. "No!" he snapped, "It only Petrified you – you saw it in a mirror. It's dead, Harry killed it!"

Hermione looked at Harry for confirmation, and he nodded. "We were visiting you and Ginny in the Infirmary," he told her, "They were saying that the Mandrakes were ready, and that you'd be up and about in no time. Then there was this hot wind, and you were gone! It was less than an hour ago."

"Then what happened?" Hermione wanted to know. To Harry's relief, she sounded more like her old self.

"I don't know," he replied, "but I'm going to find out!"

"We're going to find out!" growled Ron. "We're going to get you out of there, Hermione, I promise!"

Hermione stared at Ron, and something seemed to move behind her eyes. She got up from the chair and stretched out a hand to touch the glass that covered the portrait. Ron hesitated a second, then reached to rest his own hand on the glass at the same place as hers. "I promise," he repeated, softly.

Harry watched them, and smiled a little. It was easy to forget that, despite the constant bickering, there was a deep bond of friendship and affection between Hermione and Ron. Especially when neither of them would ever admit such a thing.

The silence was broken by another voice – a small, frightened voice.

"Ron? Ron, they've all gone!"

Ron spun around to see Ginny, small and waiflike in her nightgown, standing trembling. Without another word, she flung herself into her brother's arms, and he held her tight.

"What is it, little'un? Why're you out of bed?" he asked her anxiously.

She began to mumble into his chest but he gently encouraged her, so she spoke up. "I was just lying in bed, worrying over Hermione and you. Madame Pomfrey came to give me some Sleeping Potion, but then there was that…that wind again, and she just…just-well, she shrank! It was like she was being dragged away by something, then the wind went, and there was only a portrait of her on the wall. She was banging on the glass and shouting!

"I just got up and ran. I was scared I'd be next. I came to find you, and I saw lots of other pictures, all with people I knew in them, even Professors Snape and McGonagall – and Hagrid!"

"Indeed," said a new voice, one that made Harry's heart leap with hope, for it was Dumbledore's!

"Sir?" he said, looking round.

"Here, Harry, with Miss Granger."

Harry looked back at Hermione's portrait, and Dumbledore was standing beside her, one long hand on her shoulder.

"Professor, what happened?"

"I am unsure, Harry, but I fear it is, in some degree, my fault. I have been using a device called a Time-Turner, which I suspect is somehow involved in this.

"For now, though, Miss Weasley is right: You three are the only ones still free. I have no way of knowing how long you will remain so. Stay together, and get help. There is a mirror in my study that will allow you to contact the Ministry. Go to the mirror at once and summon aid. Do you understand?"

For a moment, the three stood irresolute, then Dumbledore said sternly, "Harry, this is far beyond anything you can deal with. Go, quickly!"

Harry nodded reluctantly. "We'll be back," he promised.

The quickest route to Dumbledore's study took them through the Great Hall, where they heard a thunderous knocking on the main door.

Harry approached the door nervously, his wand out. Ron pulled out his own wand and pushed Ginny behind him. "Who's there?" asked Harry, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice.

"Harry Potter?" asked a voice from outside. It was that of a grown man, with more than a hint of impatience.

"Yes," Harry answered, "Who are you?"

"You were told to get help." This was a statement, not a question. "So, open this door!"

Harry glanced at Ron, who shrugged. "Are you from the Ministry?" Harry demanded.

"Yes, in a way," replied the man. "Now, will you please unlock the door?"

Hesitantly, Harry used the password. The great bolts had scarcely moved aside when the heavy door was shoved open and two people stepped into the Hall.

Harry gaped. The strangers' clothes told him straight away that they were Muggles. The man was medium height and wiry, with blond hair and sharply handsome features. He wore a grey suit, shirt and tie. His cold grey eyes flickered once over the youngsters, then he turned, shut the door with a casual push that demonstrated unusual strength, and strode into the middle of the Hall, looking around.

The woman was also blonde, with thick, wavy hair worn long and loose. She was tall, very pretty, and wore a long, blue dress. Her eyes were also blue, the bluest Harry had ever seen, and she smiled warmly at him, speaking in a soft alto voice.

"You're Harry, aren't you? My name's Sapphire, and my friend is Steel. Who are your friends?"

"These are Ron and Ginny Weasley," Harry told her, then asked, "Why would the Ministry of Magic send Muggles here?"

"What are Muggles?" asked Steel.

"I'm not sure," Sapphire told him, then turned back to Harry. "Something's happened here, hasn't it – something bad?"

"They've all gone!" Ginny burst out. "They've been pulled into the pictures!"

Steel strode across to Ginny and stood over the little girl. "Pictures? What pictures? What are you talking about?"

Ginny shrank away from him, frightened, and Ron pulled her behind him again, pointing his wand at Steel.

Steel considered the scared but angry youngster confronting him. He was no good at guessing human ages, but the boy couldn't be more than eleven or twelve. He didn't have time for this kind of thing. "If that's a weapon," he said softly, "you're wasting your time, and more importantly, mine."

Steel, Sapphire's voice sounded in his mind, let me.

Very well, he replied, but be quick.

He turned away and moved off. Sapphire came over, bending in front of Ginny and taking her hands. "Tell me?" she asked softly.

Haltingly, Ginny explained what had happened in the Infirmary. Then Harry and Ron joined in, telling Sapphire about Hermione's disappearance, and about finding her and Dumbledore in the portraits. When the story was all told, Sapphire rose and went over to where Steel stood, apparently in deep thought, in the centre of the Hall.

Well? he asked.

None of them except the little girl actually saw anything, Sapphire explained. And what she saw didn't make much sense to her.

What about this place? Steel wanted to know.

It's old, very old. Sapphire closed her eyes and shivered. A thousand years, maybe more, continuously inhabited since it was built. And there are things, objects, here that are even older, and that are studied or used every day.

So, another pressure point, Steel concluded, but there must be a trigger. We need to find it.

He turned to Harry. "What is this place?" he demanded.

"You're from the Ministry, and you don't know?" replied Harry scathingly.

Steel sighed. "I didn't say I was from your Ministry," he said impatiently, "but we were sent here to put this problem right, and the fact that we were sent means that no-one from your Ministry could help, anyway. So, please answer my question!"

Harry considered his options. He and his friends were alone, and if Dumbledore himself had been trapped by whatever was now stalking the Castle, Harry doubted that any other wizard would fare any better. He didn't like or trust this overbearing, impatient Muggle, and the woman with him might be less nice than she seemed, but he was out of choices.

"This is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," he said shortly.

"Witchcraft and Wizardry?" Steel repeated, looking at Sapphire.

"Witches and wizards are humans who have the ability to manipulate reality by means of incantations or rituals," she replied.

"Hmph!" Steel looked at Harry again. "So you're learning to be a witch, then?"

"Wizard!" Harry snapped. "Witches are girls – women."

"I see." Steel nodded, then said, "This friend of yours – Hermione? You were with her when she was taken?"

"We were in the room, yes, like I told you," Harry answered. "We didn't see anything."

"Yes, you said." Steel thought for a moment, then said, "Take us there!"

There was no point in arguing, so Harry led the way to the Infirmary, Steel and Sapphire following, Ron and Ginny trailing behind. At Steel's request, he showed them Hermione's bed.

"Anything, Sapphire?" Steel asked.

The tall woman approached the bed. "Heat," she murmured. "Heat, anger and…impatience. Whatever it is, it's tired of waiting."

"Waiting for what?" Steel wondered.

"I can't tell," Sapphire replied, "but it's been waiting a long time – a very long time!"

"We need to see what happened," Steel decided. "You…Harry. How long ago did it happen?"

Harry thought for a moment. "An hour and a half, maybe two hours."

"Sapphire?" Steel asked. She nodded, then took Ginny's hand and led her to a place near the door from where they could see Hermione's bed. At Steel's gesture, Ron and Harry followed them.

"Now, take it back, then let it go forward," Steel instructed. "The rest of you, if you see anything out of the ordinary, call 'stop'."

Sapphire assumed a pose of concentration. With a start, Harry saw that her eyes were now glowing with a vivid blue light.

"Pay attention!" snapped Steel.

A procession of blurred images flitted into, out of, and around the room. At one point, to Harry's consternation, Ginny ran backwards through him with a look of panic on her face! Then, Harry, Ron and Ginny saw themselves near Ginny, who was back in bed.

"Forward now, Sapphire," ordered Steel, and Ron and Harry kept their attention on Hermione. For a moment or two, nothing seemed to happen, then Ron yelped, "Stop!"

The scene froze. "I can't hold it long!" hissed Sapphire.

"What did you see?" Steel asked Ron.

"There," Ron said, "by 'Mione's bed, something hanging in the air!"

Ron was right. To Harry, it looked like some kind of pendant on a fine chain. It looked as if it was resting round the neck of someone tall standing by Hermione's bed.

"Stay here!" Steel ordered, then stepped forward to peer at the object. "Let it go again, Sapphire." As he watched, the pendant began to spin, faster and faster. He felt a rush of heat go past him, heard a wind with voices in it, then the pendant and the girl were both gone!

"That's enough, Sapphire," he said, and the procession of images stopped. He went back to the group.

"So, we know what the trigger is," he observed. "Now, we just need to know where and what the thing itself is."

"It must come from the Chamber of Secrets!" declared Harry. "That explains why all this only just happened!"

"But you killed the Basilisk, Harry!" Ginny protested.

Steel turned to Harry. "Explain," he said curtly. Harry just glared at him, until Sapphire placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Harry," she murmured, "You mustn't mind Steel. We have a difficult and dangerous job, and it's one Steel takes very seriously."

Harry found himself smiling wryly – he knew about that! Sometimes, he could get so wrapped up in something that he became snappy and short-tempered, even with his friends. As succinctly as he could, he explained about the events of the last school year, the petrified students, Ginny's disappearance, the opening of the Chamber, his fight with the Basilisk, and the confrontation with Tom Riddle.

Steel listened intently, then said simply, "Take us there."

They were crossing the Great Hall, when it happened. Ginny suddenly gave a little scream. Harry spun to look at her, and saw the pendant device hanging in the air in front of her. Then there was the wind again, and Ginny shrank away from them to become a portrait on the wall – a portrait of a terrified little girl!

"Don't move!" snapped Steel. Harry looked at him; the man seemed to be concentrating, trying to summon something. Then a wave of intense cold struck Harry. Steel seemed rigid now, holding himself stiffly.

"Now, Sapphire, take it back!" he hissed.

The portrait that was Ginny seemed to blur, then she came out of it to stand where she had been caught. The device was spinning in the air in front of her. Harry heard the wind again.

Then Steel stepped forward, barking, "You, Ron! Get the child!"

Ron bounded forward, shivering with cold, and grabbed Ginny. At the same moment, Steel reached out to touch the pendant. Immediately, it stopped spinning, and ice formed over and around it. It hung, glistening, in the air as Steel turned to face the hot wind, stretching out his hands, palms forward. More ice formed in the air. For a moment, Harry almost saw something, then the voices in the wind shrieked with pain and anger, and the thing Harry had seen vanished.

Steel seemed to sag, but Sapphire went up to the frozen object where it still hung in the air.

"It's not the thing itself," she mused. "It's just a memory of it."

Then she turned briskly to Ron. "Is there anywhere safe and warm you can take Steel?"

Ron shrugged. "Gryffindor Tower, I suppose," he replied. "Ginny can get some clothes there as well. What's the matter with Steel?" He indicated the apparently exhausted figure that now leaned on a table.

"He'll be all right," Sapphire reassured them all. "Take him up to this Tower, find him some blankets, and make as big a fire as you can, then sit him by it and keep watch."

Sapphire said to Harry, "Take me to this Chamber!"

As he led the way, Harry asked, "Did Steel stop…whatever it was? For good?"

Sapphire shook her head, "Even Steel can't stop Time forever, but what he did will hold the thing for a while."

"What is it, anyway?" demanded Harry.

"That's difficult to explain," Sapphire said slowly. "Imagine…imagine a corridor, immensely long and wide, but still enclosed. That corridor is Time, and it makes sure that everything happens in order, instead of all at once. But outside the corridor, there are things – creatures, entities – from the beginning and end of Time. They roam along the corridor, looking for a way in."

"So this is one of those creatures?" asked Harry. "But why does it want to get in? How does it get in?"

Sapphire shrugged. "There are places – we call them pressure points – where the fabric of the corridor gets weak. Things come through at those places. Sometimes they're seeking people, objects, or feelings; other times, they're simply trapped here, and all they want is to get out. We don't yet know what this entity wants, which is why we have to go to this chamber of yours."

By this time, they had reached the toilet with the entrance to the Chamber. As Harry led Sapphire in, a girl's voice cried, "Oooh, Harry! Have you come to see me?"

The ghost of a young girl, her eyes large and watery behind thick glasses, swooped towards him, then stopped short when she saw Sapphire.

"Who's this?" she asked petulantly. "Somebody you've brought to laugh at me?"

Harry sighed, then said briskly, "Hi, Myrtle. This is Sapphire. Sapphire, this is Myrtle. Sapphire's come to help us sort all this out, Myrtle."

"Sort all what out?" asked the ghostly girl.

"You know, people disappearing and all that? Surely, you know what's been going on?"

Myrtle shook her head dolefully. "No. Nobody ever tells me what's going on," she moaned. "Nobody bothers with silly, drippy, Myrtle, do they?"

With that, she floated away again, going into a nearby stall. A moment later, there was a splash, followed by the sound of sobs echoing in the toilet.

"A visual refraction," Sapphire mused, "but one able to interact intelligently. Unusual."

"If by 'visual refraction' you mean 'ghost', then we've got lots of those here," Harry told her, "but I wouldn't go so far as to say Myrtle interacts intelligently!"

Sapphire smiled quietly, then said, "Show me the chamber."

Harry stepped up to the sink, explaining, "I'm the only one who can open it at the moment. You need to be a Parselmouth – able to speak snake language – to open the door," he concentrated for a moment, then hissed "Open!"

As the secret door opened, Harry said to Sapphire, "It's quite a drop down there, and no way to climb back up. Should I go and get my broom?"

Sapphire shook her head. "No need," she said. "We shouldn't go down there, anyway. Just stand back a moment."

She moved to the opening and listened. It was down there, waiting. Steel had hurt it, made it angry and afraid. Worse, the thing it needed was trapped, beyond use for a time. But it could wait a little longer. It had waited all this time, after all, until one of the transients had killed the Guardian. It would be free soon, free to go back to the end. Or if it could not, then it would bring the end to itself!

Sapphire stepped back and told Harry, "Close it, then take me to Steel and your friends."

When they got to Gryffindor Tower, they found Ginny fully dressed and clutching her wand, and Ron watching Steel. Steel was huddled in an armchair next to a roaring fire that made the room almost unbearably hot. He was wrapped in blankets and shivering with cold.

Ron looked up as they entered. "He doesn't seem to be getting better. Ginny put a Warming Charm on him, and I slipped down to the Infirmary for some Pepper-up Potion, but he won't take it!"

Sapphire shook her head. "Steel doesn't eat or drink," she said. "Well, he can, but he doesn't need to, and he doesn't like to, really."

Sapphire, Steel asked, did you find it?

Yes, she told him, I'll tell you about it when you're stronger.

"Excuse me," came another voice, "but would somebody explain to me what exactly is happening?"

The voice issued from a portrait on the wall. They all looked to see Dumbledore standing there, with Hermione beside him.

"Harry," he asked, "have you summoned the aid I asked you to?"

Harry looked down. "Professor, I…."

Sapphire stepped up to the portrait. "Whatever help Harry could have summoned would have done no good," she said firmly. "We're here, and we're the only ones who can help."

"I see." Dumbledore smiled thinly. "And just how can you be so sure of that Miss…?"

"Sapphire, and this is Steel," she replied. "I'm sure because we wouldn't be here if anyone else could help. These kinds of things are what we are for! By the way, who are you?"

"I am Professor Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of this school, and this is Miss Hermione Granger. As you can see, we are temporarily rendered ineffective, so I suppose you and your colleague are, de facto, in charge of the situation. What is the situation exactly?"

"I'll explain to all of you in a moment," Sapphire said, then looked at Hermione, "You're Harry and Ron's friend, aren't you? The little girl who was taken in the Infirmary?"

Hermione bristled a little at the term 'little girl', but nodded, then asked, "What did your friend do to himself?"

"Steel? He took himself down – lowered his temperature to minus 273 degrees centigrade," Sapphire explained.

Hermione's eyes widened. "But that's…it's almost Absolute Zero! That's impossible! No wonder he's so ill!"

"What's Absolute Zero?" Ron wanted to know. Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "It's the lowest temperature possible," she told him. "As cold as Outer Space."

They were interrupted by the sound of the portrait hole being wrenched open, and the Fat Lady's yelp of outrage. A huge figure stepped in through the doorway. For one glorious moment, Harry thought it was Hagrid, but it was too small.

For all that, the man was big enough, easily six-and-a-half feet, and powerfully built. He was black, and wearing black – a polo shirt and trousers – but there was nothing dark about him. He seemed solid and somehow comforting as his bearded face split in a wide smile.

"How's it goin', Sapphire?" he asked in a deep, rumbling voice. "You an' Steel got yourselves in trouble again?"

"As always," said a new voice, a light tenor. It came from a slender man of middle height who had followed the big man into the room. This man was dapper, dressed in suit like Steel's but a lighter grey. His hair was fair, almost white, but he seemed about 30 or so, with a quizzical look to his pleasant features. "You two always get the difficult ones, don't you?" he asked Sapphire, who smiled serenely.

"Hello, Lead," she greeted the big man, before nodding to his companion. "It's nice to see you as well, Silver."

Lead went over to the chair Steel was huddled in, and shook his head in exasperation.

"You been doin' that sub-zero stuff without me again, ain't you, man?" he asked. "How many times I have to tell you…?"

"I know, I know," Steel's voice was suddenly stronger, and he threw off his blankets, getting up briskly. "I need insulation! But there was no choice, Lead, or we'd have lost the child as well."

Ron was scratching his head. "How many of you people are there?"

It was Hermione who answered from the portrait, "There're a hundred and twenty-seven of them, Ron."

Steel turned to look at her, then shook his head, "No, Miss Granger, there are a hundred and fifteen of us," he said.

"A hundred and fifteen," Hermione mouthed the words, a slight frown on her face. Then her eyes widened and she said, "Oh!"

Steel cocked an eyebrow, then nodded at her. "We can't rely on the transuranics," he told her.

"Because they're unstable!" she cried. "Of course!"

Steel looked at her for a long moment, then to Harry's astonishment, he nodded again, and the ghost of a smile went across his face. Then Steel turned to Sapphire again, asking crisply, "So, what are we up against?"

She shrugged. "Whatever it is, it comes from the End of Time, the end of the Universe. I think it was trapped here where the fabric is thin. It came out of curiosity, almost a thousand years ago, and couldn't get back out.

"Someone or something set a Guardian over it, to keep it from getting out into the world."

"The Basilisk!" exclaimed Harry. "D'you mean to tell me that Slytherin put that thing there to keep whatever it is in?"

"Basilisk?" enquired Silver. Sapphire's eyes went distant, and she recited in a toneless voice, "Basilisk: mythological creature. Reputedly a giant serpent with the ability to kill or petrify with its gaze."

"I see," Dumbledore put in. "There has always been speculation as to exactly why Salazar built his Chamber. It was done long before his fascination with the Dark Arts corrupted him. It is possible he knew of this entity, and set the Basilisk to guard it."

"So this is my fault!" Harry blurted out. "If I hadn't killed the Basilisk, the thing wouldn't be free!"

Lead put a big hand on the boy's shoulder. "Don't you go thinkin' that, son," he rumbled. "That snake was doin' bad things, wasn't it?"

Harry nodded. "It was petrifying people. It wouldn't have been long before it killed someone again."

"Well, then," Lead told him, "what else could you do?"

"Doubtless the Basilisk itself eventually became as corrupt as its master," Dumbledore said sadly. "It is all too common. People are such fragile creatures, and fall too easily into evil through fear. The creatures they command then follow them."

"So," said Silver, after a pause, "this thing wants to get out, then?"

Sapphire shook her head. "No, it can't do that. It's not strong enough anymore. So, it's decided to bring the End of Time here!"

"But what about the people in the portraits?" Ginny wanted to know.

"Well, in my case, it is my destiny," put in Dumbledore. "When I die, my portrait will remain at Hogwarts, as do those of previous Headmasters. The portraits contain an echo – a shadow, if you will – of the persons they represent. It will be my task, along with the others, to advise and assist my successors."

"Is that a common custom for wizards?" asked Sapphire.

"Common enough," Dumbledore replied. "Almost any of us might well be remembered by friends and loved ones in such a way."

"So, effectively," Steel summarised, "the pictures are one possible future for everyone in this school! The entity is forcing people into their own futures, in order to make the End of Time come sooner than it should!"

"That just leaves the device," remarked Silver. "What does the thing do?"

"If the device is as Miss Weasley describes it," Dumbledore said ruefully, "then the fault for this situation is mine, not Harry's. The object is called a Time-Turner, a magical device that can be used to turn time back, enabling the user to be, if necessary, in two places at once. It allows us to pack more hours into the day, but it can lead us to overdo things!"

"Humans!" Steel gave a snort of disgust. "Always meddling with things they don't understand. Can't they leave well enough alone?"

"They're curious, Steel," Silver murmured. "They want knowledge."

"And they're imaginative," added Sapphire. "They dream about things, then want to make them real."

"Wasn't there ever anythin' you wanted to do real bad, Steel?" Lead asked. "Somethin' way outside what you usually do?"

"I have quite enough to do, and think about, already!" snapped Steel. "Sapphire, you said the Time-Turner in the hall wasn't the thing itself?"

She shook her head. "No, it's a memory of it. The Time-Turner has been, at some time in the past, in that place. The entity seems able to tap into the object's past, and use that to…to 'target' people, I suppose."

"And why the child, specifically?" Steel asked.

Sapphire looked over at Ginny. "She's younger than the others, further from her future, so she's the biggest barrier to it right now. I wonder…." She turned to the portrait. "Professor, is there anywhere in the Castle that this Time-Turner hasn't been?"

Dumbledore spread his hands. "This very room, as a matter of fact," he replied. "I have never been in here while wearing the device."

"Then, we're safe here?" Silver asked.

"I think we were always safe," Sapphire told him, "but the children should stay here – or at least not go out alone."

"Right," Steel agreed. "We need to get to the Time-Turner. Where is it, Professor?"

"I last saw it on the desk in my study. Harry knows how to get there and the entrance password."

Steel nodded, then said, "Sapphire, you and Lead go down to the hall and keep an eye on the frozen memory. Let us know if anything happens. The boy will take Silver and I to this study. Hopefully, once Silver sees the device, he'll know what to do!"

"Machines are my speciality," Silver acknowledged.

As they made to leave the study, Hermione called from the portrait, "Watch out, Harry! And…and be careful, Steel."

Steel hesitated, then half-turned and nodded to her. Harry was amazed and amused – the portrait Hermione was actually blushing! It makes her…pretty, he thought.

As they negotiated the corridor, Silver remarked, Hmm, it's usually Gold who steals the ladies' hearts, isn't it?

What will Jet say when she hears about this? Sapphire wondered.

Can we get on? Steel huffed.

Harry, walking beside Lead, wondered why the big man suddenly chuckled and shook his head.

In Dumbledore's study, Silver shook his head wryly. "I need to take a closer look at it, Steel," he said, "but if I touch it, it will break the hold you have on its memory."

Harry considered the Time-Turner that lay on Dumbledore's desk. "What if it could be lifted without being touched?"

"That would be ideal," Silver allowed.

"But just how are we supposed to do that?" Steel rasped impatiently.

It was Harry's turn to gloat. "Haven't you been listening? This is a school for Witchcraft and Wizardry, after all!" He pointed his wand at the pendant and said, "Wingardium leviosa!"

The Time-Turner floated gently up into the air, hanging in front of Silver, who gave a delighted laugh. "How remarkable!" he exclaimed.

Steel nodded. "Well done, boy," he said grudgingly to Harry, then, "Well, Silver?"

Silver examined the device for a time. "I can augment this and reverse it. If we can get the entity close to it, I can set it going and send both of them into the future."

"How far?" Steel demanded.

"All the way," Silver assured him. "Right to where it wants to go! It's just a problem of timing. In order to work on the thing, I have to wait until the memory has unfrozen, but once that happens, the entity can plunder more memories, go wherever it wants to. It has to come here, Steel, and that means…."

"It means bait!" Harry put in. "Look, Steel, whatever Dumbledore said, this while thing is my fault, so I'll be your bait, OK?"

Steel considered the boy before him. He'd had dealings with young humans before, and if he would never really understand them, he did know they could be recklessly brave at times. Still….

"Look, Harry," he said, in as gentle a manner as he could manage, "This is no more your fault than it is your Professor Dumbledore's, or this Slytherin's. If it's anyone's fault, it's ours. We always get sent in when something goes wrong, but we're never asked to prevent things like this from happening in the first place! Some of us could have been here when this thing first arrived, to send it straight back.

"Better still, we could destroy places like this castle every so often. Force your people to build new and elsewhere. This place is so old, it's become a pressure point. It shouldn't have been allowed to exist for so long in the same place. Something like this was bound to happen here!"

"Those aren't our decisions, Steel," Silver reminded him.

"I know. For some reason, they don't want us being pro-active," growled Steel. "It would be easier if they told us why!

"But as for bait, I'm afraid you won't be enough on your own, Harry. We need your two friends, as well. So, I want you to go down to the Hall and get Lead, then the two of you can bring the others back here, all right?"

"What about Sapphire?" Harry asked.

"She'll be fine; I need her where she is. Now go! We don't have much time."

As Harry dashed off, Steel called to Sapphire, I'm sending the boy to fetch Lead and the others here. I need you to watch the frozen memory. Let us know as soon as it's free.

I will, Steel, but what are you planning? Sapphire asked.

I'm converting the Time-Turner into a trap for the thing, Silver answered. We're using the children to draw it here, but I need as much time as possible to work on the machine. That's why we need your early warning!

And what if it's too quick? Sapphire worried.

I can hold it for a while, Steel reassured her, and Lead can protect the youngsters.

It was shortly after that, with everyone except Sapphire crowded into Dumbledore's study, that Silver asked Harry to release the Time-Turner from his levitation spell. As he began to manipulate the device rapidly, Steel began to arrange them all.

"Ginny, isn't it?" he said. "Look, I need you to stand here, facing the door. Don't move!"

Ginny looked scared, but Lead hunkered down beside her. "Don't you worry, honey," he rumbled. "I got you. I'll be right here all the time."

Steel nodded, just as Sapphire came into the room. "It's searching, Steel. It'll be here soon!"

Steel said, "Harry, Ron, you wait behind Ginny. Sapphire, you stay with them. How long, Silver?"

"A few minutes, but a few too many, I'm afraid."

"Keep working! I'll hold as long as I can!" Steel barked. Even as he moved over to the door, they could feel the chill begin to pour off him.

"It's here!" Sapphire called.

Steel stretched out his hands, and the door was coated in ice. But they could all hear the wind now, and Steel's barrier was melting as quickly as it formed.

For a while, it was stalemate, with the entity growing hotter and hotter, while Steel poured out cold. But he was reaching the end of even his endurance. The wood of the door began to steam, then smoke.

Finally, Silver called, "Done!"

Steel relaxed and staggered off to one side. For a moment, nothing happened, then the door flew open. The Time-Turner was wrenched out of Silver's hand and floated in front of Ginny, spinning fast. The wind roared in, then stopped, momentarily baffled, as Lead wrapped his mighty arms around the little girl.

He's insulating her! Harry realised. Then Silver reached out and touched the Time-Turner. It began to spin even faster, becoming a blur, and Harry saw the entity, just for a moment, like a dust-devil, a whirlwind the size of a man. There was a note of sudden joy in the voices in the wind before the thing and the Time-Turner simply vanished!

After a moment of silence, Lead released Ginny and went over to help Steel to his feet. The blond man shook his head as if to clear it, then asked, "Sapphire, is it gone?"

She nodded and smiled. "Yes, Steel. In fact, it was never here."

"Good." Again, Steel almost smiled. Silver went over to join him and Lead.

Harry felt Sapphire squeeze his shoulder. "Goodbye, Harry," she murmured.

"What…?" he began, but she had already joined the others. They stood close, joining hands in a ring, and Steel said, "Now, Sapphire, take it back, all the way!"

Albus Dumbledore watched twelve-year-old Harry Potter dash from his office carrying Tom Riddle's diary, and smiled to himself. A deft Legilimens, Dumbledore had seen the lad's plan to liberate the mistreated House Elf, Dobby, and thoroughly approved. It would annoy Lucius Malfoy a good deal, as well, something else Albus approved of, despite himself.

He sighed. Time to return to business – a school to run, and other matters to investigate. Harry's experience the previous year had shown that Voldemort, far from being dead, was still an active, though reduced, force. Something, some subtle enchantment, was allowing the Dark Lord to cling to a semblance of life. Where there is life, there is hope, and Voldemort must have some plan for a return to power. Baulked in his quest for the Philosopher's Stone, he would look elsewhere, and Dumbledore must try to anticipate him. He couldn't risk the Dark Lord regaining his full strength before Harry was ready.

Albus felt a pang of guilt. He should have told Harry everything just now, but he'd lacked the courage. The boy had sat before him, quivering with excitement and triumph, victorious in a battle of both muscle and will, every inch the hero and entirely unconscious of it. Albus had simply been unable to darken the moment for the lad, a boy so thoroughly likeable that even the stern Minerva had warmed to him. He shook his head. Business!

But there were simply not enough hours in the day, were there? Albus reached into a desk drawer and drew out the small object on its fine chain. Something clinked. Albus looked at the Time-Turner in surprise: It was broken! Now how did that happen? he wondered, then shrugged. Well, perhaps this is fortuitous. I should take the hint. It wasn't a matter of making more time, just using what you were given wisely, Albus decided.