The Chamber of Clocks
Disclaimer: I just like to borrow them and play with them...
Thanks to Rebecca (labrt2004) for betaing!
The Headmaster sat in his comfortable but worn armchair, ignoring the small bowl of lemon drops that had appeared on the table next to him. Normally the sweets were proffered to others by the elderly wizard as a gesture of comfort, a reminder of childhood, innocence and safety.
Albus Dumbledore would find no such comfort in this room. He came here only when dire need demanded it; when, even through his vast resources, the information he needed was not available.
Sadly, that had been more often as of late.
The room was a hidden chamber; one of many secreted around the Headmaster's office. Round, high and domed, it bore no fireplace or means of entry other than the door, which was visible only to those who knew to look for it.
No windows broke the plane of the worn, stone walls; the sand-coloured surface unhindered by painting or portraits. There was no furniture in the room, save the chair and table in the centre, and a worn Persian rug bearing the four House crests covering the cold stone floor.
There were clocks, though. Many, many clocks. From the floor to the atrium roof some sixty feet above, they covered every inch of the circular room. If one knew the correct incantation, they could summon a certain clock; the whole wall shivering and shifting until the requested device had pride of place at eye level in front of the armchair.
None of them would be any use if one wanted to tell the time. The passing of the hours meant nothing in this room.
Some clocks had many hands, twisting and turning past one another in a constant, erratic dance. Others had one lone hand, solemnly marking the whereabouts of its charge for the Headmaster's peace of mind. Keyed to the witch or wizard's magical signature, each hand displayed their image, until such time as their signature could no longer be traced.
On occasion, after reports of Death Eater raids, the Headmaster would enter the room to find one or two clocks on the floor, shattered; their plunge from the high wall not dampened by the thin rug. The hands would be blank, whole families wiped out, as the Headmaster sadly carried the broken devices out into his office, placing them with careful reverence into a heavy wooden trunk marked only with the inscription perii.
Often the Headmaster glanced at the Weasley family's clock, a duplicate of the one hanging in their own home. Dumbledore would chuckle to himself at how often Fred and George's hands pointing to making mischief and the long hours Percy's pompous image sat proudly over work.
All clocks had some points in common; sleeping, at work, travelling and lost. Other points appeared throughout the lifetime of the individual, according to how much time one spent at a given location. School disappeared when the youngest hand on the clock reached graduation and in death, the clock would state deceased until the body became cold and the magical signature linked to the clock or hand faded.
Most also had the point home featured prominently in the noon position of a normal clock, and in all his years as Headmaster, Dumbledore only knew one clock, one hand, that had never pointed to home. He had been coming into the Chamber each Friday night for the past two years to watch that very clock.
Raising his wand, the wizard spoke the age-old incantation and summoned the clock by name, 'Severus Snape'.
The scowling face of the Potions Master graced the one and only hand on the clock, which featured points such as Hogwarts, travelling, sleeping, lost, mortal peril and home. The Headmaster had never seen Severus' hand indicate that final point, though, even when he returned home for the holidays as a student. At that time, a new point appeared, at Father's house, and disappeared again when the young Slytherin returned to the school. It was a mark of how much Severus had hated his father that even his mother's presence hadn't made him feel welcome in their house.
Dumbledore had hoped, in the past fifteen years, that the Potions Master would have come to consider Hogwarts as his home, but that was not to be. Friends and colleagues he had within the ancient walls of the castle, but when he left the school as an ambitious, brilliant young man, the Headmaster doubted he had ever intended to return.
But return he had, in the most dire of need.
Dumbledore cast his mind back to the night, and the conversation with the newly-recognised Potions Master in his office. It was December and the young Death Eater had come to Hogwarts against all odds, pleading for the Headmaster's mercy and bringing the first of many pieces of vital information from the other side.
Listening to his story, Dumbledore's heart had twisted painfully at the sincerity and despair of the broken young man. He'd failed him once before, in his time as a student, and whether or not his actions had driven the Slytherin to the dark path he now walked, Dumbledore swore he would never fail him again.
And yet he had, in a way.
He had saved the young man from Azkaban, and instead entombed him in another prison. A prison where he was forced to lie, cheat and betray those he once counted as friends; the very people who had nurtured his talents and indulged his needs, even if it had only been to serve their own dubious ends. Perhaps it would have been kinder to kill him, to hand him to the Dementors as he had begged the Headmaster to do all those years ago.
Dumbledore had thought he was helping the young Slytherin by taking him under his wing; allowing him to redeem himself as he so desperately wanted. But in asking him to turn spy, the Headmaster had sent him back to the very same horrors he had begged to be freed from. Was killing an innocent to preserve a lie any different to taking that life in the name of power and purity?
The blood stains looked the same.
This night, as on many others past, the Headmaster had watched sadly as the Potions Master's hand moved from Hogwarts to travelling to mortal peril.
It rankled at the old wizard's heart to know what he asked of the young Head of Slytherin each time Tom Riddle called. Since the feared wizard known to most as Voldemort had been returned to his body two years prior, the ex-Death Eater had taken it upon himself to return to his former Master's side, pleading ignorance and innocence for past transgressions in the hope of bringing down the monster once and more all.
Each time he stepped into Voldemort's lair, he risked being exposed, tortured and killed. The information he returned with was valuable, and had saved more lives than he had ever taken in his brief, youthful time as a true supporter of Evil. And still he returned to spy, risking a life he had never thought worthy of living, believing penance would only be paid through Voldemort's death; release only granted through his own.
Dumbledore recalled the fateful night of the Triwizard Tournament; the first night he had entered the Chamber of Clocks in almost fifteen years. With Harry safely tucked up in the Hospital Wing having been dosed with Dreamless Sleep, the Headmaster had retreated to the room to watch over the other young man he was guilty of having failed.
For hours, he had held his breath, willing the scowling face to turn away from mortal peril. When it did finally move, he'd experienced a heart-stopping moment as it passed lost and deceased to rest on travelling. A moment later the hand moved to Hogwarts, he heard the Floo in his office, and the deep voice of his young charge announcing his return.
It had been the first of many nights when Albus would greet the sallow man and usher his listless form into a chair. Dumbledore would sit opposite Snape and offer him a plate of sandwiches, a glass of brandy and a Pensieve. The first would be ignored at the expense of the second. It worried the Headmaster how little the Head of Slytherin ate, but he understood the brandy better served to calm to roiling sickness of the young man's stomach after the horrors of the night. The brandy also helped to calm the nerves, although no amount of alcohol could cover the tremors when they came as a result of the Cruciatus.
Severus Snape was a master of cunning and a talented spy, but since his return, Voldemort had been determined to flush out the traitor within his ranks, whatever the cost. From all accounts, Severus escaped lightly compared to the other Death Eaters, pleading with his former master that the tremors following the curse prevented him from brewing his potions; dark, ugly potions Voldemort intended to use to the detriment of all.
Emerging from his thoughts, the Headmaster watched the hand make its usual journey around the clock, pausing on some of the darker options as if to taunt him, before coming to rest as usual on Hogwarts.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Dumbledore stood, stretching his aching muscles and left the Chamber of Clocks for another week.
Every night spent anxiously waiting in this room, Dumbledore vowed it would be the last time he would call on the debt owed to him by the Potions Master. He had paid his dues in his blood and others, more times over than the Headmaster dared to count.
But he knew such a vow was foolish. The information was far too valuable to lose, and keeping up appearances whenever he was summoned was essential to keep their spy above suspicion.
And so every Friday night while the servants of Lord Voldemort played out their grotesque schemes of power and purity, Albus Dumbledore would sit in the quiet room, lemon drops on the table untouched, watching and waiting for the return of his young charge.
The lone hand of the clock would silently move, returning to Hogwarts as surely as its counterpart. The Headmaster would sigh, a sad, heavy sigh of both relief and despair.
The young man was safe for another week, when he would be forced to risk it all again. Dumbledore fleetingly wondered how he would feel when the face on the clock, aged beyond its years, didn't reach Hogwarts, and instead came to rest on deceased. He would mourn the loss of a man he had come to treasure like a son; despair at another young Slytherin he had failed to guide; and feel relief that the young man could finally be at peace. The ghosts of his past neither haunting his footsteps or invading his dreams.
Author's Note: I hope this was something a little different. The clock at The Burrow has always intrigued me, and it would be typical of someone as seemingly all-knowing as Dumbledore to use them to keep tabs on everyone.