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Chapter 8 – The Mirror of Erised

Nothing over the next few weeks could draw Harry's attention away from the Cerberus and what lay beneath the trap door. Ron told him to forget about it, while Hermione said that Dumbledore must have a good reason for allowing such a creature inside the school, but it didn't help. Whatever was down there must be important and it was clear to Harry that someone was after whatever it was. The scene he had witnessed between Snape and Quirrell was too coincidental for Harry's liking. His first thought was that Snape was trying to steal it and was bullying Quirrell into helping him, but he had no evidence. Snape was, of course, the likely character – dark, imposing, unfriendly and sometimes downright scary – but nothing Harry had witnessed suggested he was a criminal, or evil in some way. Plus, Dumbledore trusted him, so much so that he'd vouched for Snape after the last war. Cornelius had told him as much after he'd written home about how Snape treated him at the beginning of the year. He wouldn't say what Snape had done to need someone so powerful and respected in their society to guarantee he was innocent, but he had told Harry that regardless of what kind of teacher he was, if the great Albus Dumbledore trusted him, then there could be nothing truly evil about the man. Harry wasn't sure if he believed that, but Dumbledore's trust in Snape was enough for Harry to give him the benefit of the doubt. For now at least.

January gave way to February and still Harry was no closer to discovering the truth. He knew he was driving Ron and Hermione nuts and so he didn't tell them whenever he snuck out under the invisibility cloak at night. He was sure they knew, but as neither said anything he followed their lead and used Hermione's spell himself to get passed the Fat Lady. It was on one of those nightly wanderings that Harry entered a chamber not far from the library that he didn't remember seeing before. Inside there was a lone mirror with not even a table or chair to accompany it. Harry approached the mirror curiously, seeing his reflection appear as he removed the cloak. He stared at himself for a moment, wondering why a large ornate mirror such as this was in an empty room in a far corner of the castle. He wasn't alone for long, however, at least not in the mirror. Two shapes materialized on either side of him and Harry recognized them instantly.

"Mum?" He breathed, staring at the women with eyes so like his own. "Dad?" The man smiled. Cornelius and Aldora had managed to put together a book of photos of his parents from people who had known them, which they had given to him only a month into his living with them, when they realized he had never seen a photo of his parents before. He'd stared at those photos so many times that he probably could recognize them better than himself. "But what…?" Harry looked around the room, searching for the source of these images, but found nothing. He realized then that some magic was at work here, though he had no idea what. Harry sat and stared at his parents for some time after he had tried talking to them and had quickly realized they couldn't talk back. He spent the rest of the night just sitting there with his parents, only returning to the dormitory an hour before sunrise. He hadn't told Ron and Hermione what he'd found, though a part of him had wanted to introduce them to his parents. He was clever enough to know that whatever magic was at work here was simply an illusion and was in no way real. However, that didn't stop him from returning there every night that week.

"Back again, Harry?" Harry jumped at the voice and turned around to face the Headmaster. He hadn't heard the door open or been at all aware that he wasn't alone, so engrossed was he with the mirror. "I see that you, like so many before you, have discovered the delights of the Mirror of Erised. I trust by now you realize what it does."

"It shows us an illusion of something important to us." He'd been so happy at seeing his parents that he hadn't thought too much about the mirror or the magic behind it, though he'd worked out that much.

"Yes…and no." Harry was confused. "It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest and most desperate desires of our hearts." That made sense. Although he'd been taken from his abusive aunt and uncle's home some years ago and shown kindness, and even love to a certain extent, he still longed for his parents and the home they were supposed to have had together, if not for that fateful night. That was the one thing he realized that he'd never have, and it made his heart ache for it even more because of it.

"I guess that makes sense." He replied to Dumbledore.

"Yes, but remember this, Harry: this mirror gives us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away in front of it, and even gone mad." Kind of like he had, Harry realized. This was the fourth night in a row that he was losing sleep just for the chance to look at his parents again. "Which is why tomorrow it will be moved to a new home. And I must ask you, not to go looking for it again." Harry looked up at Dumbledore. There was something in his voice that spoke of more than just wanting to save Harry, and other students, from looking in the mirror too often. Harry thought immediately of his other obsession and decided to test that waters. Dumbledore would no doubt know all about the Cerberus and the trap door. Even if Harry got detention it would be worth it for any bit of information the Headmaster might let slip.

"Is that because it's going down the trap door, in the room the Cerberus is guarding on the third floor?" Dumbledore's eyes flashed with a flicker of something – anger, fear, Harry couldn't tell – as they bore into him from above the half-moon spectacles.

"You visited the third floor?"

"Not on purpose." He said, going with mostly the truth, though he wasn't going to drag his friends into this. "I was a bit late leaving the library one night and was out after curfew. Mrs. Norris found me and started following me. I didn't want detention so I ran. I didn't realize I'd run right into the third floor until I saw the Cerberus in the room I was hiding in." Dumbledore continued to stare at him and Harry wondered if he could tell that he was lying, even though the important bit about how he found the three headed dog was the same; it had been an accident, after all, he, Ron and Hermione hadn't meant to go on the third floor.

"I trust you will be discrete about what you have found, Harry." Dumbledore said with a sigh. "There is a reason the third floor is forbidden this year and it would not do for certain people to get wind of what is down there." Harry knew that was all Dumbledore would say without further prompting. He had been present for several visits that Cornelius had paid to Dumbledore over the years. The current Minister of Magic began his tenure quite insecure about his position and had often sought out the great Albus Dumbledore for advice. He still did – though to a lesser extent since Lucius Malfoy had gotten hold of him – and so Harry had met the Headmaster before coming to Hogwarts and knew that if there was one thing Dumbledore was good at it was not sharing information. Of course, Harry had gotten good at pressing the right buttons to get more information out of him.

"Of course, Headmaster." He said. "Though I must ask, does the Minister know about whatever is hidden in the castle? Only I can't imagine that he does, you see. Hiding a dangerous creature in a room that a first year can get into? And as you said, there are certain people that shouldn't get their hands on what's hidden down there. How hard would it be for those people to track it to Hogwarts? Wouldn't they then try and get at it, which could put every student in the school in danger?" He was laying it on a bit thick, he knew, but he needed to know what was down there. All of the points he'd just made were valid ones, and after Dumbledore confirmed that something was down the trap door that dangerous people might want, his own safety, and that of his friends, was at risk. Harry had sworn four years ago that he would never allow anyone else control his life and until he knew what Dumbledore was hiding, he couldn't decide if he could leave it protected as is, or if he needed to do something about it. Dumbledore sighed once more, and Harry knew that he hadn't told the Minister.

"All I will say, Harry, is that no one knows it is here and it will be gone soon. I am merely holding it temporarily for an old friend of mine." An answer without really giving an answer, it was what Dumbledore was good at. On the other hand, manipulating adults was something Harry was good at, and it was clear that Dumbledore didn't want the Ministry to know about whatever it was he was hiding. Harry thought for a moment about how hard he should push Dumbledore, knowing that he could follow through and Cornelius would rush to the school demanding answers, but now might not be the best time to play that card.

"What friend, Professor?" Dumbledore stared at him a moment, deciding if he should give away that bit of information.

"Nicolas Flamel." He said finally, clearly deciding that giving Harry this much couldn't hurt anything. Even if Harry managed to research everything about Nicolas' life and come to the right conclusion about what was hidden, there was nothing he could do with that information, so having Harry know the truth was quite harmless.

"Nicolas Flamel…" Harry apparently didn't know that name and Dumbledore relaxed a bit more.

"Now off to bed, Harry." He ended the conversation. "Don't dawdle." Harry nodded slipped out of the door before putting his cloak back on and returning to his dormitory, his head full of thoughts of Nicolas Flamel.

"Nicolas Flamel? Who's Nicolas Flamel?" Ron asked the next morning. Harry had finally told his friends about his late night wanderings and of course about his encounter with Dumbledore.

"You do realize that you practically threatened a teacher?" Hermione was much more upset about that fact then she was curious about who Nicolas Flamel was. "And not just any teacher, but the Headmaster!" It seemed incomprehensible to Hermione that anyone would threaten a teacher.

"I know, and I promise not to do it again." Harry waved off her concern. "This week." Hermione glared at him but he could see a twitch of her mouth that belied her desire to smile. He may threaten teachers, but he wouldn't lie to her. "So how do we find out who Nicolas Flamel is?" It was research they needed to do, so of course he needed Hermione for that.

"I've heard the name before, but I can't remember where." She said. "We'd probably be best to look up everything we can on Professor Dumbledore. If I've heard the name before then he's probably well-known somehow and if he and Professor Dumbledore are friends, then they'll probably be mentioned together somewhere."

"Beats starting a search for someone we know nothing about." Shrugged Ron in agreement, and Harry nodded as well.

"Good. Then let's go to the-"

"Library." Hermione glared but the two boys merely chuckled as they made their way out of the Great Hall. They searched all day and found nothing of use. Since they were doing something they didn't want anyone else to know about, or for word to reach Dumbledore that they were looking for information on his friend, they couldn't exactly ask Madam Pince for help so it was up to Hermione to find books for them to look through. A week passed with no results and they were starting to get despondent; Hermione only had two more books for them to look through. They were in the common room late one evening when they ran out of texts, emphasized by Hermione slamming the book shut.

"We've gone through every book I can think of that might have any mention of Dumbledore, and nothing!" She said frustratedly.

"Maybe he's not famous like you thought." Said Harry.

"But I know I've read that name somewhere!"

"Let's just go to bed." Ron grumbled. His stomach hurt from all the sweets he'd eaten while Harry and Hermione went through the last two books. With nothing else to do right now the two agreed and they began to clean up. Harry was gathering all the chocolate frog cards Ron didn't want when one of them caught his eye: Dumbledore had just walked back into the picture on his frog card. Thinking it a lark that a chocolate frog card, of all things, was the only thing about the Headmaster that they hadn't read in the last week, Harry turned the card over and read the bit on the back, only he wasn't thinking it a lark anymore.

"Guys, here!" He called and Ron and Hermione rushed over.

"Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Gindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon's blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel!" He read. Hermione gasped and ran up to the girl's dormitory without any explanation, though she returned moments later with a rather large book.

"I knew I'd read that name before! I checked this out weeks ago for a bit of light reading."

"This is light?" Ron asked as she slammed the book down on the table and opened it, beginning to search through the pages until she found the one she wanted. "Of course, here it is: 'Nicolas Flamel is the only known maker of the Philosopher's Stone.' "

"The what?" Neither boy knew what she was talking about. Hermione shot them a withering look before continuing.

"The Philosopher's Stone is a legendary substance with astonishing powers. It can turn any metal into pure gold, and produces the Elixer of Life, which will make the drinker immortal. The only stone currently in existence belongs to Mr. Nicolas Flamel, the noted alchemist, who last year celebrated his 665th birthday."

"That's one powerful stone." Ron muttered. "You think that's what's through the trap door?"

"Maybe. What else is he known for, Hermione?" She skimmed the paragraph before shaking her head.

"Only as an alchemist. A very talented alchemist, famous in alchemy circles, but the Philosopher's Stone is the only thing he's done that might warrant such protection."

"Then that must be it." Said Harry. "Dumbledore must be hiding the Philosopher's Stone for his old friend."

"But why? And who would want it? And what for?" Ron asked the pertinent questions.

"Riches." Hermione suggested. "It can turn any metal into gold, after all, and history is riddled with stories of people who have gone to great lengths to find, or protect, treasure."

"The Elixer of Life could be it too." Said Harry. "Some people would love to live forever."

"But who?" Harry shook his head.

"I don't know. It could be anyone, but I doubt Dumbledore's protecting the stone just from the general public. He must know who's after it, and the kind of trouble they'd cause if they got their hands on it."

"Then that's what we have to do next." Hermione was resolute. "We have to find out who is after the stone and why."

"But how?" Asked Ron, posing the question that was likely to give them the most trouble.

A/N - The plot thickens!

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