"We always long for the forbidden things, and desire what is denied us." - Francois Rabelais
I glance upwards. Professor Dumbledore is strolling down the isle between the desks, the door wide open behind him, his shimmering blue robes looking fretfully out of place amidst the black of the dungeon. As if my occulemency skills have failed me for a moment, he looks around.
"Honestly, Severus, I don't understand why you insist on keeping this room so dismal. Surely a little light wouldn't kill you - unless, of course, you have vampiristic tendencies you have been keeping from me."
"You know why I prefer my room dark, Dumbledore," I reply.
"Call me Albus, Severus," he reminds me as he approaches my desk, and I nod stiffly. "And old age has rendered me forgetful."
I let my quill drop onto the stack of fourth-year essays in front of me. "It stops the students from getting distracted. You have no idea how much interest can be sparked by a single tree."
"Oh, I do, Severus. The Whomping Willow, in particular, fascinates me."
I look up into Dumbledore's cheerful face, failing to keep my face neutral as I look back down at my desk and ask, "is there a particular reason you're here, Albus, or is this a purely social visit?"
Dumbledore chuckles lightly, his blue eyes glinting over the top of his spectacles. "Still as sharp as ever, I see. Actually, Severus, I wish to show you something."
"Show me something?" I echo, skepticism itching onto my face and arching my eyebrow.
"If you're not too busy, of course," he adds, gesturing to the stacks of parchment in front of me. I snort, pushing the papers aside.
"These essays are all so dismal I wonder why I waste my time marking them," I say, shaking my head in disgust. My current fourth-year class are particularly dimwitted, and this batch of essays are no better than the last; it had only taken me a glance over the first one to give up any hope of awarding anything over a 'D'.
"Not everyone can be a potions genius, Severus," Dumbledore chides gently. "And you and I both know that you are a famously harsh marker."
"I refuse to give my students false hope when their essays match the same standard as that of a troll," I say briskly, standing from my chair and brushing the non-existent dust from the front of my robes. "Now, you said you had something to show me?"
Dumbledore surveys me for several seconds before nodding. "I do," is all he says before he turns and leaves. I pause only momentarily before following, closing the heavy dungeon door behind me. We walk in silence for several minutes, the quiet broken only by the whisper of cloaks over cold stone floors. Finally, as we ascend the marble staircase, I ask,
"Am I allowed to inquire as to what I am being taken to see?"
"And ruin the surprise?"
"I have never liked surprises. In fact, I detest them."
"You detest too many things, Severus," Dumbledore says quietly, and I falter slightly behind him as he continues along the first floor corridor. It is late and the corridors are deserted, and as we stroll silently I relax into the time of day that I like the most, when everything is still and asleep, and I can be alone. Strange, that even amidst the loneliness that wells inside of me, I crave the company of no one.
It is a while before Dumbledore speaks again. "Have you been keeping an eye on Quirrell for me?"
"Yes," I answer, and when Dumbledore waits expectantly I say, "a part from being a twitchy, blubbering idiot, his behaviour seems glaringly normal."
"Awfully complimentary aren't you, Severus?"
"It is not in my best interest to be complimentary, Albus. Why did you ask me to watch Quirrell, anyway?"
"Just an old man's suspicions," Dumbledore replies with typical vagueness, and I cannot keep the flat annoyance from my voice as I say,
"You and I both know you are not an old man, Albus. Surely I need to know what I am looking out for when I am watching our new Defence teacher."
When Dumbledore does not answer, the corner of my mouth curls in a half rueful, half mocking smile.
"You still do not trust me, Albus?"
Dumbledore's bright blue eyes meet mine amid the gloom. "It is not you that I don't trust, Severus. You are not the only one who has learnt to hold secrets far too close to his chest."
With no suitable reply, we continue to move noiselessly down the corridor, stepping between several pools of dim, oil-lamp light before Dumbledore speaks again.
"I wish you to keep an eye on Quirrell because I believe he may try to steal the Philosopher's Stone," Dumbledore says in a voice he could have used to comment on the weather.
"Steal the Stone?" I ask, incredulity leaking into my voice. "What would Quirrell want with the Philosopher's Stone?"
Dumbledore looks at me, his eyebrows raised over his eyes. "Do you not crave the eternal life and wealth the Stone brings?"
"What could possibly make me want eternal life?" I mumble quietly. Eternal life is merely a continuation of the loneliness that circles us on this Earth, and a never-ending life means only endless chills of emptiness and horrors of memories too awful to forget, because forgetting them would be too easy - my punishment is suffering, and having visions of the past swimming in my head every waking and sleeping hour is like mortal Hell that I bear only because the burn of fire is number than the stab of pain. Why would I want to extend that?
I had meant the comment to be for my ears only, but Dumbledore hears it and I see his face fall.
"Severus -" he starts, but I cut him off.
"I apologise, Dumbledore, I shouldn't have said anything."
We ascend a third staircase in silence.
"You will remember that I told you that I would also be providing protection for the Philosopher's Stone," Dumbledore says after a while.
Even though I know the corridors are empty, I still glance around before answering. "Yes."
"I am going to show you what I have in mind."
"Why?" I ask, frowning.
"Why not?" Dumbledore counters calmly, holding aside a tapestry for me to pass into the hidden corridor behind it. The tapestry dances back into place and we continue in semi-darkness.
"Do you need someone to test it? I thought you of all people would be fairly confident in your own work without needing a second opinion."
"Oh no, it will work just fine, I assure you."
"Then why am I here?"
Dumbledore glances along his crooked nose into my eyes. "It is very rare that I have the opportunity to share my truly great ideas with other people, Severus. Let me have my moment to gloat."
"And the titles of Grand Sorcerer; Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards; Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot; discoverer of the twelve uses of dragon's blood; and Order of Merlin, First Class holder don't allow you time to gloat?" I ask archly.
"Don't forget Witch Weekly's Battiest Old Coot four years in a row," he says, chuckling, and I can do little but roll my eyes. "But yes, Severus, despite not actually requiring your assistance, I would still like you to see it."
"Where is it?" I ask, aware that we have been walking for several minutes.
"Just up ahead."
He turns to a large wooden door a few metres up the corridor and pushes it open. I pause before I follow him, my eyebrows rising dubiously.
"An empty classroom?"
"You don't approve, Severus?" Dumbledore asks, waving his wand towards a gas lamp and illuminating it with the smallest flame. It casts a golden haze around the black room, and my eyes make out several desks stacked against the wall next to me.
"I am assuming that whatever this object is is either very valuable or very dangerous. Are you sure it is safe leaving it in an empty classroom for anyone to find? What if Quirrell gets hold of it and figures out how to break its protection?"
"But Severus, no one purposefully searching for an object as valuable as this one would bother to look in an abandoned classroom - that is the more ingenious element of my plan. And, even if Quirrell were to stumble across it, I highly doubt he would be able to break the protection."
"You are sure about that?" I ask.
"He desires the stone too much."
"Desire? How does desire affect this?"
Dumbledore's mouth turns up into a small smile and he turns his body towards the murky depths of the classroom. "This, Severus, is the Mirror of Erised."
I frown slightly, curiosity urging me feet forward until I am close enough to distinguish the murky shape looming in the corner of the classroom. Standing near the back wall is a rather unremarkable looking mirror - yes, the ornate gold frame stretches to the ceiling and is intricate to the point of obsession, but as something protecting a stone capable of producing the Elixir of Life, it seems awfully fragile.
"The Mirror of -" I start, and Dumbledore finishes for me.
"And this," I ask, drawing level with Dumbledore, "is going to protect the Philosopher's Stone from Quirrell? What are you going to do, stick the stone to the top of it and hope Quirrell doesn't bring a ladder?"
Dumbledore chuckles lightly. "You underestimate me, Severus."
"Or maybe I can see the truth in Witch Weekly's words," I mumble.
"Maybe if you take a look inside of it, you might understand more."
My eyebrows furrow cynically, but Dumbledore nods insistently, so I move forward until my reflection steps into the frame opposite. At first, I see only my own confused face scowling back at me, but then shapes and colour begin to materialise under my gaze. I gasp, stumbling back in shock.
"I show not your face but your heart's desire," Dumbledore says quietly. "This mirror, Severus, shows us our deepest desires. Everything that we want most will be displayed in front of us."
My hand reaches out, but I am scared to touch the glass, scared that even the whisper of my skin may shatter it into a thousand pieces. "But how -?"
"I plan on enchanting the stone, so that only those who want to have it, but not use it, will be able to posses it. Anyone seeking to use the stone for their own gain will merely be presented with the maddening reflection of the stone in their grasp."
At first I think Dumbledore has mistakenly misunderstood my question, until he places a soft hand on my shoulder.
"I brought you here, Severus, not to gloat," he says quietly, "for I have no right upon this Earth to do any such thing. I hope this mirror will help you see things a little clearer." His hand slips from my tense shoulder and I hear the rustle of heavy material as he begins to depart the room, though my eyes are still trained on the mirror.
The noise stops, and Dumbledore's voice comes from somewhere near the door. "I know I don't have to warn you of the dangers of this mirror, Severus. Men go mad in front of it, seeking some way to make their desires a reality, but you and I know very well that some wants are unobtainable, and it would be foolish to dwell on the picture within the frame. The pain of memories is strong enough."
A soft echo reverberates off the walls as the door closes behind him, leaving me alone. I stare into the mirror, seeing beyond the two dimensional glass into the scene behind it. My breathing is shallow, but the daggers of pain twisting at my insides are numb - the waves of contentment I haven't felt since she lived swell inside of me. My muscles soften and I move forward, brushing the pads of my fingers across the surface of the mirror, tracing the familiar shapes and features, wanting to absorb as much of it as possible.
Standing before me is Lily Evans. Even though she is not facing me directly, I can tell it is her from the arched curve of her back and the slight dent in her right ear. Her hair seems to glow despite the darkness in the room, and as I press my face closer to the glass I allow the red to fill my eyes until I'm lost in the colour of autumn leaves. Lily laughs and tilts her head slightly in my direction, and my breath catches in my throat as the smile I have been craving since her death illuminates the image. Her plump lips curl back and her two middle teeth peek, pearl white, from behind them, and as her cheeks lift her eyes dome in a way that makes the jade irises look even more striking. And, even as the smile fades and Lily's head turns away, she is the picture of jubilance.
Standing in front of Lily is a dark haired man with wire glasses and a goofy smile. James Potter holds a small, black haired baby with dimpled cheeks and pudgy fists. As I watch, Potter passes the baby over to Lily and she winds her arms around it, cooing nonsense that I can't hear into its ear.
I know, as my eyes drink in the scene before me, that this is my deepest desire, despite the presence of the person I hold only hatred for. When I was younger, my wants were fantasies, and those fantasies were filled with Lily and I laughing, embracing, kissing - together. As I got older, I found that there were times when regret enveloped me and all I wanted was to say sorry to Lily one last time. But now, staring greedily past the opulent face of the regal mirror, I know that the Lily I am seeing is all I want. The Lily holding her son and kissing her husband is all I need to see. My heart's deepest desire.
I don't have her love. I don't have her friendship. I don't have her forgiveness. I have her alive.
This chapter was done quite quickly, so I am sorry if it seems rather shabby. I couldn't really be bothered waiting to post it.
Also, I have decided that these moments are probably not going to be in chronological order, because I mostly just write whatever comes into my head.