Author's Notes: Sorry it took me so long to update! As always, the dialogue you recognize is from the books.
James Ferdinand Potter laughed to scorn his fears when he saw his son's face, on the platform. What an idiot he'd been, thinking it would matter! But all the Slytherins he'd ever known had been evil—Voldemort, Snape, Sirius's cousin Bellatrix, Sirius's brother, Sirius's entire family, Snape, most of the rest of the Death Eaters, and Snape—and it was an easy mistake to make. His son, a Potter, in Slytherin! When Lily's letter had first reached him, he couldn't believe it—such a thing had never happened before, surely—and then Harry had written him that one note, describing his first week, and then nothing, and Sirius said it was because he was too proud, like his father—
"Hey, Prongslet," he said at last. "Long time, no see." It was a ridiculous line, he supposed, but Harry shoved his trunk and his owl, Hedwig, at Sirius (who caught them deftly and without surprise) and hugged him; and James knew nothing important had really changed.
Christmas with Harry's father was nothing like Christmas with his mother. Lily gathered people around her, in a rather matriarchal way—every Christmas he could remember spending with her, there was Sev, of course, and whichever of his sisters had been born by that point, and Hagrid and Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore and Flitwick and Sinistra and Sprout and even Trelawney, on rare occasions—and whichever students were staying for the holidays. Lily always made them feel welcome, part of the family—and they usually confided all their problems to her before the end of the celebrations.
The only Christmas Harry could remember with both his parents, he'd been about two and a half, and Uncle Padfoot and Uncle Moony had been there—but all he could really remember was his mother's laugh and the clink of firewhiskey glasses and how much he'd wanted that new toy broomstick that flew several feet higher than his first one.
Christmas with his father used to be forlorn, but things had improved a lot when Jimmy was born. Jimmy was James's namesake—Sirius's son. He was about Fia's age, and as unlike his father, his mother, his godfather, James, or his other namesake, Uncle Remus, as it was possible to be. He was completely lacking in tragedy. In short, he was a cheerful, cute kid. Harry liked him.
Aunt Josephine wasn't too bad, either. Just weird. Really weird. Not that he'd expect anyone marrying Uncle Padfoot to be precisely normal, but Aunt Josephine…
On Christmas morning, Harry woke early and dug in to his presents. There was a drawing of him and his sisters, with love from Fia, a very short, illustrated story about a heroic first year named Harry from Dru, and some scribblings of Zuri's; some Christmas cake and a hand mirror with a note describing it as the safest, most secretive form of communication yet invented from his mother and Severus; Quidditch Through the Ages from Sirius and Hippogriff Breeding for Beginners from Josephine; a polished moonstone from Jimmy, 'for luck'; Honeydukes chocolate from Remus; some Quidditch paraphernalia from Nev for the Montrose Magpies (their favorite team, although they also liked Puddlemere United); an intricate model of the solar system from Draco; some Chocolate Frogs from Hermione; and a package from his father that proved to contain—
"An Invisibility Cloak," Harry breathed in awe, looking down at the silvery material and the place where his hand, underneath the fabric, should have been. He set the Cloak down and reached for the note again. At first, he hadn't given it more than a cursory glance, but now he saw there was an explanation:
Dear Harry [it read],
Merry Christmas! This Cloak has been passed down in our family for generations. I don't know who originally found or created it, but I had Dumbledore look at it and he assures me it's a priceless heirloom.
I want you to know I trust you. I'm sorry I haven't always been around, and I hope you know I'll always be there when you need me.
Have fun with the Cloak! Sirius and I used it mostly for pranks, between you and me…
Harry looked up from the note, marveling that he'd never heard about this before. It was amazing! An Invisibility Cloak handed down through generations…it had to be nearly unheard of! Usually, they wore out after awhile—curses, or just time—but this—! His eyes shone with excitement as he swung the Cloak around his shoulders, vanishing from sight. He peered down into the mirror his mother and Sev had given him, just to see his lack of reflection. He couldn't wait to use this!
Absently, he picked up a Chocolate Frog, allowing the Cloak to swing down into a shimmery silver heap on his bed. He unwrapped the candy, popped it into his mouth, and glanced at the back of the Wizard card.
A few moments later, he leapt toward Hedwig's cage, almost frantic. He snatched three envelopes from his desk, shoved the card into one of them, and opened Hedwig's cage.
"Listen, Hedwig, I need you to take this to Draco," he said hurriedly. "It's urgent." He rummaged through his Chocolate Frog card collection for a moment. "And this one goes to Neville, and this one is for Hermione. Okay? This is really important."
By dinner, Harry had almost forgotten the Chocolate Frogs. Christmas dinner with James was usually an experience. He still remembered the time his father had set the kitchen on fire and he'd had to call Uncle Moony in the neighbor's fire because James had had too much eggnog and couldn't remember how to send a silvery message. Those silvery messages confused Harry—always had—and he'd asked every adult he knew, including both Draco's parents and Neville's Gran, but they either didn't know or wouldn't tell him.
"Do you know if pudding should have two cups of sugar or three?" Jimmy asked Harry seriously.
Harry shrugged. "I have no idea. So you're making dinner?"
Jimmy grinned at him. "Of course not. I'm making dessert. Mom and Dad and Uncle Prongs and Uncle Moony are having another argument. And we're having guests this year, too—new people."
"New people?" Harry asked idly, picking up an orange and starting to peel it. "What new people?"
As if in answer to his question, there was a loud crash from upstairs. It sounded as though someone had knocked down Aunt Josephine's enameled shoe rack. "They're here!" cried Uncle Padfoot, dashing past the kitchen and toward the front door, looking frazzled.
"I hope the enamel isn't too chipped," sighed Aunt Josephine in a long-suffering way. She floated by Harry and Jimmy, holding the hem of her kimono up with one hand, and pushing her long, uncontrollable brown hair out of her eyes with the other.
Jimmy began stirring industriously as Harry's father passed, came back and looked at them (making sure they were presentable, Harry presumed) and headed toward the front door again. Uncle Moony came into the kitchen.
"How are you boys holding up?" he asked, smiling a tired smile. Harry would never understand why Uncle Moony looked so much older than his father and Uncle Padfoot. They were all the same age, after all.
"Who's coming to dinner?" asked Harry casually.
"Oh, just some old friends—you probably remember them," said Uncle Moony, waving a hand lightly.
At that moment, Harry's father, Uncle Padfoot, Aunt Josephine, and three new people came in. The kitchen was getting rather crowded, and (Harry reflected) there was going to be a serious problem if all they had to eat was Jimmy's pudding. One of the new people looked like a female version of Uncle Padfoot, although her hair and eyes were a bit more brownish, and she was probably a little older. This was Aunt Andromeda. She was not, in any literal sense, Harry's aunt, but when he'd called her Mrs. Tonks she'd insisted that was much too formal for her favorite cousin's godson. Her husband, Mr. Tonks, had told Harry (and everyone else, as far as Harry could tell) to call him Ted, and her daughter, Nymphadora, told everyone, on pain of death (or something dire) to call her Tonks. Tonks was the most interesting of the three guests, to Harry's mind; for one thing, she could change her appearance, and most of the time she had pink hair; and for another, she was seven years older than he was, and officially an adult.
"So, Nymphadora—" began Aunt Josephine much later, once she and Uncle Padfoot and Uncle Moony had somehow miraculously made dinner—Harry suspected them of magicking it out of thin air—and they were all sitting down at Harry's father's large wooden table. It was, Harry supposed, slightly odd that they'd made the food in his father's kitchen, rather than Harry and James having to do all the work, but then, his father and Uncle Padfoot treated each others' houses as their own at all times, to such an extent that, from when he was three to when he was six, Harry had actually thought Uncle Padfoot's house was his father's house.
"It's Tonks," said Tonks forcefully, barely modulating her tone at all for politeness.
Aunt Josephine ignored the interruption. "—what are you doing now that you've graduated Hogwarts? You know I'll put in a good word for you at the stable, if you ever need a job."
Aunt Andromeda frowned. Harry guessed she didn't approve of hippogriff breeding. After all, neither did Draco's parents, and they were supposed to be the height of society, according to Draco (and the Daily Prophet, interestingly). Aunt Andromeda had more in common with them than she seemed to think.
Tonks laughed. "Thanks, but no thanks, Josephine. I'm training to be an Auror."
An Auror! Harry looked at Tonks with new respect. She was going to be an Auror! Out of all the things he'd thought about doing when he grew up—Experimental Charms tester, professional Quidditch player—an Auror headed the list. It wasn't like he was going to go into business, like his father, or be a teacher, like Sev. No way. An Auror…
Harry was still thinking about Tonks and being an Auror several weeks later, when he got back on the train for Hogwarts. It had been a good holiday—his father had really cheered up enormously ever since Jimmy was born, of course, and having Tonks and her parents over seemed to have done him good. Harry didn't want to have to worry about his father, but sometimes, he couldn't seem to help it. James was so brave, and the best father in the world, of course; but he did have a tendency not to understand when people were dishonest, or why it wasn't okay for him to insult Sev in front of Harry. Harry really didn't want to hear it. The last thing he needed was to get involved in his parents' issues, and although it cost him something to admit, he knew his mother was happy with Sev. So it didn't really make sense for his father to rake up old grievances—and it wasn't as though Harry hadn't been compelled to be polite to a succession of his father's girlfriends. Mostly, they were loud and boring and blonde, and they always said he was "just too adorable for words!" and then started telling his father just how adorable he was, because they were smart enough to know James could never hear enough praise of Harry.
Being an Auror seemed like a great idea to Harry—an adventure, and fighting evil at the same time—but he resolved not to mention it to his mother. The last time he'd told her he was going to be an Auror, she'd burst out crying. Sev had taken him aside and explained that his mother had lost two very close friends of hers who were Aurors during the war. This had not changed Harry's mind, but it had worried him.
"Hey, Harry!" cried Hermione Granger, racing up to him out of a train compartment. "How was your holiday?" she demanded breathlessly. She'd stopped right in front of him, visually restraining herself from hugging him.
"Great," answered Harry absently. "Did you get what I sent you?"
"Yes, and I think you're—" Hermione began. Harry grabbed her arm and propelled them both into her compartment, shutting the door behind them. "—absolutely right," she finished, glaring at him. "I know how to be discreet, you know."
"No Gryffindor does," Harry replied, grinning. "You haven't seen Nev or Draco?"
"Here we are!" cried Draco, opening the door again and posing on the threshold, smiling. He looked as though he expected applause. Neville hung back slightly, grinning.
"Did you get—" Harry started.
"Of course," said Neville and Draco together.
"Good job, Harry," Neville added. Harry grinned at the three of them, glad to be reunited with his friends.
He didn't grin much over the next several weeks. The teachers were already talking about exams, Dumbledore's collaborator Nicolas Flamel (from the Chocolate Frog card) had made something called the Sorcerer's Stone which granted eternal life and endless riches—Draco had asked, half-seriously, "who wouldn't want that?"—and they were no closer to stopping whoever it was. Neville was convinced whoever it was wanted to kill him, but there didn't seem to be any proof. Harry had the uncomfortable suspicion Nev only thought that because he still suspected Sev, which was ridiculous. And, for some strange reason, Quirrell seemed to be afraid of his turban.
Then, one night when he was exploring under the Invisibility Cloak, he wandered into an empty classroom—he was never sure exactly why. It wasn't exactly empty, though—there was a full-length mirror propped against one wall. Harry spared a thought for how odd this was, but then he was standing in front of it, and suddenly he wasn't alone or invisible—
Two people stood behind his reflection, their arms around one another's waists. They were smiling, and the woman's free hand rested on Harry's reflection's shoulder. Instantly, Harry knew what he was seeing, just as he knew it couldn't really be happening. He glanced behind him just to make sure, but the room was still—although he had the oddest sense that there had been something in motion just before he turned around. Now there was nothing to see.
He looked back at the mirror, and there they were again—his mother and father, reconciled, together, and loving him. The three of them were a family again, as they hadn't been since he was three years old. He reached out a longing hand for the mirror, and his reflection grinned cockily and reached out too; and he saw that this Harry wore a red and gold Gryffindor scarf, and recoiled in horror.
That one second's antipathy toward the mirror allowed reality to come rushing back, and Harry told himself not to be ridiculous; the mirror couldn't show the future, not with him wearing a Gryffindor scarf and being no older than he was now. And it oughtn't to, anyway. He knew that, knew down to his bones that what he'd seen was not something that should happen, at least not now; his mother was happy with Sev, and his father—well, his father wasn't really happy with any of his blonde girlfriends, but he was happy with Uncle Padfoot, and that counted for something, surely. And anyway, if his parents got back together his sisters would be in the same position he was—parents split up, forced to spend holidays with one parent and the rest of the time with the other, having two different homes at least and still feeling out of place everywhere…
Harry felt guilt weigh down upon him, because he wanted this disruptive vision anyway. How could he want something that would make people he loved miserable? And how did this mirror work, anyway? He wrenched his eyes from his parents—he knew they loved him, that he wasn't the reason they'd split up, but he couldn't help longing for the calm certainty of his glass counterpart—and examined the mirror's golden frame.
He found the words, Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi, carved around the top, and at once set himself to deciphering them. At first he made no headway—were they some sort of code, or foreign language? If so, it was none he'd ever learned. At last he copied them out on a spare piece of parchment, to show Hermione, and was about to leave, sadly wrenching himself from his happily married parents, when he glanced back and saw the piece of parchment reflected in the mirror—he was no longer standing directly in front, so he just saw his own image. The words made a lot more sense, viewed thus. "I-show-not-your-face-but-your-heart's-desire," he read slowly, carefully. "Of course!"
It all made sense; he felt ashamed that his heart's desire was to see his parents happily married and loving him together, like a proper family. It was unjust to Sev, and downright cruel to Fia, Dru and Zuri—nonetheless, it was how he felt and the sooner he could make peace with that the better. He resolved never to reveal it to any of his family. With a last rueful glance around, he headed back toward the Slytherin dormitory, all desire for exploration of the castle he'd grown up in lost.
The next day, he told his friends about the experience, even showing them the mirror's warning. He was careful to leave out what his heart's desire actually was. "So if you guys want to see it…" he trailed off, waiting.
Draco shook his head. "Uh-uh—I don't want to know my heart's desire."
Harry looked at his friend, surprised. "Why not?"
Draco shrugged. "It wouldn't be any use to me, would it? I'd have to start scheming to get whatever it was, which would be a lot of work most likely, and then what? Looks like Nicolas Flamel got his heart's desire, and now what does he do? Probably takes all the fun out of life." Harry wondered if the reason Draco gave was the true one. Perhaps he already knew his heart's desire.
"Well, I'm not going, and you shouldn't, either!" put in Hermione. "Really, Harry, that sort of thing is dangerous! And, what if Filch catches you? You'll be in so much trouble!"
"But you won't mind that," said Draco swiftly. "Don't tell me you'd cry over Slytherin losing House points."
Hermione scowled at him.
"I'll go," said Neville quietly. Harry gave him a sharp look, but nodded.
That night he met Neville outside the Gryffindor portrait hole and threw the Invisibility Cloak over them both. They made their stealthy way to the abandoned classroom—they saw Mrs. Norris, Filch's cat, but she simply gave them a feline glare and moved on. At last, they reached the mirror, and Harry took off the Cloak. Neville moved cautiously in front of the mirror.
Watching him, Harry felt absurdly privileged; the longing and loneliness in Nev's face was so heart wrenching, he knew what his friend saw before he spoke. "My parents," whispered Neville hoarsely.
Harry reached out a comforting hand, knowing how painful this had to be. Then—
"So—back again, boys?"
Harry and Neville turned, Harry thinking how absurd such an assertion was—this was only his second trip to the mirror, after all, and Neville's first. Albus Dumbledore sat perched against a desk, watching them.
No one spoke for a long moment.
"So," said Dumbledore, standing up, "you, like hundreds before you, have discovered the delights of the Mirror of Erised."
"Yes," said Neville simply, looking haggard.
"I suppose you've realized what it does," said Dumbledore encouragingly.
"Well, yes, the information is right on it," said Harry, with difficulty concealing most of his exasperation.
"It doesn't show the future, or the present, really," sighed Neville. "It's like a trap."
"Yes, this mirror gives us neither knowledge nor truth," agreed Dumbledore. He gave the two boys a piercing look. "Tomorrow it will be moved to a new home, and I ask that you not go looking for it again. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."
Harry and Neville nodded, grateful to escape punishment, and left. They didn't discuss the Mirror Incident again, though Harry found it uncomfortably difficult to forget.