Chapter 14: The Stone, the Library, and the Mirror

After an otherwise uneventful holiday, Harry and his friends found themselves back in the Gryffindor common room on the Sunday before classes resumed. Some of the young Gryffindors milled about with nothing much to do, some were furiously trying to finish the homework they had been putting off for weeks, and two in particular flipped through some of the library's more esoteric books, trying their hardest to make sense of the highly advanced information they contained. They had spent most of the last hour fruitlessly trying to meditate on their animagus transformation, but decided that it was far too noisy and decided to find some time later to do that when they could actually give the concentration it required.

Instead they took a quick trip to the library, randomly chose some books on subjects they knew absolutely nothing about, and took on the task of deciphering them. Harry had his head in Numerology and Grammatica, a book about arithmancy, something that Harry had never heard of before except for a couple of teachers' vague references to "powerful numbers." Meanwhile, Hermione, in an attempt to solve the mystery of their sorting, was dubiously flipping through Prophecies and Portents, which seemed to be about telling the future in general. Hermione did not seem to enjoy it at all and eventually started to question its legitimacy out loud.

"I'm wondering whether this is actually a real thing, Harry. It seems just about as reliable as the Muggle version. It seems to mostly be reading into signs and interpreting them in some way. Couldn't two people can look at the same thing and read it entirely differently? It doesn't seem very…" She hesitated, searching for a word. "Well… real, I suppose"

Harry, without looking up, baited her a bit. "Are you suggesting that something written in a textbook is not true?"

Hermione apparently did not hear the smile in his voice or see the people that overheard them trying not to laugh, because she answered exactly as he wanted. "Of course not!" she exclaimed defensively. "It's just that I'm questioning the validity of the author's assertions that—"

Neville was the first of the people in earshot who did not manage to stifle their laughter. Hermione looked up and noticed that everyone was trying not to look at her and appearing extra hard to be serious. "Oh, ha ha," she said flatly, before throwing one of her uninked quills in Neville's general direction. As it was mostly made of feather, it didn't get very far.

"All these numbers are giving me a headache. Switch?" Harry offered, and they traded books before lapsing back into comfortable silence.

X

A few hours later Harry realized why Hermione did not want to spend any more time reading about Divination. Like a lot of magic Harry found in Muggle books, it seemed more to be hoping for the best and wishing it was real than actually casting a spell. While it was far past curfew, it was not quite late enough for Harry (who often stayed up later than others, reading until he drifted away) to go to sleep. Deciding it was a good time to test out his new invisibility cloak, he put it on and headed to the library.

In the day, the castle was filled with people, warmly lit, and the air itself had some life to it. At night, it was like Harry had always pictured a thousand-year-old castle: dark, empty, and with cold drafts that were the only sound except for his own breathing. Harry carefully made his way to the library, mindful not to trip over his partially-invisible feet. With a certain nervousness that was foreign to him, he slowly opened one of the large and heavy doors to the library, half expecting the combined disapproval of McGonagall, Dumbledore, and Filch to meet him on the other side. Of course, all that he saw was a dark and empty library, with no Madam Pince to watch him like a hawk. As someone who abhorred attention and, to a certain extent, disapproval, she was perhaps one of the major reasons that Harry did not go to Hogwarts' library as often as he expected to. Thinking back to the Little Whinging librarian that stretched the rules a bit to get him a card, Harry reflected that he probably should be a bit more grateful to that man and that the library was not being manned by someone a bit stricter that day.

"Lumos," Harry thought with intent through his wand. He and Hermione (and Neville, who was used to it) were trying to use traditional wand magic whenever possible in order to better fit in with society and stay under the radar. Harry did not see any reason to cast the simple light spell verbally, as any professor or prefect who managed to slip past his notice would hear him sooner than see him, and he did not relish the idea of being caught after hours in a place he wasn't supposed to be.

As he walked deeper into the library with no real purpose other than to find something interesting, he realized that the fact that the library was abandoned meant more than just a slightly scary atmosphere and a risk of being in trouble. With no Madam Pince to watch him like a hawk and no McGonagall to filter what he was allowed to look at, the sirens' call of the Restricted Section drew him in with only a slight hesitation on his part. He carefully walked up to the door that separated it from the rest of the library, more afraid of not being able to get in than of being caught.

Luckily for him, the door was poorly warded and a second-year unlocking charm let him in with little effort. He walked up and down the tall stacks, looking for the usual labeled organization system that was in the rest of the library (which was chaotic and confusing at best; unsurprising since the library was several hundred years old). Instead, he saw books of all sizes and shapes, filed haphazardly next to each other, many in languages he did not understand or recognize.

"Hey, kid!" Harry barely managed to hold in his scream as a voice right by his ear called out to him. "C'mere and read me."

"Er… maybe another time," Harry replied to the talking book, knowing that he would try to avoid anything that spoke that creepily for as long as he was able.

"Aw, c'mon. Just one page?" Harry ignored it and walked slightly faster.

Now that he was finally in the Restricted Section, Harry realized that he had absolutely no idea what he wanted to read. The idea of forbidden knowledge had lured him in, but with most of the books being in long-forgotten languages and others exuding a black, evil-feeling aura, he understood why some of these books were restricted. Picking up a safe-looking book at random, he quickly flipped through the pages.

"No thanks," he said to himself, holding the book (which seemed to be about getting everyday objects to function as internal organs) as far away as he could and back onto the shelf.

Harry skimmed a few more books, finding that they were mostly either filled with horrible things or highly advanced theoretical books that were way over his head. Contrary to what seemed to be popular opinion among both students and faculty alike, Harry was not an unrivaled genius. He merely had massive power, sharp intuition, and more imagination that even the most renowned of conventional wizards. The fact that he frequently tried to reach far past his own limits in the pursuit of magical knowledge helped both his reputation and his actual ability. However, he quickly lost interest in things that he could not understand at all, knowing that someday he would be at the level necessary to comprehend them. The intellectual theory was more Hermione's realm.

After realizing that it was far past midnight, he decided it would be a good idea to make his way back. With his new cloak, after all, he could come back whenever he wanted. While he felt bad for leaving empty-handed, he knew that if he stole from the library (whether he meant to return it or not), he would never hear the end of it if Hermione found out. And she would.

Harry made his way back perhaps a bit less careful than he should have been, and as he turned the corner he almost walked straight into someone. Two someones, in fact, both of them dressed head to toe in black, blending into the shadows almost as well as Harry himself.

"We both know precisely what is going on here," the man Harry now recognized as Professor Snape whispered furiously, holding the other man by the collar. "So don't play dumb with me. I am not a man you would wish to have as an enemy, Quirrell."

"T-the Stone will be as safe as it a-always is, Severus."

Snape stared at him for a moment as if trying to measure his intent. "We shall see," he promised, before gliding off into the darkness.

After a moment of catching his breath and calming down (as much as he could), Quirrell let out a sigh and headed in the opposite direction of Snape—the same direction that would lead him directly to Harry. Harry was confident in his cloak's ability to hide him from plain sight but he knew it would only make it easier for anyone capable of seeing or sensing magic. While Quirrell was not a very good teacher and tended to be more nervous than even Neville (who had lost most of his nervousness and gained confidence since training with them), he was powerful and Harry suspected that he was a fairly knowledgeable wizard. Harry took a few steps back and slipped into a nearby room which he assumed was empty. Harry kept the door open a crack and watched from the shadows as Quirrell passed by, freezing as Quirrell paused and stared straight at him, a frown on his face. However, Quirrell soon continued on, showing no signs that Harry had been seen.

Harry let out a sigh in relief and decided that even though it was late, he would stay in the room for a couple of minutes just in case one of the two professors he had seen was still wandering around, looking for loose students to punish. Even if Quirrell could not sense him, he suspected Snape could. As much as Harry hated to admit it, he was also quite powerful, and Harry was certain he knew how to use it.

Harry took a look around the room for the first time and noticed that the only thing in the large room was a brightly-glowing mirror standing alone in the center, as if the room was for the mirror and nothing else. Harry had become used to magical mirrors, but most of them did nothing more than let out a resigned sigh and make a comment about his hair. Their magical auras were like a dull haze compared to this one. As he looked into it from a distance, he noticed another magical aura behind him in the reflection. This one, however, was moving slightly.

"Who's there?" Harry whispered into the darkness, and the figure stopped. Harry knew if it was a member of the faculty, they would not be lurking in the shadows, invisible and watching him.

"Well done, Harry," the figure said, and Harry recognized the voice of Professor Dumbledore. He dispelled whatever form of invisibility he was using with a smile, and clearly expected Harry to do the same. "Even some of the strongest wizards are not capable of sensing magical energy. Very impressive for your age."

"Thank you, sir," Harry replied, his cloak removed and slung over his shoulder. "Hermione can do it too, but not as good."

"Very impressive indeed," Dumbledore admitted. "From what I hear from your professors, that can be said about you two in general."

"Everyone seems to think so," Harry admitted humbly.

Dumbledore observed him for a moment. "I see you have inherited your father's old invisibility cloak. Ah, I remember it well," he said, his eyes in the past, sad and wistful at the same time.

"You knew my parents?" Harry always loved hearing about his parents, and this made him forget that he was caught wandering after hours (with an item that was probably on the list of forbidden items) by the headmaster himself, who by all accounts was one of the most powerful men alive. Something was eating away at the back of Harry's mind, but he ignored it in favor of hearing about his father, of whom nobody had told him much about.

"I've been a teacher or headmaster to everyone to pass through these halls since 1938," he said with a chuckle. "Your father and his group of friends were some of the more…memorable ones."

Harry gave him a questioning look, and Dumbledore explained. "They were incorrigible pranksters," he said happily. "I daresay that cloak helped him out of—and into—many predicaments."

Harry felt he could stay there all night talking with his Headmaster, hearing what kind of trouble his father got into when he was Harry's age, but it was not to be.

"Well then, Harry," Dumbledore began. "You've had your look around the library and into this mirror. I think it's about time you headed back to bed."

Somehow Harry was not surprised that the ancient wizard knew where he had been, but was a bit thrown off by his mention of the mirror. "What's so special about the mirror? It seems highly magical, but I didn't see anything special about it."

For a second, Dumbledore seemed truly surprised, before carefully reigning in his emotions. "You see nothing except your reflection in that mirror?"

Harry looked at him oddly. "Well, I didn't get a very good look. As soon as I did, I saw you behind me."

"You saw through my concealment?" Dumbledore was clearly surprised and intrigued.

"Well, I saw your magical aura," Harry clarified.

"Saw? Not felt?"Dumbledore stroked his beard as he began to experience what everyone that knew the Potters did shortly after meeting them. "What exactly do you see?"

"It's a sort of yellow-orange glow. The brighter the glow, the stronger the magic."

Dumbledore nodded. "I see. And that doesn't obstruct your vision?"

Harry considered the question for a moment. "I suppose it does. Everything here is magical, at least a little bit. I've had to sort of tone it down a bit. It works a lot better in a Muggle area I think."

"Indeed," Dumbledore said, and did not clarify, instead continuing to stroke his beard and staring off into space. "Well, go ahead and take a look. It's not something you should dwell on, but it is an interesting sight nonetheless."

As he pointed towards the mirror, Harry turned and walked up to it, not sure what to expect. Dumbledore watched him slowly approach with a combination of concealed excitement and nervousness.

Harry looked into the mirror and quickly looked behind him to check if what he was seeing was real. "My parents are here!"

From the other side of the room, Dumbledore smiled. "Interesting."

"Hermione's here too!"

"It sounds like you are seeing your family," Dumbledore explained patiently. "Some day, you'll have to tell me how you managed to accidentally adopt her. I'm sure it is quite the story."

Harry stared into the mirror and moved his empty hands around as though he was holding something. "And I have the sword of Gryffindor," he said, a bit confused.

Dumbledore's eyebrows raised. "Really? Not many know, but the Potters are descended directly from Godric Gryffindor. Perhaps you wish to claim your birthright?"

"But I couldn't," Harry stated.

"Couldn't what?"

"Lift the sword."

Dumbledore chuckled. "My boy, you surprise me more and more with every word. Fear not; it's been sitting there for a thousand years, and I believe it will continue to stay there for quite some time."

Harry turned. "What is this mirror, exactly?"

"It is called the Mirror of Erised," he explained. "It contains a fairly simple, yet highly advanced bit of magic. A greedy man would see nothing but piles of gold, but if the happiest man on earth looked into it, he would see nothing but himself. Now, what do you think it does exactly?"

"It shows you what you want most in the world," Harry stated confidently.

"Precisely!" Dumbledore exclaimed, proud at both his student's intelligence and his relatively humble ambitions.

"But there's something wrong," Harry said as he looked further into the mirror, no longer miming a sword in his hands. "It's broken or something."

With a frown, Dumbledore urged him to continue. "Oh? And in what way is it malfunctioning precisely?"

"There's clouds behind me." He squinted a bit. "Or something blurry, maybe."

After thinking hard for a moment, Dumbledore offered a suggestion. "Perhaps you do not yet know what it is you want. What do they look like, exactly?"

"There's a red one on one side of me and a white one on the other. In the middle, the colors are mixing together in little tangles." Harry looked deeper into it, intrigued by the mystery.

"Well, I haven't the faintest idea what that could mean. And at my age, that's quite exciting." As he watched Harry become entranced, he clapped his hands together a single time, firmly. "Harry, as fascinating as our conversation has been, it is now past even my own bedtime, which, I believe, is rather late. It's time for both of us to go off to bed."

"But…this is important," Harry mumbled. "Something about this…"

Dumbledore firmly grabbed him by the shoulders and steered him away from the mirror. "And this, Harry, is precisely what makes this mirror so dangerous, and why I came here tonight to relocate it to a more secure location."

Harry was a bit dazed, and shook his head after realizing what happened. "Oh…sorry, Professor."

"No worries, Harry. It happens to even the best of us."

Harry briefly considered asking Dumbledore what he saw in the mirror, but decided it was a bit of a personal thing to ask his headmaster and that he probably shouldn't have been boring someone so important this late at night with his own odd visions.

"Now off you go, straight to bed," he commanded gently.

Harry walked off, still in a bit of a daze, and headed straight back to the Gryffindor dorms, remembering halfway there to put his cloak back on.

X

The next morning, Harry found himself with Hermione, Neville, and Ron, explaining everything that had happened the night before.

"I wanna have a look in that mirror," Ron said after hearing all the details.

"Dumbledore moved it somewhere else."

"Besides, he clearly didn't want anyone using it," Hermione added, assuming that would stop them.

"In any case, we can't take a look anymore," Neville said regretfully as he sat next to them.

Hermione sighed. "Even if it was there, we should stay away from it. Dumbledore thought it was dangerous."

"Yeah, I guess," Harry said, and became silent as he stared at nothing in particular.

Ever since Harry looked in the mirror, he was distracted and prone to looking off into space, even during things that would normally interest him. Hermione disapproved of everyone's desire to take a look in it not because it was against the rules (though that was no small part of it), but because of the effect it had on Harry. She wasn't sure if the rest of the group noticed anything different about Harry, but she certainly did.

"Harry?" As Hermione called his name he snapped back to reality. "What's wrong?"

He gave the question some thought before replying. "I don't know…something about what I saw was important, but I don't know why…" He looked off into the distance again before sighing. "I don't even know what I saw, really."

"Sounds like you really wanted the sword after all," Hermione suggested.

Harry considered it for a moment. "I don't think that's it…And I didn't really think I cared about the sword that much. I still don't, really."

They lapsed into silence before Harry remembered something.

"I just remembered what was bothering me about Dumbledore, though."

"Bothering you?"

"He's supposed to be one of the most powerful and knowledgeable wizards in the world, right? On par with Voldemort, even." Ron and Neville gave slight shudders when Harry used the evil wizard's name. "But when I saw him last night he wasn't very powerful. About the level of the average first-year."

Hermione frowned. "But people get stronger with age. He should be able to put every first-year to shame."

"It's what I saw," Harry insisted. He and Hermione looked to the head table, but the auras of a dozen other people and objects made them indistinguishable from their distance.

"You probably just saw wrong," Hermione decided.

"Maybe," Harry admitted, but continued to stare at Dumbledore in thought.

X

Two puffballs in thick winter coats awkwardly stumbled through the snow as fast as they could, until they ran into each other and collided in a pile, laughing.

"It feels like it's been ages since I've seen you," one of them said from the snow-covered ground.

"I'm sure it feels even longer for me," the other said. "At least you had your entire family there with you. And you got to see dragons. Did they dance before they ate?"

"My brothers?"

"The dragons, silly," Luna said as if it were completely obvious. Perhaps to her it was. "It's part of their feeding ritual."

"…I must have missed it," Ginny replied, trying to humor her friend a bit. "Anyway, it wasn't very fun. The dragons were cool, but it was even colder than it is here, we had to stay inside the entire time 'cause it was snowing too hard, and nobody wanted to talk to me."

After Ginny's sigh, they fell into a comfortable silence as snow lightly fell on their faces, melting immediately when it touched the warm skin of their faces. "So what'd I miss here?"

"It snowed," Luna answered simply.

"Not much, then, huh?"

"It was boring. I wanted to play in the snow with some of the Muggle kids but they thought I was weird."

"Anyone would think you're weird, Loony," Ginny said with a laugh, not meaning any harm.

Luna knew what some of the Weasley children called her behind her back, and she knew that Ginny meant it almost as a term of endearment rather than an insult. She picked up a handful of snow and tossed it in Ginny's general direction. It was easily dodged, but it led to the beginning of a no-holds-barred snowball fight.

Once they both were sufficiently exhausted, they came to an unspoken truce and collapsed in the snow. "Wanna go back to my house?" Ginny offered, and with Luna's nod, they trudged through the snow towards The Burrow.

"Hold it!" a stern voice met them as they walked in the door. "Don't go leaving snow all through the house! Take your coats off here and I'll dry you two off."

Ginny rolled her eyes and Luna smiled politely as they carefully took their snow-covered outer clothes off and waited patiently for Molly Weasley's drying charm.

"You girls look freezing. How about some hot chocolate?" Both girls nodded furiously. "Why don't you go have a seat at the table and I'll have it ready for you in a minute."

They made their way to the table and watched as Mrs. Weasley flew through her kitchen with a speed and confidence that showed just how much time she spent there.

"So have you heard any more from your brothers at Hogwarts?" Luna asked.

Ginny frowned. "Not a word. I'd be shocked if Fred and George bothered to send me anything I'd want to hear. And when Percy's here he spends half the time talking about that Penelope girl, so I doubt he's had a single thought of anything other than her since they went back to Hogwarts. Other than being a Prefect, of course."

They both laughed at that, knowing how obnoxiously proud he was to get his badge. "But I thought at least Ron might, though…" Ginny seemed surprised and upset at him in particular, Luna thought. "But not so much as a word."

"I'm sure he's been quite busy at Hogwarts," Luna offered.

"I doubt it." Mrs. Weasley handed each of them a steaming cup. "Thanks Mum."

"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley," Luna said as she took a sip.

"Of course, girls." She went back to the sink and started humming as she cleaned up.

"It's just not fair," Ginny moaned into her drink. "Why can't we go to Hogwarts now? I'm just as good with magic as Ron."

"We'll be there soon enough. Just eight and a half months."

Ginny moaned. "That seems like forever. Meanwhile, I'm sure they're getting up to all kinds of adventures."

"I'm not sure classes there are very adventurous…"

Ginny lifted her head from the table and glanced at Luna surreptitiously. "But… Harry Potter Adventures…"

"Are probably not real," Luna declared. "Just books. The real thing is probably completely different."

"I know, but… They must be having all kinds of fun, whatever they're doing. Harry's the youngest Quidditch player in a century and they all fought off a troll on Halloween."

Luna thought for a moment. "I thought the reason they did that was because Harry was in detention for flying when he wasn't supposed to?"

"Well… yeah, but now he's allowed."

"Oh."

"And that's not the reason they did that," Ginny continued. "They had to because they had to go save someone."

"Right."

Ginny sighed. "I wish that I could just go to sleep and wake up on September first."

X

"…And here we are yet again, another wonderful term under our belts and another yet to begin in earnest." The teachers were in Dumbledore's office for the second of their thrice-yearly meetings. "How was everyone's first half of the year?"

McGonagall began with her report. "Aside from a few… aberrant events, it has been a pretty good year so far. The first years are eager to learn and the older students have generally improved since last year."

"I assume you are referring to the events surrounding young Mr. Potter and his friends?" Dumbledore asked with a smile.

"Among…other things, yes." She subtly glanced at Quirrell, who was nervously looking at everything in the office except other people and couldn't have noticed her.

"He does seem to have a knack for the improbable," Dumbledore agreed with a chuckle.

"Indeed," McGonagall said simply, and left it at that.

Snape looked uncomfortable for a moment before speaking up. "I must admit, they are less incompetent than I initially judged them to be."

Such high praise from Snape made the entire room perk up their heads in disbelief. "I'm glad to hear that, Severus," Dumbledore said.

"They are easily the most competent students to come through these halls in the last fifty years." McGonagall looked highly affronted that her students would be considered anything but completely competent.

Dumbledore raised a hand to calm the two rival heads and the group got back on track with the meeting. After a long conversation of the previous term and what was expected of the new one, he dismissed the meeting.

"Minerva, Severus, would you mind staying a moment longer?" The three of them waited for the others to leave the room before Dumbledore spoke. "I wonder if you recall what I asked of you during our meeting at the beginning of the year."

"You think You-Know-Who is possessing him," McGonagall said flatly, rolling her eyes in her mind.

"Indeed I did. Severus?"

He glanced at Dumbledore, who nodded. "Potter's mind showed…disturbing signs at the opening feast. I now believe that it is merely a self-devised yet horrifying form of Occlumency."

Dumbledore nodded. "I concur."

McGonagall could not believe what she was hearing. "You broke into his mind? That is not only illegal, but could cause permanent damage to a mind that young."

"Yes and no," Dumbledore replied calmly. "I found I could not fully get past his defenses."

"Nor could I," Snape added.

"That's no excuse!"

Dumbledore leaned forward and looked her directly in the eyes, a sign that she knew meant he was speaking about something very serious. "Harry Potter is no ordinary child."

"Clearly." McGonagall mentally rolled her eyes again.

"He has gone far and beyond what I expected. Remember I told you I thought he might have an adverse reaction to magic itself? Something beyond a Squib, someone who could not even bear to be around magic. Yet here he is, more skilled than even I was at his age."

"Please…" Snape moaned out of principle.

Dumbledore ignored him. "He is the only person ever known to survive a killing curse. We are in unknown territory here, and anything can happen. We never found Voldemort's body and I know he will return someday. The question is how."

"Surely you don't still think Harry Potter is being possessed?"

Dumbledore, seeing his deputy had finally taken his concerns seriously, leaned back in his chair. "Not any more. I found him looking into the Mirror of Erised the other day."

Snape's serious look grew even harder. "And?"

"He saw nothing but himself and his family. And the sword of Gryffindor."

"Of course. The quest of reckless idiots for centuries." Snape felt McGonagall glaring at him and squirmed a bit. "Was there something else?"

Dumbledore frowned, remembering his conversation with Harry. "He said he saw something else, but it was blurry."

"Sounds like he doesn't even know what he wants," Snape snarked lightly.

"My thoughts exactly," Dumbledore agreed. McGonagall gave them a dubious look, sure that they shared thoughts but not sentiments.

"That doesn't make much sense."

"Not much involving Harry Potter seems to," Dumbledore agreed.