Disclaimer I own nothing of the Potterverse. My writing is purely for my own enjoyment.
A soft, percussive sound pulled Hermione from the trance like state she had entered an indeterminate period of time ago. The sound, three evenly spaced beats, repeated twice more before she finally became coherent enough to recognise their source.
Someone was knocking at the door.
She blinked her eyes several times, rubbing the grit from her tear ducts with her thumb and middle finger, as she attempted to focus on her surroundings, recognising them a moment later as the plush private office her position as deputy head of Magical Law Enforcement afforded her on the second floor of the Ministry of Magic.
Outside, visible through the magical window that occupied almost the whole width of one wall of the large space, the distant wisps of cloud were tinged pink against the pale blue sky suggesting the sun was low on the horizon, but, because of the orientation of her view, she could not discern if it was sunrise or sunset.
She wished she could claim that this was the first time that her attentiveness at work had been anything less than the one hundred percent she had always always held herself to, but she knew that to be a lie. In truth, in recent weeks, she had become less and less able to resist the temptation that the magical artefact she had hidden in her office offered.
In fact, on more than one occasion she had stayed holed up in her office all night trying to decipher the mysteries of the strange device. So far without success.
Ron had assured her that he didn't mind her working late, he was, after all, used to being married to the one of the best and brightest in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and, as an auror himself, was no stranger to all nighters himself. But, as kind and considerate a husband as Ronald Weasley was, Hermione wasn't sure he would be quite so understanding if he were to ever find out what was really occupying so much of her time.
She had certainly not intentionally sought out the ancient device now stood before her, however, when she had stumbled across it a few months previously deep in the department of mysteries, whilst helping Harry and Ron on a case, she had magically shrunk it, pocketed it, and secretly brought it to her office.
What motivated her to perform an act, that, at best, could be described as theft, she could not say, nor in all honesty, had she sought an answer to that particular question. But, what had started as an exercise in pure intellectual curiosity, had quickly developed into an almost primal need to be in its presence. It had become almost as important to her as the air she breathed.
Objectively she knew that no one could have failed to notice her abrupt change in behaviour and routine in the last few months, either at the office or at home. In fact she was certain that Harry, Ron and Ginny were discussing her behind her back, judging by the way in which their hushed conversations would trail away whenever she entered a room. The brief snatches of whispered conversations that she had overheard told her that those closest to her believed she was suffering from anything ranging from overwork to mental illness.
But, although the logical part of her that remained knew that her family was merely concerned about her, and that there was at least a grain of truth to support their theory, that part of her mind had been pushed aside, leaving her withdrawn and brooding.
She was sitting crossed legged on the floor facing the artefact, and now that she was once more cognisant of her body, she realised the muscles in her back and legs were protesting loudly from being held in such a position for so long, despite being sat of the soft, luxurious, deep pile carpet that covered the floor of her office. So much so that she wondered why she hadn't become aware of the pain earlier.
A quick glance at the silver clock that had been a gift from Ron, which sat on her uncluttered desk, confirmed she had been in her office all night again.
She felt a wave of guilt co-mingled with frustration wash over her; guilt that stemmed from the fact that she had once again failed to go home to her husband, and frustration at the realisation that she was still absolutely no closer to understanding the riddle of the artefact.
The knock at her door sounded once more, although this time the person stood on the other side exerted noticeably more force, the booming knock echoing loudly around her sparsely furnished office.
"Mrs Weasley? Hermione?" called a concerned female voice from the other side of the heavy oak door. "Are you alright in there?"
Hermione didn't answer straight away as the realisation settled on her that she was most definitely not alright. In fact, she didn't know if she could ever be alright again; not after what she had seen.
"I'm coming in," called the voice she now recognised as that of her assistant, Paige Kogan. "Alohomora!"
Although knowing full well that her assistants charm would fail in opening the door (a futile rattling of the door handle a few moments later confirming Hermione's faith in the wards she had erected around her private sanctum), Hermione was equally well aware that the efficient young witch, fresh out of Hogwarts, would now doubtless call for assistance. Perhaps even from Ron or Harry. And whilst officially she, as a senior member of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, was more senior than either Harry or Ron, and could theoretically order them to leave her in peace, she knew that would only serve to add fuel to the fire of their concerns for her.
"Just a minute Paige," called Hermione, deliberately using the young woman's first name, and carefully modulating her voice in an attempt to disguise the rasp of disuse.
The rattling of the door handle ceased immediately. "Mrs Weasley?"
"Just a minute," repeated Hermione as she rose from the floor stiffly, wincing slightly as her muscles protested fiercely at the action.
Moving first to the full length mirror stood at the opposite end of the room Hermione straightened her attire in the hope of masking the fact that she had spent the better part of twenty four hours in the same clothes. She also attempted to work the kinks out of her spine by pressing her thumbs deeply into the tissue of her lower back, but gave it up as bad job, before she moved gingerly round to her desk where she took a seat, and removed a large, partially annotated file she had been working on a couple of months beforehand.
Finally, before dropping the wards to her office, she cast a quick disillusionment charm towards the device that had held her attention so rapt all night long to hide it from her visitor.
"Come," she called finally after taking a quick gulp of stale water from the glass tumbler on her desk to sooth her dry throat.
The door cracked open, flooding the room with light from the bright corridor beyond. Hermione resisted the urge to shield her eyes against the glare and squinted towards the rectangle of light where the silhouette of a tall, graceful woman with long, shoulder length hair stood uncertainly, fiddling with the hem of the cardigan she wore in a manner Hermione had come to associate with the moments that her assistant had to deliver bad news to her.
"Miss Kogan," said Hermione, forcing her lips into a smile an action that felt alien and unaccustomed to her muscles, as if she hadn't used them in months. "You're in early," she added nodding her head towards her desk clock with showed the time as just after seven o'clock in the morning.
"Not as early as you obviously," replied the young woman as she pushed the door closed. "Are you alright?"
No longer backlit, Hermione could see the concern in the younger woman's blue eyes. Eyes, she also noted, which had dark circles underneath them that she had not noticed before. Kogan's hair also appeared lank and unkempt, very unlike her usual well turned out appearance, although in truth, Hermione realised, she could not recall with clarity the last time she had been in close enough proximity to her assistant recently to have noticed such changed, having taken to flooing instructions to her over the past few weeks.
How long has she been covering for me, the logical part of Hermione's mind wondered as she understood the reasons behind the teenagers slightly haggered appearance. The responsibilities of the day-to-day running of the entire magical law enforcement office were too much for one so young to cope with alone.
"Actually, I never left," said Hermione in reply, the logical part of her once more being shoved aside. "This amendment won't write itself," she added gesturing towards the thick file in front of her, hating how easily the lie rolled off her tongue, causing her to wonder, not for the first time, if she was addicted to the ancient artefact hidden less than a stride from her desk.
"Oh," said Paige, in a tone of voice that suggested she was far from convinced, but she did not press any further.
Hermione had rarely welcomed, or utilized, the fame and status that followed her everywhere she went, but this one was one of the occasions when she was very glad of that reverence still afforded to any member of the golden trio. She often wondered if she would have been anywhere near as successful with her reforms to magical law if she had not had her famous name to help make the right connections. Would she have been able to eradicate those laws that were biased in favour of 'pure-blood' families, or improve the rights of underprivileged non-humans if she had not been 'the' Hermione Granger.
Pushing those old questions aside, Hermione returned her attention to her assistant who was speaking again.
"Well, can I get you something to eat, or drink?"
Hermione opened her mouth to decline when her stomach growled loudly as if in response.
Men have wasted away in front of it, not knowing if what they saw was real, or even possible.
Although she had only ever heard the statement third hand, the words that Albus Dumbledore had spoken to her best friend, Harry, nearly fifteen years before floated across her consciousness.
Harry hadn't spoken often of his experiences with the very same artefact now in her possession, but the little she did know led her to believe that Harry had found himself as drawn to it as she did now.
"That would be lovely, Paige," she said aloud, trying to squelch the discomforting sensation those memories had created in her. "But can you floo it to me? I don't want to be disturbed today."
Paige nodded her understanding and although Hermione could tell that the youngster was desperate to say something further by the way in which she twisted her fingers around the weave of her cardigan, instead she promptly swept from her office, leaving Hermione alone with her thoughts again.
I can't be addicted, she thought furiously as the door closed behind Paige.
But even before the thought was half formed in her mind she registered her feet hand carried her back to the other side of her desk where she was once more settling herself onto the floor. With a distracted wave of her wand she simultaneously re-established her wards and countered the charm which hid the object of her desire: The Mirror of Erised.
Her eyes traced the outline of it's ornate wooden frame in something of personal ritual she had subconsciously developed, her mind translating the ancient goblin text, presumably the builders of the magical mirror, inscribed around the perfect glass of the mirror once more;
Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi
I show not your face but your heart's desire.
With that, Hermione focused her attention on the image reflected back at her and her chocolate eyes locked once more with those a deep emerald.
Well it has taken a VERY long time. But I finally have inspiration to take this story further. You can all thank Lorien829 for offering me the most simple of solutions to my problems with the tale I wanted to write.
I've tweaked the opening chapter to fit in with the new vision for the story, and I'm hard at work on Chapter two.
This little story was inspired by my something my five year old son said whilst watching the philosophers stone the other day. He wondered what Hermione would see in the mirror, and Desire was born. I know JKR has said what Hermione would have seen already (Voldermort defeated) but as dear Tom has been dead several years now it seems her deepest desire would have changed by now.