A/N: Beta-read by the fabulous Zsenya at the Sugar Quill. You get the full benefit of HTML there; I can't do it here. Do hop over and visit. Please assume all usual disclaimers.

One day you're going to have to face the deep dark truthful mirror.

-Elvis Costello



Once upon a midnight dreary, Albus Dumbledore sat in his office listening to the rain coming down. On most nights, Hogwarts was a comfort to him – the great familiar sbulk always standing firm, no matter how things changed. But on some nights, the castle was very forbidding – it made one feel infinitesimal. Insignificant.

This was one of those nights.

He put down his quill, deciding to forgo the rest of his paperwork. He did not feel like working. He left his office and locked it, putting his password in place.

He went down the corridor, aiming for the room where he had secreted the Mirror of Erised after young Mr. Potter had used it to retrieve the Philosopher's Stone. He remembered his words to Mr. Potter when the boy asked him what he saw in the mirror – socks, indeed. It was the first thing that had come to him, other than the truth, of course. Socks were nice, yes – especially the blue and gold Puddlemere United pair he had that was woven from kneazle fur – but socks were most emphatically not what he saw when he looked in the Mirror.

He did not like to remember certain events – that was what he had bought that blasted Pensieve for, after all – but some things needed remembering. He had committed many of his fondest memories to the Pensieve so he could view them when things got bad, but he had discovered that the memories lost their personal luster when viewed through the thing. They lost the feelings that had accompanied them. And with some memories, that price was too high to pay. For example, one of the ones he had kept was a recollection of himself and sister Alyce dancing around the Pater Quercus, the old oak tree at Weathervane. When he had trouble sleeping, as he often did, he would sink himself into the memory, and the sweet treble laughter of the two of them as children would lull him into a relatively unfitful slumber.

And then there were the nights when nothing worked – not even paperwork. Those were the nights when he went to the Mirror. Albus knew that it was dangerous, but he was extraordinarily careful. He only went in situations like this – he had had very little sleep over the past two weeks, and he couldn't put any of this in the Pensieve.

Some things needed remembering.

Some things were best kept private.

He slipped through the hallways, silently opening and closing doors. Why he bothered with all the secrecy, he didn't know. It wasn't as though anyone would challenge him in the halls – being Headmaster admittedly had its perks. It also had its disadvantages: getting comfort from an illusion did not exactly lend credence to his authority. And the little twinges of shame he always felt before one of these jaunts never helped, either.

His hand trembled slightly as he opened the door. And there, illuminated by moonlight under a window, sat the Mirror in all its quietly terrible glory.

He approached it warily, being careful to stay to one side of it so he did not see his reflection. And he stopped just to the side of it, standing tall, but feeling very, very unsure.

As he always did before he stepped in front of the Mirror, he said aloud, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

His inner voice countered, Are you sure you need to do this?

He was sure.

And with a deep breath, he closed his eyes and took a step to the side.

When he opened his eyes, he saw himself as one normally would in any mirror. But standing to his right was a tall, dark-haired young man holding hands with a slight young woman. They were both smiling at him, and then Theron put his other arm around his father. Albus closed his eyes again – he knew his son's arm wasn't really there, but it almost felt like it was.

Almost.

Knowing that he had to open his eyes just once more, he did so. It wasn't finished yet.

He saw Mariana.

She slipped her small hand in his, and he automatically flexed his fingers. She looked so nearly like she had they day they met so many years ago – raven-haired, dark-eyed, and with a shy, sweet smile that belied her fiery spirit. A few more lines, yes, a few silver threads shining among the black, but she was essentially how she had been before she had gotten ill.

The day she entered that room at St. Mungo's was easily one of the worst days of his life. They both knew that she would not be leaving. Theron was ten at the time and was spending the day with Alyce at Weathervane.

He recalled walking beside her, ever vigilant in case she should stumble. With the aid of a walking stick, she made her way slowly down the halls. So slowly. Independent as ever, she refused to let anyone help her or slink into her room in a chair.

He remembered opening the door for her and following her in, setting down her valises. His first reaction to that room was one of strong anxiety – white walls, white bed, white chairs. It was cloyingly antiseptic.

She stood in the middle of the room, looking about as tired and overwhelmed as he felt. And then she seemed to steel herself, and she said, "Well, we'll just have to do something about the interior décor, won't we?" She smiled at him.

And he laughed – a release.

And for the next two hours, she had him taking the contents of the valises and putting them all over the room. Photographs, paintings, even a tapestry or two. Her radio sat beside her bed, and she egged him into setting up her small bookshelf. She commanded her small domain from her bed – her deathbed. And when it was all over, and things were arranged to her satisfaction, she looked up at him with eyes that had never lost their depth and said with infinite love, "Albus, it's all right."

He looked at her. Looked at her steadily deteriorating self and about disintegrated for the love of her and grief for her.

He raised his head and said to the reflection of his wife, "Is it all right, Mariana? Is it?"

The reflection smiled at him.

And then, as always happened at this point in his visits to the Mirror, he began to feel blessedly drowsy.

He always thought the next part was in his mind, but he swore he saw her lips move. Or would have sworn to anyone who might have known about his small journeys every few months.

Her reflection said, "Go to sleep, Albus." She smiled again. "I love you."

He whispered, "And likewise, my dear."

And with one last look at the Theron who had had the chance to grow old, the Minerva who smiled more often, and the Mariana that would have been, he closed his eyes and turned his back on the Mirror of Erised.

Without stopping, he left the room and went straight to his chambers. As he closed the door, he let out a deep sigh. Fawkes, who had been awakened by the noise, let out one liquid, inquisitive note, and he smiled. "It's all right, old fellow."

Fawkes settled into his feathers and went back to sleep.

And Albus Dumbledore followed suit, his elusive sleep having been rescued for him once more by an illusion. The dreary midnight was vanquished; the not-quite-Patronus reigned for the night.

And Hogwarts stood, a strong fortress in the rain.