Albus stood in front of the Mirror of Erised four times, and never once did he see himself holding a pair of thick, white woolen socks.
He's fifteen when he finds a mirror resting against a pile of unused items. There's a layer of dust about half an inch thick covering the glass. He wipes a line away with a sweep of his hand, seeing himself in the reflection.
But what catches his eye is a figure behind him. He turns around to find nobody there before turning his attention back on the mirror. He wipes more dust away and stares. Behind him stands his father, with a hand clasped to his shoulder and a smile on his face.
It's been years since Albus has actually seen his father. He was just nine when his father was taken away to Azkaban. Until now, he didn't realize how much he missed him. He's nearly forgotten what he looked like.
His father, however, is smiling at him. He looks happier than Albus has ever seen him. When Albus' eyes meet the familiar blue eyes of his father, Percival mouths, "I'm proud of you, son." Tears spring to Albus' eyes because he didn't know how badly he wanted to hear his father tell him that.
He sits there, focused on his father until his stomach growls in hunger. Taking one last look at the Mirror to burn his father's face into his memory, Albus leaves and vows to come back later.
He's barely twenty when he stumbles upon the Mirror again. In the back of the Room of Requirement, the Mirror is tucked away as it was before. And Albus can't help himself. He wipes the dust that's accumulated there away with a flick of his wand. Standing there is his family, whole and reunited.
Tears fill his eyes as he stares. His father has his arm wrapped around his mother. And his mother doesn't look completely exhausted. Instead, a smile is gracing her lips and she looks truly happy for the first in years. His father is still murmuring about how proud he is, and his mother seems to be joining him.
His sister, though, is looking at him without fear for the first time since she was five. "It wasn't your fault," Ariana mouths.
When he sees that, he lets tears run down his face. He doesn't care because there's a weight that's been lifted off his heart. He lifts his hand to stroke Ariana's face as their mother used to do. But his hand is met by cold, harsh glass. And realization dawns on him; it isn't real. He still doesn't know who killed Ariana, and he's not sure he can forgive himself for not knowing.
He's sitting in his new office when his curiosity strikes. It's been over three decades since he's last seen the Mirror. He wonders what he'll see when he stares into it this time.
He makes his way to the back of the Room of Requirement, back to the dusty Mirror. Breathing in deeply, he Vanishes the dust. In front of his eyes, his family appears. His mother and father and Ariana, even Aberforth is there. And all of them are muttering the same things they were before, about their pride and Albus' unnecessary guilt.
But standing a little to the left is Gellert. And Albus' breath catches in his throat. Gellert's graying hair is still long and a crooked smile still graces his boy-ish features. He had realized how much he loved Gellert a decade ago. No matter how hard he had tried to replace the love and devotion with anger and hurt, he couldn't.
Sometimes, he thinks of Gellert, when all the papers have been graded and he just can't bring himself out of memories. And seeing him in the Mirror makes him physically hurt.
"I love you," Gellert's reflection seems to mouth.
Albus stands and turns his back to the Mirror. Because he knows that Gellert doesn't love him and never will. He just wishes that his heart would understand that.
The Philosophers' Stone needs to be hidden, and Albus can think of no better place than inside the Mirror that he's visited several times before. Because he knows that Voldemort would never be able to retrieve it from within since his intentions are not pure.
He takes the Mirror out of storage. Standing before it, he takes one final look into it. Unsurprisingly, his parents are holding each other and his sister is smiling brightly at him. Gellert is grinning at him too. But for once, his brother has his arm around Ariana and a hand on Albus' shoulder.
"I forgive you," he mouths. And Albus takes one step back. His parents are whispering of their pride and Ariana is washing away the guilt and Gellert is claiming his love. But in that moment, nothing else matters, because Mirror-Aberforth is forgiving him.
He touches the glass where Aberforth is standing. The glass is cold and unforgiving, but he doesn't care. He can pretend that he's forgiven and he can carry on with a lighter heart, where the world isn't crashing down on him.
When Harry asks what he sees in the Mirror, he lies. He doesn't tell him it's his father telling him that he's proud, even when he has no reason to be; that it's his sister assuring him that he's not her murderer, that it wasn't his fault; that it's Gellert confessing his love; that it's his brother forgiving him for all the horrible deeds he's done.
He tells him it's a pair of thick, white woolen socks because that's easier than the truth. Because that's what he wants it to be. He wants it to be innocent but his desires are covered in so many wrong-doings that Albus knows it'll never be anything innocent.
One day, though, he hopes that he'll forgive himself, and that his deepest, most desperate desires will be a pair of thick, white woollen socks. But that day won't be for a very long while, if at all.
A/n – I was talking to Pam (cherryredxx) about my previous story, Monster, I am, and what Dumbledore would see in the Mirror. That's how this came about.
Thanks a bunch to kci47 who beta'd this for me!