The magical eye surgery was the best thing that had ever happened to Harry. With his new hawk-sharp sight he could beat Ron when they played Quidditch even quicker now, catching the Snitch in a matter of three minutes.
"Merlin, Harry! Next time you play Quidditch against Thorne or Chang, you could blow them away, easy as blinking!"
Harry smiled. "I see even better now than I did with my new glasses." He had put the glasses away in the bottom of his trunk, he didn't need them any more, but couldn't bring himself to just throw them away. They had been expensive and his first gift from Severus.
Uncle Toby had returned to California a day after the surgery, and Harry was sorry for that, since only under that guise could he spend time with Snape openly. Ron and the twins had even met him briefly and pronounced him "first-rate" which made Harry smirk secretly behind his hand, for they never would have complimented their snarky teacher that way.
You see, he longed to say, THIS is the Severus Snape I know, my protector and friend, not the greasy snarky bat of the dungeons. He took care of me since I was little, every time I was sick or hurt, because of a promise, but now it's more than that.
Since coming to school, Harry had discovered that the Potions Master, like himself, had no real family, only colleagues, acquaintainces, and students. His one true friend, Harry's mum Lily, was long dead. The professor, though he would deny it to his last breath, was as lonely as Harry had ever been living at Privet Drive. Harry understood, though, for he too had no real family, just relatives who regarded him as an unwanted burden. And while Ron and Hermione were his friends, it didn't take the place of a real family.
Yet the two had each other, and what had begun as the fulfillment of a promise to a beloved friend had since grown into something more, something that Harry was just beginning to recognize as the love and concern of a parent for a child. He wasn't quite certain yet, having never known anything quite like that, but many of Snape's reactions were more like a father's than a teacher's, especially these past months.
For what teacher would pay for expensive eye surgery for a mere student? Or sit by said student's bedside after a nightmare and soothe them to sleep?
After the surgery, Severus had taken Harry back to his private lab to rest, since he was feeling a bit queasy, a common side-effect of the Anesthetic Elixir. He had given Harry a dose of Stomach Soother and bade him have a bit of a lie-down till his stomach stopped aching. Harry did, promptly fell asleep, and ended up dreaming of a glowing green light and a clawed scaly hand trying to pluck out his eyes.
"For what you cannot see, you cannot fight, little hero. Blind worm, I am coming for you, and when at last we meet, little boy, I shall finish what I started, long ago. You shall burn and no dark protector shall save you!" He had awoken with the thing's terrible laughter echoing in his ears and the feeling of claws upon his face, chilled to the marrow, and screaming in denial.
Until Severus had come and held him, calming his racing heart with his mere presence and whispering that there was nothing to fear, it was merely a dream, and no harm would come to him ever.
The Gryffindor supposed that was what a father would do, and though he was a little embarrassed, he still felt better with Snape's arm about him, snuggled into the familiar black velvet chest, listening to the steady beat of the man's heart. He doubted if he would have felt the same if it had been McGonagall or Flitwick holding him. Only Severus had ever engendered that closeness, that warmth, that feeling of utter security. It had always been so, ever since the first time Snape had held him, when he was a sick four-year-old, coughing his lungs up from bronchitis. Black velvet, spices, and arms that held him close, all those things equaled safety and Snape in his mind.
Is it like that for everyone? Or only me? If only I didn't have to keep it a secret. It's such a royal pain in the bum, having to hide and sneak about like a thief in the night. Even on holiday I have to pretend.
Harry sighed and stretched, it was the sixth day of vacation and really too early to be awake. Six AM, according to his watch. Ron was still snoring away, they had stayed up till past midnight toasting marshmallows and grilled cheese in the common room and playing chess and Exploding Snap till their eyes closed and Ron almost burnt a hole in his pajamas when he got too close to the fire before nodding off with the marshmallow in his hand.
So Harry should have been exhausted, but instead he was wide awake and restless. Deciding to test out the Invisibility Cloak, he dressed and removed it from his trunk. Maybe now I can sneak into the Restricted Section and look for clues about Nicholas Flamel, like Hermione said. He had let the mystery slide during Christmas and afterwards, but now his curiosity had been rekindled, and he was anxious to find out more about the secret treasure hidden beneath the Cerberus's paws.
He swirled the shimmery cloak about him dramatically, like a matador in a bull ring, then tugged up the hood and vanished.
Out of the tower and down the hall towards the library he crept, and not even the castle ghosts paid him heed. The library was deserted, even Madam Pince was sleeping in today. He slipped beneath the archway with its glowing red letters that warned Restricted--No Student Allowed to Sign Books Out Without a Pass from A Professor! He spent an hour combing the shelves for likely looking volumes, only to come up empty-handed.
Disappointed, he tried to have a look at a book called Spiritual Realities, opening it up only to have the most God-awful shrieking emerge from a magical mouth that suddenly appeared on the front page.
"Ahhh!" he yelped, slammed the book shut, and shoved it on the shelf. Then he ran for the exit, for that terrible screeching was sure to bring Filch or Madam Pince to investigate.
On the way to the door he passed Peeves the poltergeist, bane of students, yelling, "Naughty, naughty, someone's been poking in forbidden places, ooo! Somebody's in trouble! Oh, FILCH! Argus baby, we got a security breach here! Hurry up, man, move your lazy arse! Here kitty, kitty! A brat's invaded the library! Hunt 'em down, boys! Hunt 'em down and make a stew outta their miserable little carcass, what?"
Harry scampered past the library in the opposite direction, cursing both the poltergeist and his blasted curiosity. Why hadn't Hermione warned him about the alarm on the books? She remembered everything else, how could she have forgotten that?
Eventually he slowed, there was a stitch in his side and he looked around, only then realizing that he was in a part of the castle he didn't recognize. It was thick with dust and there were no portraits upon the walls, only rat-nibbled faded tapestries that had probably been around since the birth of Merlin or Arthur, if not before.
Panting, he discovered a door and turned the handle and went in, hoping to find a chair he could rest in for a minute before trying to find his way back. The room was empty of all save a few musty wooden crates that might have once held wine and a large gilded mirror.
The mirror, upon closer inspection, was heavily gilded and decorated about its oval face with cherubs, flowers, fanciful birds, stars, and moons. Harry had never seen such a beautiful mirror, the carvings seemed to breathe and the glass was smooth and clear. Harry peered at it and all at once the mirror began to glow.
He threw up a hand to shield his eyes from the sudden flare, but an instant later it had died, and when Harry blinked, the mirror was now filled with mist.
Then it cleared and instead of his own reflection, Harry saw a young woman with auburn hair and familiar green eyes holding a dark-haired baby and laughing. Next to them was a rather tall man with the same dark hair and glasses, smiling. They looked awfully familiar...
Harry stared at them for a few moments, noting how the older man had hair just like his and glasses like he used to and then it hit him. These were his parents, whom he couldn't remember. And the baby in Lily's arms must be . . .
Me! But why was the mirror showing him this? The family he'd had once and lost? He swallowed, an odd constricton in his chest.
Then the mist erased the image and Harry felt a strange tug from somewhere dep within him. It did not hurt, but it left him strangely bereft and hollow, longing for something else, something more . . .
Then the mist cleared and this time Harry saw Severus standing next to him, an arm about him, smiling while off to the side students and teachers gaped in shock and then he heard Severus announce, "This is my son, Harry." And Harry was grinning and waving, thrilled at last to finally acknowledge the truth.
He gazed at the image, losing itself in the promise it whispered through his entire being. All that you wish for can be yours. The deepest desires of your heart can become reality within the Mirror of Dreams, all you need to do is surrender . . .
Harry slumped to the ground, eyes fixed upon the impossible dream in the mirror, the cloak slipping down to pool about him in a shimmery swath, forgotten.
A home. A father who was alive, who loved Harry, and who no longer had to keep their relationship a secret. Someone who could, at long last, claim him as his son, where he could be wanted and cherished, no longer the freaky poor relation.
"This is my son, Harry."
The words swelled to a triumphant chant in his head and he reached out a hand to touch his father's, eager to feel the familiar touch of long fingers wrapping about his own. The image vanished as his hand brushed the glass.
He howled in anguish, feeling as if something had been ripped from within him. "Come back! Please! Don't go....I'll do anything!"
Tears dribbled unchecked down his face and he cried, for the wonderful feeling was gone and all he felt was empty.
He gazed pleadingly at the mirror and suddenly the image of himself and Severus returned. Entranced, he settled down before the mirror, losing himself in the siren call, captive to the deepest desire of a lonely starved heart.
* * * * * * *
He had no idea how long he reamined there, oblivious to the outside world, but it must have been hours, for he came back to an insistent hollow ache in his stomach, and when he turned his gaze away, he saw that his watch read half-past two. No wonder he was starving, he'd missed breakfast and lunch. He stumbled to his feet, stiff from sitting too long, and picked up the cloak. He felt a pang of longing as he looked at mirror, and the image it held. Wait for me. I will return.
Return to me.
Return to me. It called soundlessly, the heartbreaking note of a lost lonely child in its plea.
"I'll be back," he reassured it, and then he left to get some lunch and tell Ron about the amazing mirror.
Together the two returned to the old wing and Ron looked into the mirror as well, seeing himself winning the Quiditch Cup in one scene and then being Head Boy in another. "See, I'm not just my brothers' shadow, who always is least and never best," he exclaimed. "I wonder if this mirror shows the future, Harry? And if so, what's it doing here, in a dusty old room, forgotten?"
" I don't know." Harry said, then peered into its depths, losing himself again in dreams of what might be. He would have stayed there for hours had not Ron nudged him and said, "C'mon, mate, let's go flying."
Reluctantly, he drew away, but he could still hear the mirror in the back of his head, crying, Return to me. Don't forget.
* * * * * *
And Harry did return to the mirror, night after night, he succumbed to the siren lure and sat entranced in front of the glass.
Away from it, he was apathetic and irritable, not wanting to do much of anything, and Ron soon gave up on trying to interest him in new Quidditch moves and went to practice himself, leaving Harry to brood and pick over his food in the hall alone.
Severus noticed how pale and thin the boy was becoming, however, and asked if Harry was eating. When Harry mumbled noncommitally, the Potions Master gave him a Nutrient Shake, insisted he drink it all, and then ordered him lunch and stood over him while he ate.
Harry sulked and toyed with his meal until Snape said warningly, "Quit playing and eat, young man, or shall I feed you like a baby? If you haven't eaten five pieces of ham before I count to three, I promise I'll put you on my lap and feed you like I did when you were four."
At that dire threat, Harry roused himself and ate what he could. But the food tasted like ashes and as soon as Snape agreed he had eaten enough, he left and returned to the secret room to look upon the dream within the mirror.
This might have gone on indefinitely, had not Dumbledore sought the mirror for a certain purpose and discovered Harry in front of it almost a week later. He roused the boy from his trance and said softly, "Harry, the Mirror of Erised can be dangerous if you look too long and hope for too much."
"What? I don't understand."
"The mirror does not always show you what is true, merely what you wish to be true. It offers no solutions, only illusions. People have been known to go mad or waste away from looking into the mirror upon their heart's desire for too long. What do you see in the mirror, child?"
Harry hesitated. Then at last he replied, softly, " I see myself and . . .my father. My family."
"Ah. I understand. Child, you must stop looking into the mirror and wishing for what can never be."
Harry scowled. Who did Dumbledore think he was, saying his vision could never happen? The old wizard stepped in front of the mirror and the image changed as he did so. "What do you see then, sir?" Harry demanded, rather rudely.
Dumbledore did not seem to mind. "I see myself . . .holding a pair of socks. One can never have too many and no one buys me them for Christmas, only books and scarves." he broke off and cast a sheet over the mirror. "Come along, Harry. The sun is shining and it's a marvelous day. Enjoy it while you can." He pulled Harry to his feet and marched the reluctant boy from the room.
Ron was outside and Harry joined him on his broom, but after his friend was asleep, he slipped back to the secret room, the mirror's lure pulling him onward, only to find that the room was empty and the mirror was gone.
The boy spent several minutes cursing and kicking the empty crates about in a temper before crumpling to the ground and sobbing hopelessly.
At last however, his unnatural grief spent itself and he picked himself up and made his way to Severus's quarters, where the Potions Master wordlessly let him sleep in his lab. As Harry snuggled down into the soft emerald comforter, the familiar smells of spices in his nostrils, he reflected that at least he still had this to comfort him. It was not the same, but it served to mute the craving in his heart for now. And maybe someday . . .the vision in the mirror might come to pass. After all, the Headmaster did not know everything, and Harry had the feeling he had lied when he had told Harry about his own vision. For whose heart's desire was nothing but a pair of socks?
The exhausted boy slept deeply for the first time in days and when he awoke he was ravenous and all of his old energy had returned.
So, how did you like that version of the Mirror of Erised? Creepy, no?
Next: School term begins again, with the three trying to decipher the mystery of Flamel and some other unexpected nasty happenings.
Next: School term begins again, with the three trying to decipher the mystery of Flamel and some other unexpected nasty happenings.